WHENEVER I see stepping-stones I always reflect back
hundreds, or, perhaps, thousands of years to the days when they were first
placed there by early man, who laboured without the assistance of anything
in the nature of mechanical advantage. And then I think of the
generations of traders that have crossed them during the centuries, and
how little the actual stones and their surroundings have changed since
first they felt the weight of human feet.
But all stepping-stones, as we can readily understand,
do not necessarily maintain their usefulness. The little township which
now uses them may decay and sink into forgetfulness, for its inhabitants
may one day be obliged to migrate, if their resources begin to dwindle and
disappear owing, perhaps, to geological and climatic considerations. And
so they are tempted to seek fresh pastures elsewhere.
Then, again, the stepping-stones placed originally near
the mouth of a river may eventually betake themselves some distance
upstream because of the eternal erosion and transportation of epigene
denuding agents; or, maybe, the river deepens its channel or alters its
course. Similarly, the watershed may be influenced by such changes as may
cause the river to be what is technically known as a misfit.
Likewise, too, the estuary
of a river may contract in area by continual deposition or by land
emergence, both of which movements would affect appreciably the distance
to which the ocean tides advance inland or recede seaward.
The point I am eager to bring out
is, that if there are stepping-stones, such changes are bound to influence
them; and thus stepping-stones are often left derelict, and fall into
desuetude through the fact that they thus become inconvenient as a
But I am thinking of stepping-stones
that throughout the ages have maintained their usefulness, and are likely
to do so for ages to come, because they are situated near the head of a
great sea-loch that penetrates far into the heart of the Forest of Harris,
where improvements in transport are as physically impossible as they are
No great concourse of people treads
over these stepping-stones. They are known only to the mountain stag that
drinks by them at break of day, and to the occasional wayfarer among the
Isles. But I feel certain that they are older than the broad, wide steps
that lead up to the Palace of Persepolis!
It is here that the Isleswomen cross
on their way to and from the shieling; it is here that they linger to talk
of the things that interest them; it is here, too, that the herdmaid,
wending her way homewards in the cool and quiet of the evening, puts down
her milk-pails and rests for a while.
Then at the island stepping-stones
the folks of the neighbouring crofts are wont to meet and hold open-air
ceilidhs, at which the women either knit or spin.
But the stepping-stones can really
be useful at times, particularly if they cross at a point where a
mountain-stream rushes down to the sea, because the Isleswoman labours on
washing-day where a plentiful supply of clean fresh water is readily
available, and where she can conveniently light a peat fire to boil her
pots. The heathery moor around her serves as a drying and bleaching
ground, and adds a fragrance to her labour. It is at the stepping-stones,
too, that the wool is thoroughly washed before being made into the famous
But it is at nightfall that I would
convey you to my Hebridean stepping-stones, for in the darkening, as you
can imagine, each ripple of the stream is tinged with the golden glint of
the moons rays; or, perhaps, a star - sprent heaven casts a reflection on
the still and quiet pools like the twinkle of many lanterns. And far out
into the western seatowards Tir-nan-Og, the Land-of-the-ever-Young, and
the land to which Mary Rose was spirited away the latest embers of the
dying day are seen like the Merry Dancers that skip and frolic ere their
Around one on every side loom the
great, majestic mountains of Harristhose mountains where dwell the
real Celtic elves and heroes; and, perchance, while you saunter idly
along, the stillness is pierced by the haunting cry of the oyster-catcher
that hurries past, or by the vesper-hymn of a curlew on the far hillside.
O, that you could come with me to my
stepping-stones in the Forest of Harris and hear the night-bird call!
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