Monday, 18 June 2018

Flight

Some days give magic to a person. And this was definitely one of those days.

A wonderful morning in the woods with a group of school kids. Their enthusiasm and interest is second to none, and the wee details in their questions is enough to give me hope for the future.

Then an afternoon of ticking off 'office stuff', not the most soul stirring, but essential, and I didn't mind the afternoon.

This evening, yoga with Sheila. And oh boy, it was wonderful. As we stretched and adored the limits of our bodies I could feel flight spreading through my limbs and core. By the time we reached Savanasa I had fully fledged wings sprouting from my shoulder blades, lifting me to the ceiling and soaring through the rain that battered off the windows.

It has been a wee while since I've been lifted in this way, but I welcomed the flight back with open arms. I entered relaxation state with a smile spread about my face knowing, knowing, knowing that all will be all right. For with the power of flight, what obstacles are there to stand in the way?

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Soul Friends

For a lot of people, the closest non-human friendships they have are with dogs. For me, not so, but the intimate friendships between humans and animals are so interesting. I have three to talk about during my mini-series. Possibly four, let's see how the story emerges!

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My favourite pet is the cat. Since the age of 10 we've always had cats on the farm and in the house, and they've always been very special to me. Tilly would greet me when I visited home from university by following me around and sitting on me as soon as I sat myself down. The current cats - Pepe and Gigha - are similarly adorable, and I really miss them. 

My own cat is a rescue cat. Her name is Calloch, which means 'old woman' in Gaidhlig. She's five years old and had never been out of doors prior to me getting her. It wasn't a case of mistreatment, she just lived with an elderly lady who'd been put in a home. As Calloch wasn't friendly to her family, they wanted to put her down. Luckily the Cat's Protection League stepped in and that's where I first saw her in December of last year. 



It wasn't an ideal time for getting a pet: I was just about to go home, back to the farm, for three weeks over Christmas. But I told myself that if she was still there come January, I'd take her. And she was! 

I went to visit her in the cattery where they were housing her. She didn't appear to be very friendly, hissing and swiping at the chap who ran the place. But they liked her, they'd had her since June 2017 and had grown really fond of her. Turns out she'd been adopted out before but brought back within a week as the trial owners had not got on with her at all. "She definitely won't be a lap cat", they said. Well, none of this was making me feel particularly confident that she was the cat for me, but I couldn't leave her so I thought I'd give her a chance. 




She came home with me there and then and I had such a good feeling. The whole way down the road she lay in the carrier, purring at me, with her toes poking through the mesh of the carrier and her big eyes watching me. I chatted all the way down the road, and she purred and smiled at me and the good feeling grew. 

Well, what an amazing transformation! She sat on me for the first time the second night she was here. She sleeps on my bed and tells me when it's time for bed by sitting in front of me and yawning fit to split her head in two. She's trusting and loving and truly faithful. I adore her. And I think she adores me. 




Just this morning, for example, she woke me. I must have been dreaming and making noises or something, as I woke when she rubbed her ear against my arm. She looked into my eyes, winked, and then settled herself back down to sleep. I, however, did need to get up (this was at the back of 5) as I needed to do a particular survey prior to the crofters and visitors getting up and seeing me causing disturbance amongst the nesting birds. 

I've put on an extremely jangly collar and I let her outside. She loves it. Loves exploring, loves being part of the wider world and I am delighted to have given her this life. 





That is my soul-friend number 1. Calloch, my very, very special girl. 

The last photo was after a very hard day at work. I was absolutely done in. And Calloch sat next to me, reaching out her paws to offer comfort. The way they pick up moods is really quite something. Calloch really does makes this house a home. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Scapa Fest

I went to Scapa Fest! And it was wonderful. One of the best things I have ever done, such a feeling of hopefulness and joy pervaded the entire weekend. From singing truly joyful songs while dancing around at the opening ceremony, to doing my first hand stand in about 20 years it was joy from start to finish!

The bardic fire, telling stories (life goal, completed), yin yoga, woodland wanders, freedom of speech during Wakapapa, meeting wonderful, lovely souls, flying yoga. I have already booked my ticket for next year, and I can't wait! Photos will tell the story better than I can, but unfortunately I am no photographer. See those below, for a hint and visit www.scapafest.com or the Facebook page for more divine photography. 


 




Sunday, 27 May 2018

Not so shadowy trees

Many of you will know that I love woodlands, and that I am working to restore some Uist woodland, so imagine my delight to hear about an archaeological dig into the submerged coastal forests of Benbecula?! After a very interesting talk on Thursday evening some of us assembled on Sunday morning to visit the forest.

The beach is actually composed of sand overlaying layers of peat, and after showing us some very interesting artefacts such as bones (dog?), quartz (possibly worked) and telling us about shadow houses, where although the stones have been loosened and the actual signs of life have been swept into the sea, the shadow of habitation remains and can be spotted by the discerning surveyor, my imagination was successfully captured!

After the introduction, we stumbled upon trees. Real trees. Non-shadow trees. Actual wood in the peaty sand. And holy goodness, it felt like I was time travelling. As we each grew more and more buoyed up on one other's enthusiasm the trees seemed to grow amongst us. Lab research of our findings showed it was mainly willow, but we found Scots pine and birch! Oh, what joy.

And all the while, the hot Hebridean sun blazed down and the wind kept things fresh. Our lives felt complete.

Windblown trees. Or, rather, what looked like willows that had fallen in the wind but continued to strive for the sky. It looked like a landscape I had been in before. Knoydart, perhaps, or one of the numerous willowy bogs I have wandered though and delighted in.

The past sometimes feels so close. After a sample had been taken, I touched wood today that hasn't been touched in millenia. Ever, actually as this was the internal part of the tree but still. Once upon a time a woodland was growing on that peat - the peat that's now a beach - and birds sang, just as they sing in the woodlands of Loch Druidibeg. And the grass grew, and the sun rose and the moon waxed and waned. And life still goes on.

And somehow, just somehow, this day has both brought my feet down to touch this delicious earth and lifted my heart and soul into the sky. A feeling that will remain, I think, for to feel in touch with the past is to know the present and that is the best feeling of all.

If you're interested in the research being carried out by the team with Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk, find out more here: www.scharp.co.uk

Wonderings: the shallow rootedness of the willow may be an adaptation. Athough they cannot withstand the wind and topple readily, the growth continues by self-rooting, whereby the branches become roots and the individual tree becomes a thicket. This seems too lovely to be a coincidence. Any thoughts?

Haunting Calls

Haunting calls of the past creep into our lives without warning. There have been two such whispers recently, both upsetting though in different magnitudes.

Firstly, during the summer I run guided walks for visitors to the islands. They are wonderful, and I adore presenting these magical places to members of the public.

This past week, a lady came up to me and asked about how difficult the walk was. I answered and asked if my answer helped. Her reply was that yes, it did, however her husband has COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and that was what she asked.

This lady and her husband were in their late 60's to 70's and suddenly it hit me what a mistake my friend made all those years ago. He committed suicide four months after being diagnosed with COPD at the age of 35. This was in 2016.

I have always sympathised with and understood his decision. But now I am cursing him. I am cursing this beautiful, kind, generous soul for giving up on life. Life is all we have. Life is the greatest journey and he left this bountiful, healing world for a void. Leaving all of us with the aftermath of his death.

How lonely that made me feel. He would have been tickled to see the life I'm living now. He once spoke with disbelief when I said I could live in extremely isolated areas. Here I am, on an island, with more going on than I've ever experienced before. This is life, and I so wish he was still here to be breathing in this air, attending guided walks and taking a chance on this wondrous thing.

The other was more slight, but no less important. A reminder that I love the natural world. That I delight in it's complexities, it's secrets, but in the wee answers I have teased out here and there. When working with this every day, I can start to take it for granted and just start to see my job. But actually, I love, love, love the natural world from the orchids to the eagles. The heron to to the determined life in the wee succulents I've been growing.

Both related, both inner thoughts, one of regret, one of hope. Perhaps they cancel each other out, but by jings, I wish my friend had kept fighting.


To any reader out there. If ever you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please speak to someone.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Empty Houses

I was walking today was on the east side of the island. Abandoned for the fertile machairs a long time ago there remain only a few townships on the east of the islands. And the abandoned houses are frequent. Sometimes it is hard to remember, but in every one of these ruins lives were lived at the time when the thatch was intact, the walls were whitewashed and the floor was fresh sand.

Each house will have had its sorrow, its joys. The walls will have heard laughter, music, singing, dancing, love making. It will have experienced arguments, despair, loss, hatred. All the minutiae of lives well lived.

We are warned against romanticising the past, however there is also a fear that we misremember the past as joyless, ceaseless toil and agony. Lives were hard: that much can be accepted, but is the human condition not happier with hard work? I myself know the feeling of strength and power that comes from hard work outdoors. I sleep better, I dream better, I learn better. I laugh, love and live better. And why not our ancestors?

For the older folks on the islands now, the memories of the blackhouses are still fresh and hand in hand is the memories of the folks that lived in them. The old characters, the likes of which we get no more. Or so I'm told, by the folk that can name every past resident of Ardnamonie, right down to Ardivachar. Name them and tell stories of their foibles, their laughter and their weaknesses.

History is stretched out afore us. It's there for all to see, and to examine and find joy in. A death of a child was a regular occurrence. For women, death in childbirth was common. Fishermen were not expected to live. But in between these deaths ceilidhs were held. Stories were told. Fires were kept lit day and night and lives were lived in the stone houses that are now so picturesque for photographs and habitats for plants. We must not forget the past lives of the people who made these islands whether their names are remembered or not. The faces rise out of the darkness and with them to guide us, we remember.




Friday, 23 March 2018

Stars


The weather has changed now, but the first night I came back from a wee holiday on the mainland the Northern Lights were dancing.

The second night they were due again, so my cat, my yoga mat and myself headed out to see what was going on. Apart from a very faint glow, the lights weren’t present, but the stars – oh the stars – were incredible. I did some lovely yoga but my balance was not there. Without anything to anchor me, I felt like I was floating into the endless sky above.



It’s hard to explain the stars, for before moving here I had been in dark sky places, the Amazon rainforest isn’t exactly known for having light pollution, but here, there’s something incredible about the dark skies here.

There is a mass of light from countless stars streaming towards our tiny planet, and it’s sometimes glorious, sometimes awesome, and sometimes terrifying – as it was on this night. To add to the effect, swans whooped as they flew over and geese cackled. The night was alive with sounds, with an eternity of silent stars spread overhead, like a reminder of the fragility of our lives.

This was the night that the last male Northern white rhino died.

The next day started with a beautiful frost, and the world was changed. No longer threatening, instead the sky was a calm and relaxed blue. It was hard to couple up the endless weightlessness of the night before with the peaceful calm of the morning.

The inability of free movement for fear of losing gravity and spinning off into the dizzying dark has gone and now I feel present on the warm earth. The mist has descended on the islands and within two days I have gone from viewing eternity to hardly being able to see my neighbours’. My heart is unsettled, knowing I’ve had a glimpse in things I should not be seeing, but unknowing how to process or forget.

But now, I can find peace in the knowledge that gravity doesn’t fail. That this planet keeps us close, and keeps us safe. And perhaps, we should all do something to thank it, and to keep it safe too. Because, let me tell you, the space I saw? It’s not welcoming to us at all.