Bagpipes, Tree Tossing and Traditions

Photo By Carl White

The stimulating sounds of bagpipes filled the air as I made my way from the parking area to the festivities of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. I look forward to this annual gathering that celebrates Scottish heritage, which has a significant place in the Carolinas.

In my visits to the Highland Games over the years, I have met many people of interest and learned much about the origins of many of the things that we do in the Carolinas. I've met great story tellers, musicians, shepherds and athletes who enjoy the caber toss, which is the sport of tossing a tapered pole made from a large tree. The caber is around 175 pounds and just under twenty feet long. The objective is to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end, falling away from the tosser. I have watched many people participate in this activity, and I am convinced that this is not an easy feat. This sport, as well as all the others in the games, is done while wearing fashionable kilts with colored patterns that are synonymous with the wearers' family names.

Photo By Carl White

It was several years ago at the Highland Games that I met the talented Joseph and Laralyn RiverWind. They were at a music exhibit that featured beautiful flute and harp music. It was from them that I learned about the term "Blessed Blend". In short, it was said that many years ago a Scotsman met a Native American woman and fell in love with her. This was at a time when such a relationship would not have been looked at in a good way. However, in this case the fellow must have had a friend in the Church, because before long the joining of a Scotsman with a Native American woman was proclaimed to be a "Blessed Blend," and so it has been from that time.

The thing that I enjoy most about the Highland Games, other than the fact that it is held in an amazing setting of nature, is that its purpose is to preserve, celebrate and learn from history. It's a bit like having a solid foundation to stand upon. It is not about being perfect, and it's not about being right and everyone one else being is wrong. If you look at Scottish history you will see that it is made up of different thoughts and ideas within its own heritage. As with most cultures, the clans (families) did not always get along with each other, but for sure they were all Scottish, and through the years a core group of people have kept the heritage and traditions alive.

I recall first meeting photographer Edgar Payne at the Highland Games. I have met governors, diplomats and royals at the games. I have meet people with great beards and people with scotch to share.

Scottish games are also held in other parts of the Carolinas, and some folks say they enjoy the smaller gatherings more because they are not as crowded. I actually enjoy both, but I do lean toward the energy that comes from the larger gathering at Grandfather Mountain.

I love the idea of our melting pot. However, I believe that there are ingredients within our American stew that have a noticeable flavor. The Scottish influence is certainly one of those ingredients that provides a wonderful contribution; it also blends well with others.

I'm not sure if it's the magic of the mountain air or the alluring power that has developed after sixty years of the gatherings being held at MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain that makes this such an enjoyable event.  I’ve never worn a kilt, but if it were the only way to get in, I just might.

 Photo By Carl White

Photo By Carl White