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.