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


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.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Body Love

Our bodies are incredible things. I remember the time I was out with a crowd from a building site I was working on a couple of years ago. One operator sidled up to me and said “you have really great legs, you know…” It was clearly intended as a compliment so when I said “I know” he looked a bit bewildered – this isn’t how the modest young woman reacts to a compliment, is it? But I continued to say “They take me up mountains, swimming in cold waters, with them I can run, jump and turn cartwheels.” And that moment was a defining one for me.

Our bodies are not objects which are there to add to our beauty or to attract others to us. They are functional, beautiful things in their own rights, and it’s a really joyful thing to realise. All these thoughts came tumbling back to me yesterday during a yoga session.

My hands are wonderful and I adore them. During a plank, they looked so strong and steady on the mat, holding me up. My strong capable hands. And although they were taking a good portion of my body weight, I knew that when the need changed they also would stand up to any new challenge.

With these hands I create, I build, I caress, I dance. With these hands I knead bread, I pet my cat, I thread a needle and fix rips in my jeans. They are soft and gentle, or reliable and tough. They do not fail me.  

Our bodies are constantly bombarded with should and wishes and diets and punishment. We all do it: western society has trained us all to believe our bodies are not perfection in themselves. We are taught to lose faith in them, to wish them different, but perhaps, actually they are just right in themselves. To feel at one with your body is wonderful. Perhaps do it right now. Concentrate on where your legs are, your arms, what position your head is in, and your neck, your back. Are you comfy, are your muscles supporting you? Or is something array?

Let’s all gang up on Western culture telling us that beauty is skinny, or beauty is hairless, or beauty is make-up and let’s all decide on what we want our own, personal standard of beauty to be. No judgement, for let’s all concentrate on ourselves and our own bodies and how they make us feel and how they get us through life.

And now and again, perhaps, instead of saying to our bodies “I wish…” say “Thank you for being the way you are.”

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Diving Deep

Cold waters are a respite. I’ve written this before. The joy of summer dips, of cooling off on a mountain walk by submerging hot limbs and bodies in the cool water. But this has always come to a pause for me in autumn. Normally by October, the water has become too cold for anything more than a quick in/out followed by a shivering dry-off, and where’s the joy in that? So I stopped swimming, but I never stop thinking about it.

And now I am the proud owner of a wetsuit. A delightful second skin. A selkie skin, which feels like I’ve added at least 5cm of blubber – an impervious layer which protects me from that blood-freezing pain which stopped me swimming. Now, no water’s too cold. Winter swimming in the Atlantic Ocean. Oh yes. The wetsuit is delicious. To put it on is to feel anticipation. To get in the cold water is to come alive again. It is freedom in an item of clothing: what better thing could there be?

We came from the water; there happiness lies. To hear water, to feel water and to be in water. Now, I feel like I could live in the water. Succumb to its cool embrace. I wrote recently about the feeling of sonder I wonder whether there’s an equivalent word which is the feeling of rootedness, of connectivity. When you enter the sea, the world is within reach. America is just over the way, south, Africa, or north to Iceland. The seas connect even the most isolated of islands. For we and our planet are one.  

So some activities are just true joy, and such with climbing and with yoga, with swimming there is utter freedom from endless thoughts and worries. In the cold seas, all you are is purposeful porpoise. Or weightless whale. Or flying fish. I’m not even the best swimmer. I won’t win any races, but it’s not necessary, to always be expert to enjoy something. The enjoyment is in the participation; the breathless feeling of absolute pleasure and being in the perfect place at that perfect moment for that perfect unchangeable truth.

I’m off to Scapa Fest in May. A whole weekend of soul discoveries is something I am very much looking forward to. Activities range, but as the weekend festival is being marketed as yoga – movement – adventure – mindful living it’s basically this in a nutshell. As we become connected to the things that makes each of us individually, truly, ourselves, it is wonderful to find that the world is conspiring in this way as well: we’re all part of this larger change that’s happening in the planet right now. A move towards a more hopeful, sustainable, natural way of life. For me right now, jumping into that cold sea is step one. Scapa Fest is a hint of what other discoveries are to be made this year. And so it’s with a happy heart that I ask myself “I wonder what positive thing is going to happen to me today?”

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Little things that make me happy

Inspired by this post

  • Shards of sunlight peeking through the clouds
  • Clouds pouring over the top of hills
  • Snowy hills lost in the white sky 
  • Journey's end
  • Purring cats
  • Collecting and then cooking eggs from my hens
  • Stretching of limbs and feeling the coursing of blood through them
  • Walking uphill and turning round to view progress
  • The sweet smell of hay
  • Gulls riding the wind when all other birds have given up
  • Smiling at strangers and receiving a smile in return
  • Walking wild and stripping naked to jump in peaty burns
  • Howling like a wolf into the wind

All things from 2013 still stand    They are still loves of mine

I'm 5 years older, but I'm still me    And always will be

Now.... who are you? 

Monday, 19 February 2018

Other People

Did you know that there's a lovely word for which the literal meaning is 'the realisation that every person has a life as vivid and complex as your own'. Sonder. It's a wonderful word, but the meaning is just as rich in possibilities.

As we go about our lives, it is always worth remembering that all the people we interact with are also living out their own futures, dreams, desires. Heartaches, sadnesses and hardships.

It was brought home to me again recently how true this was. Sitting outside bars in Copenhagen, with blankets on our knees and watching the twilight come and the cyclists and walkers pass by was a new type of wonderful. It reminded me how important it is to visit new places: this long weekend is the first true holiday I've had in quite a while.

And it did well to remind me of that feeling, emotion, of sonder. All the people cycling past were off living their lives. Their deeply interesting, odd, quirky lives and if they noticed me at all I was just a smiling face in the light of a bar - nothing more. Which felt just right.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Thoughts brought in with the Wind

Carrying on from yesterday’s post I lived the realization today of: Is nature not all of our cure? I truly believe that to be in nature as nature intended: with peace, patience and fun, is to find happiness.

Today, with work, we needed to take the high path to mark out our new guided trail. And it was a stunning day. The crescent moon hung in the sky, effortlessly highlighting the endless aons of worlds above us. The sun rose as a golden disk undisturbed by cloud or atmosphere. And the frost took time to vanish.

The temperature has probably hovered a couple of degrees above freezing all day. And the wind was gentle and cold, but just present enough to bring tidings of the sea, and memories of other lives and other places. It was the most perfect day to be outside: clambering, jumping and cartwheeling.

Instead, I was working. But there was plenty of clambering, although the jumping and cartwheeling happened only in my heart. The rocks were slippery with ice, but still there was a spider, crawling. There were plenty of other things both seen and unseen. A goldie welcomed us, flapping effortlessly over our heads almost as soon as we set off. I cannot remember the last time I didn’t see an eagle at Loch Druidibeg.

I realise more than many how overwhelming life can be sometimes. But although there are times that nature is just too sad, too much to be in, when in a reasonable frame of mind it can reach corners of the mind that no manner of thinking, of conversation, of therapy can reach. It does something essential, and that is that it reminds us of the beauty of other people’s lives. It reminds us that actually, the world does not revolve around us, ourselves. The world revolves in a seemingly endless vacuum and the fact that we are here at all is some incredible miracle.

Nature has a wonderful gift of making us feel small and insignificant and yet, in that same instance, of feeling invincible and eternal. I have no idea how it does that, but what a remarkable gift.