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Free-falling
2009.12.05 / Sophia Butler
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As I sit looking out at snow-capped hills, through Ladyholm’s misty windows, I cannot believe how quickly the pace of life back home has enveloped me. Having spent five weeks in the USA and Canada, what struck me most was the low speed limits and people sticking to them! Scotland has been virtually swimming these last weeks, it is dark, pouring and I am driving at 20 m.p.h. because I cannot see a thing in front of me. Yet, there is still someone driving with their car as close to my posterior as possible, flashing me to go faster. Instead of speeding up, I think to myself – “No!”, I have just returned from Hawaii and a workshop entitled ‘The Restoration of Peace’; I will not be harassed into this crazy pace! I have to keep reinforcing this, from the supermarket aisles to the dog walk.

Our guardian angel is an older Scottish man who appeared in our lives with mysterious gifts of seeds. After some time I found his name was Hamish, that he used to be a man of the sea and that he does not wear shoes from April to November! He laughs at our nomadic culture, flying across the globe constantly; imagining that we will meet our true-selves thousands of feet above the clouds, or in a strange land. I fear that when we take a trip for the wrong reasons – namely trying to escape from ourselves, we return home rested but not revitalised – the same old thought patterns and methods of dealing with things emerge swiftly. The real reason to take a trip is to enjoy every step of the way, free-falling into the universe’s wise hands. Hamish cannot stop marvelling at us. He keeps saying we uncovered part of our soul-purpose when we were away and it is shining brightly through our eyes. Still, my attempts at wholesome country desserts do not impress him, a “right good crumble” is needed, so I speed over to Heather’s and get the most traditional recipe she has.

One morning finds me taking the dogs for their daily circuit which encompasses a several mile jaunt around the fields surrounding our house. I have to keep reminding Ross of the land’s beauty, encouraging him to visit his favourite hills and beaches where the land works it’s own magic and he is temporarily abated from trying to convince me to emigrate to Canada. I am sure that he has lived a past life there as the land seems to resonate with his very cells, calling him. Stamping my feet like a true Slązaczka, I proclaim that: “Im not leaving and that’s that!” I am not leaving my beloved Mama, my beloved Scotland and my beloved Poland only a short flight away.

All of a sudden, my reverie is broken – a BMW is swerving all over the road, racing towards me and I am wondering if my time is up – if I will have a life-review, see the white light and hear THE VOICE…then I am thinking about my loved ones and the last things I said to them (this is why I absolutely detest leaving things badly when it is over something small) – imagine if the last spoken words were: “Fine!”, “Whatever!” or “I don’t care”. Not exactly poetic or representative of a close relationship.

When I think about the death part I am curious about the experience; I feel that I could leave the planet satisfied that I had known true love, made friends closer than family and thoroughly enjoyed the hybrid blood tribes I was born to. However, when I think about my loved ones, I have to put the brakes on because this is not my time. It is too soon….The car screeches to a halt and a man jumps out, I recognise him as my usually soft spoken neighbour who lives about a mile away among the fields. He looks mildly ridiculous, sporting a water-proof trench coat, a thick band worn around the ears, (reminding me of Austrian women on skiing holidays) and he is so agitated that he is jumping up and down before he starts speaking. He is smaller than I am but for the length of this exchange I am unconscious of the fact. “Where is your other dog?” he screams as he walks close to my face, I am standing with Caine by my side on a lead and I last saw Blue tearing through the trees a few minutes prior (she is a two year old Doberman who likes to run). I note his blood-shot eyes and the globules of saliva gathering at the corners of his mouth. “Yes, you don’t know where it is because it has just killed one of my chickens. I’ve a shot gun and I am tempted to use it”, at this point I am thinking he may mean on me. The man is hysterical as he declares that he will spread the word among the neighbours – if our dogs are ever seen off the lead they are to be shot dead whether accompanied or not. I wish that Caine would bite the man’s arm off and fight the urge to cry. He will not listen to anything I have to say, managing to shout some other unpleasant things at me before he jumps into his car with the shotgun and drives off like a maniac.

It seems that whether you live in the banks of the North Thompson River in Canada or in a hamlet in Scotland, your dog can be shot by your neighbour – an unfortunate event which befell Ross’s friend Ken the Wildman when his dog was shot dead on his neighbour’s property for chasing dear. This single event has shattered Ken’s belief in the benevolence present in each human heart and destroyed his paradise. The neighbours now have a dog of their own and it would be interesting to see their reactions if Ken took a gun to it, next time it went after a bear on the river bank (on his land).

If a dog is violent to humans or shows any tendencies in that direction then it would be prudent to destroy it, but if all we are talking about is some ordinary chickens, then surely an agreement between the people responsible for the animals can be reached? In the end, chickens are chickens and dogs are dogs – we are not talking about life or death here – my dog killed your chicken, fine, I shall buy you a new one and pay for the dead one. If you ever see my dog on your land again it shall be muzzled, feel free to catch it and drag it home, alternatively you can shoot it in the leg with a shot-gun shell full of rock salt which will certainly deter it from ever coming back and if you are still not happy then you can also shoot yourself with it for kicks, I hear it packs a mean sting!!!

What we are really missing is the old way. Ross often talks about his Grandfather’s antics; he was a gamekeeper and repository for the wisdom we are losing – fast. When you purchased a dog in the countryside, you would ask the farmer if you could borrow one of his rams and put the puppy in a pen with it, the ram would charge a few times and scare the dog of farm animals for life. Alternatively, if a dog killed a chicken you would tie the dead chicken to it’s head for the whole day. These days, in our mania for personifying animals we are becoming rather foolish.

It is much easier to intimidate a woman with a shotgun than a 6’3 Scotsman. However, after the visit Ross paid our neighbour immediately after the event, I do not think he will be in a rush to do this again! I heard Ross asking if he had a daughter, affirmative, “Would you want someone to talk to her the way he spoke to my girlfriend?” – he could not agree. After this, the trees themselves were bending backwards not to witness the ‘man talk’ which I am sure involved a lesson in respect. No doubt Ross’s inner hooligan was given some air-time! He returns proud of himself, (I am too); it was a man’s job and he handled it. Old Hamish says “Eh, people will be people. They haven’t farmed this land for centuries, they bought it with their guilty gentry money, so they feel they must protect it. It is from this need to protect that all the evils from the world spring forth”. This is a beautiful philosophical thought, but it does not help us in this moment of panic when we begin to feel imprisoned by our home, no longer cradled by the surrounding area and I notice that both of us have become quietly fanatical about locking the doors.

Blue has been re-Christened the ‘Stealth Assassin’ on account of her new muzzle which she wears at all times and these days we drive a few miles to the Loch to meet other dogs and run care-free. Although she is prevented from causing any harm to small animals, the Assassin is simply too good at what she does; yesterday, Ross and I witnessed her playing with something in the grass. A rabbit had ventured out into the open space – between her nose and foot Blue was stalling it. Suddenly the direction of the wind changed and Caine came bounding over like a bear after the honey pot. He pushed Blue out of the way and administered the kiss of death. Caine is overjoyed with Blue as things have got even better – before there was only sharing the catch, now there is the whole package plus delivery! Clearly this is something we will need to distract from in the future; I am however thinking that if we need to become self-sufficient, our dogs could definitely hunt for us!

My father gave himself the job of founding a course centre. His dream is to employ local people and create an optimum environment for personal growth. He jokes that like Victor Frankenstein, he has created a monster which will destroy him. In these difficult economic times, the situation hits its apex and I cannot allow for that – the place and the vision are too special. I rush down there, with my fresh (if useless) University energy and offer myself as his Personal Assistant from Tuesday to Thursday weekly. My dear father is something of a technological dinosaur and his is the only desk in the office which exhibits piles of papers rather than a computer!

A campaign launched at the local stables saw Ben the cart-horse about to be sold. Here we see that it is never too late for a parent to try and fulfil the wishes of their children. My favourite weekends as a girl were spent riding with Dad and I always dreamed of having my own horse, however; when this proved impossible I moved on and began enjoying inner-city life as a teen. Dad has obviously never forgotten the ‘horse dream’ and at his suggestion I took some riding lessons with Ben. Here emerged a triumvirate – dad began to ride Ben in the process, feeling this would be a good horse for him too, his secretary decided to commit to equestrian pursuits and all that was left was my share in the deal. The three of us unexpectedly became proud horse owners, though we have not yet decided who owns which part! Ben has added some spring (and stretch) to our lives. Post-lessons with Ben see us walking like John Wayne, but I think to myself, it is definitely worth it; petroleum is fast dwindling, electric cars are not yet accessible and a horse is an economically viable method of transport!

The lease on our house will run out soon and the year-long experiment with it. I am wondering what Ross is thinking, constantly second-guessing his looks (which I am sure is driving him crazy). However, I cannot shake the feeling of dread which rears its ugly head every now and then, when I recall the occasions Ross intimated that we may not be in this house for much longer. There was a definite assertion of independence in the statements and I feel suddenly as though the game is up. The referee has blown the whistle and pulled the red card – this whole experience has been too magical, too full of bathos; moving seamlessly between the sublime and the ridiculous daily. No, these kind of things do not happen. Girls from London do not fall for Scottish men and set up a country life, as though by accident (I am reminded of a quote from one of my favourite films – Withnail and I, by the main character: “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”, provided as an explanation for the ridiculous situations which transpire). So too, I feel I could explain all the laughs and the more serious casualties, namely the chickens. Neither of us are raised farmers and we do not intend to become deadly serious and morose about the whole business of animal keeping and tending the land – in the end, if we come at this mode of life in our old mindset of getting ahead and maximising on labour and produce with the least expense/effort, inevitably this stupefying pace of things will be rejected. We must approach with a fresh method to court success.

I am pleasantly shocked as I push past the heavy door into the warm interior of my local, to find the Special’s Board sporting ‘Slavic Apple Pie’ which turns out to be Żubrówka with apple juice and cinnamon. This is the work of my good friends Marta and Kasia who have been busy converting the regulars. Next they will be doing Wigilia supper with pierogi! One cannot underestimate the power of Polish mountain girls, who have renamed the pub ‘Male Zakopane’, which has stuck with the locals amazingly! I of course find that my fortunes as a small-holder have been effectively broadcast to all present as I sit down to my Szarlotka, they start: “Here Soph, do you fancy tryin’ your hand at pigs?”, I take a deep breath, comforting myself that it is meant affectionately. “Next time boys, I’ll be arriving on my trusty steed so you’d better have a barrel of bitter ‘n a bag of oats ready, else you won’t want to be standing next to us at the bar!”

We decide not to travel anywhere over the festive season on account of our ailing budget and my decision that cheap travel no longer exists. Once all the airport taxes have been added and you have been charged for everything from check-in baggage, every tiny kilo overweight, headphones and blankets – a satisfying price is a rare pleasure. In addition, any relaxation from the holiday is undone at the airport on the way home, post-arrival you need another to cleanse yourself of that hectic energy. I am always promising myself I will not fly long-haul again until I have saved the money to do so in comfort. I once met a distinguished Polish lady at a party who’s advice remains burned into my memory: “When a girl travels alone she must travel in style”. In the event, an opportunity arises and I inevitably choose the cheapest option to maximise funds whilst away. Perhaps, I shall renew this one on my Resolution List and the New Year will find me sipping champagne from tulip-shaped glasses while a handsome steward reads me the options for dinner!

Sophia Butler

Słowniczek/Glossary:
• Slązaczka – a female inhabitant of Silesia region where my family come from
• Żubrówka – a Polish vodka best served with apple juice and cinnamon
• Szarlotka –  Apple Pie
• Wigilia – Christmas Eve

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