Sunday, 28 June 2009


Image Left: Sitting with the stones

Space , Friday 26th June

My wife walks on ahead to the spiral and her sitting stone. I scramble through the bracken lifting patches of roofing felt, hoping to catch a lizard taking in the last of the days warmth. I have no luck and follow my wife to the spiral. The sun is making its evening descent towards Iona and has already begun to shoot out colour into the horizon. As my wife sits, I bounce round the rocks of the spoil heap photographing orchids, ferns, thyme and tight bunches of stonecrop.

The island is one mile by one mile, but what surface and what intricacy. Living here is like unfolding a lung. I have to ask myself what scale should I use to measure? Do I run a tape over points of the boulders or down into the crevices where hard ferns and stonecrop shelter? Maybe the surface of a leaf counts or the delicate inlayed scales that surround a lizards eye. If I look closely these details too give up their own structure and inversely the space that marks out their components. I once tried to grasp the size of mountain; in the dark of a winter evening I drove over its shoulder and understood the blackness against the streetlights of the villages and towns that clung to its foothills. Here there are few lights to give contrast and daily tidal surges make the ocean a less reliable yardstick.

Some days I go a little deeper viewing the world under a microscope and finding red splashes of blood in the body of a tick, blood that was once mine. Is everything just membrane, there are only boundaries and separation. When I draw caricatures two circles with dots at their centre become breasts or eyeballs dependant on viewer; a simple act of defining space. Am I only interested in defining space?

Image below: Common Lizard

Saturday, 13 June 2009

A Rare Thing

Image left: Common Sandpiper
Sunday 7th June
A Rare Thing

I turn into the Narrows under a sky filled with the siren like calls of oystercatchers. I quickly find the empty cup of their nest seated in a heather topped boulder: It had originally held three eggs, but two of these had been lost early on leaving only a single chick to face the rigors of life on the beach. I move off and their calls subside.

The recent run of neap tides have failed to dampen the expanse of sand leaving it littered with sea borne debris. Even the small tidal stream that skirts island’s side of the sand has disappeared leaving only the fossilised indents of running water. On the opposite bank the oaks of John’s Wood have filled out their canopy still holding to the glass ceiling created by the prevailing winds. Below on the edge of the sand a patch of Irises are just beginning to flower, the distance lending them the feel of impressionist’s sketch with hastily thrown yellow dashes amongst the green fuse.

For the island’s rocky margin life has also moved on apace, the low cliffs hold wooded tufts, with oak, birch, aspen and hazel all in leaf while the rowans had started to blossom. Even the shear faces of rock are dotted with tight bunches of thrift like unfurled anemones. Where ledges and fissures afford some shelter ferns, penny royal and heather bring their own colour to the patina of lichens. I drew myself into this world with deep breaths , someone had painted over the surfaces with life.

From a low stand of birch the call of a bird brought my attention in from the beach. The tone was melodious enough to be a songbird but it had a distinct resonance that marked it out from the thrushes and warblers. Its calls pulled me from bush to bush while my quarry gave up only tantalising glimpses. I was been played for a fool and when the bird had taken me far enough from its nest it made a long arc back to were the game had began. I too returned to the start but instead of replaying the chase, I waited. A small wading bird emerged from the thicket calling to its mate who answered from the top of rock on the edge of the beach. It flitted off the ground and threw its legs forward to grapple with a low branch on which it intended to perch, it took a couple of second to find its balance. I waited with them as they moved from branch to rock through the small valley dipping their tails and calling all the time. What I took to be the female made occasional sorties to the base of a hazel, where I assumed her nest lay. The species of the bird was only something I could guess at and these guesses ranged from rare passage migrants to species I had seldom found the need to look up in my field guide. I suppose life is a rare thing in itself and intimacy with it, rarer still.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

On The Street Where I Live

Image Left: The Island

Monday 1st June

On The Street Where I Live

I woke early to full sunshine and the thinnest of breezes. In the summer here, daylight begins about the time nightclubs are sending patrons home, darkness becomes a brief interlude in an endless summer day. My neighbour remarked yesterday that she could live another whole day after dinner, and I remembered I had a whole day to live before breakfast.

I met the small party on the street about half past six and we found coffee and a clear blue sky framed in the small panes of the kitchen window; we made our way down to the pier. I hauled on the mooring ropes breaking the inertia of the boat and the day in general. The engine sprang to life primed by the warmth of the sun and we idled out into the breeze of the sound. Ahead, Iona’s cliff faces hung like a wall in the distance and behind us Ben More crested out of a blue mountain haze. I felt a little uneasy about breaking through the quiet presence of the island and ocean with the rattle of hum of the engine at full throttle. We eventually turned towards Tinker’s Hole and found a small flotilla of yachts moored across the narrow gap, their masts glinting scimitar like against the horizon.

Overhead terns called as they flitted between the islets occasionally diving almost butterfly like to meet the water. Where the falling tide had exposed a long stretch of white sand on Easter Island, the striking patterns of male eider ducks jarred at my vision as they sat with their drab mates in the sun. We glided into seal bay finding a single grey seal hauled out on the rocks, he quickly dismounted and slipped back into the sea. I cut the engine and we drifted a little downwind of Seal island, the smell of seal’s breath still tainting the morning air. After a few minutes the seal reconsidered and returned to its perch lumbering out of water and the grace afforded by that medium. We sat hushed by the presence of the seal as if waiting on a guru for some words of wisdom, none were forth coming.

Our little boat trip was to give a couple long term guests a last look around the island and so far all the actors had willing taken to the stage. Leaving the seal, we cut back into the sound and visited Jimmy’s lagoon, a large sea trout bolted over the sand as we navigated through the monoliths. The tide was too low to afford the boat access to main lagoon. I took us out and hugging the opposite shore from the island made my way down to our jetty on Mull. I tied up and we stepped out to look back to the island, the summer sun was still lighting the face of the street, picking out the brightly coloured doors with a frame of shadow.

The distance hid any of the morning’s activities giving the place the look of a model village. My eye moved from the pier and sheds past the tractors and up the hill towards pier cottage and the byre. Above, the sanctuary topped the small wood and higher still the quarry and observatory. My eye took me back to the street and gardens, a perfectly formed miniature world that rested motionless in the morning sun.

When we finally returned to the island we found the world had woken, I handed the boat over to Phil and the children for the school run. The cows were already making their way back along the track their udders a little lighter after milking while their calves called from the front garden of number two. On the street two empty chairs, a laptop and a guitar looked to have been hastily abandoned by a unlicensed busker , while doorways held guests and residents that had come to look out over the bay at the wider world beyond.

Image above right: Street Life