Thursday, August 06, 2009

On the shores of Lake Michigan . . .

I’m still reeling from the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Ron and Heather here in Upper Michigan. We rode through the woods to the lake, hopping out of the car at for vistas of Lake Michigan, finally stopping at Sleeping Bear Dune National Lakeshore, to see summer hikers of all persuasions and ages struggling up its 450 foot incline.

Manitou Island in Lake Michigan from Dune Overlook

Later, we sat at a long table on their enclosed patio surrounded by poplars, the sun shimmering through. The table was loaded with grilled salmon, mixed green salad, fresh bread, tossed summer squash, all flavors rising to our noses with anticipation. Heather reached out and said, “Let’s begin with the Selkirk Grace.” They recited it by heart, with fervor AND the proper Scottish pronunciation. What they didn’t know is this poem attributed to Robert Burns is the opening to my book, but this was the first time I’d ever heard it aloud (or that anyone else knew of it).

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
Sae the Lord be thankit.

Heather later confided that she hated the poem when she was younger for her family recited it at every meal. “They sounded like knuckle-draggers,” she said, as “we hae meat and we can eat” called forth the image of cave dwellers, at least then to a teenager.

Her grandparents had come over from Scotland in the early 1900s to settle in flat farming land in the thumb of Michigan, where one had a chance to own land. Her grandmother talked of the surprise of raising a variety of vegetables, well past the meager three – oats, bere, and potatoes.

The memory of that day, sitting under those sun-dappled trees, that salmon, grilled with mustard and maple syrup, lingers on. I was left with the sense of why Scottish immigrants would remember their green, green homeland with its glens and fogs, heather and stormy seas, but just as eagerly embrace their new homelands, whether in the United States, Canada, India, or Australia. Maybe too, I begin to understand why the Scots love Robbie Burns.

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