It’s 10:55 pm, and we’re out at sea. Although the sun technically set around 10:20, it still looks like dusk and I can make out the outlying northern Orkney Islands as I look out our stateroom balcony. The water is calm, a gentle roll to the ship, the sky is gray and overcast; and the temperature is about 55 degrees F. It’s been a great day – probably the best day so far – at least as far as Janet and I are concerned.
Before this cruise, I admit that I never even heard of the Orkney Islands – but now we have been there. They are a chain of approximately 62 small islands off the northern coast of mainland Scotland, and as far as latitude, lie about 50 miles south of Greenland. Only about sixteen of the islands are even occupied, two of them with only one person each, and the area can trace it’s roots all the way back to the Norse fishermen who settled here more than several thousand years ago.
One of the great things we love about cruising is the fact that you unpack once, and then they move your hotel. So each morning, it is like unwrapping a Christmas present when you open the cabin drapes and look out. You never know what to expect. Today, I was expecting more of the Scottish highlands and moors – but I was wrong. The land was relatively flat and it looked like the horizon went on forever. In fact, the area can be so windy that trees have a hard time growing. So although the landscape it somewhat flat, it is very green with neatly laid out fields of heather and barley; and barely a tree anywhere. Stone fences built by hand line the roads, and in a way, you feel like you stepped onto a movie set.
The people are friendly and nobody is in a hurry. Just what the doctor ordered for me! Anyway, the excursion we signed up for was a trip to Skara Brae, the ruins of an ancient Norse civilization that was discovered in 1850 and appears to date back to 3100 BC. The ruins were unearthed during a violent storm that caused waves to crash against the shore and they removed the sand that has covered the “homes” for thousands of years. There has also been additional erosion, so that the homes, which would have been built a little more inland, are now exposed to the ocean and a seawall is all that keeps the waves from destroying the settlement.
The ruins are on the land of of Skaill House; a manor home owned by the same family for hundreds of years – at least 12 generations that we learned about. And the family still lives in one of the small towns nearby, as they have opened Skaill House as a tourist attraction when people visit Skara Brae.
To put it mildly – the whole experience was a little surreal. You would think that the temperatures here would be very cold in winter – being this far north. But the average winter only gets down in the mid-forties, and summers run in the high sixties to low seventies. So pretty much, a very narrow temperature range. Anyway, as I looked west across the ocean, standing at the ruins of Skara Brae, our guide told us that the next land mass was Labrador, Canada. And the whole thing was hauntingly beautiful; and serene. I daresay, peaceful. Janet mentioned that it would have been nice to add 10 degrees outside, but other than that, the day was great. Just lochs (we call them lakes), and fields of wild flowers, with a small house here and there.
And of course, being on this kick about peace and quiet, I thought of Ps. 46:10, the other great verse in the Bible about stillness, ““Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” And it is a perfect verse for the way I felt. And, miraculously, the feeling continues tonight as I peer out at the sea. It’s darker now than when I first sat down to write, and it won’t be long before we turn south and head toward Glasgow, but for now, I feel alone with God. I’m sure part of the way I feel is that I never, in even my wildest imagination, ever thought I would travel to places like this. And what a blessing that God has allowed me to see this part of His creation.
So my encouragement tonight is a simple one. Let go and let God…. Just be still and allow God to send you a surprise when you least expect it. And my prayer is that you will just accept it and appreciate it for what it is – an expression of caring from a loving God. So that’s it for tonight – time for bed, after another trip to the balcony to smell the salt air and thank God for His creation…