Scottish invasion

The spring weather was the usual Sacramento dichotomy. A warm sun and cool wind gave the women in the gathering crowd a chance to break out their patterned skirts, but the men didn’t need an occasion. They wore their skirts proudly.

Kilts, to be exact. The Scottish Games & Festival had taken up residence in the Yolo County Fairgrounds and the Scottish—and not so Scottish—had shown up in force. Carrying on a 131-years-strong tradition, the celebration honors the culture and community of its heritage with games, music and food.

Rows of vendors hawked kilts, jewelry, T-shirts and travel guides at various expense, but the stories that wandered between veteran participants and first timers were free. Inside one small tent, a group had gathered to taste an assortment of whiskies. At front, the man in charge educated the audience about the distillation process of uisge beatha—Scots Gaelic for “water of life.” Had it not been for the row of 14-year-old single malts resting in front of him, the older man could have been mistaken for a Boy Scout leader in his matching khaki shirt and pants.

“George! Tell them about the peat,” his wife interrupted at the first sign of a pause in his lecture. George proceeded to explain about the peat, the way it imparts subtle flavors into a whisky.

Across the field, save for a brief communal interest in the sounds of reverberating drums, all eyes were on the caber toss. Sizable kilt-clad athletes grunted as they flipped 100-pound poles through the air. The 19-foot logs hit the dented earth with heavy thuds that warranted the crowd’s applause.

The kids lined up nearby to try their hand at a mini caber toss, but the performance of the first toddler crushed many dreams. With barely any effort, the little boy launched the 6-foot caber high into the air, sending it spiraling in a perfect arc that ended with a crash against the grass. True, if you asked certain onlookers, they’d say his father had more than a helping hand in the whole affair.

“George! Tell them about the German brothers at the pub!” the woman continued, again perforating George’s whisky wisdom.

Over 100 clans had set up tents and booths to display their family history. Older generations reclined in folding chairs and smiled politely at anyone who wandered past their booths, quick to offer lengthy explanations at the slightest hint of inquiry. Younger members of the clans sported iPods and army camo kilts. Despite the many people carrying heavy weaponry, no battles broke out between the clans. It appeared a truce had been called, so that everyone assembled could enjoy the celebration of family, community and all things Scottish.

And so the whisky tales continued.

“George! Tell them about the half-pint Scot who ordered a full pint of lager …”