Sunday, 26 December 2010

Image Above: Light On The Bay
Location: Erraid Sound, Erraid

The Thaw

Christmas Eve 24th December

Around the gutters and windowsills the movement of water had begun, every projecting surface held a drip tapping out its rhythm on the wet surface of the snow. By late afternoon the drips had found rivulets running unseen under ice. The world had begun to sag uncomfortably, where the snow had concealed it now clung to the skeleton of the island like a piece of linen blown from a washing line. I felt a little sad as if woken from a dream or finding myself falling out of love and realising despite grasping hands that it had slipped through my fingers.

And so the mask has fallen and ordinary objects return to their duties freed from the burden of being a sculpture. The chaos of human existence is revealed in misplaced sandals, spades lodged in garden borders and bags of rubbish abandoned on route to the bin store. I am still not used to snow, it comes from some other place that seems to be governed by pure whimsy. I take comfort that there are still things that even on my best day I could never have imagined.

When the blizzards had began a little over a week ago I had watched the water of the bay stilled and softened by the lightest of touches. I rowed out between snowfalls and felt the change in density the melting iced fronds had brought to this salted lagoon. Beneath the boat a translucence touched with the grey of snow clouds obscured the sea bed. The low water sands and the strand lines of kelp had also fallen for the spell, leaving only the brine as a counterpane to the monotone depths of the sky. The ocean eventually reclaimed the bay. Each incremental rise of successive tides redefined what was given to the water and what belonged to the land leaving a sharp line drawn beneath the whiteness.

While the snow and ice was barely passable and the tides ran under a full moon we waited for the bay to drain. The sands lent passage and we could deliver Christmas presents to our neighbours, returning with news and mussels plucked from weed drenched rocks. Yesterday I wandered the shallows in the afternoon sunshine as a creature of the tidal race with the hermit crabs and sand gobies for company enjoying the warmth beneath that cold band of snow. Today all has changed and the world seems almost ill-defined, the land runs with water, while the tide carries away small bergs of frozen beachfront.

In the late afternoon the cows return to the byre, their coats wet from a shower trail vapours in the darkness as afternoon turns to evening.

Image Above Right : Coils Of Pea Fencing
Image Above Left: Hay Loft Floor
Image Below: Hermit Crab

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Zed Bed Sled

Image Above: Bea And The Zed Bed Sled
Location: Isle Of Erraid
The Zed Bed Sled
Sunday 19th December

I chased Isaac out of the tool shed before dropping the mask’s visor and drawing an arc of molten light over the final joint in the steel. Isaac waited in the snow displaying his impatience with well timed questions as children do marooned on the back seat of the longest journey. Eventually I slid the bent steels out of the shed and let the welds hiss in snow. We found a seat sized piece of plywood amongst the remnants of the zed bed I had abandoned earlier on the pier. A little over an hour ago it had been silently rusting in the corner of the boat shed, with a little effort and a cutting disc its days of torturing spare room guests were finally over.

The rope came from the ‘rope trailer’; named cunningly because it holds the island’s collection of old rope in what could only be described as the world’s biggest knot, rather than pull at threads in search of an end I wisely took a knife. Celia fetched oil and a rag from the garden shed, old vegetable oil used to put a sheen on spades and a slickness on steel runners. We gathered on the street, kids, neighbours and trudged through walled in whiteness of grass gardens pausing at the gate to look out over the bay. The moon had risen out of Ben More and hung over the silence of the snow rimmed bay in ownership of the late afternoon like a benevolent soul.

I had forgotten about the simple pleasure of sliding down a hill and felt ashamed that somehow I had not devoted enough of my life to this pursuit. It was rumoured that a local shopkeeper who had displayed a sledge for the last six snowless winters had exaggerated its annual inflationary rise as the first few inches had begun to settle, never mind that he was dealing with a sacred object. All objects travel in space and time but few instantly transport what it is to be a child as seamlessly as a sledge . It is not the past that rushes up to meet me but a freedom in the moment and the pure joy of it . But I am not the first of my family to build time machines. My great uncle went to night school metal work classes and furnished my childhood winters’ with a sledge that seemed to run equally on air as snow. And then my father and his metal imagings, sledges crafted from junk that could hold a street full of kids and send them hurtling down the rolly polly field.

Once again It was my turn at the top of the hill and lifting my feet I let the world rush by. Later I wondered if the zed bed had ever imagined such an afterlife.

Saturday, 31 July 2010


Image Above: The Burg, Mull

Saturday 31st July

The light has almost gone now, I waited in the quarry and watched gaps in the clouds deepen into crimson. There is so much sky here and so much is made ridiculous by that blanket of light. Earlier in the Sound of Iona I watched a wave suddenly enveloped in an amber glow, there is no reason for this, who chooses a wave out of ocean full of movement? My line snagged a mackerel and I looked away briefly to the rod, boat and the silver life that hung from the hook. The fish I returned as tribute but the glow had moved on leaving me in the shadow of a squall. These random acts of beauty are the local currency and wealth is often afforded merely by a cliff top perch or an open boat.

Monday, 3 May 2010


Image above: A yacht moored in Tinker’s hole
Sunday 11th April

The day had begun under a band of vaporously thin pink light that hung over the northern horizon. With altitude the pink graduated through white into the blue spectrum before deepening to meet the edge of the night that still clung to the dome. From the cottage doorway I traced the line of Mull’s central mountain range to the cliffs of the Burg and then out to Iona; a strip of landscape separating the sky from its counterpart, the waters of the bay and sound. This view is the reward for a street that presents itself to a northern sky, some mornings I walk collecting reflections from the cottage windows, each a new vision of perfection.

Having passed the vernal equinox the daily position of the sun’s rise and decent had begun to make the slow march north. Gradually the idea of a sunrise and setting becomes folly, for by midsummer at this northern latitude the sun briefly dips below the horizon before continuing its seemingly unending orbit of the island.

By nine the sun was beginning to make its presence felt although it was struggling to burn away a mist that had resigned some of the distant islands to familiar outlines. I collect fuel, fishing tackle and slip away from the pier in reliance heading towards the sound. As the boat settles into its hull speed an arc of clear water spreads between the bow and stern waves distorting the shallows beneath. Visions of the sandy seabed come briefly into focus as if viewed under a magnifying glass or through a seer’s ball, before vanishing with the wake. Over the starboard bow the long arm of Easter Island’s beach has been exposed by the falling tide. The sunlight scattered by the sherbet sands and low water shines as if the island itself is still being forged in white heat. The tide still has an hour or so to run its ebb before the two halves of the island will briefly be reunited, the dividing waters having shrank back to form a central lagoon. Ahead the thin mast and low-slung hull of a yacht shelters below the shaded granite walls of Tinker’s Hole. As she swings on her mooring the sun catches her broadside, highlighting her like a gull against a passing squall.

At the far end of Tinker’s Hole I finally slow the engine to meet a heavy chop drummed up by the distant swell. There seems little point battering a course through the crests so I slip into the shelter of American Island before bringing the boat out to meet the swell in open water. She rises and falls comfortably despite my apprehension, I wait looking for a sheltered spot to fish but the current chooses for me as the boat drifts into Hell’s Kitchen, its outer reefs for once providing some protection.

In a single action I swing the tip of the fishing rod over the gunwale and release the guard from the reel. The weighted line and lures smoothly pull away from the spool as if unravelling a cashmere sweater. Ten or twelve meters below the lead weight touches down and I imagine a thud or the dull clank of metal on rock but in reality the only clue given is a slack line. Winding the reel I draw in the slack and lift the weight a couple of feet of the bottom. Now the work begins as I lift the rod and let it fall back, a simple movement I repeat with the relentlessness of a nodding oil derrick.

My vision of the world beneath is at best a montage of Jacques Cousteau’s films, memories of snorkelling, depths inked on charts and the time it takes for my weight to reach the bottom. I construct a map based on this rudimentary data and hold it more as something to aim for than fixed like the reefs or rocky shores. In half imagined gullies fish lurk or maybe stacked up in formation over some knoll as they hang in the tidal currents that whip around the island. Into this world I cast my line as a small act of faith.

Just as the weight serves to carry the lures into the depths it also gives tension to the line, a couple foot up from the lead a knot sends a small branch of line three inches out to a lure, a hook dressed with packing twine, insulation tape and nail varnish. Another eight inches up and the next knot repeats the pattern, altogether the rig holds four lures. Ignoring the translucent line the lures should appear like a small shoal of fish, all that is required to bring them to life is animation. Ten metres above as I lift the rod the lures spring to life rising and falling like an aquatic puppet show; this is fishing.

I drift in the current searching for an audience, the first tug comes as a wake up call and then bang another hit. I am connected, the urgency transmitted through the line and rod. I pump the rod back and then lower it to reel in the slack, after for or five strokes a silver flash emerges from the gloom beneath swinging pendulum like against the pull of the line. Clear of the water the fish becomes languid as if momentarily in awe of the this strange new world, unhooked in the fish box it briefly tries to swim but finds no density in air to aid its propulsion. I return the line to the sea.

Image above right: Reliance on the move
Image Below: A box of saithe

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Image Above and Below Right: Red Deer Stags grazing.

Scenic Route
Thursday 25th March 2010

I am off island, the location only serves to heighten my sense of disconnection, off island, off line. My mobile phone has joined the conspiracy, even if the battery hadn’t died the chance of a signal on these barren shores would at best be slim. This is my day out on Mull, an island and yet not my island home, but then place can be a small thing maybe a tossed pebble. I have stopped the van halfway along a route described by local sign posts as scenic, this almost implies that all other routes on Mull are somehow commonplace.

Below me, a beach of dense basalt pebbles stretches away to meet the mountainous walls that guard the entrance to the sea loch. I walk down to meet the water and prospect for oysters but the tide is high leaving me only spent shells, stripped of their cushion soft, enamelled mother of pearl. Above the road a sheep fank* nestles into a low cliff and I wander back to take a closer look. The collection of drystone walls with rooms and runs almost has the look of an Andean ruin, a city laid out and forgotten. I lean over the stonework pushing my elbows into to a deep carpet of moss, and look up to find a pied wagtail watching me from across the enclosure. I turn my attention to the moss and pretend to hunt for something in the hopes of raising the bird’s curiosity and draw him closer, it works for robins but my friend may be a little wiser and bounces off into the distance.

I walk through the pens and find a toilet positioned with some architectural sensibility and yet almost surreal in its application. So this is the world today a little less than serious, I return to the van .

The road swings in and out of the cliff faces as it rises sharply from the loch shore. The height of the van’s driving seat only adds to the sense that I might have stumbled onto a fairground ride. Ahead the Burg a monolith of basalt sits like a impenetrable fortress, its walls holding back the sky. The sun has reached far enough into the afternoon to run its fingers over the shear sides picking out the layers and faults in the rock. I slow as the road nears the pass and glance along the northern wall of the Burg, a moment later all is forgotten as the landscape opens into winter scorched moorland, golden in the afternoon sun. A group of twenty or so stags are grazing near the road, I pull into a lay-by, cut the engine and reach for my camera.

Fank* an enclosure for working with sheep

Image: A Fank with facilities.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Quarry

The Quarry, Sunday 21st February

Image above: The Children’s House, built by the Findhorn Foundation’s Youth Project, Erraid Quarry

I pace in the quarry, the camera rests on a tripod and I watch the clouds. I have come to wait on the landscape for a gift, a small rectangle of light. The sun has already made it into the island’s afternoon, its rays trimming the patches of snow back into the shadows of the rock faces. Below, the spoil heap artificially extends the quarry workings out into a plateau that crests over the island’s small pine plantation, the bay and the sound. A few years back the community laid out a spiral of rocks amongst the thin turf on the seaward edge of the heap. Even in a relatively short time it has become imbued with a feeling that its creation was in a more distant past, the Celtic symbolism fits with the wider landscape.

Over the sound, Columba’s abbey is side lit rendering its grey walls with deep shadows like folds in the sombre cassock of a monk. Behind the bell tower the rocks look down on the abbey’s thirteen hundred year history with little reverence, their presence stretches back into such inordinate vastness that even to say two and a half thousand million years doesn’t begin to describe its magnitude. I wait and wonder what my part in all this is.

I’m telling stories, I suppose it is something I have done my whole life. And then there are things to be done that don’t require a story, things that need elbow grease or the swing of a pick. Sometimes I confuse the two and think that stories stack roof slates and dig ditches, but they don’t. So what use, these stories?

Maybe I am just sending postcards to some future self, when I look back over my old writing I find time has erased my memory of the creative process leaving me to read the words anew, as if they were penned by the hand of a stranger. This is not unique to writing, sometimes I pull the kitchen draws out and inspect their dovetail joints in an attempt to keep the memory of making them alive but it has already been lost, so I wonder at another’s skill.

The island is littered with the handiwork of others, some good and some not so, but it matters little I live with it all. When Robert Louis Stevenson came here as a lighthouse engineer in training, he wrote of Sabbaths when the stone masons tools fell silent. They have been silent along time and yet Stevenson’s words almost carry as much weight of proof as the blocks that litter the quarry’s spoil heap, or the Dubh Artach lighthouse that guards the southern horizon.

Image below: Abandoned Blacksmith’s, Erraid Quarry

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Beach Casting

Image Left: Fishing on Balfour Bay
Tuesday 9th February
Beach casting

The island’s central valley is soaking up the fragile warmth of the winter sun. I descend from the ridge carrying my youngest son in his sling and swinging a fishing rod like an oversized gentleman’s cane. Beneath the granite walls the breeze has been hushed, it passes high overhead and for a moment I wonder if I haven’t stepped into some alternate place, an island within an island. Eventually the valley bottoms out into a wide bog cut with drains. Thick layers of peat topped with heather have infilled the spaces around the granite monoliths which seem to rise like leviathans from a becalmed ocean. The land climbs a little to meet the sands of Balfour Bay, which have been pushed up into a half dune by the prevailing winds.

I slouch through the soft sand before crossing the small stream that winds itself through the bay. The sun is almost at twelve o’clock leaving little in the way of shelter on the wide pan of sand. Once again the bay has been remodelled by the ocean, the sands have shifted and the pitch of the beach has increased dramatically, forcing the waves to pound as they break and explode over the sand.

I tell myself that I haven’t come to fish and then make a long cast out into turquoise depths. The fishing line makes a graceful arc through the sunlight, spooling out the memory of its tightness on reel in loose coils. I wind in making the lure dance unseen beneath the waves and then move on casting again and again until I have worked my way to the far side of the bay, the surf erasing my footprints as I go. Finley wakes and I stand the rod up amongst the rocks and find a place to sit, we watch the waves break, before a spinning lens cap draws his attention away. Two summers ago I swam here through a vast shoal of small fry, a shoal that filled the distance like snow flakes in a blizzard that had stalled. Today, summer or at least the idea of it feels tangible and I return to the surf casting again in the hopes of snagging a season.

Later as we leave the beach an anomaly in the acoustics of the bay carries the immediacy of a wave as it thuds into the sand. I turn around expecting to catch the backwash of some monstrous ninth wave but find no evidence in the distant rippling foam.

Image below: Lonely Cloud, at Balfour Bay

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Eagle

Image Left: Wheelbarrows, hiding out of the wind
The Eagle
Friday 29th January

Out on the street the bell is ringing, I tighten my grip on the duvet hoping to stall my inevitable departure. When the sound begins to subside I venture out from under the covers and dress quickly. The bell ringer has probably returned to the far end of the street and the island’s occupants will soon be gathering for the morning meeting. Still in the hallway and fighting with wellington boots I can hear the clack as cottage doors are swung open, slapping against the wide granite jambs. The lighthouse builders knew which way to hang a door; when the gales blow from the north we force our way out of the cottage doors rather than welcoming in the weather.

Outside the day is bright but cold, the wind has moved into the northwest carrying the arctic unhindered across the North Atlantic to race down the street. My neighbour rushes from his cottage gripping binoculars and pointing at the sky. Its an Eagle, the size alone gives it away but the movement or lack of it is a better label. High in the uncertain currents thrust up by the island’s jumble of granite fists the eagle hangs like an astronomical feature: Orion, Polaris or Mars. The smallest flex in its wing almost imperceptible to our rude eyes edges the bird along the street. I follow its line and find a small crowd of islanders stalled outside the meeting room looking to the sky. We join them and a consensus forms that it’s a golden eagle as apposed to the larger sea eagle; both local to the island. The eagle moves off drawing in its wings as it rises over the quarry. Despite the grace of movement this is a raggedy bird, its primaries extended like the fingers of a scarecrow grasping the wind from under an old jacket. Maybe that’s its mythology, a wandering tramp, a bird of the waste lands.

The crowd drifts away to join the meeting, the day needs to be planned: wood to be split, seaweed to collect, lunch, dinner and meditation. I spend the rest of the working day glancing upwards hoping to see the tramp again.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Web

Image above: The mark left by a hawk's beak in a seagull’s feather
The Web
Thursday 14th January

A sparrowhawk rises from the jumble of rocks that make up the shoreline. Its wings are stiffened, thumb feathers drawn in like the hand of swimmer pushing water. It tilts its body as if a sudden gust has caught it off guard and in doing so flashes the white of its chest against the darkness of a rain shadow. Its a female and she puffs away over heather hugging the contours until she is out of sight. I amble over wondering if I had disturbed her while she was with a kill, although her talons had been empty. I find only sea tossed debris, polystyrene and plastic bottles.

Forgetting the hawk I move on enjoying the unfamiliar softness of boggy ground after a month of hard labour on frozen earth. The Sound of Iona is all chop, waves beating relentlessly again the rocks with all the ineffectualness of child’s tantrum. A hundred yards on and lost in thought the first feathers of a kill go unnoticed until I stumble into the midst of what looks like a pillow fight gone wrong. I look for a carcass or a trace of bloodied flesh but it has gone, only the feathers remain. I collect some primaries for identification and guess the victim was a seagull. Today is not the day for unpicking a crime scene, the hawk may only have been responsible for the idea of a kill rather than the culprit.

Back at home, I retrieve the feathers from my pocket and place them in order of size. Five are from the right wing with one stray from the left; its camber arcing in opposite direction. Superficially they appear to be in good condition, their quills still intact despite having been grasped and ripped from the wing. The soft parts are pock marked and I remember the shape of a hawk’s bill from other encounters. This is frenzy, each tiny mark is the jabbing of a beak as it searches for a lever to grasp. There a hundreds of these punctures in my small collection of feathers to have plucked the whole bird with one beak seems almost a labour of love.

I fish out my microscope from the bottom of the bookcase and set it up on the windowsill table. Outside dusk has begun to gather about the mountains. Ben More the highest of the range has spent the day shrouded in mist and there are no fireworks this evening as the sun leaves the bay to climb the heights. Even on a low magnification the feather gives up its intricacy. Each tiny filament that branches away from the central quill is fringed with rows of fine barbs that mesh with those of the neighbouring filaments; creating a web both strong and yet flexible. I move the feather and find a puncture and imagine the shape of the bill its hollow triangular section indelibly marked into the web. Part of me understands the hawks frustration, grasping at something so apparently solid that it can cradle the wind and yet still be so insubstantial. Despite the hole the web stands, but other feathers have almost lost their rigidity under the assault.

I look for the marks left by the beak’s final grip on the shaft as it pulled the feather from the flesh and find a delicate pinhole. On others the force exerted by the tip of the bill has shattered the translucent quills like a biro crushed underfoot. I pack away the microscope non the wiser as to the culprit, higher magnifications always expose the gaps both physical and in my understanding of the world. Tonight the wind is already erasing the drama from the landscape and feathers will reclaim their anonymity freed from the burden of being evidence.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Under Ice

Image above: Seal Paw In The Sand
Under ice
Sunday 10th January

Yesterday’s tracks remain undisturbed, overnight a sheet of ice has consigned the wanderings of the beach’s devotees to a museum exhibit, a world behind glass. I follow the prints of a rabbit to the grassy margins of the sand and lumber up over the turf to find the bleached skull of another. It seems that death stalks the land while the world waits under ice. There is always expectancy to be found in the drip of an icicle under the sun or the soft lapping of salt water at the ice. Already the wading birds have begun to think about territories, lapwings stride over the grass in ownership and take to air in its defence squawking at trespassers. I remember the plans I had made for a hawk’s nest box and wonder whether the return of spring will once again confirm me as a procrastinator.

Below, the triangle of a beach nicknamed the Little Caribbean stretches away to meet a constellation of rocky islets and outcrops. The sand occupies the white part of the spectrum, its crusted ice coating almost phosphorescing in its brilliance. The water sits easy in shallow lagoons thinning out the oceans depth of colour until it appears only tinted but dense like toughened glass. The sky touched by scattered cloud still holds to its nitrogen blue. Today vision is all elemental as if hues and subtlety have been banished and replaced with industrially applied colour; this is paint by numbers for the numerically challenged.

I walk on out to the islets and their accompanying shallows and find myself transfixed by the interplay of light each wavelet brings to the beach. But I am no casual observer, the refracted and the reflected sunlight only sparkles for me. If I move, the light moves with me and so like everyone I get my own personal sunbeam.

From over the wide expanse of beach death travels on the breeze and I follow, finding a claw half buried in sand and ice. It takes my eyes a few minutes to adjust and then comprehend my vision, at last an image emerges of a seal lying like a child at rest from making snow angels. This is white on white, bleached fur, seashell sand and a shroud of ice. I resist the urge to kneel and take the paw within my hands. The smell returns as the air eddies; the carcass has been punctured and emptied leaving the skin to tightened over its ribs like the canvas of a canoe, I move away.

Image below: Golden Plover, Preening

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fishing for Erraid

Image above: Scorpion Fish
Fishing for Erraid (The Weird Windowsill Fish)
Monday 4th January

The wind has started again and like a jukebox brought to life by some otherworldly coin it has begun to rattle out melodies on the cottage windows. I walk across the sand of Christine’s bay with a bucket in hand trailing a garden rake as my youngest son nods in his sling somewhere in the outer layers of my winter clothing. Occasionally the rake hits a solid object in the sand and I stop to investigate an empty shell or a stone. I walk on towards the narrows and a spot where a couple of days ago I had stopped the tractor between firewood runs to hunt for cockles. The picking’s had not been great and later after watching an old documentary about Morecambe Bay’s cocklers I realised just how poor my takings had been.

I find the tyre tracks and the marks left by my previous excavations, the tides have softened and healed the scares. Leaving the bucket on the sand I begin to rake and after half a dozen strokes the blade clunks against a shell and I roll a cockle out onto the undisturbed sand before scooping it into the bucket. I wonder how a tool so rudely made could carry the resonance of a hard shell and soft body as perfectly as a tuning fork reaches pitch. Iron-handed I work my way between the high and low water marks. I image striking a seam of densely populated sand, but still it is ten or twelve strokes between cockles. A little disheartened I move down to the river and find the low banks littered with empty shells. Here the sand gives way to deposits of gravel carried as bed load, each pebble a single piece of mountain. In places live cockles dislodged from the sand and gravel lie on the surface decorated by the sun with patches of algae. I leave these to the hooded crows who drop them on favoured rocks and then daintily pick at their lunch.

The afternoon has moved on, and I look up to find the sun has left the bay for the mountains. Away over the sand I spot my wife, I wait toying with a bank of gravel and we walk on together up the river. Deep in the corner of the bay we find one of the fish traps the local shepherd had told us about, it consists of a dwarf wall in a crescent shape with a small outlet or shoot. Rising tides bring fish from the sound like mullet and flatties as well as salmon and sea trout although the latter are generally headed up river to spawn. If the shoot is blocked or netted it effectively cuts off the retreat back to the sea. We never asked about the history of the traps but a part of me wonders about future use.

Out of the sun the wind begins to bite and we head back stopping randomly to prospect. My wife draws me back to patch of gritty sand that makes a small island in the river. With little more than a starter’s worth for an afternoons work I decide to give it one last go. Every stroke brings up two or three cockles and after five minutes we have collected enough to half fill the bucket. We wander back in the gathering dusk, up on the hill behind the cottages the cows are silhouetted against a mackerel sky. I carry on down the street to the main kitchen to collect some milk and stop to look at a pair of scorpion fish in a windowsill fish tank.

A guest who had stayed with us in the summer asked in worried tone one morning whether it was normal to see fish crawling out of the sea. An explanation about the walking fins of scorpion fish seemed to put him at ease. Later I wondered whether he had been slightly disappointed as I imagined he had been harbouring the belief the fish had come to talk.

From the windowsill the scorpion fish look on in abject boredom as if the street was the least interesting rock pool they had ever had the misfortune to be stumble into.

P.S. The scorpion fish were rescued from an abandoned creel and released later that evening after a photo shoot, unharmed if not a little bored; the cockles weren’t so lucky.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Tree With Lights

Image left: Ice On Balfour Bay
The Tree With Lights
Christmas Day 25th December 2009

The low winter sun had failed to reach into the depths of Balfour Bay leaving the sand with a thick coating of ice. Where the curtain of light has reached the margins it lies crumpled, bejewelling the frosted sand and chasing icy fingers from the rocks and foliage. I walk the ice bridges over an entombed stream until their fragile backs break and the granite walls of the valley echo under the sound.

Up in the sunlight the island shines, bracken and heather gilded and woven into the finest of tweeds. Even the ocean has been subdued and laps at the island’s shores sending small riffles through the shallows. Below the island’s high point a hen harrier is sailing on thin current of air while its shadow is projected almost horizontally onto rock faces by the low sun. Mid way though the bank of a turn it folds its wings and drops into the heather like stone wrapped in a handkerchief. I wait for it to emerge and it duly flaps over the ridge and out of sight.

I remember it is Christmas day and naively expect the universe to make some kind of seasonal grand gesture; maybe piped music, lights and a tree. Back on the ridge a kestrel has taken over patrolling from the harrier, I stand in the half light of the bay looking into a dome of blue as the wings of the hawk flicker.