Likeable Rogues

Happy Spring!  Even in the far north of Scotland there are signs of spring everywhere; buds forming, birdie-love rampant in the bushes and trees, the first tiny lamb sightings, and the eagerly-awaited longer daylight hours.  It’s still chilly and until May there’s always the chance of snow but this old earth keeps turning and new life is all around.

Photo01

Before I continue on this happy trail I feel I should follow up on Dinah, who you ‘met’ in my last article.  Sadly, she died the week the article was published.  As people say in these situations it was a mercy… but she will be missed.  The village folk turned out in force to see her off, and the minister paid tribute to her kindness, her friendly hospitality and her faith.  Even the “wee cakeys” she used to bake and give to people got a mention, which brought a smile to many of our faces.  She would have liked that so many people were there, though her heart would have broken along with all of ours if she’d seen her brother trailing along behind her casket, following his big sister for the final time (I was all right, up until then).  But he has rallied with the help of family and friends and in fact, he gifted us with one of Dinah’s many figurines, which both surprised and touched us.  It’s not our style, but it is a treasured keepsake nonetheless and I am glad to give it pride of place on the mantel.

Photo02

Within a very short time her house was emptied and her “wee hoosie” in the back garden was taken down and sold.  Our walkway has been quiet.  I miss her, and her constant stream of visitors, too.

Photo03

Dinah didn’t make it to the re-emergence of early morning and late evening light, but the seasons keep their time and so we find ourselves here, on this fine sunny day right at the beginning of spring.  My thoughts have turned to cheerier subjects and this time I’d like to take you from Dinah’s pious goodness to another type of villager: the likeable rogue.

One person in particular comes to mind.  I’ll call him Magnus though that’s not his real name.  Magnus comes from a family I have mentioned before whose notable traits are their love for their animals, their eagerness to work, and the fact that in times past they were unlikely to take poaching laws seriously.  Say what you like about The Law but to a certain sort of person in the Highlands the notion that fish in the rivers and deer on the hills “belong” to someone and therefore should not be taken without permission, is laughable.  When they see “the toffs” demanding payment for the privilege of catching a fish or shooting a deer, they find it preposterous.

Photo04

I’m sure the landowners saw it rather differently but back in the day, Magnus and his family just wanted to either catch a meal or earn a little extra money, and like many others of their time, they would go out under cover of darkness to do a spot of poaching.  There’s many a laughter-filled tale about these heart-pounding escapades, when Magnus and his brother would have to burrow into a cold and muddy riverbank, a sack of freshly-caught salmon thrown under a bush while they hid as the river-watcher roared their names into the dark night.  “I know you’re out there, boys!  You might as well show yourselves!”  As if Magnus and his brother would do any such thing.  They knew each pebble on the riverbank and every inch of the woodland paths worn smooth by foraging deer, far better than the river-watchers and gamekeepers who would, in the end, have to give up the search and go home empty-handed.  The brothers, on the other hand, went home more often than not with a bit of bounty for their trouble, not to mention another tale for gleeful re-telling.

Photo05

In the past, in other villages, my husband has been gifted lovely big salmon by friends or neighbors, handed over with a wink and a knowing look, so Magnus and his family were certainly not the only ones.  I suppose someone who keeps strictly to the letter of the law would find this sort of thing abhorrent, but I think that in places like these it’s as much in defiance as it is for sustenance or profit.  It’s an everyday workingman saying, “Who are you to say that a God-given fish belongs to you just because it meandered through a river that runs through your land?”  Substitute ‘deer’ for ‘fish’ and ‘forest’ for ‘river’ and it’s the same argument. There isn’t the poverty and urgent need that there was in the long-ago, but the affront of the Highlander towards the “landed gentry” and their ideas about ownership lives on.

Photo06

Magnus, who used to lead gamekeepers and river-watchers on merry chases across the countryside, is also somewhat of a pillar in the community.  He has a steady and respectable job, a nice wife and good kids.  He was in local government for years, he remains active in various community events, and he is a staunch friend.  My husband said of Magnus and his brother, “Any one of us would gladly have hidden them if they were making a run for it.”  This isn’t to say that Highlanders tolerate all manner of thievery, mind you!  There is a distinct difference in the mindset here between poaching and, for example, stealing sheep.  “The sheep belong to someone,” Sem said when we discussed it today.  “People have raised them, fed them, cared for them, and protected them.  That’s different.  Deer and fish are wild, they belong to no one even if the land-owners see it differently.”

Photo07

While I suspect there’s not so much poaching going on these days, the spirit of it lives on.  I’ve previously written of the Highland Clearances, when landowners evicted their tenants in favor of sheep, throwing people out of their homes and off of the land, leaving them to fend for themselves in any way possible.  I suspect it leaves a bit of animosity behind, even after all these years.  Not only that, but for a certain type of person I think it’s also the adrenaline-shot fun of it, the exhilaration of the chase, the feeling that for that night, at least, they have “won” in the battle between the Haves and the Have-Nots.

Photo08

To be sure, Magnus and his brother are hard and intimidating men when they want to be, but they are the very definition of likeable rogues and I can say this:  I’ve spent time in the company of Magnus and some of his family, and they are nice people who would do you a good turn before they’d do you a bad one.  If they’re your friends, they are completely your friends.  On the other hand, I’ve also spent an hour in the company of a “Lord” who came into our home last year.  Lord ____ was a smooth-talker with a mouth full of lies.  He was our friend so long as he thought he had our vote; not a bad guy, perhaps, but interested only in his own agenda and worse, trying to make it sound like he had the villagers’ best interests at heart.  He did not.  Magnus and his brother, though… well, if they had a friend or family member who needed a bit of help, it’s likely that person would find packages of venison or the occasional salmon on their doorstep.

Magnus & Co. may be poachers, but they look out for their people.

Photo09

Deb Segelitz
Deb Segelitz was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and is astounded to find herself living in the Scottish Highlands. Equally surprising to her is that she now has a small business restoring and selling old fountain pens. These two facts have convinced Deb that life is either beautifully random, or filled with destiny created by someone with a sense of humor. She hopes the fine north state residents will accept her as an honorary member, since she has some cousins in California who she visited once, but even more importantly because the north state folks she actually knows are fabulous people, who are also the reason for her presence here on anewscafe.com. An enthusiastic amateur photographer, Deb is grateful that she lives in a place that's about as point-and-shoot as it gets. Her tortoiseshell cat, Smartie, rates her as an average minion, too slow with the door-opening but not too bad on the food-dish-refilling, and her husband hasn't had her deported back to the States yet, so things must be going all right there, as well.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

30 Responses

  1. Matthew Grigsby says:

    First off: those photos!  What an eye you’ve got!  Second: I love a good scoundrel, of the best type, and there’s just something about people who have their own code and rules of conduct.  I think I’d like this Magnus chap!

    Another beautiful piece!  Thanks for sharing your world Deb.

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      Thanks, Matt!  Glad you enjoyed the photos, the story, and the scoundrel 🙂

      I didn’t really have room to add it, but Magnus’s mother, a teeny-tiny woman called Mabel, once blocked a gamekeeper’s car (by standing in front of it!) and gave him a loud and severe dressing-down for hassling her ‘boys’.  Sem said it was a sight to behold.  This family… they are fantastic, but don’t cross ’em!

  2. rsegelitz says:

    Each month I’m looking forward to read another of your stories. Whether sad, serious or funny, you bring the people in it to life.

  3. A. Jacoby says:

    I ALWAYS take time to read your “wee bits.”  I always learn something, I always have a chuckle or two and I always feel like I’ve had free trip abroad . . . and to the highlands, no less!  And like Matt said, your pictures are worth many, many thousands of words. Thank you  for sharing.

  4. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Deb, I always look forward to your pieces about life over there. Your description of the rogues remind me of some deep-in-the-bayou Cajun folks I’ve known in south Louisiana–great folks to hang out with, but don’t get on the wrong side of ’em.

    As always, thanks.

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Hal, I’m glad you enjoyed this article and the previous ones, too.  I can well imagine there are similar stories about folks deep-in-the-bayou, what fun!

  5. Great job again Deb.  I love the way you write…and  see no reason why you couldn’t actually take on the “Title” as Writer Extraordinaire.  Sometime life Gets in the Way, but it could happen for you.

    I loved the stories, and photos.  What a beautiful, albeit a bit blustery, and chilly from time to time, place to live.

    Don’t give it up, EVER !!

    A Long Distance Friend,

    Granny Boyd (Judy)  Houston, Texas

     

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, “Granny Boyd” 🙂  I’m glad you enjoy my writing.  It’s a not-so-secret ambition to somehow do something more (a book? dare I dream?) but I really have come to love writing these articles for ANC, it’s been fun right from the start and I’m so glad to be here in the ANC world, talking about my Highland world!

  6. Sharon says:

    What an absolutely lovely read first thing this morning (with wonderful pictures to go with it!), sipping my strong hot coffee with my doge at my feet. Thank you so much for the privilege of letting me have a glimpse into your world …and for being my friend.

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      It’s lovely to have you ‘here’, Sharon 🙂  I’m glad you enjoyed the read – please give the dog a belly-rub from me!

  7. Erika says:

    Thank you for another “wee” bit of respite and escape.  When I read your pieces, I forget (just for a little bit) that I live in the pedestrian suburbia of Lawn Guyland and I revel in your descriptions of life in the high country.

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, Erika – thank you for telling me!  ‘Lawn Guyland’ made me grin.  I’m glad you can be transported for a little while to this wild and woolly place where I live!

    • acelightning says:

      I grew up on Lawn Guyland, lived in Westchester County for a while, and now find myself in Noo Joisey – New York City has always been “just over the horizon”, or even closer (I can see the skyline of Manhattan from my upstairs window here).  Ironically, I live in a town called Highlands! But Deb’s Highlands are very, very different from mine, and I love reading about her home and her adventures.

       

  8. Ginny says:

    Your story telling is marvelous, and your photos are outstanding. Thank you, Deb. You are a precious soul.

    God bless you…..and the love of your life……….

  9. Thanks so much for this, Deb.  It was not so long ago that highland cattle raids were common and accepted forms of “commerce”.  🙂

    You have a standing invitation to the Old City Hall in Redding this weekend (April 9th) for the bagpipe music recital.  I’ll save some tea and biscuits for you and yours (and all the rest!).

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      It’s been some time since the border raids I would guess, but the spirit perhaps lives on! 🙂

      Thank you for the invitation!  Would that I could accept, alas, they have not yet figured out that teleportation thing yet.  But I’ll raise a cuppa in your honor on the day!

  10. Anne Gibbons (a Glesca lass) says:

    I have a tear in ma een after reading about Dinah (especially about her wee brother);  a smile on my face, getting to know Magnus and his family; and a nostalgic glow in my heart from gazing at those photos.

    Pursue that not-so-secret ambition! Today!

    Thank you again.

    • Deb Segelitz says:

      Thank you, Anne!  I’m so glad you got such pleasure from reading about them all 🙂

      Something holds me back from pursuing it… but maybe not for much longer.  I get such lovely encouragement here!

  11. Carrie says:

    I just simply love your column, always have! It does take me away for a moment.  🙂

  12. Sally says:

    It makes my heart feel happy that there are still giving, loving individuals such as you and that you share your “wee tales” and extraordinary photos!!  Thank you!

  13. acelightning says:

    The Native Americans also didn’t understand how anybody could claim ownership of a free-living animal – it belonged to whoever trapped, shot, or fished it. (They also didn’t believe that any *person* could own land; again, it was there for the use of anybody who wanted or needed it. If there was a dispute over who got to use it, it was settled in some traditional way.) Magnus’ ancestors were undoubtedly used to “living off the land”, no less than the Native Americans, and had every reason to resent the lairds who tried to tell people where not to hunt or fish. Privately raised livestock is, indeed, a different matter altogether!

    Speaking of privately raised livestock, that tiny wee lambie had me melting down in a puddle of “Awwwwww…” And your scenery is so very *scenic*! Lovely pictures, great story, as usual 🙂

     

  14. KarenC says:

    A beautiful story which always invites vivid pictures in my mind.  Love the photo of the old bridge. It is amazing how you have managed to leave one place and go into another and embrace it in such a loving way.    Love the stories.  Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *