Letter to a Friend Somewhere on the West Highland Way, from Loch Shiel ~ Jonathan Johnson


Yesterday, Jeff at the restaurant on Skye had never heard of Richard Hugo

and that would suit Hugo fine.  As would the story.

Jeff had lived four blocks from the first house Amy and I shared in Kalamazoo

and was a student at the university when we were there—

History, Philosophy, a little Religion.  Small world, the gray islands

out the window on the sea said.  Five years he’d been on Skye, building before waiting tables,

after coming over for a woman, and here’s the kicker, after thirty-five years apart from her.


Think of them in high school in Michigan, full of want for each other,

want each of us remembers, remembering the in-breathing belief it would go on.

And so it did.  So let’s call that youth (if not American) in this place where stone

walls staggering up the yellow-heathered slopes in sun and rain, and sun and rain are

older than our country’s oldest poem

and I’ll ask Hugo’s permission for good form from

this lone hotel on Loch Shiel, one croft cottage four miles down shore,

dark peaks soaring around dark loch and the lobby fire beside me burned down

to embers for company and a crackled answer to the din from the bar down the hall.

Oak wainscoting, candles in silver, paintings and red deer heads up to the fifteen-foot ceiling,

my own love and our daughter upstairs in an antique bed, grandparents two lockless

            doors down—which of us writers

doesn’t pretend ourselves down into a luxury beyond us now and then?


But before you think me hopelessly soft, let me tell you

I ran ten miles of loch-side dirt road today in a conversation between rain, sleet and the

            tilting-in sun,

snow on the peaks October soared toward, up orange grasses and brown fern.

Alone, I thought of you with your students walking the trail ten glens from me,

all those young souls’ want and belief taken in by geology

that curves like the body around them.  You’re a better man

than you can know to give them this place now,

when they can still build the word love.

Like a cottage on a slope, curling smoke rising,

and inside, every volume of their desires and kindnesses to come

shelved in that warm, dry air against this weather that will blow through October

            mountains forever.

See, just three months living in this country so far and already I’ve let it rob me of good sense.


Gladly.  But the waitress from the bar just came out with a fresh log for the fire

and chuckled sweetly when I thanked her, so who am I to censor myself?

I hope your boots are dry tonight, my friend, and that the mountains

look like your own name in tomorrow’s dawn.