Contrasts make life interesting, as I found with a recent change of scene from New York City, where I live, to the Highlands of Scotland.
Lismore, in the Central Highlands, is an island about 10 miles long, narrow and green, lying at the convergence of Loch Linnhe with the Firth of Lorn. It is surrounded by the mainland mountains of Appin and Morvern, and those of the Isle of Mull - "great, wild, and houseless mountains," as Robert Louis Stevenson describes them in "Kidnapped."
I am one of three passengers on the ferry bound for Lismore. Very few people live on the island.
On landing, I start walking along a public path that takes me through an elderly woman's garden. When I tell her where I am from, she says, "Oh, the Big Apple." My city's nickname is known even in the Western Islands of the Inner Hebrides!
I continue on the path. Sheep and lambs become my companions. I sit on the soft grass. Instead of people-watching, as I do in New York City, on Lismore I sheep-watch. My presence does not disturb them. The lambs are very young. They frolic near their mothers. Any separation brings a chorus of bleating by mothers and offspring.
The air has a refreshing tang. I gaze upon green meadows, stone walls separating fields, the sea, and mountains. Streams wind their way through the meadow to the sea.
By the ruins of a castle, I encounter a shepherd. He was born and raised on the island. As an urban dweller, I know nothing about sheep. He answers my many questions. Shepherds, he tells me, perform the same tasks now as they did in Biblical times.
He and I are enlisted by his neighbor to move a water tank. We do so. The neighbor loans me his bicycle so I can see more of the island.
On Lismore, I am enveloped by beauty. With reluctance, I depart for the mainland.
A hundred miles to the north is Ullapool, a fishing town of white-washed houses on the shores of Loch Broom.
From the town, I climb a steep hill, pushed along by gale-force winds. It is very cold. My fingers are numb.
Looking down on Loch Broom and the sea, I see dark rain clouds heading my way over the mountains. There is no shelter from the storm on the bleak and treeless Scottish moor. When the rain comes, I crouch on a rock with my back to the storm. The rain turns to hail. Bombarded by ice pellets, I long for the tranquil streets of New York City where nature seldom poses a threat.
But the storm passes, and the sun reappears. In this part of the world, changes of weather occur rapidly. The views from the hill are magnificent. In the distance I see the ferry returning from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
ON the way down, I meet a Highlander who tells me an interesting story. The street-grid pattern established at Ullapool by the British Fisheries Society in 1788 served as one of the models, 23 years later, in the planning of Manhattan's system of streets.
In the Highlands of Scotland I find contrasts to life in New York, but also reminders of my city.