wendy zipZiplining wasn’t on my bucket list. When life presents you with an unexpected opportunity to do something you hadn’t planned for, I call it the Sieve List–those moments that demand “In or Out, you have five seconds to decide.”

My friend Susan is a master of seizing the moment. When my other friend Beth had talked me into The Zip, we agreed to meet at 2 pm outside our mountain lodge to drive down to the start point. Susan arrived to check in just as we were about to head out, and when I ran over to hug her hello, I joked, “I’m going on the new zip line in the park, so just wanted to hug you goodbye before I go.”

She said, “Wait a sec,” reached in and grabbed her purse, and climbed into Beth’s car. Susan doesn’t let any moments go by.

The first thing you need to know about ziplining is that the stool is scarier than the line. You go out on these tall platforms jutting off mountains, but not before the guides (in our case Tim the humorist and Dalton the straight man) hook you to a wire, to themselves, and at one point to a concrete block. You cannot fall off. It feels safe. But then they ask you to mount the stool (named for what it inspires people to do, joked Tim) and it’s high. Like two whole feet straight up. And you feel like you’re scraping the sky with your head, and there’s nothing to hold onto–unless you do like Beth and grab Dalton, but hey, he was cute. Then you’re standing on this tiny platform in the middle of the air–

–and catch your first full view of where you’re going. On the inaugural run, I was last. Just in case I wet myself, no one would see from behind, y’know? Once I got up on the stool and had a death grip on the tree behind me (Dalton having learned his lesson from Beth and keeping well back) I looked down into the gorge and thought, “Nope. Never mind. Changed mine.”

I looked back at Dalton, who was busy doing something with a big hook that looked all tangled in a rope. “Does anyone ever yell a terrible curse word as they launch?” I asked him.

He shook the hook and frowned at it, then glanced at me. “Haven’t seen that yet.”

“I’m surprised,” I muttered, staring at the canyon, and the thin, thin, wire spanning its deep, deep crevice.

“Well, it’s my first day, ” Dalton responded, and clicked the carabiner into place above my head. “You gonna jump or lean and slide?”

First day? 

He gave me a thumbs up. “You got this. When you’re ready to go….”

Bad word choice, kid. I checked that my conscience was clear with God, prayed for world peace, and jumped. Figured if it was my time, I should go big.

Here are some things you find out the first time you zippidedoodah. If you let go of the handles, you spin. If you stick your legs straight in front of you, you go faster. And if you keep your eyes open, you see the most amazing views. It was such fun, sliding over the water a few hundred feet below, watching it sparkle in the sunlight.

SusanWe got two more chances to practice the cannonball (tuck your knees to your chin) and starfish (let go and spread your arms and legs wide, screaming optional). It got easier with each jump–for the jumpers. Tim told us one of the things guides watch for is when people get cavalier or casual, and they don’t let anyone take anything for granted. It was Check One, Check Two, Zip Ready, Zip Go all the way down the lines.

If you get the chance to go zipping, I recommend it. And keeping your eyes open. You see the world in a whole new way.


Retire and Move to America, They Said. It’ll be Fun, They Said.

DSCN1410It’s not that Jack feels sorry for himself; it’s just that he’s got a lot to do…..

As a semi-pro Scottish folk singer I used to do two or three gigs per week, touring around Europe and the US , as well as helping to run folksong clubs and festivals. When I retired and moved to the US permanently, and then we opened a bookstore,  I thought to myself, Ah, this will be the life! The gentleman scholar in comfy sweater, spectacles perched on my nose, a cat or two purring in the background as I putter about the shop, perhaps even time enough to get back into my hobby of model airplane building ….could it get any more relaxing?

And God said “HA!”

Here’s my typical schedule now –

Annual tour of Scotland (; weekly Celtic music program on and (; annual Celtic music festival (; regular house concerts and events in the bookstore; regular book festivals all over the US with Wendy. Total per year: 30 average. Some of them here, some of them there and everywhere….

We’ve just come back from emceeing the Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival, as we have for the last eight years. It’s a real labor-of-love for us, plus we get to hear great music, see old friends and dip our toes into someone else’s last minute panics! It’s also a terrific way of getting us into the mood for BIG STONE CELTIC CROSSROADS which is two weeks later.

Now we are about to head to West Jefferson North Carolina for their annual book festival, then we have Big Stone Celtic. After a brief hiatus we have Wendy’s annual health conference ‘Head for the Hills’ at the glorious Breaks Park, then presentations to Lee High School students, a storytelling event with our old friend Lyn Ford, a bookstore concert here with the fabulous fiddle player Jamie Laval, another bookstore concert with musicians Ron Short and Willie Dodson, an author event with Willie Dalton (don’t confuse author Willie Dalton with musician Willie Dodson; she’s blond and willowy, he’s bearded and brings a banjo) and yet another shop concert with my Scots fiddle playing buddy Pete Clark. That moves us effortlessly (hah!) into Christmas – which we will spend in Dublin, Ireland with friends – who will make no demands on me whatsoever – – -right, David and Susan?????

Maybe I should go back to being an itinerant folk singer – the hours were easier and I got more sleep.