Monday, 25 April 2011

The Shepherd

Image Above: John the Shepherd and his dogs.
Location: Isle of Erraid. Mull, Scotland

The ewe had no intention of being cornered despite the firm tether of briars that anchored her to the ground limiting her movements to a tight radius. I had heard her earlier from the back door of the cottage and assumed she had or was about to lamb. It was Phil who finally grabbed her and I took the horns with both hands as the shepherd had once shown me. With all four legs she bucked and pushed and I felt like I was holding onto the handlebars of a bicycle on unfamiliar terrain. Phil always the gardener took out his pruning knife and cut the briars out of her fleece, I waited until I was sure she was clear and then released her. We were out early to roundup the sheep from the rear of the cottages and meet the shepherd as he brought in the smaller flock that grazed the lower northern shores of the island. While we were waiting for Roger to come down from the quarry the ewe we had just released turned back towards the cottages. I ran and she ran, so I ran faster. There was an inevitability about it and I stopped. She walked on behind the cottages backtracking over our route, we left her and moved on.

When Roger caught up we made a spartan line across the heather, enough to push the hand full of sheep that remained towards Christine’s bay, the croft and John the shepherd. He was still a way off waiting with his dogs on a knoll, as we came into view he moved pushing the flock he had already gathered into the gap left between our line and the waters of the bay. The flock passed us and fences took over limiting the options for the sheep under pressure from the dogs. We fell in behind John on the track from the beach. The line of sheep past the bottom of the front gardens until channelled by the walls of the settlement it turned towards the pier and the fank*. When the gate was closed behind them John set off to retrieve our ewe which was now braying on the hill behind the cottages as it looked down on the flock from which it was now separated.

*fank: an enclosure for working with sheep.

Saturday, 16 April 2011


Image above: Reliance on the morring
Location: Isle of Erraid, Mull, Scotland

I should be meditating; the windows of the sanctuary are stiffening like glass sails caught in the same breeze that is pushing the waves in the sound. The structure rocks slightly, creeks and settles back into a steady rhythm that rides out the whispering tone of the singing bowl as my breath falls away.

The sanctuary stands a little apart from the street, up the hill above the wood with a view down over the pier, the bay and sound. It was built as a sun lounge from pine, larch sidings and an expanse of glass. I once found an aerial photograph of the island that dated from the nineteen sixties, the woodland was missing but the building stood rooted in the landscape. The community arrived almost two decades later planting the wood, turning gardens and using the lounge as a meditation space, they christened it the sanctuary. Like everything this far north that is close to the ocean it has not escaped the slow sandpapering applied by the elements that ware at corners and soften the patina of varnish.

In the lower side panel of the doorway the rear of the goose, the island’s longest serving resident and sanctuary guardian, is just visible. He is preening his wings, running a greased bill over his primaries with his neck extended and writhing like a pitch forked snake. For most of the day he occupies the position of doorman, counting in, counting out and occasionally dissuading the half hearted with honks and threats. In the twenty odd years he has enjoyed this roll, there has been much speculation as to his motives and unswerving dedication, some have concluded he is a returned soul. The glass of the sanctuary is low to the ground and the goose may not be contemplating his inner self but a reflection, narcissism or possibly envy of the goose behind the glass to whom many have made pilgrimages.

Inside the glass walls of the sanctuary the candle is flickering and those that kneel have begun to sway as if teetering on the edge. On far side of the bay Jimmy’s quad bike is drawing out a white line of sheep as he moves between pastures. I follow seagulls out into the sound, and oystercatchers back into the bay, the diversions are endless. And then for in a moment I am forgotten and absorbed in the detail and the magnitude.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Bird

Image: Three Rocks
Location: Isle of Erraid, Mull, Scotland

The Bird

Finley is watching a bird on the chimney pot of a neighbouring house, he has only just discovered small birds and seems pleased that another part of the world has revealed itself. The bird, a starling is imitating the call of a buzzard although lacking the conviction of a predator. Last year a pair of these tricksters began exploring the nesting possibilities of our bedrooms’ disused fireplace, for a few days the dawn chorus began with a selection of electronic gadget impersonations. Ironically at the time we owned an alarm clock that sounded with a recording of a blackbird, the birds left after a few days maybe the competition was too much.

The starling slips from the pot and swoops into the front garden, Finley follows its line before looking up to see if anyone else has shared in the display, he smiles. I trudge up the street into the mêlée of guests and abandoned footballs all waiting for the dinner bell to sound. I am returning from the island, the island beyond the street and cottages.