I write this from a seat in the waiting area of Heathrow Airport. My flight is delayed. I find it best to take these things sitting down, with a cup of coffee, and some means of writing. Pret-A-Manget supplied a cappuccino, my faithful little laptop the means to write, and here I am to scribble until my gate finally opens.
The post that I’m burning to write is the one (or three) I have all ablaze in my mind about my days on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. But I pause as I begin, struck by the vast differences between the utterly remote reaches of Skye, and the place in which I find myself at present. Here, countless faces bob round me in a waiting room, accents and loudly-spoken annoyances swirl and ebb, the flight screens blink their constant departures. I’m solidly back in the indoor realm of modern day travel, with its swift flow of talk and time. You might think that in here, my two short days in the wildlands of Skye would seem almost not to have occurred. Or at very least, rather irrelevant.
But au contraire. Right here, right in this skinny airport seat of navy vinyl, with pop music thrumming in the shop nearby, I can still taste Skye. Breath its calm. Get a bit giddy at thought of the walk down to the shore. For Skye, my friends, is now a place of its own at the center of my heart.
Once in a long, rare while, I encounter a place, and a time within that place, whose splendor carves out a room within me. It crafts a space in my soul that is both memory and at the same time, a concentrated presence. Places such as these – a nook in the heart of the mountains, a strip of certain shore by a northern sea, or even a well-known, weathered old home- come to me with a physical presence so vivid I am able to know it as I would a friend.
In Skye, I found that friendship. And I think a great part of it was the rightness of it all, the way the lines and colors of the sea and moors feel almost unspoilt by sin. The way the hills lift their shoulders and closed-eye faces in such unflinching solemnity, while the sea is a sprite around them, restless, merry, and never the same mood twice. The quiet of the air is perfect. The wind is an ever-changing song. The beauty requires so very much seeing, such a focus of eye and mind that time suddenly expands. It’s almost like slipping out of chronos for a day or two’s sojourn in a long-houred world of tea in the mornings and long, long walks throughout the day, and the wind wuthering (isn’t that a lovely word?) around the eaves.
I stayed in a room with one window gazing down to the sea, and one up the long fields to the row of farmer’s weathered homes. That room was in the home of a woman who went quite swiftly from hostess to friend. Her welcome and grace and friendship were the foundation of my time. Just look at that tea and shortbread for greeting.
I spent my single full day on Skye on a trip to the capital of Portree with my hostess. I scurried round to little shops and hunted for the odd gift to bring home and walked up the narrow streets and down to the harbor in the rain. On our way coming and going, we drove straight through the famous moors and past the waterfalls and fell, heathered slopes of the island. We shared a perfect Scottish lunch of cheeses, chutney and oatcakes.
On the way back, my friend dropped me in one of the villages so I could have a wander, and then walk the long way home through the heather fields, through the farms of “Lower Breakish” and up the road where the sea glimmers a line in the distance. I knew I had a good dinner ahead of me (“pudding” was sticky toffee, thank you very much), so when a local raised his eyebrow at my intention to walk all the way back, I didn’t even flinch.
Why should I? I walked right through the staidness of those heather furred hills – heard the great quiet of the water and then its sudden change of mood. I rifled through the gem and gold and treasure chest of fields near the ocean, crammed with so many flowers and grasses and trees burgeoning in the wet air that it felt like a magic island. And I knew the great, vast freedom of air unfettered by all the noises of modern life.
The next morning, when I had to leave, I found to my joy that I wasn’t aching as I usually do at losing a place I love. For my time in Skye carved out a room inside of me – to which, even amidst the rumble and growl of an airport day, even on the sleepless trainride last night with highly irritating fellow passengers, even amidst the dear and disciplined rounds of home life, I may return. I think that’s one of the gifts of great beauty. It allows us a concentrated taste of the Goodness that makes it what it is. We reach through the beauty of physical creation into the heart of its Creator. And when we encounter Beauty himself through a particular place, it becomes a sacred space and memory, a vibrant presence within our souls.
I know, I know. I’m constantly wanting to get away from “modern life.” I’m old fashioned, I can’t help it – I yearn for the old freedom of open places and great, unbroken quiet. I love long walks and dinners by candlelight with the wind howling outside (and I had a hostess who gave me both!). But it’s just because you can hear such grand things whispered on an early morning walk when the whole world is quiet and golden and blue. You feel so sure about God being just as beautiful as you always hoped he would be. You get all giddy with the scent of the sea air and begin to think crazy, miraculous things.
Do you know, at end of this trip, at end of Skye, I hope that one of the main things God allows me to do is offer such times to other people. To somehow make a home and life (preferably in some lovely corner of the earth) that offers the people who seek its shelter a taste of beauty that bears a promise, a whisper, of all the beauty that is to come.
Well. That’s about all I can say for now, and I need to go start worrying about my delayed flight. (Because that will do so very much good, right?) I hope you can taste, even the slightest, edge-of-the-tongue tang of what I knew in Skye. Because we should all have such worlds in our hearts.
Over and out from Heathrow…
Sarah Clarkson is the author of several books including the best-selling The Life-giving Home, which she co-authored with her mother, Sally Clarkson. Sarah is currently studying literature at Oxford University where she's not only a brilliant thinker and writer, but is also the president of the C. S. Lewis Society.