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.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Black Dogs

Have you ever heard of Churchill’s Black Dog? This, rather personable description, was how he referred to his depression, which followed him for much of his adult life.

I have a black dog, and his name is Loneliness.

I want to be candid, which is why I have been unable to write this post for rather a long time. It’s been a difficult time, and I have struggled for a while. My last post was on the 17th of November, but I’d already been feeling swamped by anxiety and whatever else for several weeks before I wrote that, late one night.

This time last year I hadn’t yet had the interview for this job in which I am now. I was still on the mainland, working in the role that I was really unhappy in. Moving to a new place is not a fix-all, and the things that have really dragged me down this time are more to do with things in my past than loneliness per se. The inability to have deep, meaningful conversations out here has put a spanner in my ability to look after my mental health.

However, things are looking positive just now. I had a break over Christmas of almost three weeks, spending real quality time with beloved mainlanders. I have now come back to my wee house on the islands, and it feels okay. Not perfect, yet, but give it time.

Management techniques are in place, and there are a few things I will be changing to really put my all into island life. This has been a dream for a long time and to give up now would leave me dissatisfied and that’s no good for the future. I have a bit of a cold at the moment, so I haven’t been doing any of the social stuff that I normally do in a week but that’s okay. One part of looking after myself is being kinder to myself, and if after a working day I need to sit in front of the telly and watch some rubbish, then that’s what I’m going to do.

I am lucky in that I have a fantastic job. The island I live on is extremely friendly. My boss is brilliant and I really like my colleagues. I am lucky. My black dog can be tamed, and with a few bits of self-care he can be managed. He may never disappear completely, and yet his presence is a wee reminder to look after myself and to practice self-kindness.

Loneliness is something that I never really thought about prior to experiencing it myself. But it’s dreadful, and I know that I cannot go on like this, as unless I make real connections with fellow islanders, there’s not going to be a future for me here. I have a couple of ideas that I am working at putting into action. But for now, my mantra is not just “be kind to yourself”, but also, “forture favours the brave” for unless I summon up my courage to grasp island life by the proverbial horns I may end up bowing out of this dream.

In the meantime, I hope you are all feeling hopeful, happy and healthy as we enter 2018.

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.