A Modest Harmony

A Modest Harmony

Sheila Gordon, © 1982, Seawiew Books 1982 hardcover, a biographical travel reminiscence

Bought long ago under now forgotten circumstances, this has been on a shelf devoted to books on travel, the landscape of nature and the like for years. In the stressful time of holiday planning, scheduling, shopping and decorating I wanted something calming and thought this would be a good choice, as it was.

In the 1970s, Gordon and her husband live in New York. In earlier years they had lived in both South Africa and England, and had made friends with an English couple who moved to Scotland to retire and farm a small costal acreage. On a visit to these friends, they talked of buying a small cottage in the highlands for summer vacations, and one Spring morning in New York the phone rings with the news that the perfect place has come up for sale. Would they like to buy it?

So, sight unseen, their friends acting as agents, they buy the two story stone cottage on a small loch. For seven summers they stay in it, from June to mid August, renting it out for the rest of the year. This book chronicles those visits, from the first summer getting the place cleaned, furnished, set up. They choose to have only a telephone. No radio (wireless), no television. They provision themselves with thick books and their evenings are spent reading, talking,  planning the next days activities. Daytimes, they take great rambling walks across the hills and dales, observing the nature and inhabitants, from black-faced sheep to cattle, flowers, birds, farmers, children, other residents of the beautiful, unspoiled deep green, clear-aired countryside.

With each successive summer, they meet and make friends with a wider group of people, learn more about the present and the past of the area, explore villages more distant, read about the Roman ruins, the history of droving, the farming techniques, the history of the church. Gordon goes into just enough detail about these things to be interesting without lecturing, and her eye for detail allows her to paint a memorable portrait of the beauty of the glens, the lives of the farmers and villagers and the contrasts between life in the highlands of Scotland and that in the large cities of the world.

Though it’s not for everyone, I found this portrait of a place rooted in, and preserving, it’s past told through the eyes of a 20th century writer from New York to be warm and charming.

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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6 Responses to A Modest Harmony

  1. Jeff Meyerson says:

    I never heard of this one but tt sounds like a book I’d read.

    Nice choice.

  2. I think you revealed a little too much information in this review, Rick. You should have used [SPOILER!] warnings.

  3. Richard says:

    Perhaps you’re right, George. Though it’s obvious from the title they spend just seven summers, perhaps I should have left out the reason they stopped going. So I’ve edited that out.

  4. Nice edit job, Rick! I try not to give too much information away in my reviews. In fact, if I think a review is going to provide too much information about a book or a movie, I’ll read the review AFTER I read the book or see the movie. But, that’s just me.

  5. Richard says:

    Well, I think there’s a lot more leeway with non-fiction, George. Most of the time, there’s little to give away.

  6. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Some of us (like Crider) forget what we’ve read as soon as we’ve read it, so no problemo!


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