Fin led me down the beach. The sun dried our clothes and the air from the close waters kept us cool. Our shadows walked beside us and the green grass to our left waved at us as we passed. We passed beyond the boulder confines of the bay and the beach changed from sand to pebbles that the unblocked sea pushed ashore. Birch and alder trees shaded us from the hot sun and their fallen branches, long ago scraped of their bark, tempted me with their long shafts and knotty, curved peculiarities. In that way they were much like the owner of the island who I found myself wondering what sort of a man could leave paradise for the drudgery of city life.
I stopped in front of a tall, old gnarled tree and noticed a fine walking stick. It lay on the ground half covered in sand and pebbles. The shaft was crooked, but sturdy, and I stooped and snatched it up from its fate as fertilizer. I tossed the stick into the air length-wise and caught it in my curled palms. “What sort of tree did this come from?” I asked my guide.
Fin stepped up beside me and pointed at the tree under which we stood. “This is an alder.”
“Are they any good for walking sticks?” I wondered.
He smiled. “Very good. Alder wood is often used in the making of furniture.”
I clasped the stick in one hand and set one end of the stick on the ground. “Maybe this will bring me luck and keep me from falling.”
“Not likely,” he mused.
I turned to him with a frown. “Why not?”
“The alder is known for many things, but it’s more likely to lead you to the fairy realm then on a safe journey,” he told me.
I put one hand on my hip and raised an eyebrow. “Then what is it known for?”
“It helps those who need courage to face what they’ve been avoiding,” he explained.
His firm, unblinking eyes stared at me. I blushed and turned my face away. “Well, I still think it’s a good stick, so I’ll keep it.”
“A good choice. We’ll soon move down to the southern end and we’ll have to climb out of the beach. The rocks are as troublesome there as they are at the northern point,” he told me.
We went on our way along the beach. As he promised, the pebbles changed to rocks, and then to boulders. We stopped at the edge of a field of rocks and Fin pointed out a straight pile of rocks on the gentle hillside to our left. “That’s where my ancestors lived their days,” he told me.
I stepped closer to the rocks. The front of the line lay on the very edges of the beach while the back was half-buried in the grass-covered hillside. “So why did they leave? Too many marauding Norse?” I asked him.
He nodded at the top of the hill above us. “No, the sea came too close and they sought higher ground over the hill.”
“You sure it wasn’t the taxes? Beach-front property is pretty expensive,” I teased.
“Yes, especially when the beach comes through your front door,” he returned.
I snorted, but my enthusiasm didn’t last long after a cool breeze blew over me. I wrapped my arms over myself and shivered. “Did somebody just walk on my grave?” I wondered.
“No, but we had better reach higher ground ourselves. The wind never stays warm down here for long,” he advised.
We turned left up a muddy path surrounded on both sides by waving beach grass. After a half mile uphill I was winded and stopped to park my posterior on a rounded boulder. My stick stuck into the ground as I grasped it in both hands and leaned on it for support.
“This. . .is a big. . .island,” I huffed.
Fin stood close by and smiled. “You’ll get used to it,” he assured me.
I snorted. “In a few weeks? I doubt it.”
Fin opened his mouth, but he shut it and turned away. His eyes glanced up at the sky. Small white clouds lazily floated by. His voice sounded far away as he recalled memories I could only imagine. “My father would bring me to this very spot on days like these.”
“To enjoy the view?” I guessed.
He chuckled. “No, to hunt for rabbits. They live beneath the rocks and survive on the grass.”
I snorted. “Sounds like a real romanticist.”
Fin smiled and sat down beside me. Our sides brushed against each other. “That was my mother. I think that’s what he loved most about her. She could see the beauty in everything, and she made everything more beautiful.”
“Like the roses?” I guessed.
He gave a nod. “Yes, the roses and the little garden at the back. We never had vegetables that weren’t grown from her garden.”
“I haven’t seen the garden yet,” I told him.
“I’m afraid it’s rather weeded over. I have tended it in years,” he admitted.
“Is it too late to start growing something in it?” I wondered.
“No, the season is still fine for root crops like carrots and potatoes.” He turned his head to me and his eyes twinkled. “But what were you wanting to know that for?” he mused.
I shrugged. “Well, I can’t go walking every day trying to kill myself, so I’ve got to find something else to do,” I pointed out.
“I must warn you it isn’t easy keeping a garden on the island. The rabbits and birds fight you for your food,” he told me.
“Then I’ll just have to borrow one of the General’s guns and have a war with them. If we don’t get any veggies then we’ll at least get meat,” I suggested.
Fin chuckled and stood. ‘Well, it seems there’s no stopping you when you’ve set your mind to it.”
I joined him on my feet. “Nope. When can I start?”
“If you’re that eager we should head back to the cottage. The path back to the house isn’t as straight as following the beach,” he warned me.
I glanced back at the winding muddy path to my right and snorted. “You call that straight?”
“If you’ll recall there are worse on the island,” he pointed out.
“Point taken. Lead on,” I commanded him.
We meandered our way back to the little cottage on the eastern side of the island. By the time we arrived at the quaint door my leg told me it had had more than enough exercise for one day which was a pity because I still had the walk to the Grand House for dinner. There was also the matter of a certain garden to see.
Fin stopped us at the door and turned to me. His eyes traveled downward to my leg and how I leaned heavily on the stick. “Did you want some rest before we see the garden?” he suggested.
I shook my head. “You promised me I’d see the garden, and I’m going to keep you to your word.”
He smiled. “You are the most obstinate girl I have ever met.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, now show me the garden or I’ll find it myself.” To further strengthen my warning I shuffled toward the front-left corner of the cottage.
Fin followed me and took the lead. We walked along a stepping-stone path with patches of soft, lush grass between the stones. Flowers lined the side of the house and their beautiful colors of purple and yellow contrasted well with the white-paste color of the cottage walls. To our left was a small yard with native trees, and in front of us was the edge of the house and another open space.
We rounded the corner and were presented with the rear yard. There was an arbor in front of us on which grew a wild vine with small-petaled flowers of purple and white. On either side were more roses bushes like the one at the front. The stone path led beneath the arbor. I stepped through the arbor and I felt like I’d been transported to another time and place.
Before me was a large rectangular plot that was now claimed by the weeds, but was once a large, square garden. The tilled earth still showed its black, healthy color and rows still waited for a planting that was yet to come. Behind the garden and on either side lay the small brae behind the house. There were steppes dug into the steep hillside, and on those grew hardy berry plants, and a few old vines of grapes. Against the rear of the cottage was a small bench made of the gnarled wood of an ancient alder tree, and beyond that lay another arbor identical to the one close at hand. The sun shone down on the entire plot of yard and allowed weed and food plant alike to grow tall and strong.
Fin moved to stand by my side. “What do you think of it?” he asked me.
“Why didn’t you show me this sooner?” I asked him.
He smiled and turned his head to look on the view. “I suppose I was a little possessive of this wondrous place. My father’s favorite spot was in the wild lands, but my mother loved her garden.” He nodded at the bench. “I would spend hours sitting there as a child and watching her weed. When I grew older she let me help tend her plants. She was very proud of them, and would show them to anyone who visited.”
I smiled at his remembrances. “She must have been lovely.”
He gave a nod. “Yes, she was, and I know she would be glad to know you would care for her garden.”
I shrugged and my eyes swept over the lovely yard. “Well, for as long as I’m here,” I agreed.
“When would you like to start?” he asked me.
“Well, what time is it now?” I returned.
He tilted his head up and looked at the sun. “There’s still a few hours of light left. We could work out here until tea and then you can rest your leg. It must be paining you.”
I lifted my foot and twisted it around. There was a dull pain in the ankle. “It’s better,” I told him.
Fin chuckled. “You are a terrible liar.”
“Well, maybe I’ll just sit near the garden and drag this worthless leg along with me while I work,” I suggested.
“I’ll get the gardening gloves,” he offered.