It takes time: falling in love with a place.
It is not as simple as finding it beautiful or liking the rhythms of it.
And for me, place is important. In ways that I cannot explain, I become more myself in certain places. Of course that is about learned association, relationships, memories; but it is also in the stones.
When I was first ordained, I thought that the dream of the church would suffice. I had a view of priesthood that was no doubt rooted in my (Roman) Catholic childhood: you go where you’re sent. You go where you’re needed. Having chosen the wider geography (Scotland) the details didn’t matter.
But I was wrong. Dunoon taught me that. I had interesting, creative, growing congregations but I just could not live there. And the fact that I knew that many people found it beautiful, that I could objectively say that it was, made no difference. I was never at home.
So, there has always been the question: can I fall in love with Dunblane?
It has potential, you see: places to walk that don’t involve mud or ticks or hiking boots; a splendid little cafe where I can sit and write or read; open skies and grassy places; grand old trees and (crucially) the river.
Last year at this time, I was too busy to see past the obvious. Yes, I would walk to the river — but it was July (and the arrival of godchildren) before I went as far as the play park. I found a sort of jetty by the river where I could sit and look and pray. I stood on the bridge plotting sermons. Key places, but a bit too public. Falling in love with a place takes time, and quiet, and a space where I can be with reasonable hope that I won’t be interrupted.
Today, all the usual places were full. A happy sort of fullness: a bit of splashing, a bit of laughter, some quiet conversations, contented woofs — but it was hot enough that it was all quite subdued. Still, I needed spaciousness.
A few weeks ago I found the bluebells, up and over the hills, a haze of purple.
So I set out, with the vague memory of a bench that looked down on a dark corridor of the river. But this is the exploring time: I’m making a point of going left where I normally go right; down where I usually go up, just to see what I find. And that meant I found a lower path, right along the river, beneath the blue bells, shady and cool.
May is the month of blue and white and gold, and the path was perfect:
the hill rose up to the right, a carpet of blue scattered with dancing bright yellow broom. White blossomed hawthorns dotted the hillside, fragrant in the sun. To the left, the river: cool and dark, then flashing bright; slow curls of peridot and amber stillness. The path itself bending between shade and sun.
I thought I found a prayer place — a bend in the river, with a suitable stone seat. I watched the fish for a while, amazed at how fast they fled if my shadow moved. In the end, I had to leave too soon, chased off by the couple who bizarrely chose the bench closest to me for their … (hmm)… intertwining.
only to settle down again on a less comfortable rock in a less shady spot, hoping to recapture what was beginning before they came.
It’s too soon to say, but Dunblane has potential.
It would be good if I could learn to live here. Indeed, essential, that I learn to live well here.
It’s harder than you think.
Meanwhile, as I courted the river, Molly befriended a squirrel. It’s not nearly as much fun as indoor mice, but it does add excitement to sunny quiet day.