I wake to unusual calmness. The boat is perfectly still. Droplets of condensed water hang in neat lines along the edges of the cabin ceiling. Only my breath moves, creating dense swirling clouds each time I exhale. I open the hatch, stick my head out, and slowly gaze around. The decks and docks are all covered in a thick frost, as if a white fur has grown over everything during the night, and on the sheltered waters between the breakwater and the pier rests a fine layer of ice.

I go below to make a cup of tea then come back to the hatch to take it all in. It’s not often I see the sea freeze. The ice initially appears transparent and blank. However, when I look more closely I can see patches of patterning embedded within it: fine leaves, intricately veined and toothed, jostle with curved fronds and short stalks, spread about unevenly as if haphazardly strewn. I wonder how long they’ll last. The sun is riding higher in the sky, creeping above the wooded hill behind the harbour, its wan warmth slowly strengthening. Meanwhile, the tide is going out, causing the harbour waters to slide down over the rocks and shrink in surface area. Pretty wavy fracture lines are forming as the ice sheet becomes horizontally compressed and, along the breakages, little shards of ice lean up against each other, catching the pale morning sunlight.

I wrap up, and step – gingerly – onto the docks, then carefully make my way ashore and into the woods. The shrubbery in the shadows is heavily frosted and my footsteps crunch satisfyingly upon the frozen grass, but the sunlit glades are green and the tree trunks shine, warm and brown and welcoming. I wind along various narrow paths, vaguely following the sun, until I come out at the back of the pebble beach of White Shore. At its far end, I come upon a small brown burn. I stop and stare. I thought the sea ice was stunning but this peaty water holds an equal beauty. The burn flows out of the woods over tumbled stone into a deep channel in the shingle, levelling out and producing white foam which bends into a series of perfectly curved ripples. The ripples drift along calmly, some in parallel, some gathered together at their bases and fanning out like bouquets of white plumes. The water surface isn’t frozen but moves only slowly over the rotating current beneath, its caught feathers pooling in my gaze as my thoughts burble on. If only these movements of the world were intelligible… But then they are, in a way. In a way, I understand.

curled plumes of flat foam on brown water over pebbles

Lochinver harbour and Culag Wood, Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland
19th January 2019


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