“Chris Watson the sound recordist captures the sounds of starlings on the Island of Coll. The birds seem to emulate the sound of a two-stroke engine memorised by previous generations and passed down through history.” – listen here
(Sometimes the world arranges itself into a black and white photograph.)
Sunrise today 7.50am, sunset 5.29pm. 9 hours and 39 minutes of daylight, 3 hours and more longer than the shortest day.
Word of the day: “numinous” – revealing the presence of the divine; giving rise to a feeling of spiritual transcendence, especially in nature or art (from Latin numen – divinity, divine power).
(Twitter has much that is wrong with it, but the word of the day from Robert Macfarlane is one of the things worth still being there for.)
The internet makes me think I should keep looking for new places to photograph, or for novel ways to capture the same. My heart asks me otherwise: to repeat and repeat, over and over, with gratitude, and love.
“I’ll tell you right now, the doors to the world of the wild self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door; if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much that you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”
The first weeks of the first year of being here are all mixed up with snow and ice, with dislocation and fear of falling, with car warning lights and a broken spring all limiting my travelling, the paths that I might follow. Still, I let the camera pull me outside and on a winter’s morning I already know there’s a safe and easy path that will lead me through the moor to a view to snow topped hills.
The weather here is so intense, so changeable. It dominates your thinking, it changes how you see. This week we’ve had ice, snow, hail, a night of gales and battering rain, and a day of the most exquisite sunshine, so lovely there was nothing for it but to sit in the garden for a while and simply soak up being here.
Every time I step outside: to the garden, to the bins, to the car, there they are, these noisy iridescent starlings. They call and click and chatter and whistle, swooping off and up and round and back. I knew that starlings mimicked but I wasn’t ready for how different they sound here, how they call with the sound of the sea. Even when they are not here I feel their absence, their missing presence.
The practice of photography helps me notice where I am. I am grateful for the familiarity of practice, for the fundamentals of the task. Watching colour, patterns, light.
I’m trying to build the habit of posting here once a week. Sometimes I feel I don’t have much to say, I’m too busy paying attention to simply being here.
Photography practice in my lunch-break by the harbour. Colour, pattern, light. My fingers trembling in the cold north wind.
Tuesday evening and already I am office-weary, paper tired, screen glazed over.
‘I’m not going to practice today,’ I say to myself. ‘You don’t have to wonder all the time. Everyday doesn’t mean every day anyway. I’m too tired to wonder today.’
‘I understand,’ answered the moon, hanging fat and nearly full over the office car-park, hanging fat and nearly full and dizzy white and brilliant clear, enough to make you gasp with wonder.
Another day of wind and rain, the light never shifting past a state of half-dark. Another day with nothing to see, I think and then catch myself:
I mean another day with nothing to capture and I shift my gaze to what I can see: the muted amber browns of the moor in the rain, the way the wind moves over the slate-grey loch, and ruffles its surface.
Watching the heather in winter and I had forgotten how much the winter talks of summer coming, the promise made by flowers.
Feeding the birds before work ~ the silhouettes of starlings in the wind-blown over rowan, the loudness of the honking of geese.
The weather changes at the weekend and we’re blessed with two sunlit days, so mild in the sun by Loch Seaforth that I sit for a while without a jacket and watch the water. It’s so quiet down there, so peaceful, so still, I can hear the seaweed popping as it’s dried by the warmth of the sun.
The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.
Sunrise today: 8.38am. Sunset today: 4.39pm. 8 hours of sunlight. 1 hour and 35 minutes longer than the shortest day.
Driving home at twenty past five and for the first time the sky is still light. There’s no daylight left but it’s not yet dark and the sky is twilight blue the whole way home, and the lochs by the roadside as the road bends and curves are the palest twilight blue, like the flashes of a torch, like the thump of a heart beat, illuminating our passage.
A sunlit lunchtime, the first for I don’t know how long, and with the snow almost away there’s a quality to the mud and grass that reminds you for a moment of the first taste of spring, echoing with robinsong, and nothing for it but to stand and catch the light.
Leaving the building just after 5pm, people stop and stare at the sky.
‘Have you seen the light?’, someone says.
‘Did you see it this morning? Look at the light!’
The ice might have gone but the gale that follows stops me walking. Even a picture in the garden’s hard as the wind tries to whip the phone from my hand. I lean against the wall of the old blackhouse for support, and watch its light.
I’m still not sure what photography means or why it matters. Perhaps it’s just a question of watching the light.
And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet I would remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.
I have been in the house all week. The combination of a dislocated shoulder and days of snow and ice have kept me on the inside, looking out, behind the glass. For once I am not missing it, the outside. The fear of falling has made me glad to be indoors, and I have plenty to keep me occupied between Gaelic still to learn (since a language is something you can never reach the end of learning) and the internet to entertain and a stack of real, hard-copy books that’s part of my collection and intention to resume a reading habit.
Yet still something keeps on gnawing at me, some missing connection, some missing link, some meaningful sustained creative practice, some way to reach beyond the glass.
Friday morning, five past nine, I watch the birds through the living room window. The waters of the loch beyond are cold, a steely grey. Clouds drift above the water. As I watch, the clouds shift in colour, the edges tinged with the first hints of sunrise, as the morning starts to break behind the hill. The moment fills with hints of goldlight, edge of sunlight, the heart is full for just one moment with nothing but the rising of the morning.
Watching through the living room window, the headlights of my neighbour’s car creep slowly down the hill.
Fragment by fragment, I remind myself. Although for more than a long time I have wished that I could shape and mould these fragments of mine into form, into poems, into essays, into three lines even or the rhythm of 17 syllables they are resolute in their defiance and slip away if I chase them too hard. Perhaps that is all that there is for me, and perhaps that too is enough.
I take a photograph from the inside out. Picking up letters from the porch the light pulls me, demands I find my phone and take a photo, through the glass. I still don’t know why or what it is, this need to take photographs, even today stuck inside, taking pictures through the glass-glare, once again this magnetic desire: to click, to notice, to say thank you.
I have been feeding the birds by the door for fear of setting foot on the ice. I notice the pattern of their feeding on the ice, marking their time this week, and mine.
Reading this made me think about how we make connections online. Although the article’s about love, it reminded me, wistfully, of how much I used to believe in blogging as a human, democratic form, and the possibilities it offered us to forge connections, to stretch out our hands, to offer some small glimpse of our selves to others. Has that possibility really gone, or is still ours to claim?
More snow has fallen, soft and crunchy. The ice-fear reduces and I walk into the garden. The sun is falling through the shadows of the trees, I mean its branches, I mean here for a moment there is nothing but this meld of shadow tree and sunlight snow and a roll of winter’s memory.
Perhaps this is my practice. Perhaps this place and space, this knowledge I have of how to link and mix together pictures and words, to piece together fragments, perhaps this act of blogging is of itself, for me, creative practice, no need for more.
Saturday morning, sunlit snow. Feeling stronger, fitter, brighter, braver and with someone else in the house during daytime hours in case I’m needing rescued I venture out at last, five minutes down the road. A snow path by the harbour. Sunlight glinting on snow. The sun is strong and the air delicious. The starlings are shouting with the love of it, their squawks like a serenade. I wish I could lie down on the snow path and take photo after photo of the way the light falls. It feels like Christmas morning, like New Year’s morning, like the first morning.
Every so often, mainly on a Sunday, I think about writing something here. It can’t be that hard I think: just a title, a photograph, some words. A way back in, opening the door, back into your own space.
Sometimes I find a title, and sometimes a photo, and sometimes the fragments of some words, but even so, I don’t get beyond.
It’s something to do with the seeming size of the task, to find something worth saying, a practice worth practicing in the face of all the… the sheer weight of all the stuff that’s going on out there, day in, day out, relentless, remorseless.
It’s something to do with the shininess of the modern web, its gloss and promise. I miss the scruffiness of the human web I used to know, the home-made sites, the people sharing words and worlds without pretence at knowing.
Yet still in the turning away from so many things I do not wish to list, still there is a turning towards even if the shape of the new thing is unknown.
It’s not (for me) Art, or Writing, or Photography, but still something in this space between the lines that blogging offered / offers: unpolished, not knowing, open, human, connecting, here.
I fear I am not close to finding half the words I wish to, but also do not wish to let another Sunday pass away without some claiming back of space, some way of saying that even as we turn away and further keep on turning – we can still turn towards: unpolished, unknowing, open, human, here.
With thanks to Christine at the Abbey of the Arts for sharing ‘Mystical Hope and the New Thing‘ including the reminder to keep practicing, together and the nudge to me to keep going.
This has been a strange and unsettling ten days in the UK.
So many things are in flux, the future uncertain, huge questions being asked about politics, identity, nationality, and at the deepest core about our values – what kind of a society we claim to be, and want to be.
I found myself in England last weekend, two days after the referendum. Sometimes, switching on the news, this country where I was born and grew up can feel like a foreign country, changed and changing, different.
Not so in the hills.
We headed out for a walk in the Peak District where the world was green and lush, the air warm, the brief but heavy showers providing welcome relief from the stickiness of the climb. It was quiet on the paths on the way up and back down again, but along the top was a ridge path, easily accessible from a car-park, and the place was hoaching with people.
We sat and enjoyed a picnic a short distance from the path, watching the rain clouds in the valley beyond, the greenness of the hills, and the beautiful diversity of the people walking by: no stereotyped hikers here but all ages, shapes and sizes, all kinds of voices, all backgrounds, points of view. People smiled at each other and greeted the day, in all its rainy sunny loveliness.
Things felt different here, quieter and more human. I couldn’t help thinking, up there eating my sandwiches and back here looking at this photograph, that the world conspires to make us feel separate and different, to see a gulf that lies between us.
And yet here we all are, one Saturday afternoon in June, just walking this earth together.
One way to think about gravity, he said, is that everything in the universe is just falling through space time.
The moon is falling into the valley created by the mass of the earth. The earth is falling into the valley created by the sun, and the solar system is falling into the valley created by our galaxy, and our galaxy is falling towards other galaxies in the universe.
He looked pretty happy about this theory (perhaps this is because he was perched on top of a stunning mountain range) but I confess it made me feel a little strange, this feeling that everything might just be: falling.
Sometimes the time that we’re in has that feeling too, that things are getting darker, tumbling in a way that’s outwith our control. The political environment is toxic, the news is dark as can be, and despite our fancy theories about the wonders of the universe we seem little closer to knowing how to look after this most beautiful planet.
It’s one of the reasons I find myself returning over and again to the quiet, tiny wonder of macro photography. Sometimes even the size of a landscape is too much to me but I always love the detail of the close-up watching, the surprise of what the lens might reveal. Plus you always know where you stand with a flower.
Here are a few recent macro shots, taken with the Hipstamatic. I hope you enjoy them.
in my notebook
after this long silence
I took a break from here which turned into a little longer than expected.
And then, as happens when you take a break from blogging (and which is why in truth it’s better just to keep on going and shift position as you go) it became harder to come back again.
Somehow you wish for some grand insight, some truth you’d hauled to the surface during your time away, while in reality I just have most of the same old questions, and a reminder of the same old truth that the art of practice is simply being willing enough, and humble enough, to begin again, again.
without the words
to begin again
I watch an orange-tip
carve a passage
through the sun
I read something the other day that started me thinking about gratitude, and belonging.
How we feel a sense of gratitude when we feel that we belong – and perhaps that we feel a greater sense of belonging when we cultivate gratitude.
A sense of belonging is, for me, inextricably tied to the earth: feeling close to and familiar with the rivers and the trees, with the patterns of fields and the curves of the land.
I think perhaps this is why birdsong can be so powerful – it’s not just that it’s beautiful but also that it reminds us: of other places and times, other songs we’ve heard, it reminds us that we’re here, and hearing, and present, a part of the moment, the listeners of the song.
And I think this is why I love the flowers so. Even if you’re feeling out of sorts and disconnected, even if you can’t see the big picture or make sense of the patterns of life, or the lack of them, there they are, fully present, fully familiar.
All you need to do is bend down and notice, say hello, pay attention.
I’m not sure if these are big thoughts or small ones, only that again and again I come back to this moment, this invitation, to bend down and notice.
To feel not just wonder but familiarity, and belonging, and remembrance that you’re at home.