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On Apples and Atonement

Yom Kippur this year didn't feel particularly different than any other Yom Kippur I've experienced. Which is strange, because almost everything in the past eight months has been completely different from anything anyone's ever experienced. But on Yom Kippur I fasted. I went to Synagogue. I saw my friends, drank juice after break fast. It all felt pretty normal.

Sure, I did it with a face mask. Services were broken into slots of 50 people, so at certain times I was in the main shul, and certain times I was in the banquet hall next door. That's fine, I'm adaptable. If anything, Yom Kippur might have been the most normal thing I've done in while. It was quite refreshing.

Back in July I met a woman named Netti. She came to stay on the farm in Dalmally. Even though Netti is only a few decades older than myself, our life experiences are vastly different. She grew up in East Berlin. She would tell me stories about growing up on the other side of the wall, how they didn't have a fridge or a bathtub in the house, and how her mother grew their vegetables in the yard. After she finished school, she did an apprenticeship as a tailoress, before moving to Scotland to make art.

Netti speaks of sewing as a language. She says when she came to Scotland from Germany, she couldn't speak English, but she connected to people through her sewing. She worked her way around Scotland, from Edinburgh to Caithness to Shetland, teaching felting to primary schoolers. She says that wherever she went she took her thimble and her good fabric scissors, and made a space for herself using what she knew.

Eventually she landed in Newburgh, a tiny town (practically a village, although the locals will deny it) right at the far North-Eastern tip of Fife. In fact, from the steps of Netti's home, you can almost see the sign reading 'Welcome to Fife', rising out of the rolling hills of Perthshire.

Fife is a strange chunk of Scotland. Separated from the rest of the country by the Firth of Forth to the South and the Firth of Tay to the North, in some ways it feels quite English, with quaint country cottages set amidst rolling hills. But Fife is also an ancient kingdom, home of the Picts, one of the tribes that pre-date Scotland and were later united.

The Fife Coastal Path runs 166 miles along the coast of Fife, from Kincardine in the South to Newburgh in North. It takes in the sandy beaches of Elie, the quaint fishing harbours of East Neuk, the ruined cathedral of St. Andrews and the rolling hills around the Forth of Tay, before finishing up in a dingy little park across the road from Netti's back door.

Back in February, a trip to East Neuk and hiking between St. Monan's and Crail on the Fife Coastal Path was my last real vacation before lockdown hit. Since then, I've walked the stretch East out of Newburgh several times, through the sheep and cattle fields rising high above the Tay.

It's a very British thing, walking. In Canada we would call it hiking, although that usually implies some sort of mountains. In India we called it trekking. Here it's walking, even when it's up a mountain. Scotland is full of long-distance walking paths, each dividing a stretch of path into week-long journeys over the land. There's the West Highland Way, from Glasgow to Fort William, and the Great Glen Way, stretching up to Inverness. There are lesser known ones, like the the Southern Upland Way, stretching all across the country from the West to the East. And of course, there's the Fife Coastal Path.

Right at the end of the Fife Coastal Path, some 100 metres before you reach the end, you pass a nondescript brick shack. Inside sits Jimmy, sitting at his loom, weaving tweeds. Originally from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, Jimmy now runs a weaving studio out of the shed in his yard.

The fabrics he weaves are beautiful. He incorporates traditional Scottish striping patterns in a twill weave, bringing in beautiful local wools. He sits in his shed, creating masterpieces at his wooden loom. Walking through his studio feels like you've entered another world, a small piece of the Hebrides transferred to a fairytale shed in a fairytale town.

One of the things that's so lovely about Scotland is the abundance of local materials. Jimmy uses Shetland wool, from Shetland. Netti uses found fabrics that are donated to her studio. She has beautiful lengths of lace and trimmings, all with their own stories to tell. I read a book about a weaver named Angus McPhee, coincidentally also from South Uist, who would make detailed sculptures and fabrics out of the local Marram grass, continuing on in the tradition that his people have carried for generations.

These makers are making things out of the objects that surround them, drawing inspiration from their lives and their experiences. Perhaps that's what we're also meant to be doing during these times, drawing inspiration from the things around us and using it to do good. I've been writing a lot, knitting a lot, walking a lot. I've been enjoying the change in pace.