I’m on my holidays and finding it hard to stick to my routine of Mon/Wed/Friday posts on History/Travel/Writing. Which is a good thing really, because holidays are a time for stepping back and taking time to look at yourself in the world.
One of my best experiences this trip has been the opportunity to hear Dougie Maclean perform in a tiny village hall in the back-of-beyond Perthshire. For those of you who don’t know of him or his music, if you’ve ever watched the film The Last of the Mohicans and listened to that wonderfully hypnotic music – that’s his. Or how about ‘Caledonia‘, a song that people around the world have taken to their hearts – his ‘loveable monster’ as he calls it – and which one day may become Scotland’s national anthem.
One of the songs he performed the other night was The Scythe Song, a haunting and incredibly wise song about learning, practise and patience.
He told us the story behind it; of how his father, a farmer, was skilled at scything the old-fashioned way, slicing through the wheat which then fell to the ground with a softly whispered hishh. Dougie tried to copy him but was unable to match his father’s skill.
“Oh, this is not a thing to learn inside a day,” his father says in the song. “Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show you the way. You’ve got to hold it right, feel the distance to the ground. Move with a touch so light, until its rhythm you have found. Then you’ll know, what I know.”
The final verse suggests that years later Dougie’s daughter asked him to show her how to play like him. “So little dancing girl you want to learn to play a tune. One that your heart can fill to help you shine under the moon.”
His reply? “Well, it’s not a thing to learn inside a day. Stand closely by me and I’ll try to show the way.”
Then, by changing one single word and adding another, he completes the circle and teaches all of us that, no matter what our passion, whether it’s writing, singing, knitting, sports, building, engineering, science, the answer is the same.
“You’ve got to hold it right feel the distance to the sound
Move with a touch so light until its rhythm you have found
Then you’ll know what I know now.”