Tuesday, 15 February 2011


Image Left: A stray sunbeam on the Street
Location: Isle of Erraid, Mull, Scotland

The Sparrowhawk

I step out onto the street dodging the collection of footwear that has accumulated on the doorstep; ,Wellingtons, sandals, clogs, different shoes, different jobs. A little way down the street, perched below the railings of the garden wall, a female sparrowhawk is waiting. She is close enough for me to see the detail in her eye stripe and the olive green plumage that extends like a cape from her crown to her tail feathers. There is a pause, as if in the moment before a car crash, when the inevitability of an impact dawns. First the crouch and then she pushes low into the air, extending her wings and breaking the connection with the ground. Her legs trail, useless and ungainly, their weight swinging as her body arches through the wing beats that bring her to flight speed. Now the glide, the broadness in her wing allows her to draw out a cushion of air. Three more wing beats and another glide, she runs below the copping hidden from the finches chattering in the neighbouring garden. Three more wing beats, she swings over the wall sending up a cloud of small birds. I am left in the wake and already the details have begun to fade, I try and hold on to the colour of the plumage re-sampling my memory but the image that comes is out of a guide book, generic.

I suppose it ought to mean something in the scheme of things but not everything is a harbinger and neither should every second be pressed into the service of announcing the next. I walk the island this afternoon with a jumble of feathers and other minutia for company.

Later in the boatshed I brush up sawdust until it gathers in the slots of sunlight and the cupped hands of empty swallows’ nests.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Arandora Star

Image Left: Enterprise awaiting a fresh coat of paint
Location: Boatshed, Isle Of Erraid
The Arandora Star, 2nd February 2011

We looked back and in the time it took to watch the sky darken to within a shade of night the fronds of the storm slid over the wall of the island. The lightening came first, strikes barely drew breath before claps of thunder echoed between the granite faces eventually muffled amongst the backwash of sound. We watched the sky and talked of glass fused from grains of sand and the heat of a lightening strike and all the time a little nervous of the flatness of the beach and our little group. The wind followed pushing ahead of the cloud and raging through the low trees, out across the sand to meet the waves, spray trailing as it danced amongst the breakers. The first of the hail stones burst like popcorn kernels or ping pong balls from the hands of a magician. Our enchantment was short lived as the seemingly benign hail gathered strength in the wind and began pelting the landscape and anyone unlucky enough to be abroad. We retreated to the rocks turning our backs to the storm, at its height everything became hail or a surface to impact; the ridges in the sand filled, even the ocean was beaten flat by a million tiny hammers until it looked like a sheet of worked metal. And then in a moment it was gone, the sky cleared and hail petered out and I was left feeling as if I had watched the events of a whole afternoon compressed by time lapse.

We left the beach following the sandy track through the tightly clipped grass of the low headland. The path ran through a small corridor in the granite. I picked out a thin fault in the rock that had been in-filled with a rose hued quartz, what had once been a crisp line now sagged a swayed as the rock had been jumbled by time. The passageway opened onto to the upper section of Knockvologan Beach where it emerges between low wooded hillsides of oak with stands of hazel, the reason for our little excursion.

Ahead near the top of the sand what looks like a disused gateway is marketed out by two posts backed by giant hooks. These are all the bones that remain from a lifeboat that once hung like a Christmas bauble above the shear sided Atlantic liner the Arandora Star. The ship commandeered into war time service was on route to Canada with a human cargo, mainly Italian and German internees who were viewed as a risk by Churchill should Germany launch an invasion. Coincidentally if such a thing could be said about war she was sunk by a German u-boat 75 miles off the aptly name Bloody Foreland, a stretch of Ireland’s Atlantic coastline A little less than half of the prisoners and crew survived, the lifeboat was probably emptied of its survivors by the shipping that responded to the SOS. Those men that were lost like the empty lifeboats drifted with the Gulf Stream and the prevailing winds until the sea began to give up its dead. Bodies that failed to make landfall in Ireland journeyed on to the Hebrides washing up on remote beaches and like returning sons buried amongst the family graves in the small hilltop cemeteries common in these islands.

On the beach I wrapped my hand around the hook that had once been used to lower away the lifeboat, it was still smooth and untarnished by its encounter with the ocean or the salt winds that scour beach. We moved on to the trees.