Lindblad Expeditions - From the National Geographic Explorer in the British and Irish Isles - Karen Copeland, naturalist
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From the National Geographic Explorer in the British and Irish Isles

May 23, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer

Poppy cultivar at Inverewe Gardens, Scotland
Sunset at the stones of Calanais, Isle of Lewis

Inverewe Gardens & Stones of Calanais

Time confuses one here in the ancient isles. Not the time of day, but relative time. What is old to those of us raised in North America? We do have history on our continent but how many of us look beyond the arrival of Europeans and thus five hundred years seems old to us? Here in northern Britain, thousands of years of habitation sit visible to our eyes. We might be inclined to think that the people of times gone by concerned themselves solely with the immediacy of survival, of living from day to day but we rapidly discover that many were much more far thinking than we are today. We build. We buy. We rush from here to there. And we dispose. That building is not good enough. Tear it down. That electronic gadget is outdated. Throw it out. Would we have the patience to plant a garden that would not reach its zenith for a century? How long do we expect our monuments to survive? Today, we had a tiny taste of patience and forward thinking.

The sea was a mirror. Shades of silver and gray undulated in irregular circles that coalesced and then drifted away accumulating flecks of gold and pastel pink. Here and there a gannet or puffin drifted, resting peacefully. Dolphins surfaced lazily with occasional bursts of energy to position themselves in the cushion of wave pushed in front of the bow. Water is a sedative, slowing our actions and thoughts.

We can dream of days gone by and picture young Osgood Mackenzie standing on the shore of his newly acquired land. A century and a half ago it looked little different than the rest of the Inverewe peninsula of Scotland. A carpet of deep green heather stretched as far as the eye could see. One tiny willow tree was all that broke the line of the horizon. Beneath his feet the Torridean sandstone was blanketed with soggy, acidic soil. And yet he had a vision of a fine home surrounded by a majestic woodland. It was certain that he knew that what he was about to undertake might take a lifetime or two to complete for trees don’t sprout tall overnight especially where the winds blow cold and winter gales bring salty spray from the sea. And what about that soil or lack thereof? But, all was possible given time and diligence. Today we enjoyed the rewards of his futuristic thinking. Grey herons raised their young in a tall pine tree while avian voices rang from the woodlands. Winding pathways led us between beds of bright perennials and mazes of azaleas and rhododendrons. Surrounded by color we explored the undulating landscape of Inverewe Gardens and sat quietly looking far off across Loch Ewe. Some even paddled the edges in kayaks as brightly colored as the blossoms on the land.

Water is a pathway used throughout all time. Thus it seemed only fitting that we approach the standing stones of Calanais on the Isle of Lewis by sea. Would Neolithic mankind be surprised to learn that the stones still stand and that Mother Earth still gives birth to the moon after five thousand years? Standing amidst the circle at the setting sun, somehow we knew that they knew their cathedral was immortal.

About the Author

Karen Copeland·Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Born and raised in Canada, Karen received her B.Sc. in biology from the University of Waterloo, her M.D. from the University of Western Ontario and interned at McMaster University in Hamilton. Detouring from hospital hallways, Karen soon became a whitewater guide and published photographer, fulfilling a passion for knowledge that began with botany and led to geology and ornithology.