Can an airborne mote of dust be said to be ‘flying’? The mote in question floated up to a height of some 500 feet on an updraft formed by the topography of the land. Mountains several thousand feet tall rose on both sides of a long fjord-like extension of the sea beyond an island chain just off the coastline.
A squat, singular, almost square castle sat on a small islet on the more easterly shore of the particular ‘fjord’ from which our mote had risen. As it was a beautiful spring weekend day, the parking lot near the castle walls was filled with an assortment of bright automobiles which had carried an assortment of nattily dressed families on holiday to this relatively remote location. Remote that is for the part of the world the mote hovered above.
Suddenly and without preparation our mote was buffeted by the flapping wings of a chevron of honking Greylag geese. The birds happened to be working their way north after a long winter spent in a warmer climate. The geese didn’t notice the mote but it was directly impacted by their passage. The mote flicked briefly upward before losing the updraft current and starting a precipitous tumble into a well of disturbed air. The Greylags argued and squonked their way onward without regard for how they’d changed the fate of the dust mote.
On its passage back to earth the particle of dust found itself in a slipstream which propelled it southward toward a small, single-lane bridge. The bridge carried a narrow dirt roadway leading up the westward side of the ‘fjord’ toward a high pass between two of the several rampart mountains looming over the castle’s inlet. Just as the mote was about to make landfall at the side of the road a powerful green ex-racecar modified to pass as ‘street-legal’ roared madly across the bridge and swept the mote upward again in a swirl of other particles and detritus strewn along the ground. Lighter than most of the other items, our mote danced higher. It was grabbed by a different crosswind among the crazy quilt of crosswinds coming out of the steep and convoluted valley inland to the east.
The crosswind propelled the mote back out over the warming water where yet another updraft launched it once again high, higher than before up into the dizzy air above the mountain summits. All of the hills and peaks below were barren, denuded long ago of their native forests by the landowners. The intent of the wealthy landlords had been to encourage the crofters, the local settler folk, to move away, perhaps to the cities or even beyond the seas to ‘new lands as someone else’s problem’.
The high wind-scoured peaks, rocks thrust bare into the harsh light of the sun, were now occupied by sheep only. The shepherds brought them here for the healthy grasses. Also, there were wild things up here; the persecuted vixen, her tod and their kits, the Autumn-roaring stags and deer, the skittish wildcats, the stoats and the cavalcade of rodents to be found on any mountainside. Being a mere dust particle, the mote saw none of this. It wheeled over the peaks to the valley on the other side and then plunged downward toward a seaside village nestled in a tight corner where the single-track road swerved out of the hills and began a coastering journey for miles alongside a wide, often storm-tossed sound between the mainland and a precipitous large island further west.
As the mote sank down once more near a small white building marked “Tavern” the same green once-racecar zipped by in its own feathered plume of dust. The mote was caught up in this whirlwind and pulled along at reckless speed past the few remaining small buildings of the village, out into the countryside where the walls of a large, ruined barracks stood in a field long left for fallow, then beyond an even more ancient tower made from rocks roughhewn to fit together by people of a different culture from the one now occupying this shoreline.
The light particle was swept forward on the rush. Yet again a brisk valley wind picked it up and careened it ahead of the powerful car to swoop over an old croft with a dilapidated tin roof beside a mountain pond along the roadway. In the pond a woman was pulling up her skirt and wading into the brackish water to unravel a cygnet caught in wire hidden beneath the water’s surface. The anxious mother swan swam near but not threatening, waiting for its baby’s freedom. Waiting uncertainly on the opposite side of the pond, an otter rubbed its whiskers.
The big car skittered to a halt in a fank near the croft. A thin man hopped out and shouldered a pack from the boot of the car. He called, “Jonnie,” as the dust mote fell into his orbit. A large black and white springer spaniel leapt from the vehicle’s passenger seat. The man waved to the woman who’d saved the cygnet and she waved back. He turned to follow the path of a burn flowing from the high ground to the east on its course to join the sea much further below. His wave brought the mote even more firmly into his space. Beside the pond the otter watched.
On the winding four mile hike down to the sea’s edge the mote nearly abandoned the man once or twice. A swish of Jonnie’s happy tail once pulled it back into position. Another time the man swung his pack from one shoulder to the other, reintroducing the drifting dust mote to the movement of air around him. Eventually the three emerged onto a wide field of grass melding into the whitest sand the man had ever seen, true coral sand alien to this northern climate. The flowing mountain burn swept round behind a cottage to chatter its frigid way over smooth, round pebbles into a narrow bay opening onto an ocean vista. The westering sun of late afternoon shone diamonds on the deceptively calm water.
The man and dog stepped up to the lonely cottage while he fished out a key from his trouser pocket. Opening the door he stepped over the threshold for the very first time, pulling the mote inside with him. The dog rushed in and out and back in again with joy. The man took in his surroundings as the mote drifted to the ceiling above. In the opposite corner of the room he saw a small fireplace topped with a somewhat overpowering mantle. At that moment the man knew what he would carve into that mantelpiece above his sanctuary. Non fatuum huc persecutus ignem*. And so it began.
*”It is no will-o-the-wisp that I have followed here”
$5.00 and bragging rights to the first person who can tell me the man's name without using technology!