Emerging from the Winter Chrysalis.

Those of you who know the Highlands also probably know that the winter is long and demanding. Before I lived here twelve months of the year, I was amazed by how condescending people could be if you were not a “Resident”. “Resident” is obviously a word that describes where you live but it also has an emotive meaning. Coming from Cambridge, I looked it up on the Cambridge Dictionary on line and discovered the definition as “someone who lives in a particular place.” My experience of the Highlands tells me that this may be the definition but is only half the story. ” Resident” really means someone who has the commitment to the area to withstand the elements and all they can throw at you. It means someone who can withstand more hours of darkness than daylight and someone who enjoys their own company and that of a small group of like minded people. It also describes a hardiness and an obstinacy which provides fortitude so that instead of looking for quick gratification it rather rewards the internal reflection that spending time almost alone in bad weather can bring. I believe the Scots word “Thrawn” is a word that says it succinctly.

During the second half of the winter I have been occupied by an indoor life. For some time Norrie and I have been planning changes to our house and after much deliberation arranged for the builders to undertake a large internal project. Some of you will have been here and so may remember the internal structure of our house. It could have been described as two railway carriages, one on top of the other. Two long corridors with doors, spaced asymmetrically along the length on both sides. There was one staircase at the entrance. Now we have a staircase at either end. It has changed the dynamics of the building completely. There are two entrance doors, one at each end of the downstairs corridor and now there are two staircases. It feels balanced and one half of the house is mirrored by the other. Complete is the word I feel.

There is an extra excitement to this alteration. We have had the staircase lined with book shelves. For the first time in my eleven year ‘residency’ of Ard Daraich I am able to get my books out and in particular the art books. I can arrange them so that at any moment I can pull one out and flick through the illustrations. Unpacking the boxes was like meeting old friends. As with other personal possessions, books to me are more like friends and mileposts than vessels of knowledge. They contain possibilities and hope but also memories and the mileposts of an evolving life reminding me of previous preoccupations and thoughts. Some still hold true and others recede but together they represent a journey and I can not imagine replacing them with an electronic version although I can see that my purpose in owning books is not universal. If I had not jumped off but had stayed connected and saw books as a means to an end, then the electronic version might be for me. I have a friend who has worked in converting physical books into an electronic version to bring education to parts of Africa where students cant afford books but given the choice, the smell and feel of a book is not easily replaced.

I found this quote a few days ago and as the daughter of an academic found it rather apposite. I can’t remember where I saw it but think it was in relation to a private view we are going to in Glasgow tomorrow.

“We tend to treat our knowledge as personal property to be protected and defended. It is an ornament that allows us to rise in the pecking order. So this tendency to offend Eco’s library sensibility by focusing on the known is a human bias that extends to our mental operations. People don’t walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it’s the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did. Just as we need to stand library logic on its head, we will work on standing knowledge itself on its head.”

Umberto Eco

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