There Is No Present Like the Time
I have never felt the presence of time in a place like this before. The Orkney Islands are permeated with time. It washes over the purple heather fields. It winds down the narrow stone streets. It settles heavily in the salty air. You feel it everywhere: your chapter in the story, your note in the ongoing song. We are here. We are a part of this world. And then others carry on the story.
Chris and I visited the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae, revealed in an 1850 storm, a Neolithic collection of subterranean homes complete with stone furniture: a shared hearth. A bed frame. A dresser for storing prized possessions. At any given time, perhaps 50 to 100 people lived here over a stretch of 600 years. I wonder about the lives that unfolded here. Did the girls play their own version of he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not with wind-flattened flowers? What did these people worry about? What brought them joy, or caused them to laugh? Why did they eventually leave this place?
We visited the Ring of Brodgar (pictured), a stone circle that pre-dates Stonehenge by 500 years. Was this a meeting place? Was it used for ceremonies? Is it connected in some way to Stonehenge? Whomever erected the stones chose a reflective place: surrounded by heather, with sweeping views of water in every direction, the stones pull you toward them, around them. They don’t allow you to stand still.
And while Chris was diving WWI and WWII wrecks in Scapa Flow, an ancient and wondrous natural harbor, I was visiting the museum in Stromness, which houses a peculiar and oddly nostalgic collection of knickknacks from around the world, sent back by Orcadian sailors who were obviously thinking of the people they loved back home.
I was thinking of the people I loved back home, thinking about the structure and branching of families, wishing I could share this beautiful and patient place with them. And I was thinking about my grandmother, of Scottish ancestry, who I said goodbye to last week. She died while I was here. She was ready to go, to pass through the veil or gather at the stones or do whatever it is we do when we leave this life.
What a tapestry we have woven throughout this history of ours. What a story, a cast of characters, a bittersweet plot ever-unfolding. I was hyper-aware of it here.
I’m sad to be leaving the Orkney Islands behind. Time. I didn’t have enough of it.