Moments of Astonishment

Word of the day: “astonish” – to amaze, to stun with wonder by means of something unexpected or unaccountable. Probably from the Anglo-Norman French verb “estoner”, to stun, itself in turn from the Latin “tonare”, to thunder. To be astonished is, at root, to be thunderstruck.

Robert MacFarlane on Twitter, word of the day 23rd April

I’ve been gifted with some moments of astonishment this week.

This morning, an eagle flew over my head.

(I know, I could stop this post there!)

Leaving work on Wednesday and simply sitting in the car at the junction, waiting to turn, then suddenly a swallow, the first one, the first swallow of the year.

Goldfinches have discovered my garden and each day I am treated to them, flashes of red, of yellow, of deepest most astonishing wonder.

The days are so much longer now, so there’s time before work for some photographs. There are dewdrops hanging on daisies.

dewdrops on a daisy
pink tipped rain drop

There are daffodils basking in the sun.

daffodil morning
sunlit morning daffodils

The sun has shone all weekend. The air temperature is cool and the air is so fresh, you find yourself gulping it up like a drug. In this kind of light at this time of year the highlands go all blue and green and that too is like a drug, you just stand there gawping, drinking it up, all that wonder, so green, so blue.

blue and green day

Clear skies and a nearly full moon and the loch is shimmering with it at night. I don’t know how to write this, how to photograph it, how to tell you, know only how to stand on the doorstep and notice, to stand and drink up the wonder.

Laughing in Flowers

It’s Earth Day today.

It’s a cool, damp kind of day here and I spent a happy morning just watching the waves on the shore, and feeling my feet sink softly into the wet sand.

softness of the shore

It’s been one of those weekends really, less demanding than the sunny sort but warm enough that you can walk and photo-wander, I mean wonder, and see how the earth moves you.

sheep point of view

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to get back into a haiku writing habit. It’s absurdly hard, I still can’t really fathom how such a short and simple form can be so breathtakingly beautiful to read and so unendingly hard to write. Nevertheless, I’ve been scribbling away in notebooks in the quest for words and fragments, for the breath of a moment, and even though I don’t yet have small-poems the act of writing has made the act of walking different, a lot more vivid, more intense.

Meanwhile, it’s the start of the flower season. Although I don’t currently have the best kind of camera for flower photography there’s nothing to beat the watch and click and wonder of lying down on the soft earth and trying to take a portrait of a flower.

Here’s a pink tipped daisy, and the reminder that yes,

the earth laughs in flowers

(Emerson)

pink tipped daisy

~~~

Thanks for the good wishes in the recovery from my cold. I am feeling better, though still a bit unsure quite what I want to do with this blog. For the time being, I’m going to keep on keeping going, and see how things pan out.

Islands from Islands

It’s hard to beat going to an island from another island – layer upon layer of end points and start points, liminal eddges, and ferry boats. With our weather continuing to be outrageously gorgeous, here are a few photos from the most recent expedition to North Uist, Benbecula and Berneray (Harris).

leaving leverburgh
benbecula point of view
leaving berneray
cemetery, berneray

(I’m afraid the combination of the sunshine and the remnants of a head cold are rendering me unable to think of more interesting things to say… hopefully the photos are cheery in the meantime.)

Some Times

Sometimes the timings all work out right.

Your day off falls on the day before the rain returns, the last of the glorious sunshine weather.

Your planned expedition comes in the hours before that demon, the common cold, starts tickling in your throat, before you’re rendered dozing and thick headed (without the brains to think about blogging).

Sometimes walks are just the right length and you start at just the right time, so you’re at a perfect spot when it’s time for a picnic, with a spectacular view, and out of the wind.

Sometimes days are full of light and sunshine and new born lambs jumping in delight beside the walls of an old church, with skylarks singing in the breeze.

Here are some photos from my most recent one of those times.

picnic spot
Lewis coastline
west coast waves
holiday season

So Light

The weather here this week has been stunning – cold, sunny, with the clearest quality of light.

frosty daffodils

Stepping out to scrape the ice from my car on Monday morning, the sun was streaming into the garden, warm enough you’d want nothing but to stand and turn your face to it, the ground white beneath your feet.

~~~

The longer days are offering sunsets, and I am learning new places to (safely) stop.

bus stop sunset

(With thanks to John Maher for the inspiration to try the bus stop shot.)

~~~

Wednesday evening, coming home after work with my head full of papers and files and the paraphernalia of office life, there are goldfinches at the feeder, the first time since we’ve been here. The birds are rotating, as if in a dance, greenfinches, goldfinches, a thrush, then again, the greenfinches then the goldfinches, and their colour takes my breath away, they fill my heart with wonder, and I can’t stop watching them, how everything in a moment can be so much lighter.

~~~

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

~ William Stafford

It is the start of the National Poetry Month (in the US and Canada). I’m going to read and share more poetry this month. I mean: I need to, it’s like a drought.

~~~

Sometimes all there is is the play of light and land and water, this endless, glorious light show.

silvery light, Loch Roag

Here at the Edge

Kirn morning

The dance of renewal, the dance that made the world, was always danced here at the edge of things, on the brink, on the foggy coast.

~ Ursula K Le Guin

Journeys are strange things. Not just beginnings and endings but off-shoots and diversions, and often, so very often, looping and returning, over and over, loop and return, patterns of ending and beginning in a way that is not linear at all.

Holy Loch point of view

Believing in Spring

Sunrise today 6.33am, sunset 6.34pm. 12 hours of daylight. 2 days to the equinox.

10.9 hours of sunshine yesterday in Stornoway.

(I know, we are lucky. But everything here is done to extremes, including the sunlight.)

~~~

When I got home at the end of my working week the first daffodils were out, planted the day after we moved here.

We cannot help but believe in the return of the spring.

first daffodil

~~~

If you want to go faster, then don’t walk; & when you are walking, there is only one sort of performance that counts: the brilliance of sky, splendour of landscape. Walking is not a sport

~ Frédéric Gross

Sunday beach

~~~

The hardest thing about blogging is the feeling you’re supposed to have something clever to say, some wisdom learned. I scratch my mind, my week, my heart, for scraps but wisdom there is none.

All I want to say and learn to keep on saying is thank you.

morning light

Thank you, thank you.

Landscape Mode

The days are stretching, the skies on my drive home alive with light and a last burst of colour. I am learning the places where I might safely watch, and notice.

last light

~~~
The sun was so bright on Friday that the world turned brilliant blue. We didn’t seem to have the words for it. ”Did you see how blue it was today?” ”I know, it was just so blue.”

blue loch

~~~

The Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year awards were announced this week. The pictures are stunning. They make me want to:

get outside!
climb hills!
look after this most beautiful planet!

(And boost my motivation not just to take but to share my photos.)

~~~

Beautiful as countless landscapes of this island might be, sometimes it looks just like this.

Lewis skyline

And talks straight to the soul.

Watching the Weather

It’s not hard to take photographs here. The combination of landscape and constantly changing light means the world presents itself to you photographically, over and over.

It makes photography easy to practice and I confess I can do it lazily here, with a phone that likes taking landscapes.

What the easy-ness is good for is that it makes you itch to get outside, to see more, to notice the light and the landscape in each and every weather. (I’ve never had a dog but sometimes I feel like I am out taking the phone for a walk, responding to its nudges, its insistence on being taken outside.)

Watching the landscape in different weathers is a good way to get close up and familiar with a place, to get to know it in different aspects, colours and seasons. It deepens your relationship with a place. It’s part of what makes you feel genuinely at home.

Here are a few of my weather watching photos from last week. Although it was bitterly cold, fortunately the snow passed us by.

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Lunch break, and the chance to breathe in air, coldness, light. A sudden splash of sunlight on the dark-cold water.

lunchtime sun

Driving back and forth all week I could see ice forming on the lochans, changing the colour and the texture of the water, deepening and darkening it, throwing up mad swirls, glinting in the late afternoon as the low sun caught a patch of ice.

The earliest I was free in daylight the day was biting cold with very little light but the ice-promise took me out regardless, still walking dislocated-gingerly, but out on the moor-path crunching ice puddles, regardless.

frozen loch

Although we had no snow to talk of, the hills are still snow-covered. You get to know them differently with this covering of snow and there are just so many times when the light falls on them, mesmerising. This outlook is just along the road. I don’t think I could ever tire of it.

snow on the hills

The wind is a near constant here. It was a cold morning at the beach today, too cold to linger with the wind off the sea, but I like the colours of the coldness in this shot, and the grasses in the sand dunes in the wind.

wind in the dunes, Gress beach

~~~
A few notes on the practice and process:

Although the photography is easy here, a writing practice is still somewhere beyond me. I think maintaining this space and this weekly practice are part of preparing the ground though, and I’m willing to be patient and wait to see what unfolds.

Reviewing my pictures on a weekly basis feels significant too, a way to remember, to pay a different kind of attention, and to notice patterns that might otherwise have passed me by.

It’s also a fundamental part of the practice of sharing and telling as well as noticing for myself. I am grateful to those of you who have noticed my noticing and written in response.

If you feel that you would like to leave a comment in response to a post, it’s easy to do it on the website if you click through to read the post there, or, for those of you who get the posts by email, you can just write an email reply which comes to me, but isn’t shared on the web.

Quiet reading without commenting is of course perfectly fine too, and how I tend to read blogs myself nowadays.

I’ve done a slight adjustment this week to try and resize the photos that appear in the feed or your email, but I won’t know if it works until after it’s published… fingers crossed. Again, thanks to you all for reading.

Spilling Light

I wasn’t sure I would find snowdrops on the island, a place with so few trees, but here they were, tucked away amongst the muddy paths of the castle grounds, waiting to have their picture taken.

snowdrops, castle grounds

~~~

Every year, in the third week of February, there is a day, or more usually a run of days, when one can say for sure that the light is back […] the light spills into the world

Kathleen Jamie, Sightlines
found on Twitter, here

~~~

afternoon light, loch erisort

We are enjoying a run of days not just of light but of hour after hour of bright, glorious sunshine. With the seascapes the way that they are here, it’s enough to make you gasp, enough to make you forget yourself in nothing but light and a picnic and the feel of the sand beneath you and sound of the waves on the shore.

west coast picnic spot

~~~

Walking back from the picnic the machair at Northton was full of lapwings, scores of them, the land was dotted with them, the sky was singing with them, forty or fifty rising up at once in front of us, spilling flashes of black and brilliant white in their acrobatics, till the heart was bursting full with it, spilling song, spilling poems, spilling light.

harris hills