Midsummer: inner sounds and outer colours

Since the summer solstice sunshine and showers have been passing quickly across the croft, hills and sea. The bright warmth of recent weeks still clings to the North West Highlands and the air is filled with countless trillions of tiny water droplets; when the sun bursts from behind the clouds they sparkle and dazzle, so all the world seems to be filled with effervescing light.




For some time the dark, deep Prussian blue nights have been banished. Between 11pm and 3am a grey-white porcelain dome replaces the star-filled firmament. Occasionally the opalescent sky softens with cool mists or gentle rains so that a walk over croft fields becomes a journey through a liminal space, between worlds and beyond time. This is the ‘simmer dim’, a night-time of magic and myth, when it is hard to be sure what is wraith or spirit and what is animate. Post-sunset and pre-dawn hours are not silent though. Songbirds patiently send out soothing lullabies at day’s end and cheerful nursery rhymes in early morning; we know the hour by the songs they sing.

Rainy days have come sharply and gone floodily, their showers soaking into the dry dusty ground and then releasing, in a shamanic sweep of aromas, the sap-green essences of growing and the black-peat juices of bog and hill. Breathe in and the mind fills with colour and scent, breathe out and the body releases its stress.

In waking hours, arching across the meadows and hills and soaring over the sea, are skies of such radiance and brilliance that light does more than illuminate, it pierces. As clouds pass by or as heat haze shimmers the earth seems to vibrate with energy while ocean waters flicker and flash. At times it feels as though the world is illusory, concocted from hallucination and allegory. Across the Inner Sound ‘fata morgana’ appear then vanish: islands swim in and out of view replaced by towers of fantasy that swell then shrink. Standing on the shore the sea becomes a silent satin curtain of pearl and azure or it ripples with noisy ebullience and echoes with the joyful voices of sea birds. Spend time here and the mythic becomes real, and fantasy supplants textbook narratives; it becomes easier to imagine and conceptualize and harder to deal with the necessary and the run-of-the-mill.

P1090070But the days have also been filled with blue: sapphire, royal-blue, aqua, powder-blue, sky-blue and indigo. Unnameable, uncountable, exotic; of such richness and vibrancy that one can only stand and gape, amazed. A spectacle of nature has added to the kind, summery weather and churning of marine currents to create a living masterpiece of ocean art. Phytoplankton blooms have swelled within the shallower coastal seas turning water cloudy with lustrous phosphorescence: the sea shimmers in turquoise, cobalt and manganese, its currents swirling with viridian, lapiz lazuli and ultramarine.

P1130959Even when storm clouds and showers gathered across the Minch and Inner Sound hiding the horizon with dark, thunderous banks of cloud, the sea waters have glowed and pulsed with energy, eye-aching in their formidable beauty. As clouds and showers drifted north west they covered Skye and the Hebrides in drapery of mauve, indigo and grey as if voile curtains were being pulled gently across by unseen hands, perhaps to shield the islands from the coruscating light.


P1140028There is so much magic in this elemental place; crystal-bright light is seeping into every living cell while myrtle-scented and resinous breezes swish around us all like balm. Land, sea and air are suffused with enchantment; it is hard not to become infused oneself and laugh with the sheer pleasure of it all

The romance and quasi-supernatural essence of midsummer will pass. This beautiful edgeland, where sky meets sea meets land in a maelstrom of inner sounds and outer colours, will quieten and soften. Although the nights will be high and white for a while longer, change is on the way; the days have begun to shorten and in a few short months these moonstone, mother-of-pearl and turquoise days will have diminished and I will rely on memory, photographs and paintings to bring them back.


______________________________________________________________Post Script: Inner sounds, outer colours

Nature as artist, accompanied by the singing waves and chorus of gentle winds, the trilling river and babbling burns and by the choirs of birds and humming insects, has excelled herself. I have tried to photograph the panoply of colours before us, but I lack the skills of the experienced landscape photographer. My attempts to portray these natural wonders on canvass, too, are watery and subdued; I simply do not have the talent with brush and paint. The rush of emotions and intense physical sensations of watering, aching eyes and distinct headiness, that accompany observing and living within such wild beauty are, for me, almost impossible to display.

I have turned to friends who do possess such craft and have witnessed how they too have been delighted by the midsummer magic. Artist Alison Dunlop’s ‘Inner Sound’ exhibition is an organic and deeply emotive example of how, in the right hands, paint can capture the colours of the natural world and hold within a canvas the very sounds of both sea and sky, electrifying the emotions that nature can generate within us.


At the same time the work of photographer Mark Appleton sweeps us high into the mountain realms of fantasy and legend or spreads out before us the intricacy and detail of the familiar landscape so that it becomes transformed into the exotic and mysterious, and we are called to look again and again at the world before us.

There are others too, artists, crafters, photographers, who defy the limits of technology and materials to express their own inner sounds and voices, and who capture the outer colours and emotions of the living world. And wonderful writers who, with supreme perception and sensitivity in a flush of new voices in nature writing, express what many of us feel yet are unable to speak. I am learning so much from each and every one.


Special thanks to Alison and Mark and other Wester Ross talent: artists Julie Arbuckle, Lynn Bennet-Mackenzie and Fiona Macintyre; photographers Eoghain Maclean and Ed Duncan; crafters Jan Appleton and Jill Holmes; you are inspirational.

And to the many, many exceptional writers and poets I have met and read or interacted with on social media… wow… the things you do…!


About Annie O'Garra Worsley

Hello there. I'm a mother, grandmother, writer, crofter & Professor of Physical Geography specialising in ‘environmental change'. I live on a smallholding known as a 'croft'. The croft is close to the sea and surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the NW Highlands. I was a fulltime mother, then a full-time academic living and working in north-west England. In 2013 we decided to try and live a smaller, simpler, wilder life in the remote mountain and coastal landscapes of Wester Ross. When I was a young researcher, I spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea living with indigenous communities there. They taught me about the interconnectedness and sacredness of the living world. After having my four children I worked in universities continuing my research and teaching students about environments, landform processes and landscape change. Eventually, after 12 years, I moved away from the rigours of scientific writing, rediscovered my wilder self and turned to nature non-fiction writing. My work has been published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I have essays in several editions of the highly acclaimed journal ‘Elementum’, each one partnered with artworks by contemporary artists. I also still work with former colleagues and publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place which will be published by Harper Collins.
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3 Responses to Midsummer: inner sounds and outer colours

  1. Julian Beach says:

    For some time the dark, deep Prussian blue nights have been banished. Between 11pm and 3am a grey-white porcelain dome replaces the star-filled firmament.

    That’s my favourite time of year in the Highlands, Annie.

    One of these days I’ll tell you the story of an eerie midnight experience at anchor beside Castle Tioram in Loch Moidart.

    Lovely piece as ever.


  2. pondbug says:

    Loving the colours

    Liked by 1 person

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