Calmac ferry crossing from Mallaig to Armadale

The Look of Home

I move house later this week.

This will be the 13th house I’ve lived in, the 13th place I’ve called home, in the last 27 years.

Yes, that’s a lot. And yes, that’s tiring.

I’ve moved for all sorts of reasons: for love, for heartbreak, for jobs, for security, to be in Scotland, to be by a river, for love, to live surrounded by birds, to cross the highland line, for family, for love.

Running through these many moves has been a quest, a wish to know where home was, and how it looked.  But the older I get, and the more tired I get of moving, the less I think that really matters.

I was in Skye at the weekend for a flying visit, an intensive two days of Gaelic.

(Yes, of course, if you’re intensely busy with a move, the best thing to do is to add something absurd on top of it ;-))

seagull on a car roof, mallaig

Whenever I go to Skye, I feel a sense of coming home.

crossing to armadale

It is the ultimate place for me. I know in part because I measure other places up against it.

A rocky hill in the Burren grabs my heart because it reminds me of the north end of Skye.

I turn a bend in the road on Barra and whisper: you can see Skye from here.

It’s something to do with my family history, with the otherness of the island, with the serrated edges of the skyline, with the light, with the language.

It defies analysis, simply always is for me and always has been so.

cuillin from sleite

But, for a whole host of reasons, I do not wish to live on Skye.

I simply need to go there sometimes. I need to know that it is there.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats. (It’s very lovely, and if you don’t know it, you can find it here.) The last section of the poem reminds me that you can connect back to your home through imagination, or remembrance.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Perhaps the house you live in is only one sort of home.

You can connect to home, whatever that is for you, through things that you read, and things that you write.

I think you can feel at home through language. When I hear Gaelic spoken, when I make a burst of progress and speak Gaelic with some fluency myself, I feel something slot into place inside me, untwisting, relaxing, a feeling that all is well.

Sometimes the song of a bird is enough to connect and remind you. The sudden rush of familiarity, in an unfamiliar place.

And so I move this time with simpler expectations: about the friendliness of a house; about being closer to work, and things that are going on, and people who matter; about still being in Scotland (for those of you who have worriedly asked!); about being two hours closer to the highlands; about being able to walk to a shop (rather than driving five miles to get there); and about taking with me all that I have learnt thus far.

stepping out
from my new front door –
the song of a blackbird

4 thoughts on “The Look of Home”

  1. Lovely post Joanna. Your haiku reminds me of my first visit home after quite some years living in Australia. I woke at a jet-lagged 4 a.m. to the beautiful song of the blackbird and it was as if I had never been away.
    All the best for the move to your new home.

    1. Thank you Jane and for all your Twitter encouragement to me too 🙂

      That is a lovely story about the blackbird. They really are the most wonderful birds.

  2. Oh, I needed this today. Your beautiful writing and photos are always a breath of fresh air for me. There’s a clarity in them, a deep sense of you having found yourself that resonates with me, in that place where all the unecessary stuff is stripped away and what’s left is a knowing and an accepting where there’s no ego or superficiality. When someone else’s self expression elicits a “Me, too – I feel that way too!”, it’s like a wee homecoming in itself.

    I love the Yeats poem – it’s one of my favourites – and your blog often reminds me of these lines by Shelley:

    Away, away, from men and towns,
    To the wild wood and the downs –
    To the silent wilderness
    Where the soul need not repress
    Its music lest it should not find
    An echo in another’s mind.

    I hope the flitting goes smoothly, although it sounds like you’re a pro! Not counting uni, I’ve had over a dozen addresses, too, and lived in five languages. Living abroad strengthened my sense of home, but when my mum died, everything recalibrated. We came back to Scotland for my husband’s work and to support my dad, but it’s no longer the same ‘home’ that Scotland was for me when I was living here as a teenager or when I was living in England and longed to be back. They often say Scots have restless souls that long for home, no matter where they are, but since coming back to Scotland, it’s Greece I miss like my soul’s been ripped apart. But the longing isn’t even for the Greece where I still have loved ones now; it’s for the Greece that I left behind, the folk who’ve died, the old music, the places that have been ruined and concreted over. It’s a longing for the way I was when I lived and worked there. Speaking Greek shaped all my thoughts differently, not just my self expression, so I’m a linguistic nomad as well these days. Do you like Capercaillie’s The Blood is Strong? It’s one of my favourite albums of all time. For years, I tried to find a Gaelic speaker abroad so I could learn how to sing the songs on it. It’s what my Scottish self feels like, even though I’m a Fifer!

    I have a piece about Greece in my blog’s draft box at the moment. I’m hesitant; it’s so raw, it may scare away anyone who still visits, but this post has brought me closer to the kind of bravery I need.

    Thank you, Joanna. I always enjoy my visits here.

  3. Thank you so much Janice for all those reflections. I see you have similar nomadic tendencies to me!

    There is a great deal of – energy, power, truth, honesty – some mix of those things when you write about Greece. (Including, who you were then. I have been facing a lot of that too as I pack up boxes of old bits of myself 😉 ) It sounds like maybe there is something about Greece your words are wishing to share.

    Thanks for the good wishes for the flitting!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *