solanoire

I’m from Currie, Scotland, originally and now live in Lochinver in the north-west Highlands. In recent years I’ve lived mostly aboard my partner’s sailboat, a junk-rigged schooner called Ara’ Deg (‘easy does it’ in Welsh), with winters spent in Lochinver harbour and summers exploring the west coasts and islands of the British Isles, Norway and the Faroes. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of spending so much time afloat, however, since sustaining a head injury, I’m finding winters aboard too difficult and have now washed up into a caravan on the other side of the loch.

Living on land full-time is proving to be an adjustment. It’s strange to no longer be in such immediate and intimate contact with the daily rhythms of the tides and the weather and I miss the turbulent tranquility that I found living on the sea. Nonetheless, my days ashore are far from static and I continue to live a fairly distributed life, flitting around in my wee Japanese van (a mobile writing studio which doubles up as drum transport) between the caravan, my partner’s house in South Wales, and the homes of friends, family and musical collaborators across the British Isles and mainland Europe.

It’s a bit of an itinerant existence but one I relish as I attempt to make a living as a taiko (Japanese drum) player and teacher. It also provides plenty of inspiration for writing. I started this blog upon my return to Scotland after eleven years in Canada (mostly spent in Montreal, Québec), not sure what shape my life would take or the blog itself. It has since become a catalogue of wanderings, a sort of haphazard nomadic almanac, as I’ve drifted between land and sea in my search for a lasting home.

Maybe I’ve found it now. It’s early days. But I read that someone once said it’s good to live with the mountains at your back and the sea at your feet and, in my case, after many years living further south, it’s also a relief to at last be living at the right latitudes and in the right light. And for this, above all, I am grateful.

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As for the name, ‘solanoire,’ it’s simply a coalescence of sounds and meanings which I find appealing. ‘Sol’ is a vocable I’ve always found particularly satisfying, in the ear, on the tongue and in the mind – the solar basis of all our lives expressed in one grounding yet sensual syllable. And at some point the word ‘sola’ came into my mind. I liked the sound of it though I didn’t know what it meant: maybe it was a name for someone – a future child? another self? I also liked reading it as an inflection of the word ‘sula’, another beautiful sonic and physical form: Sula bassana, the northern gannet, the solan goose or, in Gaelic, an sùlaire, from the Old Norse sula, for gannet.

I started seeing a lot more gannets when I started sailing, as well as a few ‘Sula’ sailboats. Indeed, over several years, we seemed to follow the gannetries north, passing Grassholm, Ailsa Craig, Sule Stack and Sule Skerry, and the grand cliffs of Noss, until eventually we sailed on our own black and white wings up to Lofoten in northern Norway. We didn’t see any gannets there (the sea eagles apparently being partial to them) but in the eternal summer sunshine, I discovered that ‘sola’ is a real word: it’s Nynorsk (‘new Norwegian’) for ‘the sun’.

As well as their solar connotations, ‘sol’ and ‘sola’ also carry a sense of solitude, something I’ve always appreciated and often longed for. These days it comes quite easily but there have been times I’ve had to seek it with particular urgency. My first few summers in Montreal, for example, I’d find myself frequently overcome by the press of the crowds and the heat and would have to take myself off to ‘the mountain’ to seek respite (Mount Royal, after which the city is named, is a wooded hill of a similar height to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh). There I’d find relief in the shady shelter of the trees but I’d also take solace in finding little glades, small pools of sunshine in which I would sit and soak myself as I tried to make peace with this unfamiliarly fierce sun. In my dodgy Franglais, I came to think of these wee outings as my ‘sol-études’, my solitary solar studies. Since then, solo pilgrimages to secluded sunny spots have become a habit, though in the more northern latitudes I roam these days I usually have to retain more clothes.

And ‘noire’? Yes, it’s French for ‘black’ or ‘dark’, the complement to light. But really it’s just the letters that are left over.

leaf tattoo

All text and images © Alison Roe 2012 – present (privacy policy)