Interlude: shed-hut, byre-barn and heat

I sit and write in a wooden hut, a ‘shed-with-windows’. Surrounded by wood, I am in a comforting, creaking, crackling nest that is warm and warming at this time of year, crunchy and cold but still warmth giving in winter. Its walls are dark, like the remnants of an old fire, and if you close your eyes and sniff, there is the far-away hint of wood-smoke. It is good to be enclosed in wood and not ringed or trapped in a web of electric wires, plastics and invisible electromagnetism. There are different webs and nests here; of spiders and other insect visitors drawn to the comfort of wood, tucked away in dark, resinous corners, and displaying the finest drapery in all South Erradale, silken, delicate and silver. I’m loathe to clean them up, though the panes of glass need a wipe down.

A warm, wooden and spidery space

A warm, wooden and spidery space; pen, pencil, pot and paper ready

As I sit and work (or play with paint) I’m cheered by birdsong and lulled by wind sighing and soughing through the pine trees. Often I become aware of a two-part harmony; an echo of the wistful singing of tree and branch is repeated, recalled perhaps, and played out delicately, remotely, yet closely, by the river. Trees call, river replies: Nature as songstress.

My small, serenaded shed has a veranda which elevates it to the rank of ‘summer-house’; it has a southwest-facing window and double, glass paned doors which look south, so light creeps in across floorboards, shelves and table. Where rays fail to penetrate, walls, nooks and crannies are dark, but where years of sunlight have caressed the wood, knots, growth rings and curling streaks are revealed in varying shades of brown. The boards must have been bright, fresh, and made of young, scented pine, once-upon-a-time; now they are mature, warped a little and coloured by age and preservatives, yet full of character, with tales to tell.

Each rectangle of glass reveals a different view in a series of pane-paintings. One is of willow with pointed pale grey-green, shimmering leaves; another, an old birch whose silver-purple bark is partially hidden by cascading sap green foliage that churns in the breeze; and another frames branches of spruce with thick, new, teddy-bear-fuzzy, emerald growth which looks velvety, good enough to cuddle, and not at all prickly, though it is; and higher up is Scots pine, tall and stately, singing loudest of all in the wind, with thick, phthalo green needles and lively up-thrusting, bright, new growth, each finger pointing to the heavens, like Da Vinci digits, whose bases are decorated with rings of pink and peach florets, shooting custard yellow spores into the atmosphere with every caress of wind or perch of bird.

Fuzzy, emerald green, new growth on Spruce

New, fuzzy, emerald green, ‘teddy bear’ growth on Spruce

Da Vinci fingers on Scot's pine

Da Vinci fingers on Scot’s pine, pointing heavenwards

I like to open the door so the scented outside airs can come in. I can see more: a patch of lawn studded by constellations of bright yellow buttercups, eye-bright white daisies and Cornish clotted cream coloured clover, like stars in a frosty, winter night sky in the north. And in a small vegetable patch, tall broccoli, whose unharvested purple sprouts are opening to lemon yellow flowers faster that they can be eaten, are quickly covered by fluffy bottomed bumble bees exuding buzzy joy as they work. Pale buff bottoms, yellow, orange, striped, spotted, in varying patterned combinations of colour, shade and fluffiness.

Lawned constellations of clover, daisy and buttercup

Lawned constellations of clover, daisy and buttercup

From this small patch of garden runs a path, wiggling down through the trees. A thick carpet of needles and leaves has built up over many years so each step is cushioned, silent and scented, and from time to time crossed by marching (Abbey Road) beetles of royal purple and burnished gold. Deep, earthy and resinous piles of old branches have become secret caverns where wrens flit back and forth, busy, calling furtively, conspiratorially, in whistles, then whispers, and all the time camouflaged, glimpsed now and then out of the corner of my eye.

The path descends down steep, leaf littered steps to a low wood. Once dark and dense, light now streams in through the canopy where this little patch of forest was thinned, and the new glade is blanketed in hundreds of tiny seedlings of grass, herb, shrub and tree. A single tall, pale, smooth-barked ash has emerged gloriously out of the coniferous gloom. Once surrounded and trapped by dark bristles, it is full of leaf, with branches appearing to stretch out in freedom or supplication, as if in thanks for the clear, bright air. And around its base little ash saplings are emerging, heading sun-wards; a new woodland is arising. And flowers, released from darkness are blooming: pink campion, herb robert, celandine, speedwell, bedstraw and bluebell.

The long byre and fresh carpet in the open glade

The long byre and fresh, herb carpet in the open glade

I make it sound huge, this little forested patch, it is not; but it is a deeply resinous space, a singing place, a place of birds and leafy, green tunes. Footfall is soft; light is cracked and splintered as if skipping quickly through broken glass or full beamed as if gently thrumming through a holy place. Through the big farm gate, standing at the edge of croft fields is a hand built stone byre, long and narrow, once as red as the Abhainn Dearg river rocks and waters, and now aged, grey and topped by a corrugated roof. An old wooden door stays permanently half open to allow day and night time fliers to pass in and out, cat shielded. Inside it is dry, womb like, warm, comforting and still. Swallow’s nests are glued carefully to high rafters, and in the deepest, darkest part of building, riverside, a boarded, old roof lining shelters a colony of bats. One small opening, the stable door, tied back with blue hessian rope to stop it knocking and clacking in wind, is a super highway, a Channel Tunnel, an autobahn, for bats and birds alike.

The long byre, grey-red stones and home to swallows and bats

The long byre made of grey-red-greened stones and home to swallows and bats

The bat-bird super highway

The bat-bird super highway

Up high, in each nest, blue-black, paired tail feathers, rapier sharp and utterly still, wait for my exit. I blink, thinking I have dust in my eyes, but it is the parental duty rotation in a movement so fast I hardly believe it. The rushing past, the busyness, takes place on an altogether different, non-human plane of existence for both swallows and bats, and I am thrilled by it all. Like the summer-house-shed, I should clean and tidy up, but there’s safety here for bird and bat, and, like my little sylvan, glass-paned, spidered space, there’s familiarity and comfort in the clutter.

Safely glued to high rafters, a swallow's neat nest

Safely glued to high rafters, a swallow’s neat nest

It is hot today; at last full summer has arrived; a Mediterranean heat. Shed and byre are very warm, inhabitants content. Early this morning, before the ‘dog day’ really began, but with dog as companion, I walked across the fields heading to the sea. Cloud and dampness began to swirl upwards from sun-warmed, sparkling grasses, encouraging Cape Canaveral lift-off for millions of tiny winged individuals, who rose up in gyrating, misty, ‘almost-murmurations’. A busy spell ahead for swallows and as this thought emerged, the swooping began, flashing with turquoise, midnight blue and sooty black, reflective, lustrous and spellbinding. Gradually, higher and higher they soared, their aerobatic feasting on the wing in curving, swooping, tumbling dances continued in front of me until my eyes watered and I could no longer follow them.

After such a raw spring, sultry heat and glittery light have arrived in a deafening roar! And every living thing is replying to the sun with uplifted leaf, busy wing and shining faces.


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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