Comparing winters in Waternish to Oregan

Thoughts from Diane Hoff-Rome





(Picture 1 is of the view from of Isay, Mingay and Clett)

(Picture 2 is of Diane’s garden in Oregan in the winter)

(Picture 3 is of the garden at on Waternish in the winter, looking across to Dunvegan head)

I didn’t know it, but the Zipline to Waternish began in my childhood: as an infant in the Highlands of Lynn,through college in a seaside fishing town- both in Massachusetts. I remember Scottish nursery rhymes, my mother’s Sunday lamb and mint (cooked the way her life long Scottish friend did); my artist father showing me the changing light in landscapes, portraits, introducing Rembrandt and Landseer in the same breath. Deep into Scottish and Celtic literature, I dreamed of Brigadoon.

19 years old. Gap year. An unplanned (or fate?) trip with friends to Skye. A harrowing ‘raft’ ride across the Kyles. After we climbed the 900 ft track, the heavens opened, not with rain, but with silent, streaming rays of light. My Brigadoon.

Years went by, but every spring, I read lthe late Derek Cooper’s book, Skye, now worn and tattered: yes, I became one of the besotted ones he wrote about. Returning to Brigadoon my family and I braved windblown tents, enjoyed beautiful rooms in friendly B&Bs; and a genteel family owned hotel, now long gone.

As an artist, I found my muse on Waternish – its ever-changing light, colours, sea and skyscapes, ancient ruins, dramatic and pastoral landscapes., stones, wildflowers, rain, wind… and like a bygone era, I found Waternish filled with an abundance of friendly folk, devoted family owned businesses – a village with commitment to its community.

I discovered my ‘bit of earth, a room of my own’ – a crofter’s cottage in a Waternish hamlet – it changed my life.

Our cottage is high on a hill overlooking the sea, Little Minch and Outer Isles. One of the darkest night skies in all of Europe are on Waternish; and from our hill, unobstructed views of the heavens above, as are unobstructed skies from the hill where our home in America is now in Oregon – one of many synchronistic twinsets.

From our Waternish cottage, on a clear day, we see the Cuillin Hills and at night, cottage lights on Benbecula across the Little Minch – both about 30 miles away.. Our cottage is called ‘Tir nan Og’, Gaelic for ’land of the eternally young’. In feudal times well into the mid-20th century, much of Waternish was still in feu. But today, Waternish is nearly all free hold offering infinite possibilities with the grace of one’s imagination, good health and good neighbours.

As it is this year on Waternish, an erratic winter also came early to America’s Northwest, where we live now in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Cold one day, warm another. 6 months of rain, November to April. Oregonians give thanks to the nearly daily deluges that sustain our aquifers and nourish the four season farmlands, vineyards (over 20 wineries in our own county), the grass needed for the cattle and sheep ranches.

On Oregon’s Pacific coast, we await an off shore turbine wind farm to be built, even as a wind farm may be a possibility on Waternish. In Alpine, Oregon, as we do on Waternish, we also live high on a hill. Our Prairie style home, ‘Dun Munro’ is our ‘weather watch tower’ over 1000s of acres of farmlands and the Finley National Wildlife Refuge – one of the first Wildlife Refuges in America established with John Muir’s tutelage. Separating our valley from the Pacific Ocean is the Coast Mountain Range, about the same height as the Cuillins; and to the east, the Cascade Range, living volcanic mountains to 4,000+ m. .

Unlike Waternish, our inland sea, carved by the Ice Age, is no longer. The seabed became the Willamette Valley, about 150 miles long, now one of the largest agricultural acreage in America. Surrounding our hill is David Douglas’ legacy’- a forest of ‘his’ Fir trees that created Oregon’s timber industry – seen still on Waternish from Fairy Bridge to Bay, the Fasach to Gillen.

To reach shops from Alpine, we must travel south 10 miles or 22 miles north. the same distances Waternish folk must travel. Alpine has a wonderful fledgling community center with a pre-school and community garden, Whilst Waternish is blessed with talented volunteers who give their heart and soul to both the Waternish Community Hall and the Visit Waternish organization – each dedicated to support Waternish folk and visitors. And the astounding ‘places to go’ – Stein Inn, Lochbay Restaurant, Dandelion & Images Gallery (where I and many other local artists show work); Diver’s Eye: diving, fishing, boat trips; Skyeskyns, Brae Fasach Gallery, Shilasdair; at home businesses, wonderful B&B and self-catering cottages! Alas, there are no such amenities in Alpine.

As on Waternish, the yellow Broom is Alpine’s harbinger of spring, as we wait for the sun to shine again. In Alpine’s, spring, mountain snow melt brings overflowing rivers. Spring is another tale to tell.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT! How is Oregon’s zipline connected to Talisker Distillery? Its mash barrels are manufactured from Oregon wood.

Diane Hoff-Rome, Cottage at Tir nan Og, Waternish