lockdown, day 14

A gusty morning after a blustery night. I lift the lid of the stove to see if any of last night’s fire has survived and particles of ash blow up into my face, arcing up over the stove and drifting down in a circle around it. It’s quite a beautiful sight, little white flakes falling up and down through the air like an unleashed snow-globe. The smell is less refreshing – acrid and stale. It’s like having a miniature storm aboard, mirroring the one raging on the nation’s airwaves over our Chief Medical Officer’s recent visits to her Fife holiday home. Whatever discomforts I’m waking up to, at least it’s not that.

Indeed, while I do not welcome the forced nature of our seclusion, I am secretly relishing the opportune solitude. It’s early days of course but I find I’m cocooning myself in the boat even more than necessary, with social interaction quickly becoming a fading memory of an unfamiliar past. “This is an easier time for introverts than extroverts,” someone remarked on the radio the other day. I’m thankful for being, although sociable, essentially a solitaire. I am so glad not to be in the public eye.

Lochinver harbour, Sutherland, Scotland
6th April 2020

Suileag

The passing sunlight makes a cross on the worn wooden floor of the bothy. Outside the great mount of Suilven heaves around the winds.

Sun. Hill. Shelter.
Observance. Love. Relief.

simple cross shadow on old wooden floor illuminating its worn grain

Suileag bothy, Assynt, Scotland
10th September 2016

window

coloured glass window pane above clear window pane holding misty roofs

After nights and days of rain the room is silent when we wake, but we open the curtains to a dense white mist. It presses in against the long window panes, cocooning us in a wet softness. The houses across the street are dimly apparent but the rooftops and hillsides beyond have vanished. There’s just what’s immediately here.

It reminds me of certain winter mornings in Montreal when I would wake to find my old un-double-glazed windows covered in a layer of frost. The frost was thick enough to be opaque, screening out the view of the apartment block opposite and giving me a rare sensation of privacy. And as the sun rose above the apartments, my frosted panes would become suffused with a gentle light, and the room would suddenly seem holy, like a small chapel glowing within patterned glass windows – because, when you looked closely, you saw the frost was a latticework, incredibly intricate, of intertwining fern-like fronds.

Our mist windows are uniform in comparison, and dull rather than illuminate, a damp blank haze. Yet still we have the temporary intimacy of insulation from the world, that depthless proximity which allows us to notice what we usually overlook, to feel what we usually forget to: quiet hovering glances, the warm breath of each of us, near.

Pontycymer, Glamorgan, South Wales
11th November 2015

dojo

I am folded within the green mountains of Miyama. The weather is warm. A light rain has just fallen, diffusing the thick wall of cedar-green foliage that fills the window. We are in the Kurumaya Taiko Dojo. Dojo means ‘the place of the way’ and it is a beautiful place: a large high-ceilinged low-windowed room with a warm hinoki, cypress, floor. The walls are wood-panelled as well, and hung with prints and scrolls of Kurumaya-sensei’s calligraphy, and photographs he has taken of Miyama in snowy and summer seasons.

It feels very natural to be here, perhaps because the room itself feels natural, perhaps because natural elements gather here. It is a room made of wood and paper after all, and a room made of skin, with taiko, drums, lining all its walls.

Asano nagados

There are taiko of many forms and sizes – small taut shime and little hand-held uchiwa fan drums, as well as huge uchiwa, and an odaiko (‘big drum’). There are also several light barrel-construction okedos and – my favourites – rows and rows of nagado, ‘long-bodied’ drums made from one piece of hollowed wood with the skin tacked tightly around.

The skin of the taiko is cleaned cow skin and the room reverberates with it as we draw the drums into a circle and, pulling our own skins taut over our muscles, beat and sweat and beat.

Out the window, beneath the green cedars, the mineral-blue river gurgles slowly along the valley floor. Above it, just visible in the rock of the facing mountain, are three little stone Buddhas. They sit all day long, as we come and go, in their fading red bibs in their little hand-carved holy place. It’s good to have a home.

Asano shime daiko

Kurumaya Taiko Dojo, Miyama, Fukui, Japan (taiko made by Asano Taiko)
8th October 2014

on the hard

Ara' Deg on the hard

Our boat is out of the water now and we live poised on a slim keel. Winds bring a subtle rocking motion as our fibreglass hull shivers and flexes on its stand, and my mind invents or imagines more movement, having accustomed itself to living in the slow shudders of the sea.

All my instincts tell me it’s unnatural to be perched up here, high and dry, set on a slivered wedge of fibreglass and ballast, held up by five thin metal supports. We sit on reclaimed – or recreated – land too, a concrete boatyard filling in what used to be a fine sheltered curve in the bay.

I can see the water from here though, pale under the night sky beyond the fishing boats and harbour wall; and across the loch, behind the lumpy hills, the bright rose of the northern sunset glows steadily. Suilven rises on the other side of us, a visible lump in the starboard portlites, marking our position here, on this concrete plain between the hills and the sea.

Its presence eases my disorientation and as I get my bearings Ara’ Deg slowly starts to become a home again. The streamlined bulge of her hull shelters our rusty bike and the tools for whatever boat job we’re currently working on, and there’s space for our car parked neatly beside. Hoses and electrical cords wind their way across the yard to her various openings, and we fix and clean and paint her, in anticipation of her saltwater return.

Ara’ Deg herself seems to be in no rush though and, as she adapts to her new surroundings, they adapt themselves to her. A hooded crow took up position first, cawing loudly from the top of the main mast our first morning here, and a collared dove sat calmly on our lifelines for a while one eve. This afternoon I found a sparrow clinging to the rope I had tied to the halyard to stop its blocks clanking against the mast, and swallows are constantly zipping around us in graceful forked swoops.

From up here I can also see – and hear – more of the five raucous herons which nest in the crowns of the conifers atop the rockface that backs this yard. And there are mammals too. Rabbits hop around in the twilight and, at various times of day, a young stag – just a couple of inches of velvet antler beginning to branch – wanders by, pulling at the tiny trees that are springing up by the fences and harbour outbuildings.

These are not creatures I am used to seeing from a boat, and they are welcome. Not so much the midges though, and I take to our new oars and little shell of a tender to escape them and to get my heartsful of the water which I miss living on. It comforts me to get glimpses of my familiar marine companions too – the blond-faced seal, the cormorant, and the vomit-splashes of jellyfish drifting beneath me in the blue, for these are mostly sunny days here, on the concrete, on the sea.

Lochinver harbour, Assynt, Scotland
10th June 2014

out on the breakwater

A few gulls call, Spanish or French fishermen drop fish crates into their rusty boat, the bulging moon rises. Suilven and Canisp rise beside it – and the rampart of Quinag at my back – and on either side, long lumpy heathered lands reach out into a rippling glassy sea.

Although I have no permanent abode, I am here.

I look around, and glance back to our boat, which is rolling gently in the floating docks, secured by woven ropes wound onto cleats by my lover’s hands.

We are always held by something.

Lochinver harbour, Assynt, Scotland
19th May 2014