(This story is from a dear friend…one who delivered a huge random act of hospitality to me by giving me a room for months when I was a young biologist living in Boise, Idaho. He now has a book and this is one of the chapters from his book. You can find his book at: http://www.tripledlodge.com/)
Charles was an artist. After being gone from his family many years studying abroad, he was returning to Kirkwall, Orkney Island at the northern tip of Scotland. I had a singing gig booked at the Boar’s Head Motor Hoose Pub, and was headed for Kirkwall. This bar is a gathering place and transportation hub for those on the move. Karaoke and folk singers excel. Also this trip ought to afford me the opportunity to add some new birds to my life list.
Charles had studied art in London for several years and had won an artist award. The award was a stipend for a round the world tour. He had toured North Africa, Israel and mid-east, and was in India when he became sick with giardia. He said he had lost a lot of weight and had to rest there to gain enough strength to return to London, cutting his world trip short. He was returning to Kirkwall, unannounced to his parents as a surprise, to attend his sister’s wedding. Her wedding was to be the next evening. I thought that was going to be one Hell of a surprise for his parents. All they knew was that he was deathly ill in India, had finally made it back to London and was still recovering. They expected him to miss the wedding.
All this conversation took place on the ferry from John O’ Groats, Scotland to the island. To be friendly, and as we passed the Island of Stroma, I struck up a conversation with him at the deck railing while watching the sea and sea birds. I asked if he was a local. When he said yes and that he was an artist, I thought I had struck the jackpot. Artists ought to know local birds I thought. Well, he was not a bird or wildlife artist and he said he knew nothing of local birds. Well I struck out, but not really. As we talked further, he mentioned he had a friend in Kirkwall that ran a small touring service that would know special places to see and the local birds. He offered to call the fellow and set up a trip with him the following day. Thank you I said, very gracious of you. We continued visiting. I told him I was in week three of a four-week hiking/backpacking, and singing performance trip through England and Scotland and that I had a singing engagement in Kirkwall. I mentioned it had rained more on this trip than I had planned, so frequently I stayed at bed and breakfast places to dry clothes and gear, and to clean up a bit before performances.
Now for the interesting part, he asked where I was staying on the island. I said for the evening, and it was getting late and would be dark soon, I needed to find a place to throw my tent down. He looked me in the eyes and said “Your coming home with me!” I gasped and said NO WAY! You’ve been gone many years, been ill, your parents don’t know your coming, your sisters’ having a wedding and your parents are entertaining the grooms family. NO WAY am I coming home with you! He insisted. He said on his world tour so many people had been so nice and kind to him, it was his turn to return the favor. “You can throw your tent down in our back yard”. Again I said no way. I had a ZZ-Top type beard, dirty levies, a T-shirt I had worn a couple days and was just plain grimy. I’ll find a park/camp ground or a Youth Hostel at which to stay. NO he said you’re coming home with me. So, I went home with him!
Well, at the door, we could see all the lights on and joyful visiting and laughter coming from within. Charles did not just go in, but knocked on the door like a visitor. His dad opened the door and nearly collapsed from joy of seeing his long absent son. Then came the long strange stare over Charles’s shoulder that was directed at me. I was about as scruffy as one could be. Oh, Charles said, this is my friend Smokey, he’s a singer and will be performing at the Motor Hoose pub. I met him on the ferry and he’s from Idaho, USA. Mr. Shearer invited me in and he and Charles introduced me to his family. Charles and I both were introduced to his sister’s new family. They were from St Andrews and I had been there a few days earlier. I had given a two-night performance at the 12th Tee bar on the famous “original” golf course.
Everyone was so gracious and the family was about to have dinner. They set an extra place for me. We visited about the wedding and they asked me about Idaho. None had been there of course. I said we grow potatoes. They kind of knew that.
I had a great time. Charles then insisted that I come to the wedding the next evening. I protested, saying the kind of clothes I’m in is what I’ve got, even my folk singing apparel would not do. (I did have a relatively clean pair of jeans and tee shirt for performances) My wedding attending apparel is back in Idaho. Okay he said, but you must come to the reception. I said fine, I’d come to that before my performance at the Hoose Pub. About that time, Charles’ dad took me aside and said “we need to find some place for you to stay; you can’t stay here tonight”. I replied that I was very aware of that, and asked if there was a Youth Hostel in town. He said one was about three blocks away and he could get me there. I bid everyone adieu and wished the wedding couple much happiness. I lingered, thanking Charles profusely and wishing him well. I never saw him again.
The next day, I met the tour fellow Charles had suggested. I had a great tour of the island and I logged many new life-list birds. A major site visited was Skara Brae; a stone built Neolithic settlement on Orkney’s west coast. It was under ground but was uncovered in1850 by a huge storm. Archeologists dated the occupation at 5,000 years ago: before Egyptian pyramids were built and centuries before Stonehenge. The last ice age there would have been receding when humans settled the area.
Back in town that evening, the shadows were growing longer as the sun was waning. From a distance, I watched the wedding party, dressed in formal dresses and tuxes, come to a magnificent huge cathedral, St Magus. Many were transported in old classic limousines’. The church was nearly1000 years old, founded by Vikings in 1137. The multi-hued sandstone roof spirals cast intriguing shadows as I circled the church taking photos, while imagining the beauty and formalities of the wedding taking place inside. In there, I certainly would have been out of place. I failed to attend the reception too as I needed to get to the Boar’s Head Motor Hoose Pub for my gig. It was about tree blocks away.
Later, back in Idaho, I had my photos developed. I know the wedding party would have hundreds of photos from inside to select. I saw no one outside recording the sunset beauty of the church and classic autos. Many of my pictures were fine. I made copies and sent them to Charles for the couples wedding album. I also sent him a nature book by Aldo Leopold. In time, I received a letter from him with news and thanks for the book and photos.
During the mid-80’s, I often incorporated songs written and sung by Eric Andersen. At the Boar’s Head Pub I sung “Close The Door Lightly”. Remembering this trip, the following words from the song flooded my mind.
Don’t look back to where you once had been, Look straight ahead, when you’re walking through the rain, And find a light, if the path gets dark and cold, But close the door lightly when you go.
Thus ended an event in my life that I will never forget and will cherish always.