afloat

This is where I am at home. And, after all these years of absence and homesickness, it’s not on the land of Scotland at all. It’s on this sea loch.

It struck me a few days ago when I was out in the tender on one of my wee rowings-about. It was a bit choppy and I was pulling towards my usual pausing place midway between the harbour headland and the loch’s southern shore – where I’m in the habit of drawing in the oars and laying my head back on the bow – when it occurred to me that, out here in the middle of the loch, I felt perfectly at home.

I’ve felt at home many times in this harbour. I enjoy the marginal position of being aboard – tethered between the mountains (Suilven, Canisp and Quinag) and the Minch, and between the evolving dock community and the local life of the village – and, being most at ease on edges, I’ve attributed some of my intermittent sensations of being at home to that. I’ve also attributed much of it to being on the boat itself; this boat which has held so much of my life these last nine years. Sailing in it, living in it, sleeping in it, its familiar fibreglass hull has become a cocoon, a container, not just for myself but for the skipper whose presence is soaked into every inch of it; a reliable and sea-kindly vessel bearing us onward together.

I’m sitting aboard the boat as I write this on a long still summer evening. The sun has just set and the northern sky is a thin lemon yellow and the sandstone faces of the mountains in the east glow pinkishly in the last of the light. The air is utterly clear and the water in the loch is black-green, pink and yellow, glossy and almost mirror-flat. I feel at home right now, perched in the companionway, poised between these worlds of water, sky, mountains and folk, but the realisation I had out on the loch in the tender is more powerful. It means that my ability to feel at home here, to feel a sense – however slender – of belonging, does not depend on a particular boat or a particular location or particular company. It depends on me being afloat.

It’s time to find my own craft.

Loch Inver, Assynt, Scotland
9th July 2021

Sàil Ghorm

a maniacal butterfly
and a bee bombing about
and my limbs aching in their driving desire

in the drenching blue sun
in the scouring white wind

on the stones
on the bones
on the bare back of Scotland

close rough grey textured stone with mountains in the blue distance

Quinag / A’ Chuinneag, Assynt, Scotland
5th May 2015

Yes

The flag flaps indifferently outside. You wrote your hope on it and you raised it on the sail for good measure: the affirmative doubled, and reflected twice in the still sea that surrounds.

The polls are perfectly balanced. Tonight the tide rose as the sun set and in that moment of golden fullness, you wished that it all could hold itself, poised here; your country’s hope as buoyant as its doubt, spreading out on this wide blue salt mirror.

But the sun set, the tide drew out, and you had to fold in your sail as the moon sailed up instead, round and full and sure of itself in the high and silent sky. If the glow would grow, if the people would assent, if this time turning will be for the best, if we will all say yes –

Ara' Deg mainsail raised with 'yes' banner pinned to it

Lochinver harbour, Assynt, Scotland
14th September 2014

whiteness

The whiteness of Scottish winters is on the go. Not held static with ice or slowly settling with heavy snows but moving: slim streams rushing down hillsides, big sea rollers whipping off into windy spray and blowing foam, sudden batterings of hail. Overhead too everything is in motion: thick white clouds scudding across the sky, the swift belly-white of the gulls fleering around beneath. When there is snow, it comes and goes; a dusting here, a gully-full there, before it’s rained out, wind-scoured, leaving only bleached stones and bones.

And the whiteness of Scottish winters is noisy. None of the soft muffling of snowfall or low creaking of ice. Our whiteness roars and rumbles: beaching waves, rapid rivers, the high clamour of waterfalls, the bright clattering of frozen rain. Scotland’s whiteness throws itself in your face and into your ears. It whips and lashes.

Even the elegant pale-limbed birches wave energetically alongside the running water, although occasionally you come upon the stillness of a white sea-washed stone resting silently at the head of the tide, cast up, waiting for the pull of the travelling moon.

white sea-washed stone

Assynt, Scotland
6th March 2014