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A Song of Scotland
By William D. McEachern
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2015 William D. McEachern
All rights reserved.
A Clan Chief Is Executed
"For my part, I die a martyr for my country!"- Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat and leader of the Clan Fraser, April 9th, 1747
Lord Lovat, MacShimidh Mor, in Gaelic, stood upon the scaffold. He pondered his fate. His ancestor, who was William Wallace's compatriot against England in the Scottish Wars of Independence, once captured by the English, was hung, drawn, and quartered. Today, he would join his ancestor and he, too, would die for Scotland. So also, would die his dream of an independent Scotland; a dream of his nation adhering to the ways of the Highlands with the Highland chief the leader of the Clan who reigned as a feudal lord; a dream of Scotland under at Jacobite King with order, law, and hierarchy reestablished.
Simon Fraser was many things. His life had been full; it had been filled with drama; he'd been a fugitive; he been accused of raping his wife; he had been heralded as a charitable man; he'd been accused of being a spy; he had been lauded for lowering rents on his tenants during the economic crisis; he'd been accused of being a traitor by both Jacobites and Royalists. Why would that be so? Well, for one thing, he had fought for the Jacobites in one uprising, and then swore allegiance to the English King. Then he had violated his oath, only to recant again. Where did his loyalties lie? It seemed that he was really only out for himself and choose to be loyalist or Jacobite whenever the wind was blowing one way or the other. Was he just being a pragmatist? Certainly, he was that. Was he different from others in the Highlands? Probably not. Many times a clan would hedge its bet and send one son to fight for the King and another son to fight for the Pretender, whoever that might have been. It seemed that maybe this was the best course of action, for no matter what, a part of the clan might survive and thrive. It was certainly the duty of a member of the clan to sacrifice himself for the greater good of the clan. So in that way may be Lord Lovat was only practicing the true religion of the Highlands, which was the religion of survival.
He had, as one could say, lived a full life. Now, he was to be a martyr. It would be his last incarnation.
For him, the chief of a clan to appear upon the scaffold was a sign by King George II that the Jacobites had better give up their forlorn hope of resurrecting the Stuart line or else they would be marched one by one to be hung. No one was exempt; no one was immune; all were subject to the King and his judgment.
For Lord Lovat was many things and many contradictory things. In this way, he was the perfect symbol of Scotland.
Lord Lovat's blood, like that of so many Scots before him, would feed the soil of Scotland and, in the endless cycle, the soil would feed the Scots. This is the story of how the Scottish people arose as a people and how and why they came to fight at Culloden against almost impossible odds. This too is the story of Scotland and of the Scots and why the Scots, to save themselves and to save what they believed to be the true Scotland, had to leave Scotland.CHAPTER 2
Scotland is Born
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer; A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe, My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.-
Three thousand million years ago (when you say it that way, it makes the immensity of the number sound more like its true worth, rather than the simple expression of 'three billion years ago), during the period of time called the Archean, somewhere near the South Pole, lava was spewing forth. With it, volcanic rock – granite of the hardest type: Lewisian gneiss – began to be laid down. This rock is the oldest rock of the Continent we now call Europe. It created the islands that are now on the north and west of Scotland. Specifically, from the depths of the earth, the lava came and formed from north to south, the islands of Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra. The lava formed the backbone of what would become the city of Edinburgh with the castle sitting upon the volcano's mount, with the Royal Mile being a lava flow that spread forth from the mount. This volcanic rock was laid in the crust of the earth, beneath the sea, and slowly it became exposed to the air and to the sun.
As it became exposed to the elements, it moved north past the equator and finally came to rest near the North Pole. As these rocks wandered northwards, they became part of the continent called Laurentia.
Only the very southeastern part of the Island of Skye was part of this eruption, but most it came later, formed from what we now call the post-Caledonian rock. The Island gained most of its expanse from volcanoes that flamed, spewed, smoked, and flowed with lava during the era called the Paleogene, some 66 million years ago. The earth's climate, which had been hot and humid, was changing, becoming drier and cooler. The world now belonged to the mammals, after the cataclysm which killed the dinosaurs had taken place. The beeches, oaks, and conifers grew, as well as abundant amounts of grass. But the Island of Skye, as well as all of Scotland looked a lot different then, because what would become Britain, Ireland, and Norway were all landlocked and part of western Laurasia. So the Island of Skye, like Iceland, which though an undersea volcanic hot spot, was not yet an island and would not become an island for another 35 million years. The Arctic sea was almost completely surrounded by land and was much less salty than today. A land bridge joined Scotland to Greenland and Canada. Greenland was but a tenth of the distance away from Europe that it is today. So had one wanted, one could have walked from Europe to the Americas via Greenland.
The Islands, the Orkneys, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, and the Highlands are closer to the Arctic Circle than they are to the city of London. And even though the land bridge that joined them to Norway is long gone, in many ways these islands are still tied to Norway and Scandinavia in many mystical ways. Often in the history of Scotland, people came from Scandinavia to populate the Isles and Glens of Scotland.CHAPTER 3
The First to Walk the Glens of Scotland
The first human ancestors were squirrel-like creatures that lived in trees, analysis of their ankle bones reveal. Purgatorius lived after the dinosaurs were extinct. It is the earliest primate fossil ever discovered, dating to 65 million years ago.
-Science Magazine, January 20, 2015
It was here in Scotland, such as it was, and other places during the Paleogene, that a rat-like creature, perhaps, more like a shrew or may be a squirrel-like animal, with a long naked tail and naked feet with long claws, but otherwise covered in fur with long whiskers sprouting from its snout, called Purgatorius, eked out its living in this wonderland, eating insects and berries. Its rodent-like eyes were on the sides of its head. It probably climbed trees or so its fossilized ankle bones tell scientists. Its fossils were first found in Purgatory Hill, Montana, and, thus, its name arose. This shrew-rat scientists think is the forerunner of all primates, so our first ancestor, our first Scot, perchance.
It was not alone, but shared this new world, now free of dinosaurs, with other mammals just starting out on their journeys down the evolutionary track
Later, a creature with a bushy tail, a raccoon shaped hump to its back, a cat-like head and ears, sporting long fingers with long claws on its hands, called Plesiadapis, developed in the Americas, but wandered across the land bridge to Europe. Its eyes still were on the sides of the head so it lacked that essential trait, which we, humans, take for granted, three dimensional vision. It loved the trees and climbed well.
There were gliding creatures shaped like squirrels or lemurs that stretched their skin with their limbs to fly from branch to branch of the trees. There were miniature mice-like animals weighing less than 30 grams. There were all sorts of creatures, but none yet wore a kilt. Generation upon generation of these creatures-the first Scots-lived and died and their blood watered the soil of Scotland.CHAPTER 4
The Neolithic village of Skara Brae was discovered in the winter of 1850. Wild storms ripped the grass from a high dune known as Skara Brae, beside the Bay of Skaill, and exposed an immense midden (refuse heap) and the ruins of ancient stone buildings. The discovery proved to be the best- preserved Neolithic village in western Europe.-Historic Scotland
I. A New Land
It was long after Purgatorius and Plesiadapis had walked the glens and hills of Scotland. Now, man walked, lived, loved, begat children, and died.
He stood looking out to sea. He could see there on the horizon ragged edges of what must be land interrupting the perfect line of the horizon. It appeared to be some giant island. What could be there? If he could get there, would he be safe from all the others who threatened to kill his tribe? But if he could get there, could they, his enemies, also get there? It looked so far and the waves looked so tall. Could it be that-the distance and the waves-were enough to deter them from following him?
His people had the log canoes they had built from oaks they had felled. These massive canoes were dugout from the trunks of oaks that were thirty or forty feet long. These had brought them fish from the sea, as well as trade with others. But this trade was a two-faced thing: wealth came with trade and thieves came with wealth. It was their wealth that now threatened their lives. The others from another tribe wanted their wealth and would kill to gain it. He feared the others and their lust for things they had not made or wealth they had not earned.
Now, he envisioned a different role for these seafaring trees. They would carry him and his tribe across the waters and to those ragged edges on the horizon. Maybe there he would find the security he craved for his people. Maybe there it would be safe from the others.
How would he convince the members of his tribe to leave this place which was good and go to somewhere else when he knew not whether that new place was better?
He sat down. The wind tousled his hair. The sun felt warm upon his face. He could almost fall asleep, if only the world would let him He worried. He always worried about them, the others, that other tribe. He wanted his people to be free of the threat that they posed. They were always ready to attack them and to take their women and children, carry off the farms' harvest, rustle their cattle, and leave behind destruction and devastation. There must be a place where they can't get to. A place free of them.
It was days later. The tribe's elders would not let him use the dugout canoes, only the hide-skin boats. Only a few of his tribe had chosen to go with him, to see this new island. They had rowed. It had taken them most of the day to get here.
He climbed up the gentle hill and stood upon its crest. The sea breeze gently tickled the whiskers of his beard and mustache. The reddish auburn of his hair scattered the sunlight. He looked out upon the oval lake that was down the cliff from where he stood. Beyond the lake, a finger's width of land separated the lake from the ocean. The golden sand of the beach, the light blue of the lake, and the cerulean blue of the ocean were offset by the rich green of the sweet grass that spread across the land like a rich, velvety carpet. The grass stretched on and on-a vastness of grass like he had never seen before. He knelt to stroke the grass and its sheer softness pleased his hand. He ground some of the blades of grass in his hand and sniffed the debris. The grass smelled incredibly sweet, full, and earthy. He could see cattle grazing, lowing, nuzzling calves, tossing their heads to shake off flies, and drowsing in the brilliant sunlight.
The scent of the wind carried the salt of the ocean to his nostrils. A few trees with their leaves broke the line of the horizon, but rocks, tons and tons of rocks, littered the shore of the lake and protruded through the green of the grass like so many teeth in a smiling face. The paucity of trees, for there were only a couple of hazel and birch trees, with a willow or two lining the edge of a brook, were all that was left of once vast forests that within the last hundred years or so had finally withered away, told him that rock would have to be the main building material of the village he saw growing up on this hill in his mind. There were stones all around him. He picked one up. And then another. The one in his left had just the right heft and feel to it. It fit his hand as if this stone had been created for his hand. He struck the middle of the width of the larger stone in his other hand and surprisingly the larger rock split into two slabs. He picked up another large stone and he struck that one too. It did it again. Again, the larger stone split into two almost equal slabs. He started picking up large stones and began splitting them into slabs, until he had a tall pile of slabs. He companions watched him and they began to wonder if their leader had drifted off, like some of the older members of their village had done in the past. He smiled at them and they began to murmur that the drifting had begun. He paid them no mind. Now they were sure that his mind was clouded. Finally, after a long time, he laid a line of slabs on the ground. Then, he laid one slab on top of the first line of the slabs, placing the end of the topping slab in the middle of the first slab on the ground. He quickly placed slab upon slab, the end of the topping slab in the middle of the first slab, lay upon layer until he had small wall. The group smiled at him and then at one another. Now they understood.
He stopped his labors. The sun warmed his face as he closed his eyes and he tilted his head to it. His eyes closed, all he could see was red. He heard the gentle lapping of the waves of the ocean against the beach which was about a mile off. Opening his eyes, the beauty of the lake below this cliff of maybe some 50 feet seemed like an endless supply of fresh water.
Something within him said, "Here, here." He felt at home, so comfortable he could lie down in the grass and fall asleep. Everything about this place was so perfect. He stared at the horizon, his eyes wandering the line where sea-aquamarine-blue separated from azure-blue of the sky. He was the first man to behold this sight, but had he known this, he may not have appreciated the fact. Nonetheless, he still appreciated this place, this ideal and archetypical place. He smiled.
The grass would feed the cattle, sheep, goats, and red deer that they would bring with them to his place. It did not matter that this place was miles across the ocean from their home. He had made it here in his hide-skin boat and he would bring the animals, one by one, across the water, to graze here on this lush, verdant green.
He reached down and crumbled the soil in his hand across his fingers. It was rich, lush, and full of life. Here, they would grow crops of wheat and barley. They would farm and the soil would bring forth whatever they planted in abundance. What was left of the forests would be cut down and the land cleared.
He could see women gathering in the berries that grew everywhere. Life would be easier here than their home across the water. They would make beads, they would shape pottery, and what they didn't use themselves, they would trade with those of his tribe who remained behind and those tribes further to the north across that greater stretch of water.
II. The Group
A group is a social system involving regular interaction among members and a common group identity. This means that the members feel a sense of connectedness and a feeling of belonging to a distinct entity.
-Definition of the word 'group' in Sociology
He turned to the 12 men and eight women who had come with him. He smiled at them and they, in turn, smiled back at him. Without a word spoken, all knew this was the place. There was something so majestic, so serene, so inviting, and so comfortable, about this place that they all felt this and instinctively knew it was home. So it was decided.
Excerpted from Caledonia by William D. McEachern. Copyright © 2015 William D. McEachern. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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