Anna rolled over in bed, eyes closed, tasting the surrounding greys. This was Scotland, and she knew there would be gloom and mist in the air. Still, she remembered the brightly painted houses, colors of pink and blue and yellow, lining the waterfront last night.
Slowly moving from her soft mattress toward the window, Anna envisioned bogs with thick fog, or dark smoke emanating from the chimneys below her room. Pulling last night’s denim jeans over her slim hips, then a clean white t-shirt over scraggly brownish hair, she shuddered off the cold dampness in her room. She thought of her friend who moved to America to escape the bone chilling cold and winds typical here, but Anna’s fantasy included warm fires and solitude—exactly what she needed. Opening the shuttered windows, her memories were accurate, the painted buildings remained, and she could see ash colored plumes circling chimneys below.
The bogs were fantasy though, as the hotel’s views were of the bay, filled with small fishing boats and scattered tourist charters. Still, shades of grey and mist hung in the air.
Putting on her tennis shoes and grabbing a jacket, Anna headed for the stairs. Hoping for gourmet coffee, the kind often difficult to find away from home, she was pleasantly surprised as the familiar aroma greeted her from a café doorway. Black tea was the more typical order here, but coffee was much improved from the instant brown crystals offered the last time she visited.
The restaurant was British-cute, with flowered wallpaper, small tables and teapots, but the traditional Scottish breakfast of meat, eggs, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, toast, and black pudding was too much for today. She grabbed a bran muffin to add to her take away coffee and hurried off.
The crisp air, light ashy skies and dark slate ocean waves were what her soul needed, reminding her of home, and the small coastal Northern California town where her parents now lived. Her best friend found the greyness gloomy and hated how its misty wetness frizzed her hair. Anna, however, loved it, finding it ghostly and magical.
A coastal walk was what she needed, and she eventually found the trail, a mostly hidden muddy path, a mélange of trees, bushes and flowers. The area’s dark presence was enthralling: a place of mystery tucked among surrounding silence, with glimpses of blue-grey ocean between the trees, surrounded by an endless grove of rhododendron forests with large pinkish, lavender flowers. She marveled at their stature, consistency of color and ability to grow in spite of their massive size blocking the sun.
Anna walked tirelessly until startled by an old man emerging from the foliage. Small in height, thin, with a grey-white beard and little hair on his head, he nodded:
“Good Day,” he shouted, his words sounding like more of a statement than a greeting.
With a slight bend to his torso and an ornate walking stick he leaned on for support, he moved with confidence, looking like a wizard from long ago in the picture books Anna perused as a child.
“Good Day,” she repeated. “A fine day for a walk, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he replied, with a slightly musical Scottish brogue. “It is, it is.”
He paused for a moment, then volunteered: “I’m here every day, and it’s always a beautiful time for a walk, no matter the weather.”
He walked alongside her, uninvited. Anna enjoyed his unassuming presence, but after a time, she broke the silence:
“The rhododendrons are beautiful. I have some at home, but I’ve never seen them like this. Here they surround us, an entire forest of sweetly smelling trees that reach into the sky. They’re totally enchanting.”
“Yes,” he replied. “But they’re invasive, and there’s an effort to rid the islands of them.”
Anna was stunned. Even among this misty greyness, she was surrounded by more beauty than she could imagine. How did anyone dare to change this? She mulled over his pronouncement, then continued:
“I’m surprised,” she said. “The flowers are all one color. At home I see red, pink, and white rhododendrons. Why aren’t there more colors?”
“You’re wrong,” he answered vehemently, shaking his head. “Look carefully. You can see blues, reds, pinks, violets, all in the same flower.”
Anna looked, squinting, trying, but still seeing only a beautiful pinkish lavender.
She remembered art teachers explaining different shades she could not see. “It’s greenish-blue,” they’d say, or yellowish-orange.” Anna saw only blue, orange.
Frustrated by his words, she said nothing, but nodded, as if to imply she understood. They walked in solitude, then he stopped:
“This is where I leave you.” He bowed and disappeared into the trees.
Anna turned to retrace her steps, mentally replaying her strange encounter, wondering where he lived, or who he really was. Still frustrated, she looked up at the rhododendrons one more time. Then she saw it. Glimmers of red and blue appeared among the flowers and buds. Even a touch of ashy grey. Was she imagining the colors, or did they truly exist? The red seemed redder, the blues bluer. Patches of sky even opened above the trees, with the appearance of greyness illuminated by bits of blue and yellow.
She marveled at her new visions, the gift he’d given her. Smiling, she headed back to town, through the gray mists and fog.
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