Alexander Hunting

It was a simple dream, like many others.

Lisa and I were sitting on a bench seat on a bus. I didn’t like the way the driver was operating the vehicle. It seemed to me that we were moving way too fast through the many curves in the road and the bus was in imminent danger of falling onto its side. I was about to tell Lisa that we should get off the bus when I woke up. The dream was unusual enough that I continued to think about it while I went through my morning routine of making a cup of tea, feeding the cat, and checking my email. Though I might have dreamed about riding a bus once during the previous 59 years, I didn’t remember it. When Lisa woke a short time later, I told her about the dream.

“A bus?”, she asked. “That’s funny.”

“Yeah.” I replied.

We moved slowly that morning, but finally got the cameras and sundry other equipment loaded into the Subaru and drove to Vista, California for the Scottish Highland games. I had heard about the games from someone at work when our discussion turned to bagpipes. I had a feeling that I should go and Lisa surprised me by saying she wanted to go also. I hadn’t expected that, since she hates bagpipes, but the idea of a festival apparently balanced that out for her.

In Vista, we found the park where the games were being held. No parking spaces were available within a half-mile of the park, so we quickly decided to use the alternate parking area at the High School and take the shuttle to the park and back.

“I guess we’re getting on a bus, after all.” Lisa said, chuckling.

We drove the circuitous route between the park and school, parked, then walked across the asphalt toward a small crowd gathering beside the shuttle. The yellow bus had a paper sign with the word “Shuttle” hastily taped over the word “School”, which apparently made it official. The small crowd filed onto the bus and we found seats then were off. Rather than take the direct route to the park, the driver decided to go the indirect way to avoid the festival traffic. The alternate route was a long series of twists, turns, and up and down grades that challenged the capability of the bus to remain vertical.

“Well, this isn’t that great, either.” I said as we skirted the rim of a particularly rough-surfaced curve. It reminded me of a couple day tours we took years before on rattletrap buses in the Caribbean, rides that did little to address my concerns about safety in foreign countries.

Lisa laughed. “It’s so odd that you would dream about this.” she said.

We did arrive without injuries at the Games, despite my low-grade premonition. At the gate, while paying the entrance fee, I could hear the skirling of bagpipes in the near distance. That was enough to keep me moving forward and would have been enough even if the entrance fee had been $38 each, instead of $14. Because of my “advanced” age, we got the senior discount of $4 on my ticket, one of the few advantages of getting older.

There were men wearing kilts everywhere. It was the usual sampling of body types; squat, tall, heavy, thin, and every size in between. There was something fitting about it. “I’d wear one if I were Scottish.” I thought. But the only thing I ever heard from the Alexander side of the family was that we were of English stock, so there was little danger of anyone being exposed to a view of my parchment-white knees and oversized calves.

Throwing Stones

When we walked onto the athletic field, several men were warming up for the stone-throwing contest, known as the stone put. Stopping to watch for a few minutes, I had a nearly overwhelming uge to throw the stone myself. I wanted to see what it felt like. If it had been a mere practice session, rather than an official contest, I would have tried to insinuate myself into the group activity to experience it. The Caber toss contest was not held on the day that we attended.

The Pipes

The event that brought me to the games was the piping competition. There were a dozen pipe bands competing. For me, there is something very compelling about the sound of bagpipes. I get quite excited when I hear them. Four hundred years ago I might be compelled to do something with my sword when I heard the pipes. Something that would be counterproductive in this time period, since I’d end up in a small room decorated with steel bars and drab paint.

We stopped, watched, and listened to the competing pipe bands multiple times while going to and from other events and attractions. At one point in time, coming back from the sheepherding contest, I found myself standing in the space between two pipes bands that were warming up. They were playing different tunes simultaneously. On the surface of it, one would think that this would create a jarring dissonance, and it probably would have with other instruments (or listeners). But with the pipes, I found it absolutely wonderful.

My favorite tune that day was The Drunken Piper. It has some odd timing and phrasing and the music goes sideways at times, like a few of Led Zepplin’s tunes that sound wrong at first listen, then with subsequent listening sound perfect. The slide guitar work in Zepplin’s Dancing Days is a good example, though not near as compelling as the pipes.

The Clan McAlister Society

The tents of the Clans lined both sides of the fairway on the athletic field. While walking by, Lisa spotted Alexander among the family names on a banner on the outside of the Clan McAlister Society’s tent. She drew my attention to it and we stepped closer.

The kilted representative saw us reading the banner and asked, “What’s your last name?”

“Alexander.” I said.

“Then you’re one of us.” He said, smiling. “I’m Robert Alexander. The geneaologist for the Clan McAlister Society. The Alexanders are one of the families in the Clan McAlister.”

“I was always told we were English. By the older people in the family.” I said.

Robert shook his head slightly. “All of the Alexanders who came over from Britain were Scots, part of this Clan. There weren’t any English Alexanders.”

Robert was wearing the the Alexander Hunting kilt, as shown in the photo above, one of a half-dozen tartans that are worn by Alexanders. The hunting tartans typically employ more blues and greens to blend with landscape.

I signed up with the Clan McAlister Society, then we had a half-hour conversation with Robert. It was an intriguing idea.

Back home, I located the copy of a genealogy previously researched by family members, the Alden Genealogy, 1620-1903. That genealogy traced the Alden line from John Alden to Raymond Alexander, my grandfather. It was focused on the Aldens, and after Joseph H. Alexander (1798-1852) married Mary Alden the Alexanders dissappeared.

I signed up for Ancestry.com. And began searching for the Alexander line before Joseph H. Alexander. I searched back along the family line, finding supporting documentation back to Sir William Alxndr, Earl of Stirling (1570-1640), an early (attempted) developer of Scottish colonization of Nova Scotia. Sir William was the father of John Alxdr. That father and son were somewhat whimsical about the spelling. “Alexander” became the spelling for all later generations.

During my search, I encountered other Alexander genealogies that purport to take the Alexander family back to Alasdair, founder of the Clan (itself an offshoot of the McDonalds) through various people such as the Robert Bruces. I can’t speak to the veracity of those genealogies, since I haven’t searched (and documented) that far back.

I’m not sure when I’ll pick up the trail again. I may not go any farther with it, since I found what I originally was seeking. I may have to get a kilt, though. What better to wear when I go listen to the pipes?