Last year Ms. Haggard and I went on sabbatical where we traveled to Spain, walked the Camino de Santiago, attended concerts in the Alhambra, travelled through Austria and visited the house where Mozart grew up, and Italy, finally able to visit Venice – a musical pilgrimage for me, then hiked the tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps, went on Safari in Tanzania, hiked the West Highland Way in Scotland and finally, flew off to Mexico.
Everyone always asks me, what was your peak experience? How do you answer that question?
To stand above the Mt Blanc glacier and see the blue ice crevasse drop 100 feet down? A peak experience.
To sit at a pool in Tanzania and watch the giraffes parade twenty feet from you? A peak experience.
To climb over the Pyrenees through miles of open fields. A peak experience.
In the Tuscan village of Sarteano with forty master conductors and singers studying sublime music and performing in a medieval church. A peak experience.
The night in Venice? We'd had a beautiful meal and were walking the quiet canals and a gondolier was singing just to himself, just to us. And we followed the full moon out to St Mark's Square. The moon lit up the square and reflected on the Grand Canal and the music of a band was playing a piece of one of my favorite composers, Ennio Morricone’s theme from "Cinema Paradiso." Caught up in the moment, we danced with the music, under the moon glow, along with the shadowed gondolas on the Grand Canal--all just for us.
How do I choose? How do I say that one moment is the best, when they are all sweepingly breathless?
And then there was Scotland.
When we first got to Scotland, we decided to do a little Scottish wandering before we started walking the West Highland Way, and in a slightly chilly Scottish September mist we took a train and took a ferry and took a bus and took another ferry and finally landed on the Isle of Iona. Kind of a lot of transportation to get there so we were happy to chill on Iona for a couple of days. But I had in my mind that I wanted to take an all-day boat ride to the Isle of Staffa. We'd been on two ferries that day and the water was rough, and the swell of the sea was not for the easily seasick, so maybe it didn't sound so great to get on a small boat for a three-hour tour. But finally, we rallied and decided to do it.
The boat was full, and we sat on the bow. The sky was clear, and the sun poured down like warmed caramel. The water was perfectly flat and still, a panorama of tinted blue-grey glass spread out around us, and our boat sliced through it like a warmed knife through butter. The puffins floated serenely on the surface, and the dolphins swam alongside us. Our captain was exuberant over the amazing day we were experiencing. He exclaimed, "You don't know, this kind of day, this kind of day is rare. This is The Day of the Year, and you are here."
Staffa is the home of Fingal’s cave, a romantic place that has inspired writers such as Wordsworth and Keats, and musicians including Mendelssohn and Pink Floyd. The resonance of the waves moving into the cave sound like the tones of a cathedral organ. Towering charcoaled hexagon columns drape the island’s cliffs. The Vikings believed they were formed by giants. The grand cave is of a soaring height and equally deep and dark. We climbed toward the mouth of the cave. I thought, we are only here once – and we begin to climb inside the cave, the sound of the waves surrounded us as it bounced off the black columns. The tones of the giants who built it, the music of the gods. No wonder it has inspired writers and musicians for centuries. - And we were there. It was The Day of the Year.
What counts as The Day of the Year?
Tracking a majestically sinewed male lion for miles across the Serengeti? --The Day of the Year
Swimming in the warmed and dangerously powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean along the Mexican shoreline? -- The Day of the Year
Atop the frigid Mt Blanc glacier? -- The Day of the Year
Venice aglow in moonlight and music? -- The Day of the Year
And then there was Loch Lomond, and the day we walked its shores, a rocky, tumbling trail through the forest. It was a drizzly day, and the trail was slick and slippery. There’s an island in the Loch where McBeth reputedly is buried, and a bandit cave where Rob Roy hid out, which I spent a squandered hour trying to find, because it’s hidden. Reaching the Loch’s northern inlet after twenty-four miles, exhausted, we thought, “Now, we must be done," but we still had three more miles to go. When we finally arrived at our Inn, it looked like the set of a horror movie. The walls were burned black and there were dozens of taxidermied animals in glass cases staring out at you. They were so old that their pelts were dusty and cobwebbed and dripping off in clumps. We were tired, hungry, and sore and this did not feel at all like the welcome we anticipated. We sat down in the jam-packed bar, and a singer with his guitar commanded our attention. He was going full voiced and soon we, along with everyone else in the place, were singing full voiced – ah, it was perfect. The Day of the Year.
So, the captain was right, that day on the sea was The Day of The Year, and the captain was wrong, there is no one Day of Year.
And, for all of you, as we look out each day to the valley below us and to the foothills above us, as we work and play with our friends, as we learn and explore – each day here, I wish you this day and every day to be the Day of the Year.