150 Shades of Grey

Like a Klimt painting, autumn is leaved in gold, bronze and copper and Red River Croft is no exception. Although we do not have the grandeur of the oak, beech and larch trees that flaunt their glory in nearby Sheildaig, Badachro and around Gairloch, the grasses and sedges, dwarf shrubs and small trees, such as birch and hazel, catch fire in the early morning or late afternoon sun. Most distinctive are deer grass and bracken which glow with earthy redness as daylight wanes.

And while all across the country we marvel at and enjoy autumnal delights there are days when gilded glowing is replaced by dark, brooding skies of greys, in many shades, literally uncountable. Clouds speed across the sky, varying in thickness, opacity, shape and reflectivity and their effect is to change the moods of sea, shore, mountain and loch, and of human.

Sunlight dares to break the blanket of grey. Across Loch Torridon to Applecross.

Sunlight dares to break the blanket of grey across Loch Torridon to Applecross.

The last two months have been unusually warm. By the 1st of November 2013 snow had fallen on the mountains behind us to the east and did not disappear until spring. We have had a few squally showers with gusting rain and hail but these weather events have been relatively short-lived, punctuating calmer, brighter, no-need-for-a-coat days, rather than the other way around. Even when the greys have ruled the day one is taken aback by the multiplicity of shades and tones; nature is an interior and exterior colour consultant with more on offer than any human designer or architect, for her light and tone affect inside the home just as much as the wildness around it.

Autumn greys and golden light across the sea to Harris.

Autumn greys and golden light across the sea to Harris.

Calm at Red Point.

Calm at Red Point.

So when the winds blow, shades of grey are whipped up across sky and over sea. Rock and river reflect the changing light, and thus grey stones and leafless trees glow as crustose lichens luminesce, while green grass and low shrubs are subdued and take on ghostly, wavering forms, whispering and shuddering, and the sea hints at darker deeds.

Greys galore on beach cobbles and age-old lichen on Torridonian sandstone.

Greys galore on beach cobbles and age-old lichen on Torridonian sandstone.

I have neither wordsmith’s skill nor artist’s palette to portray or recreate these grey days. They are filled with the urgent motion of birds capturing turbulent air, whirling and tumbling, of remnant leaves hurtling across paths and ditches, ensnared in wire fences and against stone walls, and of colossal waves of indigo, pewter, chromite, viridium and umber, tumbling white and grey as they break against the shore.

More than 50 shades of grey, more than 150 shades of grey, until the sun breaks through and a golden calm, as if a heavenly haze, returns.

Golden haze overwhelms any grey in the late afternoon autumn sun on the croft.

Golden haze overwhelms any grey in the late afternoon autumn sun on the croft.


About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
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