Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Image Left: Common Seal Pup

Sunday 15th February

Much like myself the day had so far struggled to get going, the sun limped weakly between fog and low cloud never really fulfilling its promise of good day’s sunshine. I decided to take advantage of the light breeze and flat water out in the sound with a boat trip. The boat in question Ella was named after the medium Ella Horsey, who had it built when she lived on the island in the 1950`s. Whether any of her former owner’s powers have rubbed off is hard to say, she at least gives me a sense of confidence beyond my normal competence. The only problem with Ella is that someone has fitted a 5hp two stroke engine to her , having spent two days of the week taking a two-stroke chainsaw to be repaired, I have little faith in anything that requires an oil and petrol mixture for fuel. Today surprisingly the engine started first time and I headed out into the sound towards Iona and then half a mile out made a turn to the left heading for Tinker’s Hole. I stopped into the small lagoon where our resident population of common seals hauls out and cut the engine. A single adult and pup which looked to be one or two months old lay perched on their sides and doing their best to ignore me. I drifted past on a light breeze and out of curiosity the pup decided to follow me watching as I failed to restart the engine and began to fumble with some impossibly large oars. I rowed back into the lagoon passing Seal Island with my companion in tow and sheltered in the stillness of tidal pool. The engine eventually restarted and I made it out into the main channel that leads to Tinker’s hole, a fog descended briefly obscuring the world beyond Easter Island and rather than push on into the unknown I turned round and headed for home. The engine took this opportunity to go on strike again, I tried as best as I could to restart negotiations and then opted to sneak up on it before descending into words or encouragement that are generally offered by fish wives and Dockers. In the end I rowed back hugging the shoreline past Otter Island and picking a course between the shallow reefs. To the north, Iona’s cliff tops emerged from the fog creating the illusion of an island in the sky, and I drifted a little peering through the turquoise water to the white sandy bed of bay.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Full Circle

Image Left: Otter Cubs in the Kelp

Sunday 8th February

Full Circle

Sometimes I look for signs and wonders but more often they find me: the arch of a mountain peak, a line in the sand or the flicker of a hawk’s wing over the heather. I don’t like the word omen it sounds too wishy-washy, too subjective; I tend to think of these small moments as tracks or way markers. When I look for otters it isn’t the big splashes but the tooth marks found in the discarded bodies of crabs or the scats and trails through the wet grass that give proof of life. I collect and compare incidents hoping to eek out some meaning or understanding of the world based on experience rather than the fall of the cards or patterns left by tea leaves.

When I have collected and sorted then I weave my own world, which is no less ethereal than that of other mystics. Yesterday I found a circle in the sand carved by a single blade of grass that had been spun around its anchor point in the wind, I took as a sign. I once photographed the side of barn that bore similar markings left by a sycamore that had been felled prior to my visit. Once on a mountain I found solid rock cut by the same process and again while waiting in a motorway traffic jam my eye was drawn to a grime covered concrete embankment, scoured by trailing brambles . I have a history with patterns, sometimes it works in my favour and then it doesn’t.

A permaculturist once told me that when dealing with a new garden or landscape the best practice is to do nothing for a year and just observe; get to know your land before turning it under the plough. In a couple of weeks I will have lived on the island for a year, I don’t know whether I have served my apprenticeship but I have a feeling it is an on going process. Before I came here I was following other patterns that led to other places, dark places and an end that I didn’t want. I left and chose life in a new landscape, with new possibilities and new patterns. So I take this circle as a sign, a proof of life.

This morning I walked into a world of patterns and in amongst the familiar nodding of kelp fronds on an ebbing tide I spotted the flick of an otter’s tail as it dived. The sun broke through the cloud as I scrambled over the rocks to watch a female otter and her cubs hunt the rocky margins of island.

Image Above Right: Ghost Sycamore
Image Below: Circle in the Sand

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Going To Meet The Mountain

Image above: Sheep fank (fold) and Ben More

Location: Isle of Mull, Scotland

Sunday 1st February

I used to have a mountain but the ownership was unclear although, I always assumed it had laid claim to me. The mountain was the Black Hill and I said good bye to that landscape over a year ago. After skirting its foothills for eight years I climbed only once into the cloud base that normally haunts its summit and exchanged a few parting words in the silence.

Now I have an island and once again it exerts a claim over me, but sometimes I miss the density of mountain. Today I went to meet Ben More, a peak which dominates the small estuary the separates the island from Mull. It often lures me from the cottage doorway and sometimes in the dark of a winter’s evening, if the moon hangs low enough it seems to rest within the mountain’s shoulder. If I need another mountain there would be little reason to look any further but the ritual dictates a proper courtship, there will be know marching to summit and planting a flag.

The route from the island to base of the mountain is a little over ten miles, obviously once you have made it onto Mull. This morning the weather had made a change for the better, a stiff southerly wind had cleared all but a few patches of cloud from sky. I paddled through the ebbing tide at the narrows and then made the short climb to the barns at Knockvologan; the winter home for the van. From the comfort of the vehicle the world passed by at an easy pace, each bend bringing a new vista or a change in perspective. Occasionally I spotted a herd of deer out in the autumn tinted grasses or a buzzard hunting from a post. In the flat sunlight the cresting sea had taken on a steely blue tone flecked with white breakers or the flash of a seagulls wing. From the Ross of Mull the mountain shows its best side, its snow capped ridge half hidden in shade throughout the morning renders some form to its presence. I drove past Pennyghael and the turning for Salen to view it from the other side.

Just as I began to lose sight of the mountain in my rear view mirror I stopped and turned back to meet it again. Back at Pennyghael I found an empty sheep fank and left the warmth of the van to make some images. Is it my mountain? I don’t know maybe I will kept the island instead.

Image Above Right: Buzzard