Spring is here; officially. And we felt spring-like last week. Easter family gatherings, chocolate eggs, daffodils and warmth! Writing was put aside, for a short while… and so, the blog has a gap, a break in time if you like.
In the lead up to Easter a telecommunications mishap meant no internet connection for two weeks and in that time I was refreshed by walking without purpose, catching jobs that had skipped away from me, and baking and bed making for influxes of family and friends.
Wired up to (or wireless with) administration, chasing news of a wider world, and ethernet interactions steal time viciously. Removal away from keyboard and smart-phone allows a return to less complicated ways, and an opportunity to think about other things, otherness and other places, and remember a time before the confusions of electronic ‘webbery’, when other senses were heeded. And I have enjoyed this reminder of how it was years BC (before computer) and time spent BLT (before lap top). And while pathering along now familiar trackways I have been thinking about other webs and connections, paths, margins, edge lands, liminal states, and wondering what it means to be detached from our natural surroundings. (More on this another time.)
I usually follow the same route for the first walk of the day; it has become almost routine, checking croft fields and sea states, tasting the weather and meeting the needs of our young dog who wishes, with every fibre of his being, to play with his rope and ball along the sandy shore, away from sheepy distractions. There is no mobile phone signal here so I am conscious of a discharging, a separateness. But I do not feel that I am ‘in the wild’, in spite of huge vistas across the sea or to the mountains, and although I might not meet or even see another soul. Familiarity, I suppose, with the hour or two spent enjoying sights I love cancels out any sensation of ‘wildness’ or ‘otherness’.
Our coastal and mountain landscape is, however, wild to many. When I first visited here as a student the route to Red Point, along a small road from Gairloch, through tiny settlements (Shieldaig, Badachro, Port Henderson, Opinan, South Erradale), through woodland and croftland, seemed wild. Beyond Badachro treeless, heather-clad peat-bog and boulder land stretched as far as the eye could see. Once covered by ancients forests, this landscape, cleared first by prehistoric peoples and maintained by centuries of burning and grazing, felt untamed and remote to me then, in spite of knowing its history and understanding its becoming. Many years later, now living within this landscape, that feeling of wildness has retreated east to high mountain tops or west to open seas. What is it then, this tantalising, ephemeral, hard-to-grasp sensing of ‘wild’?
Yet step away from now well-trodden tracks and I immediately feel the feral. No more than half a mile away from the croft house is a sliver of bright sandy beach, hard pressed against very steep “wannabe” cliffs of rock, loose boulders, tough heather tussocks and tumbling burns. Invisible from the road and crofting township, it is an interesting scramble or sliding plummet down to the sea, only 60 metres, but steep enough to regret a trip and gather muddy, wet hands, knees and bottoms. Down on the sandy shore comes an overwhelming sense of being out of time and place, of separateness, of wildness; yet I am still so close to home! Decorating the little bay are huge boulders of rusty-red Torridonian sandstones, covered in deep green, olive and brown seaweeds, or crusted with barnacles. The sand itself is peachily crimson, fine and clean, and it glows brightly as each wave recedes. Westwards across the sea, views are familiar ones, but the little bay feels disconnected, remote… wild.
Here in the top right hand corner of Britain, nothing gets wilder than the weather. Winter wickedness may have returned with some spice over the last 72 hours, bringing snow, hail and icy winds, but we have had a tantalising soupçon of spring. And rather than vibrant greens the last two weeks have been yellow! Like a balmy, scented and chirruping blanket the days have been awakened by pale, lemon-cream sunrises and settled calmly to bed by warm, melon-gold sunsets. We have been coddled by gentle breezes, warm airs and calm, murmuring waters. The gift of warmth and sun has tickled marzipan scented, vibrant gorse blooms and bee-covered creamy catkins, illuminating fuzzy, yellow bumble bee bottoms and tiny, gold-breasted song birds, and raising up proud, yet delicate, cowslips. Out to sea honey golden sea mists have swirled and eddied, creating magical fantasies of Hebridean gneiss, now near, now far. A sense of wild subdued by calm.
But today, the lemon posset of spring has been hurled aside by bleak, biting northerly winds carrying snow. The mountains which had begun to look less wild, more benign, are once more white and fearsomely, fiercely gazing about. Yet the cuckoos are here and the first swallow is dipping and diving madly in the rollicking winds. Wild spring has arrived in the Highlands.