Friday, September 21, 2012

"Last of the Summer Wine"

For the first time in weeks, the three of us were back in our walking gear.  It was an on again off again sun shiney day and so we trundled into an easy walk with minimal gear.  It became apparent that we wanted a low energy reconnect walk when we discovered that we had left cell phones or cameras behind.  What had once been a grand entrance is now a bit of relict woodland arching over a road nearly covered in moss.  It set the tone for a leisurely pace.

I stopped to talk to some beautiful young cattle in the field. I still miss being able to look out the window and see cattle there.  A walk through the steading reminded us that this is harvest time.  The grain piled into the silo.  The sound of the engine followed us along the paths into the fields past the road to the quarry--another walk for another day perhaps--and into a field where we had one of those long panoramas that big sky country provides--golden fields, green pastures, reddish reeds, peat cuts, and blue lochs.  We leaned on the gate, watched a couple deer leaping in and out of view in the pale grass beyond.  Linda commented we were like characters in the Last of the Summer Wine.  I could laugh without translation because I have seen some of these now old television programs.  A nodding acquaintance with popular culture makes it easier to laugh.  We lingered a while longer and then made our way back to the cars.

Sadly the three of us won't be walking again for some weeks.  We had a golden period in the summer when we walked nearly every week, but two of us will be able to manage a walk or two in Yorkshire mid October.  Both the walking/talking and the exploring are welcome to me, having never seen anything of England other than London. And then we'll be back to explore more of Caithness until the weather keeps us cocooned.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Stroma Sunday

We each had our own reasons for going to Stroma on this Sunday.  Two women had been born there and they had a relative from America in tow who wanted to see where her family had come from.  Her mom now lives in Waukegan--a very long way from Stroma, I say and we both nod. I heard about this trip because I am now part of a writer's group that includes one of the women born there who has written and published a novel about Stroma. I suspect all you need do is search for Stroma on Amazon and her novel will come up.  There may also be some picture books of Stroma--one was published a couple yeas ago--a mix of poetry and photos and interviews with folks who still remember.  Everyone said the book was lovely but more interviews would have been nice.  The folks who actually lived there are getting thin on the ground and their stories are crumbling now faster than the old houses.

A dozen or so of us are on a fishing boat as tag alongs for the folks who own and manage the island.  Sometimes there is a more commercial version of the trip to Stroma, but this is September and kids are back in school and the tourist buses have gone home. The man driving the boat, the son of the man who owns the island, and his companion have some work to do on the island. Even though no one lives there all the time nonetheless the sheep and the buildings and the buildings suitable still for folks to stay need work.  Bits of conversation drift through the group about an upcoming golf competition on the island.  Folks still come here.  It is still a gathering place, but I am on the fringes of it, so I let any details pass me by.

Last year my husband and I saw the south of the island, including the cemetery.  This year my husband wants to see the north of the island--the lighthouse, the gloop, the western coast. Sometimes I have goals; sometimes I am happy to just go along.  This was a go along day.
There used to be cattle on the island.  The men in the lighthouse fed them.  I imagine the cattle were good company for the keepers, but the lighthhouse was automated and so both the men and the cattle went away.  Sheep don't require as much attention.  To the right of the lighthouse are the foghorn with a Noise warning sign, and a relic of World War II.  I mention them in a sense of fair play, but I chose not to photograph them. I was then as now constructing my own Stroma story in which there is no room for war zones or memorials or anything larger than the lighthouse against the mostly blue sky.
Narratives are always only moments frozen in time, and these wave patterns on the surface of the water filling in an old quarry caught my eye on my Stroma Sunday.  I have learned to love the smaller stories and look for autumn colour in the shifting hues of the reeds rather than the large oaks and maples of my childhood.

There is a magnificent gloop --an inlet carved by the sea--with sharp, secret pockets in rock walls known only to the sea birds and the tides now.  I photographed them for my husband as he told me the story of the Stroma men smuggling goods in through that narrow channel and hiding things in the caves.  It was safe because, according to the story, the Scots equivalent of the revenuers dared not follow into those dark and dangerous waters.  It is a good story and a classic locals versus outsiders, a theme that no doubt occurs in every culture that tells stories to define themselves, but those photos are part of someone else's narrative.

I have grown into the adult version of the skinned-knees girl who earned the moniker of the bang up kid from the school nurse, and so I am on my knees in the grass and the heather to catch the small stories of this island left increasingly to its own devices.

Although I am a devotee of tiny flowers and I am on a first name basis with some of them, I have never even seen this tiny--about the size of the tip of your little finger--purple globe.  The dampness soaked into my trousers and I fiddled with the camera and held my breath and outwaited the wind to capture this tiny star of the open lands. She is certainly a leading lady in my narrative of Stroma on this Sunday in September.

Even smaller, more secret, and so marvellous is this unassuming plant caught in the act of--reproducing.  The berry, so I was told afterwards, is very tasty.  But my role was to note it and to pass on.  The berry may be eaten by a bird, a sheep, or perhaps be lucky enough to fall to earth and carry on the line in the small narratives of Stroma.