Thursday, 14 March 2013

Wha Daur Meddle Wi Me

The dysentery continued working down into my gut, and I continued pouring tea and curry on it. Bit by bit, dump by dump, I ground ahead. But supplies were dwindling, and soon I would run out of several key munitions. It was a question of who would give out first, the bugs or I.

That was the week the Scottish thistle (Cirsium vulgare) came into bloom. I struggled to find no significance in this. There are no omens. All the world is cause and effect; anything more is superstition. Distraction, and time and effort lost to the Great Matter.

Yet all my heritage is avid for signs. Scot. Seafarer. Old Settler. Hell, just country boy. Always vigilant for a catfish moon, a mushroom blow, a snow day. And so I can't help but catalogue the seemingly random – seemingly because they are – associations around me. A song on the radio becomes a portent of whatever it is I'm driving to; events clustered in a given month mark it forever as a shoal or channel of fortune.

And now, when I was mired in fear and menace, an auspicious mauve salute. For thistle is dear to my father's people. In 1263, challenged by a rapidly coalescing Scottish kingdom, Norway's King Haakon IV attempted to enforce his claim to Scotland's Western Isles. Legend holds that during the Battle of Largs, Haakon's army sent scouts ahead to open a daybreak charge on the indigenous positions. Running girded and barefoot in the night, the Norsemen made good time, until they encountered, just short of the Dunkeld lines, a patch of patriotic thistles. The cry they let out allowed the Scottish knights time to horse up. The resulting battle was a draw, which is as good as a defeat to the defender, and a great whack of modern Scotland became Scottish by law as well as right.

Thus the prevalence of the thistle, spiny vindictive weed bearing blossoms of heart-pricking loveliness and delicacy, in Scottish symbology. And the steely threat, unannealed by Latin flourish, embroidered below Scotland's Royal Arms: "No-one touches me with impunity."

Well, it was the season for Scottish thistle, and I could have fallen sick any time. Flowers bloom for Scot and Scandinavian alike; the sight of these, in that place, at that time, was purest coincidence. Still, I could swear as I passed that day I heard a cheery, scowling expletive.

In Gaelic.

(Tent weel wha these dafties stramp.)

(Adapted from 100 Days on the Mountain, copyright RK Henderson. Scotland's Royal Arms courtesy of WikiMedia Commons and a generous artist.)
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