To put this into context you must understand that I put off visiting for 17 years because at some visceral level I knew that in doing so my life would fundamentally change forever. I had traipsed alone across Hungary, Austria, Germany and France each memorable for the experiences large and small but I held Scotland at a distance, for safety. You must then embrace the concept of serendipity, that there is no such thing as a coincidence.
In April of 2002 I had been out of work a year. The high tech bubble where I had spent eight productive and lucrative years as a director of marketing and communications had burst and 9/11 changed the world, forever. I had a travel voucher about to expire so I did the only sensible thing. I booked a flight to London for a long weekend over Thanksgiving (the third Thursday in November for those non-Americans reading this) and hoped to be working by then. Two weeks before I was scheduled to leave, Scotland summoned me. All that was a given was the plane ticket to get me to London, I heeded, and called to extend the trip. "I am going to the Scottish Highlands to learn to drink amber liquid with men in kilts and I might not come back!" Prophetic words.
Day 1, in London for the first time, I walk to Trafalgar Square from Knightsbridge (honest). Not to be ignored, she demands my attention as the VisitScotland London office can be seen just passed the construction barriers to my right. David Grant, twenty-something staffer, offers help. I have no idea what I want. Edinburgh? Yes, certainly. How about a train? Yes. This appeals to my slow-it-down romantic notion of getting there. Out of thin air comes "Dunvegan? Isle of Skye? Can I stay there?" I have no idea of why this is important but I am relentless in my pursuit to visit the, heretofore unknown, seat of the clan Macleod. All these months later it is clear. Poor David.
I am sitting on the train, bucolic landscapes slip past the window. I take pictures of Norman towns and sheep in the late November drizzle. There is this palpable moment when my palms begin to perspire, my heart races (my BP is 120/70 after a 20 mile bike ride), my throat catches and my eyes fill up, I think I am having a heart attack. There is no "physical" explanation as the tea was my own decaf. A short time later a lovely septuagenarian man approaches and enquires if I am "luvin' Scotlan' verre much ahze we' bin 'arye bout three minoots lass", my sincere apologies to every Scotsman or woman reading this passage.
It starts like this, physically knowing before my brain can comprehend. Everything about her is like this; places familiar without basis. It doesn't count to have a great, great grandfather named Johnson forced from his lands during the Clearances, it wasn't dinner table conversation just a dot in maternal family history. The air is scented with fern and moss and so pure you can taste it. For the first time in years I write poetry in the darkness on the way from Eilean Donan to Skye. In the driving rain wrapped in a useless turquoise pashima shawl I walk the deserted streets of Portree, in bliss. The next day on the top of the Quirang I find the place I know I will have my ashes spread. I have come home.
At Telford's masterpiece of engineering in Invermoriston near Loch Ness, a For Sale sign marks the adjacent property. "Wouldn't that be lovely to have a teashop there?" Sell homemade sweets, and cottage industry products from the region. The seed is planted.
I return to the States reluctantly, no longer comfortable like clothing too tight. I continue to apply for director level MarComm jobs; still grasping onto the work that has defined me for 20 years. I am overqualified for everything and 9.1 million people are out of work in the United States, it seems hopeless - will I ever work again? To keep my brain engaged I begin doing obscure research on Scotland; GDP, average income, regional income discrepancies, the impact of 9/11 on tourism all, seemingly, without reason. I sell worldly goods via the Internet and go "home" in April and again in October of 2003. Donnie Munro singing Thairis air a ghleann becomes a sort of anthem for me though I have no idea what the words mean. It marks the most auspicious moments of my journey; to the extent on a flight delayed by snow for two days it is being played on the overhead at the precise moment I step into Glasgow's airport terminal. In November of 2003 I stop clinging to who I was and realise who I had become. Not by birth but by being guided here, Scotland is the place of my heart, where I know I belong, what I am somehow meant to do with all that I know.
A friend shared with me something she had read on the occasion of Thistle & Broom's legal incorporation and my being called for a communications consulting job shortly thereafter.
"When you make a commitment, the universe answers yes."
Thistle & Broom is the result of my making a commitment to what I had held at arms length for 17 years, Scotland. The universe has most certainly responded in the affirmative.