Seal of Approval

Seal Of Approval

A new friend with expertise in archaeology and anthropology (and a lovely sense of humour) took me to a part of the island of Luing I’d only observed from the road some 60-70 metres above, a few days ago. It was very exciting to be viewing the landscape through her eyes. We approached the beautiful and peaceful bay with caution as it’s dangerously boggy for two women of small stature. You tall ones would survive longer, if trapped, at least.

The shoreline stretched for miles along with the view punctuated only by the occasional wind-scalped tree. On an afternoon of unexpected and delightful warmth, the solitude was unbroken. Or so we thought.

Then I spotted what I thought were several buoys in the water where none had been sighted in the past..to find multiple, moving silky heads instead. Seven seals appeared to be watching our much less graceful progress south along the shore towards what I was told was an unmarked (on any map) feature built by human hands, amongst the rushes and tussocks of grass.

A small, strong and ancient building (of which more later) on the edge of an island in a sheltered natural bay, with deep water close to its walls. Today, the peace was palpable – it was unlikely to have been so for past occupants. As we returned before the early evening light gave out and the bay fell under night’s spell – a lone seal remained, floating, watchful. It was a friendly vigil we felt. Curiousity and enthusiasm visible on both
sides.

In legend seals are known as ‘Selkies’ hereabouts – and in many of the islands off Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Iceland. There are tales of selkie wives and husbands who lure humans to fall in love by shedding their seal-skin and taking human form. I’ve used an image here by the Times newspaper of an individual seal which illustrated a contemporary article about seals visiting other northern coastlines and being observed watching us. They strike me as modest creatures. I’ll bet – even during a stint on dry-land as a shape-shifting human – they would not be inclined to advertise their presence via a seal-selfie’.

There are some parts of the world where celebrity status is not valued above all other.. this seal’s identity will remain unknown. Just in case he or she is a human – in hiding.

I suspect I may have a seal of approval.

Seal Of Approval

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The Improbable Sunset

The Improbable Sunset

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There are evenings when we wish the sun would set sooner.. and nights when we doubt the sun will rise again. The daylight hours preceding them are often improbably beautiful..one such recently produced what we’ve come to call the “snowdrop sunset” (which occurred as way too sugary a title for a girl who doesn’t even do pink).

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What could be better than a path lined with snowdrops? Since I was not much higher than the flower, I’ve loved them. I clearly remember my mum showing me my first at the edge of a field, on a favourite walk.

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Each exquisitely simple bud and bloom formed – as I thought then – from snow. Another bit of evidence for my child-like belief in the magical qualities of nature.. a belief that survives into late adulthood.

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Which can be the only reason why it occurred to me to wonder how a sunset looks from the point of view of a snowdrop. I make no apology – it’s a lovely, rose-tinted world down there.

The Improbable Sunset

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Time Out

Time Out

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I’m a lucky so-and-so; when I’m looking for time out I’m often treated to good weather. It doesn’t come better than this. I suppose I could be sweltering on some hot, expensive beach abroad..but it means far more to see Scotland alight with sharp winter sun, and revelling in it.

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The harbour of Oban bustles with business and trade all year round, here at the northern edge of its cheerful crescent.. with the majestic St Columba’s Cathedral holding sway beyond the red-roofed restaurant complex. Kayakers take instruction on the shore, after carrying their crafts across the main road above from the town-centre school.. sharing the water with nosy swans, and the occasional otter, I’m told.

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Meanwhile, moving north with a box of the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted, we hit the beach at Ganavan Sands.. much changed, apparently, since my partners boyhood visits – when the only facilities emerged from a hut on the headland. No change in the direction of the waves I imagine. Nor in the enjoyment to be had.

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Soon the golds and ochres of waiting winter bracken will be exchanged for those of grasses and gorse; but for now winter brings skies of an icy blue and clear waters ripe for sailing – if you can brave the cold. Time out takes many forms, but for now just exploring is enough.. and there’s a new map of walks around Oban and Argyll to take home.

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Although a great time out doesn’t always need planning.
Sometimes it just happens on your own ‘doorstep’.

Time out

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The Travelling Light

The Travelling Light

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Today – after an intense week – I’ve been attempting to travel light. On foot, by motorbike, and in my head. After a short bike ride, and a coffee to go along the shore, hearing geese fly in overhead to land close by the house, but out of sight – I chose to head out with my camera and, creep up on them – as much as you can when ten times their size and dressed in bike gear – minus helmet.

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They led me a merry dance and this time I was unable to catch them on the ground. A walker, sheep fleeing, and then a helicopter put up the geese – but in aiming at them I found myself missing geese and catching landscapes.

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After carrying an old minor injury all week compounded by a few new bruises – it was wonderful to be feeling like a person and not a bag of aching bones – I almost felt weightless as I climbed the low ridges behind the house – having learnt long ago to head along the animal tracks. The line of least resistance is good for the knees.

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To my left a pocket of travelling light showed a mountain peak on Mull tipped with snow behind copper cliffs above indigo seas. A combination I can see looking well on the catwalks of Milan. To my right the geese, their bodies turned to silver, banked over another ridge in search of a peaceful landing-pad.

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The islands wildlife, missing over winter – presumed dead or in hiding from the cold and the cull – is returning with the sun. The weight of dark winter thoughts is lifted and I rejoice in the land and the sea, as ever.

The travelling light carries me home.

The Travelling Light

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Dancing In The Rain

Dancing In The Rain

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Sometimes all you can do in a rainstorm is dance.

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Exchange news with the wildlife beyond the window.

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Shelter, and watch the waves building.

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Though your reflections may be dark..

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The sun will come out.

Dancing In The Rain.

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Making Waves

Making Waves

Newly resident on a small island I’ve not made many waves. The weather, however, is doing a grand job. Storms are queueing to thrash beaches and erode more slate from cliffs.

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The tail end of the current storm has tossed slate from roofs, where it was residing usefully in the shape of tiles, and sent the contents of gardens not lashed to heavy objects into sudden orbit.

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Salt spray waved cheekily at us as we drove around the seemingly deserted harbour village today. Many residents were not at home to watch the sea making waves yards from their door. No doubt they’ve seen it all before.

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I like to get as close to the waves as the folk above whose enthusiasm, like mine, has survived the ‘enthusiasm lobotomy’ most of us go through at around age 14, or so..the sea is endlessly fascinating to the small child, inside this small woman.

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No matter how hard I braced myself – or leant against my tall companion for stability in the fierce winds – I could only manage an out of kilter shot of waves rolling in from the direction of remote Fladda Lighthouse.

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Across the rolling Atlantic I hear of sea-eagles swimming – using their wings like a human uses it’s arms – towing a freshly caught fish in a single talon. Any resemblance to the current political situation is unfortunate. Nature with a twist, indeed.

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Humans must stand up for what they believe in, but..
Making Waves should be left to the sea.

Making Waves

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Wellies, A Wet-Suit, And Wings

Wellies, A Wet-Suit, And Wings

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Although I’m a frequent visitor to the site of the Island christmas post-box (cards delivered by happy local volunteer ‘elves’, in addition to the normal postal service) I still managed to miss the post. So, when today dawned clear and bright I planned a simple walk delivering the cards by hand.

The weather forecast gave a window of around three hours, after which we were warned of strong winds. Happily clad in my old duffle-coat, I cadged a lift from my partner, and headed for the local gallery and cafe. After much chatting, coffee-slurping, and taste-testing a new dessert by Archie our chef , I deposited five cards for the staff to collect .. and set out to deliver the remainder.

Somehow – a great deal more time than anticipated had passed, and I was surprised at the strength of the wind. At the first address there was no postbox, or letter-box. I slid the card as far as it would go under the door. As I turned the corner of the street – lift-off – I was blown into the opposite wall. Hmm. This is going well.

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At the second address there was no letter-box – but yes, a postbox on the fence! It was rusted and had no base. Since large black clouds were following my progress with interest, leaving the card in a plant-pot wasn’t an option. I grumpily returned it to my backpack – from which, with chilled fingers I searched for and found my gloves. As I repeatedly put away or retrieved the map, the address list, and assorted cards while untangling my scarf and keeping my over-sized hood up..it seemed I had more hands than I actually had gloves for.

The next address should have been simple to locate. I know it is there, as in the past I found it’s occupant – seen through a window – working earnestly at his computer. This time I couldn’t even find the house. Another card returned to backpack. At which point I remembered that I’d not repaired the broken toggle on my duffle-coat and the wind was searching out parts to which it has no right of access. Even the ferry-woman’s dog would struggle to stay grounded in this weather.

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Next up – success! One card delivered through a letterbox – this time I note that the address is in a relatively sheltered street where the wind-speed was reduced to a mere 72km an hour. It’s direction fooled me into thinking that the walk home might not be so bad. Until I turned the next corner where it whipped my backpack off my shoulder, wrapped the carrier-bag of cards over my head, threw off my hood, salt-blasted my face, sent rivulets of mascara running south..and forced my breath straight back down my throat. Two cards so far (actually) delivered.

I staggered and half ran, when the wind caught me, to the island shop and post-office.. where I found the post-box lashed to several rails and heavy objects. Either the storm brewing was to be worse than usual – or the box had been hit by a car with no brakes. I couldn’t tell. I posted some stamped cards for the sheer hell of it. Do your worst, I thought. By now all I could think about was tea, and a digestive biscuit or ten.

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Now I see why the islanders rush to make use of their own ‘postal’ service. The rest of MY cards will be delivered from the comfort of a car. Either that or I’ll be wearing..

Wellies, A Wet-Suit, And Wings

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If I Had Wings

If I Had Wings

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When walking on Luing, the island where I live in the Inner Hebrides, I imagine myself right up there with the hawks and eagles, soaring on thermals over ice-blue waters and ochre shores..and able to pick out minute details from a great height..if I had wings.

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With the wings of a gull I’d have an intimate acquaintance with the rainbow of seaweed and shells coating the shore..the movement of fish in waters churned by vast underwater channels and caverns.

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With the wings of a Canada Goose I’d fly from feeding ground to resting place, honking the dangers of visiting shooting ‘parties’ and lack of hiding facilities – necessitating a hasty away-day to the nearby mainland.

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The wings of a swan could take me over to neighbouring Seil Island – it’s golden loch-side reed-beds sheltering calm, slate-dark waters.

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“If I had wings – proper ones..” said the hen pheasant.. “I’d not have lost my tail to a hawk .. and wouldn’t have to climb this darn hill.”
Luckily, there are very few hills of unreasonable proportion on Luing.

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The sky here does not play second fiddle to the sea; the sea takes colour from the sky..and each is a canvas for the island.

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If I had wings – like this hawk, I too would chase a plane across the blue horizon. As far as I could go..and back again. Home.

If I Had Wings

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Birds (and Beasts) Of A Feather

Birds (and Beasts) Of A Feather

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The Christmas season has well and truly begun – with all the pantomime gusto of a ‘slap-a-my-thigh’..and of people clinging onto some sense, and a sense of humanity, in a year lacking in either..tradition being a – well, traditional, now I come to think of it – way of making sense out of chaos.

For the life of me I can’t begin to make sense of a world that didn’t learn a lesson from a past as devastating as that of two world wars. Anyway – even if our ‘goose is well and truly cooked’..the onslaught of Christmas has hit the high street – and as usual it divides the have/have-nots, the I love Christmas-ers’ and it’s haters.

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Personally I love it – that is – what it means to me. Which is crisp leaves underfoot, collecting long branches of fir on frosty walks, multi-coloured cock pheasants bursting out of the bracken as though pursued by a goshawk – and not the reality, which is a small woman in an ancient, over-sized duffel-coat , and wellies.

I think of the Christmas rhyme: A Partridge In A Pear Tree; with it’s beautiful sing-song repetition of bird names and numbers. As a small child I found it satisfying and reassuring to sing these, over and over, as I kicked my way through piles of frosty leaves – in silent forests where tiny birds flitted to and fro in search of bright berries. I walked hand-in-hand with my mother, and grandparents, in Christmas card scenes made real, smiling to myself.

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A ‘Partridge In A Pear Tree’ this post is not. Two horses, two bulls, and a few landscapes do not a christmas-carol make – despite being set in the magical landscapes of this island, Luing. A child’s wonderment does make a Christmas however .. as our children’s wonderment and imagination will make a new world.

I can’t quite make this post fit the rhyme; although my true love did plant me a pear tree this year (along with an apple, damson, cherry, and plum) in which a partridge is very welcome to take up residence if it so desires. I look forward to the day I walk, hand in hand with my nephews, and grandchildren in my orchard.. and in winter’s woodlands. I will look down at their little faces – and warmth will spread from hand to heart – along with hope.

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Birds (and Beasts) Of A Feather

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Botany For Beginners

Botany For Beginners

Here on the island of Luing, in the Inner Hebrides, a great deal of the land is pasture grazed by the unique Luing cattle..of which more later. After a few months in residence (not IN the pasture) – I’m increasingly clearer that the pasture itself is unique. Every square centimetre of it is teeming with botanical life..and where it escapes the tread of the beautiful Luing bulls (and the feet of the hiker) myriad forms of insect life pass through, as busily, if at a slower pace, than trains and customers through a city station.

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The origin of the word botany came from the Greek word ‘botane’, which means “grass” or “pasture”. Since the original meaning focussed on the idea of a pasture – in it’s earliest form botanical study may have derived from a herdsmans need to identify what was the most nourishing food (vocabulary.com). Pointing a camera up close – it’s difficult to take an uninteresting photo’.

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With today’s wider perspectives misted over by low cloud or sea-fog (called a haar in northern parts) and a camera lens that required much wiping; I took a long walk for some ‘short’ views. Light was sharp if grey, and continually but slowly fading. This threw the closest elements of landscape into technicolour relief, to the point of surreality.

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Lifting my head in the driving rain, to check that me and my feet were heading the same way, I was regularly startled to find verges and views jump out at me in flourescent tones. It’s strange when your own eyesight registers a natural colour as though’ it had been photo-shopped to shock. As a passing friend remarked “the bracken is now the colour of the bulls”..blood-red graduating to chestnut-brown.

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Knowing I’d soon have to make a U-turn and head for home before light fell further, had me picturing all the small creatures hidden from my view making similar plans. I imagined deer and birds sheltering under wind-shaped trees on craggy hillsides..plus parties of insects fighting for the best bunk in the mushroom motel..complete with toadstool toasties and psychedelic cider. Meanwhile I made do with two damp digestive biscuits and dreamt of a hot-toddy beside the woodburner.

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The beautiful slate ground-work laid by my clever partner at the back door of home is lit to guide me safely at dusk..and I realise that the move to pastures-new was a good move..not least as I was recently lucky to meet a real-live botanist who lives on a nearby island..
and she is as daft as I am about mosses and lichens.

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Not for nothing does my partner call me The Mossochist.

Botany For Beginners

By Helen

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