Are We Musk Deer?


There is a type of deer that emits the beautiful fragrance of musk from its navel; one of the loveliest scents in the world. One day, a young musk deer noticed the scent and was driven wild by its sweetness. Where did the fragrance come from? The little deer searched manically among the rocks and flowers of the forest. He searched along the riverbanks and under the leaves, but he couldn’t find the scent’s origin anywhere.

Siberian musk deer

Frustrated, he tried searching for the beautiful scent again the next day, telling himself that he wouldn’t stop looking until he found the source of the fragrance. The deer ended up spending his whole life fruitlessly searching among the valleys and mountains, the deserts and meadows. Eventually, he grew to be an old weary deer. Lame and tired, he died without knowing the source of his happiness was inside him all along.

This is something that musk deers actually do. Humans too:

24 Hours in Mexico: Mountains and Music Videos



In the Mexican mountains of the Sierra Norte, a perfect combination of latitude and longitude conspired to create my ultimate dream of butterflies and birds and wildflowers hidden among sunny pine forests 3,000 meters above the sea. Above the clouds, past mountain streams and secret meadows, the valley light was so clear.


I spent my days pretending to be a Victorian botanist, sketching the flowers around me.

sierra norte meadows, mexico

Life was so quiet. Well, it would have been quiet if it weren´t for the village donkeys honking like doors hanging off rusty hinges.


Anyway, the alpine dream is now over – this morning I took a chain of buses from the mountains to the capital, past snowcapped volcanoes and dusty canyons, cactus forests and parched yellow grassland that waved under a sickly light pale as a convalescent´s smile.

So now I write to you from the great ricocheting bowl of pollution that is Mexico City. Its sinewy streets are tangled in grime as the sky turns to night; a night that will hold no stars, just skyscrapers and crippled street lights nodding above the grunting motorbikes and taxis and police cars. Sometimes I feel like a turtle, drawn towards the bright lights of the city even though my whole being says I was born to follow the tidal pull of the moon, the stars and the sea.

Still, the city is alive and perfect. This evening, I met some music video producers from LA, and I get to “help” them produce a video for a Mexican band… and by help I mean I eat tacos and carry guitar cases.

With Encore Sessions

With Encore Sessions

It's a rap! With Encore Sessions

It’s a rap! With Encore Sessions

But still, that’s the beauty of travel. When you’re free to suggestions and ideas, a lot can happen in 24 hours.

Why You Should Write Love Letters


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The final part of How it Feels to Travel for Love, right here!

We took our next trip out to Alberta’s Prairie West, past First Nations Reserves and fields of Canola, and spent a few days at the Dinosaur Provisional Park. You had spent previous summers working there as a guide on $3,000 a month. No wonder you managed to spend years travelling for months on end.

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Canada

Dinosaur land!

A huge plastic dinosaur on the side of the road marked our late afternoon arrival to the park. Stomachs sore from too many gummy bears and stale crackers, we unlocked our stiff legs, climbed out of the van and stretched, the tundras ahead curving endlessly onwards. The first night we went to a ranch party with your old friends from the park. We loaded our paper plates with more food than was polite: fresh mozzarella, quinoa and summer peas, a relief from the sugary gunk we’d eaten all day.

I have never seen so many stars as when we walked back to the van that night. They draped across the sky like an extravagant magician’s cape, though all you saw was that, hilarious, I scared of the dark. We spent the next day poking around the gold mudstone hills full of iron and dinosaur bones. You were so excited to find that ancient turtle shell. I’m sorry I laughed when you broke it by accident.

Slipping around, the beginnings of a storm blew the desert air cold. Purple light slipped across the canyons on the horizon. The coyotes howled from behind hoodoos as rain began to fall from the sky and thunder whipped the air in loud smacks. We skidded back over hoodoos to the van by the creek. The gale shook the tiny van all night. Careering in the dark wind, it was a shivery, broken sleep. I wrestled around as cold rain water trickled down from a leak in the roof, digging into you, lay on top of you, stealing the covers and wriggling around in the cold for endless hours as the mattress deflated from under us as usual.

Suddenly you shot up, running your hands through your hair,

“Please. This bed is big enough for both us,” I remember how sad you looked, “There’s all this space. Please, Ailsa.”

I nodded, surprised, apologised, rolled to the other side. We woke at one in the afternoon to a peaceful, sunny day by the creek. We woke up cuddling, like the night before never happened. I’m not sure whether it was romantic or whether we were just surviving.

Day three without a shower, we took a walk through the park. You told me seagulls are basically dinosaurs, and all people are interesting. I didn’t believe you then, but I do now. Cactus flowers had sprung to life after the desert rain. On top of a hill that I wish didn’t look like a giant penis, we looked out at the golden tundras and centuries-old cotton trees that continued to bloom by the river banks. A delicate tree, they grow from the tiniest thing, a slip of cotton drifting alone fragile, in search of a home.

We talked and laughed, and I remember wondering why I had ever worried whether there would be enough stories to tell, thoughts, feelings and opinions to share. Of course there were. We laid our most intimate stories out there, on top of a hill that looked like a penis. We walked back to the van late afternoon. You took out your mandolin for the first time in a while, and I listened to you play those pretty songs you wrote; the one about the girl with the golden crown of hair. It didn’t matter that that song was about another girl. Listening to you play in the afternoon sun was beautiful.

We were both dirty, covered in three days of desert dirt and stale sweat from the panicked storms, but I would rather be there in the prairie west with the cactus flowers in bloom, with you, than feeling sterile, sterilised, living clean and 9-5. That is my favourite memory of you.

We drove back to Calgary later that evening, hung out at your parent’s place for a few days, then took the road back East, past mountains that looked sketched in by an artist’s hand, across to Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean.

Girl in the woods on a broken car

We parted in B.C. You went to school in Victoria, I flew to Rio a week later. I left everything in that van; leggings, too-small bras, old photos and ID cards that had fallen from my purse. You live back in Calgary now, in the van but with a real bed. Many pretty girls must have passed through those van doors since our summer together, because we move on, because we’ve travelled enough to appreciate that our time was a beautiful chapter in life that is now over. I can no longer see your face or remember your voice; can only feel the trace of your warm chest under those soft, white, cotton tees of yours as I lay my head on your chest to rest. That makes me sad, but this is not a love letter, just a thank you for the good times.

Couple at Lake Louise

He would later write, “I let you into my real life, and that’s what makes it difficult. When you are in the wind, everything blows away. But at home, things get stuck like leaves in the eaves. Maybe being here with you reminded me of something, or awakened me to an idea of permanence.” Two years later, and we’re living together in the Rockies where we first fell in love. But if I hadn’t written him this letter that I’ve just shared with you guys, I don’t think I’d be shivering among the pine trees right now. I don’t know where I’d be, but I know I wouldn’t be as happy.

What I’m trying to say is, write letters to the people you care about. It might just do you good.

The Aching Stillness of Summer Holidays


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Part Three of How it Feels to Travel for Love.

I’m glad I came to Canada to see you – riding around in the hot heat daze with the dandelion bloom drifting across cracked pavements, purple flowers and butterflies fluttering around  the trees as teenage boys mowed the lawns in the aching hot stillness of their summer holidays.

Cycling Calgary

Summer days, drifting away

The ‘almost home but not quite’ feel of Calgary should have made me homesick for Scottish summer, those dreamy few weeks of strawberries and cream that may be real or long since past. But I never felt lonely in Calgary because I could talk to you. Travelling seems part of our soul, money less so. After the music festival things quieted down, and we went back to stay at your parents’ house in the suburbs.

We were teenagers with all the freedom in the world, even if we did have to sleep in separate rooms. I slept in your big old bed from childhood, while you slept in your orange sleeping bag in the basement. We’d sleep late and eat your parents out of orange juice, bacon and brie every day. We had no curfew and nothing important to do; all the time in the world to just lay in the grass and read beautiful books.

Feet up Calgary Tower

Passing the time at Calgary Tower

We cycled around in the warm evenings, went to see a discounted comedy at the film house down the road, then bought beer and cigars and smoked them in the intimate dark of Bubbling Creek, a fountain in a residential park where you used to get drunk with your friends when you were fifteen. We would stay there for hours, letting our secrets float into the still summer air. I loved it there.

Remember at that DJ set at Sled, the pretty girl with the wild hair and no bra beneath her t-shirt who kept trying to dance with you? I’m sure you do, you good-looking bastard you, dancing on stage with your ‘ironic’ tie-dye tee wrapped around your head. Thank god you play magic cards with your old friends once a week, make friends with everyone and watch Star Trek on repeat. It makes you bearable, at least.

Tomorrow the trip heads to Canada’s Badlands, full of desert dust and towering hoodoos.


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