Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Image Above: Clouds over Ben More
Location: Viewed from the Isle of Erraid, Mull, Scotland
The hind moved as I entered the field. She had stood, ears pricked, below the cliff and oak wood where a thin rivulet emerges from the clipped grass into patches of wet bog. I watched her accelerate cleanly as if her motion bore no relation to the terrain or obstacles placed to impede the movement of less agile creatures. She crossed the drover’s track below me where the rivulet finds the beach in its own thin cut of a valley. The willows never parted or felt their twigs bowed by her passage but they took her and she was gone. When I caught up there was nothing to see, if the hoof prints where there they were spaced too widely as to make any kind of sense. I waited in the still evening air for the snap of a twig or the sound of hair pushing against bark but the valley was quiet holding its own confidences.
I left the track and the rocky shore for the soft sand of the beach and the route home, the tide was out and water hung low at the entrance to the bay. The rivulet seeped away into the sand, its course marked by a smoothness, as the water, now moving beneath surface undermined the ripples of the beach. A little way off it drained into the larger stream that cuts the bay and meanders to join the sound.
Ahead the island lay in a wide brim of sand with the cottages shouldered below the wide dome of granite. To my left the long arm or narrows reached out to the distant islets that mark the lagoon on its southern edge. I hung back a little, not wishing to intrude on the depth of stillness that had settled as the sun slipped behind Iona.
When I moved, I moved knowing that the sand would be wiped clean of my footprints by the returning tide, the grass of the drover’s track had already sprung back and the air that carried the sound of my breath would eventually muffle it. Everything that has passed would be erased or folded into the white noise of the surf.
A week ago I had stood below the massive bulk of the pier, at low tide fixing a ring into the granite. Working with an ear close to the rock I picked out a distinctive rasping sound, a limpet its shell half- cocked was grazing the thin film of algae that had bloomed on the tide. The sound was only one voice from a chorus and as I leaned away from the rock-face I began to hear them all, a thousand mineral tipped tongues working like masons on the granite. The noise was almost deafening in the same way as a ticking clock that hammers out the passing seconds in the silence of a room.
Looking over the face I spotted individuals moving in slow motion tilting their shells like ladies hooped ball gowns. I ran my fingers into the spaces they had vacated small ovoid impressions in the rock ground out by the shell until the two parts matched each other allowing the limpet to seal itself against the face, should the sun creep around the pier. I snatched a shell before it had a chance to clamp down and placed it over its mark, turning it until the riffles and contours of its edge locked into position with the surface.
I held it there half expecting a doorway to open, but the limpet wouldn’t take hold and I left it on a ledge just below.
The bay is littered with the spent shells of limpets and other molluscs.