Friday, 17 November 2017

Musings on a Dream

Last night I dreamt I was trying to do a particular yoga pose. I had an audience, a casual one i.e. people around who were watching, even if they hadn't come deliberately to see me. And the fact that I couldn't do the pose meant they were judging me.

The last couple of weeks have been weird. Emotionally, that is. The islands have felt strange at times, as though I am floating on the surface and not penetrating any deeper. It started, I think, a couple of weekends ago. Meeting someone and feeling wrong-footed, like I wasn't enough. I then spent some time with one of the best people I know, and just had the most wonderful time and then, for the first time in too long, I was just right: I was enough.

And then another day another several heartaches. It sent me off on a spiral of strangeness, and I've not quite got my equilibrium back yet. I walked in the dark last night, stretching my muscles and reaching for the starry sky. It was windy, and showery and I did get soaked, but I could feel and that's all I want: to feel. To be me.

But since I last left the islands I am not sure that I've properly arrived back. Tomorrow should help. I've got a day of reforesting the Uists and that should reconnect me with the earth, but the problem appears to be in my head, rather than in the soil.

I've not been doing yoga: that will impact. I've been missing my friends. Since I spent that wonderful night back in Inverness, I think a part of me has been wondering what brought me out here. I left magnificent people behind, and while I have met really lovely people out here, have there been any that I feel that ultimate connection with?

My dream probably speaks for a lot: disconnection, feeling watched, and wanting both to be alone, and to be part of things. When no one has a Heather-space in their lives, how do I fit in? Too often lately I have been walking, or doing something when I've felt an emptiness beside me and a wish to have someone in that space. I was going to compromise with the wrong person, until that wrong person pulled me up on that. A friend was meant to be coming out to stay, but never came, just when I needed that companionship the most.

And, bizarrely, the more time I spend alone the more time I want to be alone. Will I survive out here? Will I flourish? Will I carve out a little space of Uist community and fit into it? Or will I end up wrapping my hermit crab of a home around myself and take myself back to the mainland, back to the friends and family that I love, and that love me, and back to places that I know.

Not yet: the Uists are still under my skin in a way I cannot explain. Their gentle horizons, the cairns on the hillsides, the wheeling gulls. The big skies, the endless stars, the owls, the harriers and, in the summer, the corncrakes that have left the islands so quiet now... these wonderful, strange, unique islands are still it for me, and this is still something that I need to do.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Beaver Moon

The sky was dizzying last night. Full moon coupled with fast moving clouds made all the perspectives seem off. I was standing outside wrapped in my delectable woollen blanket, and the skies seemed to be moving above my head.

The moon was bright, and when it came out from behind the clouds it was startlingly bright, creating shadows and giving light to any wanderers. The clouds themselves, big cumulus, were moving fast, silver-lined and elegant they were speeding off to the south. The moon was so bright that few stars were showing: only those bright enough to compete with the moon, and the movement of the clouds made it appear as though they were the ones that were moving.

Standing outside under the nights sky helps to diminish self-importance. Small worries disappear, for suddenly we are so transient as beings that what does any of this matter? It does, of course, but the night skies are so calming, so un-judgemental that they really can clear the foggiest of brains and the cloudiest of minds.

Standing out there, watching the clouds shift and change and seeing the stars dancing through the skies just brought me back to myself. It's been a odd couple of days, and I needed this full moon to calm my thoughts. The warmth of the wool, the fact that I lived alone, the size of these endless Uist skies and the peace of the surrounding countryside were things to be very thankful of.

And, of course, to be alive for this short but glorious moment, in this endless and fascinating universe.

Monday, 30 October 2017


This weekend just past was a good one. I was on a work trip up to Ness on Lewis, to help out at the local Nature Reserve where they had been strimming, and needed assistance in clearing the cuttings up to enrich only certain areas with the compost.

I was then meant to be heading out to the Shiants, to undergo work and stay there for four nights. Our trip was not meant to be, however, and with lots of delays and complications it was then cancelled completely for me.

So I spent the weekend exploring Ness and the surrounding area instead, and had a grand old time of it.

Ness, for those of you that do not know, is right at the top of Lewis – the area is known as the Butt of Lewis, and the next land to the North West is Iceland. 500 miles to the NW, to be exact. For that reason each spring and autumn there is an influx of migrants from northern climes. While I was there, there were barnacle geese arriving, black-tailed godwits, whooper swans, snow buntings. It was really impressive.

In addition to the wonderful bird life, the area itself is fascinating. I went for several windy cliff top walks, following small burns down to the sea, scrambling and doing a wee bit of adventuring along the coastline. It is so dramatic, wild feeling and lonely.

Talking to my colleague, we had a laugh saying how wonderful and inspiring particular areas in Ness are. Perhaps there should be a walking route? But the implied but was there, and we both felt the same: part of what makes that coastal route so spectacular, so magical, so unique is that there are no people. Do we want to encourage more?!

Anyone can reach these places. In Scotland we are lucky enough to have the right to roam. The entire ‘wilderness’ is ours to play in. We do not need to follow the paths. And indeed, that’s how I enjoy my walks. On this particular one, I saw ring ouzel, the first sighting for me for several years, and heard them as well. It was magic. The coastline itself introduced me to the local oystercatchers and rock pipits: ubiquitous though they may be, no less special for their presence.

The waves and the sea were the star of the show though. Waves battering onto the dramatic cliffs with ceaseless energy. Spray being sent back over the sea, as the wind whipped with white horses into oblivion. There was no escape from that glorious wind. I was clambering on the rocks, enjoying the freedom from my own expectations, enjoying the loneliness and the quiet of human absence. The sea, the wind, and the piping oystercatcher. That was the soundtrack of my Ness wanderings.

I returned to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis the following day, as I neglected to get any photos. The wind had dropped, it was surprisingly calm, but the sea and the cormorants were still there. The waves still battered, though the drama was slightly reduced. The scale of the place was not.

Recently someone asked me about how it feels, living out here ‘on the edge’, and there, in Ness I truly felt like I was on the edge of the world. And do I ever feel like sailing away? Yes, sometimes, but like one of those migrants, I would always return. For me, home is where my heart is and though I may travel and enjoy the times away, there is nothing as good as coming home to roost.

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 (I think this has another name?) 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!