Hail Mary

You may not know that my Edinburgh flat is very close to the Union Canal, which runs from the Tollcross/Fountainbridge area very close to the center of Edinburgh — EH3, for those of you keeping score with postal codes — to well past the airport to the west of the city. Michelle and I walked and ran along it often, and since she left I still go running there.

Since Mother Nature recently provided us with glimpses of Spring — two days in a row with the mercury sliding into the fifties and lots of birdsong — I decided to go for a longer run than usual today. It wasn’t a race, there was no clock, and, since a longer distance was to be covered, it seemed prudent to mix running and walking. There was sun, but the air smelled chilly through an open window. But something lingered in my mind as I set out: on the radio the lady reading the weather news mentioned that even though there had been some pleasant spells of sun, it was supposed to be “very cold throughout Scotland.” Hmm.

Years of experience have taught me to prepare when running. Hat, gloves, warm jacket, good socks and running pants. You probably know that I come from a long line of mountaineering Douglasses, and so survival in the wilds is second nature to us. You could drop me in the woods, just like last month, in fact, with only a paper clip and a sandwich bag, and I would be fine for weeks. Many were the times that I would entertain Michelle for dinner at my room in Deans Court at St Andrews, and serve salmon for dinner that I had caught that day using only a pen knife, while swimming in the North Sea. I insisted on serving only the freshest food, since she deserves the best.

The first half of the run there was nothing to report, just the usual walkers, bikers and runners. Lots of dogs and ducks too, but no swans this time. The miles went by peacefully. As I got to the point where I was thinking about turning around, I saw the tiniest little white thing fall. And then another. Och, no. Was it a wee bit of snow? Hail? I pulled a one-eighty and headed back.

Quickly the sky darkened, and then came the hail. Slowly and sparsely at first, within minutes it was coming down so hard it looked like a January blizzard. You could only see a short distance, and the water of the canal looked like it was being bombed by zillions of tiny suicide snowballs. Of course, they weren’t coming straight down, because this is Scotland; the wind blew the hail at a sharp angle, making ears and other parts vulnerable. I started laughing. Some people on the canal trail were on benches huddled under plastic coverings, riding out the storm. Sissies. Older folks had a gleam in their eyes and met my smile with one of their own. One heard cries of, “Nice weather we’re having!” Soon behind me I heard the unmistakable sound of unhappy small people. In moments the dad and two young children, maybe 6 to 8 years old, went by slowly on bicycles. The boy, the smaller of the two kids, was sobbing like a drama major. He said, “I don’t think this was such a good idea.” I laughed, shared the dad’s smile, and said, “You’re not the only one.” After about fifteen minutes the hail started to slow down, and visibility improved considerably, so that one could better see the layer of tiny hail on the ground, and the dozens of pieces of hail, just smaller than peas, caught in the folds of my jacket. If I were in the woods, I’d naturally save them to drink later, or to make tea from herbs or stew from slugs.

The calm was also welcome because the stinging attack on my face had eased, replaced by sporadic rain and weakened wind. I kept running. Just as I was about to reach home, and some blue sky was in sight, there was one last blast of hail, which made sense, because there had been a few square inches of material that weren’t soaked yet. Some might think that 4 pm is too early for a large scotch with hot water and honey, but survival in adverse conditions teaches one to be flexible.

As you probably know, it was on this date, in 1567, that Mary Queen of Scots was playing golf when she was told of the death of her husband, Lord Darnley. It was hailing.

No kidding.


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