Monday, 23 October 2017

Secret Moments

Do you have a special spot? Somewhere that just relaxes you as soon as you’re there, or even better, even when you just think about it? I have known special spots in the past that I would go back to, time and time again: sit spots. These places are intended for quiet visits, where you can just merge into the background and just be, and watch the wildlife go about its normal life as if you were not there.

In these sit spots, I have had wonderful moments, but it’s not something I’ve practiced for a wee while now. I don’t know why. Too busy? Too hectic? In reality it’s probably closer to the truth to say that I do mini sit spots on a regular basis. No drama, no fuss, just sit and watch.

Today was one of those days where I had several ‘sits’, but accidentally. I was in the wee woodland that I’m working to restore but I took my camera and tripod today and once I’d finished my work, I had some fun.

I was beside the wee burn, setting up the tripod and the camera, crouching down because the image I was trying to get was of the water spilling over the wee run of stones. Then, splash. I wasn’t sure what caused it, it sounded too big to be a frog, and indeed I caught a glimpse as it did the jumping thing, and that was no frog. I sat, stock still, just watching the water to see what would happen next.

After several minutes of nothing, I see it again. Beautiful, streamlined, elegant, the exact colour of the peaty water. Turns out it’s a brown trout, using the burn, perhaps, to spawn in. A fair size, it must have been at least 30cm, and I saw it again as it moved from the shadows up to the next wee step of the burn.

There is literally life all around us that we just do not notice. If I had just been walking, I would never have noticed that fish, but because I was fiddling with something, I was there, I was being quiet, I was listening and so I heard it.

This rush rush rush does no one any good. And as if I needed further reminding, it happened again, but this time it was a bird. I’d been hearing it, a gorgeous wee high pitched tweet tweet, sounding so jewel-like and I knew it, but my brain wasn’t giving me the answer. Again, I was fiddling with the camera, this time trying to get a picture of the woodland, and to capture the magical autumn light and then there was the sudden movement out of the corner of my eye and I knew, that’s the bird.

Using my binoculars I saw it properly. It was a goldcrest, one of the smallest bird we get here in the UK, and the first one I have seen since I moved here 6 months ago. And it sang and sang and sang. Utterly heavenly. I watched for as long as I could until it was lost in the undergrowth.

Which is when the robin appeared! And then proceeded to dance in the trees around me, cocking his wee black eye with a cheery demeanour. What delights are in this woodland! What a heavenly place to be.

So if I can say one thing to you it will be this: slow down, listen, watch, just be in the outdoors. Relax and enjoy and allow the wildlife to come to you. You will enjoy it all the more. Move quietly, with patience and care and see what finds you. Learn the magic of the sit spot, and take it with you wherever you are. And above all, allow the heart to feel the joy of seeing nature without disturbing nature. Be peace wherever you go.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Autumnal Close Ups

This morning was all kinds of magic.

The magic came when I took a wee break from work and headed into the woodland. We're working to restore a plantation into some semblance of a natural wood. The wee portion I headed towards is a pocket of woodland where we will do nothing. Not one thing to change it. For it's perfection.

So, here I was taking a wander in this paradise. And in the woodland, it was an autumn that I recognised. While the bare hills have turned golden with bog asphodel and deer grass giving the land a sheen, there is nothing that says autumn like a woodland. 

It is a well-known phenomenon that woodland is good for the mind and mental state of the visitor. The trees breathe chemical compounds which do actually have a very positive impact on the body in several ways. Wandering in woods is good for you, period.

And this was a wonderful wander. The woodland is thick enough that you need to duck under wayward branches, clamber over roots and fallen trees and squeeze through gaps to fit in. There are no paths, no clear way, and that's the best way, right?

The trees were half bare, and the remaining leaves were all colours between fresh green to red. The rowan had a few lingering berries, the pines were solid in their earthiness. And the air felt fresh and wholesome.

I started breathing slower, and slowing down in myself. Trying to leave spider webs intact saw me taking other divergent routes, and finding new trees. And I started taking photographs. It's impossible to capture the beauty, or show just how awe-inspiring being in this wee woodland is.

But one thing that struck me was how much there was to see. The closer I looked the more there was. Wee fruiting bodies of fungi, numerous mosses, delicate lichens and layers of dead leaves. The landscape is a living one, on a miniature scale as well as a wide scale, and all it takes is for us to have eyes with which to see, and our worlds can change.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Evening Running...

...and jumping, and skipping and cartwheeling.

There's a time and a moment for movement, and being quite computer bound with work at the moment means that I'm jumping off my seat come 5pm, and getting out the door.

We've apparently been in storm-mode the past couple of days, but it's not been as bad as it sounded like. The wind is strong, yes, but I can stand without bending, and if I jump I land where I took off from, rather than 3 metres downwind - so it's not too bad.

Actually, scrub that: it's wonderful. It's heaven. Autumn is well and truly here and the world has turned divine. The colours are saturated, the skies are doing wonderful things, and wind keeps everything alive and vital.

Tonight I headed for Loch Druidibeg and beyond - Loch Sgioport.

Parking up, I dashed out of the car, passed the ubiquitous campervan and up the wee path. The energy in my muscles was insane. I felt like I could fly and so I did, in an earthbound, horizontal sort of way along the old path. Meeting a group of Shetland ponies, I leapt past them, stopping only when I needed to try and take a photo (I have a new camera) or to wonder at where I was.

I felt giddy with joy and excitement at being here in the here and now. Nothing remained, except that moment.

Climbing in the wee rocky outcrops above the ruined croft houses, I howled: I couldn't help it, but the wind whipped it away before it was fully formed and laughing, I gave it up as futile. Skipping from rock to rock I felt light as a feather, as though I could be lifted away at any moment, and no doubt I could, for when I stopped on an appropriately smooth and gentle whale-backed rock, I could hardly stand upright. This, this gifted wind. This heavenly, life-bringing, awakening wind was what I really wanted. To be shocked, to be shaken and to be jolted awake. I spun and skipped my way down the hill, running along the path through the rain to make it back to my car, giddy and exhilirated and feeling wholly and completely alive.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Island Yoga

Another thing that was of concern to me prior to the big move is that I was worried about the lack of yoga on the islands. I couldn’t find any information prior to moving about yoga, other than a teacher based on Lewis. Well, I may love yoga but not that much!

So to my delight, I found Sheila of The Wee Haven fame and it’s been a wonderful yoga journey with her. And to my delight, it just keeps getting better. Sheila put up a yurt this summer for yoga, and it has been absolutely incredible. In addition to her regular classes, she’s done warmish yoga (yurt yoga with the stove on), yoga day retreats, and then last night was dark yoga.

The sun is setting out here at just the back of 7 now, but last night’s class started at 8. It was a miserable night, and there’s not much that would get me to go out in rain that heavy with such strong winds, but the pull of the yurt was too much and out I went. Others must have felt the same, as it was a nearly full class. And it was wonderful. Quick dash through the rain to the yurt, knock on the door and it opened.

The interior was lit only with wee fairy lights and candles and a dull light from the peats in the stove and the effect was utterly out of this world. And something I hadn’t envisioned – the noise the rain made on the roof of the yurt. I love yurts. Something to do with spending time at Black Isle Yurts, memories I already treasure, and last night that yurt was incredible. During Savasana, I felt like the rain was pelting down on me, but that I was protected, somehow, and inside a wee bubble. It was mind blowing. I could feel myself lift out of my body, as only happens during r e a l l y  a m a z i n g relaxation sessions and I felt like I could have drifted off into another world.

When we started with the more physical postures it continued to feel great. It was a very downward dog orientated class, which I always love as I think it must be one of my favourite poses, and we did three-legged dog, cat/cow, before doing a wild-thing into table-top position. Cue much hilarity as we bumbled into each other (there’s not a lot of space in the yurt) and collapsed with surprise once successfully in table.

Simplifying it slightly, we then did just table, and then bridge, before doing the plough, then into shoulder stand. And this was bliss. For the first time I felt like I was floating in the shoulder stand. My neck felt free and light, I felt weightless, reaching towards the top of the yurt, and stretching up. I’ve clearly still got work to do though , as trying to move into eagle legs brought me into a gradual decline until I was back on the floor! But, this still counts as progress as shoulder stand has never been the easiest position for me but that was bliss! I must try it in today’s practice.

I got a ticket for Scapa Fest last week and I have some yoga goals I want to meet prior to the festival at the beginning of May:

·         Crow pose. My adored nemesis – I can do it, but I can’t hold it for very long. Luckily this is one that I can do anywhere and anytime. On the rocks on the beach, on my drift wood bench, on top of the hill...

·         Standing half moon – Holy goodness, I adore kneeling half moon and I just need to bring it to standing

·         Head stand. This is a challenge as I am nowhere near being able to do this, but my freedom within the shoulder stand makes me feel like it’s within reach, eventually!

·         King pigeon. Ah, the freedom of the hips. I love the feeling of that stretch, and pigeon is good but king pigeon is the eventual goal.

We completed the sequence with fish pose, then into slower poses and Savasana again. It was good, it was more than good – it was glorious. And the mad run through the pouring rain back to the cars was a great finale to the evening. I felt so strong, healthy and powerful that I felt I could have run home.

Sheila’s yoga pushes us, it stretches our abilities and she conducts her classes with a humour and a kindness that I really like. She’s a fantastic teacher and so, just like how I need not have worried about the lack of trees, I find that actually, the yoga situation is better than on the mainland and here I have found a great teacher to help me meet my yoga goals.

The yurt comes down soon and next week the regular class moves back into the big, airy, cool village hall. It’s a change, but the yurt will return next summer and I for one will be eagerly awaiting its return.
PS. On the mainland I had a fantastic teacher who unfortunately fell ill and so prior to moving to the islands I hadn't been to a class for about 6 months. I was ready for more structured yoga again, for sure!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Uist's Woodlands

It was a real concern of mine that when I moved out here I would miss trees. So much of my professional life has taken place within or alongside woodlands and forests. So many lunchbreaks have been spent sitting underneath trees (remember that one time that a couple of young red squirrels were playing chase on the tree in front of me?) or on fallen trees, or being kept warm by crunchy leaves.

Missing them was a real concern.

Now that I’m here under the big, big, glorious skies I don’t feel a lack of trees at all. They’re not here, but the islands would be a completely different place if they were. What helps, however is that there are some places where the trees remain and the remaining patches are beautiful: I’ve never seen Scots Pine in such glorious shapes. Their branches do loop the loops, creating stunning silhouettes against the wider environment.

The remaining woods are spectacular. Alder and hazel and rowan and birch. Elder and willow and pine and aspen. Yup, aspen! The whispering tree. The shimmering, shaking treasure. So the trees out here are just beautiful and I’m lucky enough to be involved in the restoration of a woodland, or rather a plantation – restoring it to a near-wild state.

We carry out work in the woodland a fair bit and take volunteers there too (just let me know if you fancy getting involved!). The bulk of the work at the moment is to remove the non-native Rhododendron ponticum that is trying to dominate. Rhodie needs to be removed for without constant management, it does not live in harmony with other species, and unfortunately that means to restore a native Scottish woodland it must come out.

But there are parts of this woodland that are like heaven. There’s a wee patch of real woodland, where the willows and the birches have gone mad and where there’s dead standing wood and fallen dead wood. There’s fungi and bryophytes (oh bestill, my beating heart!) and a lovely mix of ground flora.

I visited recently after some very heavy rainfall, when the woodland had been subjected to an absolute deluge but had not suffered any damage. The whole place seemed to be crawling with life, and I’ve attached a few photos to demonstrate.

We’re not known, out here, for our woodlands but if our restoration plans succeed that might change. One day, Uist’s forests might be a byword for places of refuge to tired migrants, known as home to woodland birds and as places for humans to quiet a busy mind and calm a frantic soul.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Perfect Lunchbreak

The day already seemed perfect. The guided walk was one of the best of the year – the wildlife had appeared and delighted all. An otter had dived and fed in front of us, giving us fantastic views of it not only in the water, but on the rocks and feeding. Interactions between otters and birds are always interesting, and though I see gulls watching otters a lot it was the first time that I’d seen three hooded crows on the same small island as the otter, following it around as it explored the rocks. We lost sight of the otter in the waves and the rocks eventually, and we would have kept watching but the only thing that kept us moving on was the arrival of the midgies.

We climbed the hill for that very reason: I’ve never gone that route before, but this time we sought out any breeze to keep the pernicious wee ... away. And just as we got to the top a raptor appeared, flying straight towards us – it was an eagle, that much was obvious – and it kept on coming. Closer, closer, closer before it banked slightly and there did everyone see the white tail, and the proportions? White tailed eagle and one of the best views I’ve had. But it didn’t just disappear. It then proceeded to use the hill and the thermals coming off it to rise into the sky above us before, finally, banking off and disappearing into the cloud. An unbelievably wonderful sighting that filled me, and the group, with awe.  

Then (could this walk get any better?!) I looked down to discover crowberry all around us so we all managed to have a snack as well. Fab attendees, great weather, fantastic sightings, including a red throated diver that kept diving (funny, that) as soon as it was spotted but the eagle and the otter just astounded us all.

After the walk I was to meet my boss at the visitor centre at Balranald to continue with some habitat management work and so I sat out on the bench at the centre and ate my lunch. Then a familiar silhouette appeared in front of me, surprised I didn’t quite believe it until it flew right past me: a golden eagle. At Balranald! Quite unusual, and just fantastic to see both eagle species, and such great sightings, in one day.

As I sat on that bench that wonderful sunny day, I felt like I was surrounded by birds. Corn buntings were feeding alongside sparrows and greenfinch in the corncrake corner next door, chirping and calling. Two whimbrel flew overhead at different moments, and a group of geese called.

Everything combined to create a feeling of deep contentedness, deep-rooting happiness, and as I sat on that bench and allowed the sounds of the birds to soak into me it came to me how lucky we are to have this wonderful world, and though it may be in trouble, we must not despair and we must all take time to delight in that which it is: our home.


Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Invisibility is a dream

I came across a wonderful film maker recently, after she made a beautiful video about the machair. And, while checking out her other films I watched this and I realised something.

This girl is invisible.

See the arctic terns completely ignoring her? That's rare. And then the corncrake craking and not given one toffee about her presence. The turtle has a mission on mind, but the others - the deer - are all on the constant look out for predators and to the animal world we humans definitely come under that description.

Eleanor Hamilton, film maker is invisible and, if it gives you real close-up experiences like that isn't that something to aspire to, to aim towards?

It reminds me of my Kamana training which I sadly abandoned. I must pick it up again.

It reminds me of this rather wonderful day which I am also trying to write about. It's been a smashing week. The islands have welcomed me back with a flourish after a week away. It's good to be home!