Exploring Stornoway

DISCLAIMER: I apologize in advance for funky spelling.  I am trying to get used to British keyboards and I am on a time limit, which means no editing afterwards. 
 
The oak tree is sacred to the Celts just like the cedar is to Coast Salish First Nations people where I am from.  Last night while eating smoked Hebriddean salmon for dinner, I made an interesting connection: Scottish people smoke their salmon using oak just like First Nations smoke theirs using cedar.  It is neat how there is so much crossover between indigenous traditions all over the world.
 
Yesterday, I went to the An Lanntair Arts Center to see Murdo Macleod’s exhibit of photos of famous modern day Scots photographed in the backdrop of the Scottish landscape.  What strikes me as I look at these works and travel the country is the starkness and ruggedness of the land. Scots also seem to have a good measure of creative maddness that I enjoy.  They are not afraid to take risks- albeit calculated ones.  They are bold without being extravagant.  And they regularly poke fun of themselves to get a laugh. 
 
It’s as harsh as it is beautiful here on Lewis and the people have this fierce and determined look in their eyes that reflects the reality of living in such a remote place.  There are still crofters, fishermen and women and people who live off the land here on Lewis.  In fact, Stornoway is the biggest town and it only has a population of 6,000.  People here still live quite traditionally: speaking Gaelic, burning peat in their hearths, and ringing church bells to mark time (common, actually, in the cities too).  I’ve met artisans who make world renound Harris tweed and even bought a piece that I really like.  I also met a relative of a local artist that works in bronze.  She showed me several of his outdoor sculptures around Stornoway of “Herring Girls” who used to be plentiful here in earlier times.  These women prepared and sold fresh fish at the pier.  The aunt paid me a compliment when she asked if I was of Scottish ancestry due to the fact that I understand and use Scottish expressions when I speak!  See.  I AM morphing into a Scot and it is all a part of travel.  After years of traveling countries, I have learned that for ease of communication, it was good to adopt native expressions and leave the Canadian ones behind. 
 
Today was the first day of the Heb Celt Festival here on Lewis (hebceltfest.com).  I started out the morning going to a free show where a local group was playing traditional Scottish reels and jigs. The little kids were just giving ‘er with their dancing.  It was so neat to see these young ones (5 and below) inspiring the elders to get up and dance. It worked on me too and I got up and did some ceilidh dancing with another lady who was dying to go up but neither of her girls were keen to dance with her.  We did Strip the Willow again and it was pretty funny because when it was our turn to dance, I forgot I was the woman- AGAIN!  I got myself sorted out and in the right line up and all was well.  After the dance, the lady’s daughters thanked me profusely for “taking her off their hands.” 
 
I also got to watch a live broadcast of BBC National Gaelic Radio.  This was, of course, all in Gaelic and there were lots of local artists singing and playing on the show.  I have been well impressed by the number of young people I hear speaking Gaelic on the islands as well as how many of them sing, dance, and keep up their traditions. 
 
I am off to see the main show at 7:30 pm at the main tent, which is on the green of Lews Castle overlooking the whole town.  Tonight is an evening of piping, ceilidhs, songs, and stories.  I am going back to the hostel to take a nap.  I will need it to stay awake for the 11 pm ceilidh.  Will write more tomorrow…
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