Not migration this time…
In April I’ve travelled to a Creative Writing Retreat where we were invited to write a 100-word journal every morning. I’ve now followed the urge to re-read mine and found myself threading together bits of stories like those stones I found on a beach one day. Nowhere near as orderly…
Two days of travel from London to the Isle of Iona: 3 trains, 2 ferries, 1 bus. Then 2 feet underneath the weight of rucksacks. The closer I get the slower the transport. When we finally arrive I’m lost in a hazy spaciousness like on that first day of the summer holidays blurred by glaring sun shine and the smell of meadow flowers pressed into straw bales.
Here all sound has become spacious, too. I sleep restlessly in my first night with the unfamiliar quiet: not still but thick with the hollering and howling of the wind across the Machair. No trees to moan, no branches to creak, no loose bits to rattle: everything here is tied into its place. The wind is the last and the first sound. A dry whistle, no discernible tune. Never not there. Over night it turns into a roar.
I go to buy a comb; mine was left behind in London. I also buy a woollen hat. Handmade in Scotland; sturdy tradition against the fierce North wind. Another night and it grows into gusts as stiff as a Victorian church congregation. The first time since I arrived I see the white crests on the waves unsettled. The sea has lost its frivolous turquoise. People tell me the weather has changed here. They mean the wind which has gone from record highs of 40-60mph to 90-100mph. The only ones utterly undisturbed are the sheep: ancient breeds like the Hebredians who also look like a Victorian church congregation in their black coats with regal horns.
I find two tiny sea shells forgotten in the pocket of my wool trousers: no larger than a raisin. When I picked them up on my first day they were wet from the waves: with my brown-tinted sunglasses they had looked a fiery orange. Dry now they are the colour of liquid honey with some darker spots, a bit like a tiger curled up cosy.
In time for the wind who brings a surprise of heavy snow: it’s not snowed like this here in over fifteen years. Gatherings of white sheep huddle close to each other forming creamy clouds against the starchy white of the field. Across the sound everything disappears behind the thin veil and it’s suddenly easy to recall the druids. Eventually a caravan gets through: the musicians for the night’s concert. The whole village goes. They are sitting in neat rows wearing their boots, water proofs, woolly hats in a cold village hall that has inhaled damp wool and honest sweat for generations. The music warms some of them – also the wind outside who’s now calling in the rain.
I have a desire to be alone and leave during the interval. Walk my 3/4 mile through the dark of night: as if the island had born a twin and put it up into the sky above, an expansive cloud absorbs all memory of music and returns, only, the patter of rain. I walk straight North towards a glow ahead of me – reaching the hilltop I see it’s a band of colours flowing out of the snow-covered mountain range to the West. A snowy turquoise turning into greenish yellow, dirty coral before climaxing into a pink as pure as summer joy. The next day I learn that I saw the Northern Lights. Maybe it’s the glow that’s melted the snow away. The wind is pacified, the sea calm again. I wash myself clean of anxieties by going swimming in the winter-cold sea with Sue and the others. We run hand in hand, drunk with laughter and cold. On our way back to the village we see the goldfinches again and that night I hear the corncrakes on my walk home. Their nocturnal industriousness that sounds like the grating white noise at the end of the tuning range of a radio receiver.
At the hostel a rainbow wipes clean the tarnished sky. Someone has drank my soya milk and only left an insult of a splash in the carton with my name on it. I accept it as a ransom for unknowingly having broken some rules in the hostel with my early morning showers and computer in the kitchen. So John who runs the hostel gives me a toffee-coloured fleece from one of his Hebrideans to take back to London and spin. I feel a weight of responsibility from the fleece that’s lighter than a sleep. That same day I find the weather-bleached bones of a sheep scattered underneath the ribcage of old machinery in the abandoned marble quarry. I understand that I need to honour her and gather her bones in one place. I take a photo, also one small piece of bone. What is it with you poets that you always gather bones? I’ve also gathered pebbles. And serpentine stones. Mermaid tears. Rainbows. Poems. I bit more of myself.
The wind picks up again as it’s time to return across the sound, across the other island, the other sound, and the other land back to London. Where I’m still picking up pieces and arrange them…