Monday, December 31, 2007

On the Cusp of a New Year

In 1831, a storm uncovered a store of hidden figures on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. They seemed at first to be "little people" buried in the sand. But, they were chessmen carved from walrus ivory and whale teeth, some stained red. It's thought they were carved in 12th century Norway and traveled to Lewis by ship. Most of the collection is in the British Museum in London. Some are in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh.

During the summer of 1995, there was an exhibition of Lewis Chessmen in Stornoway. The chessmen had, in fact, come home for a short time. I saw them there in a small museum where signs and Mac computers offered explanations in Scots Gaelic. I was captivated by the gloomy Chessmen -- the queen with her "O, my god" expression and the rooks, biting their shields like Viking "berserkers". I brought home a stone-carved King and Queen and they have been on my desk ever since.

Today, I have a full set of Lewis Chessmen, a gift of the season. They are now my companions and Muse for the year to come as I write a story with them, about them, inspired by them. They will captivate Maddy Tucker, a restless teenager who tags along with her biologist father on his latest research project in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. I hope you will be captivated, too.

On this New Year's Eve, these gloomy medieval faces fit our troubled world. But, as ever, I am the determined optimist -- writing a novel, writing for change, challenging those who would keep us silent and at war. Tonight we burn away the old year.

What shall we bring to the New?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Here's one of Barry's photos to mark the season. For the past few years, we have set our Christmas tree on the deck where it serves as shelter to red squirrels, birds and an occasional mouse. One year, the tree became a nesting site for two mourning doves and we watched that miracle of small eggs later hatch into a new brood.

I am thinking about Winslow Homer who said: "In the end, what matters most is the Sea."

I'm asking myself, "In the end, what matters most is _________" and I don't know, yet. Ask yourself this question and send me your comments.