Pebbles on the Edge

Pebbles on the Edge
Lake McDonald, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ravens at Kelso: a Poem

My dad's family came from this area in Scotland. Kelso Abbey was one of the great abbeys in the Scottish Borders razed by Henry VIII during the period of the "Rough Wooing".

I'll never forget being there, and the great black birds croaking among the ruins and the headstones. Here is a poem I wrote about our visit.

Established in 1128
Ravens at Kelso Abbey
by Gayle Weatherson

I heard them croak in Kelso’s ancient kirkyard,

Among the flinty ruins of the abbey:

Rasping cries from tree to tree, echoing stone to stone

Like knives cutting through the silent morning.

The swoop and glide of dark feathers;

A glimpse of wing and flash of tail,

Sharp against the pale grey pearl of sky;

The curving whisper of air displacement

As one lit upon a bough of twisted pine.

A single feather fluttered,
black as night, beneath the tree,

An obsidian blade shining sable on the green green grass,

Although there was no sun.

The Abbey



Monday, October 6, 2014

Gàidhlig Language Acquisition and Spaghetti al Dente: An Analogy

So...(I promised myself a long time ago that I would never begin anything with the word "so". So it was, but is no more...)

So, I'm learning Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig), and have been "learning" it for six years. Given that I've had fewer than twenty-five days of actual classtime over the course of those six years (with furious bouts of directionless study in bewtween), it's amazing I know anything at all. I live out in the wilderness--an fhàsach--without access to a regular class until very recently, when I finally signed up for a weekly Skype class from Caroline Root. It was an excellent decision, despite my reluctance to adopt new-for-me technology. Just having weekly sessions, a wee bit of homework each week, and listening to and speaking in the language despite my mumbling reticence, has been a marvelous way to open new pathways in that darkening grey matter I call a brain.

It has helped me to see the huge gaps in my understanding, as well as some of my strengths (few, those). It has also caused me hope that with enough diligent work I might achieve a modicum of fluency before I die. That, and asking for help when I need it, from the generous community of Gàidhlig teachers and learners out there. We are, in essence, in the same bàta.

However, learning a new language at the age of sixty is not the same as learning one at six. Of course it's not. It's rather like spaghetti as one ages. One tests whether the noodles are done by throwing a few of them at the wall and if they stick, it's ready to serve. Or maybe it's the other way around...At any rate, that's what language acquisition is--you throw a handful of words at a brain, and some of them stick. Many of them don't, but you keep at it. My brain is a pretty slippery little nugget.

But I realized long ago that learning this beautiful old language--the reasons for which are as complicated as the language's history itself--is worth pursing for no other reason than to do a tiny wee bit in helping save it from oblivion. I would like fluency one day, but I'm old and may never reach that pinnacle.

Like these drawings that are unfinished, learning is never a done deal. Nevertheless, I'll keep at it.

Alba a' feitheamh (Scotland Waiting)

(The Unicorn has since been completed)