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Published: November 14th 2019
At 7:45am, the sound of a low, heavy vehicle could be heard, seemingly waiting outside the croft. For the last three days, apart from Robert returning home to his house, that I can neither see nor hear, there has not been a vehicle here. We are at the end of an unmarked, narrow, perfectly tarmaced lane. No one comes here. This morning is heavy with the residue of icy hail which I heard on the roof window at 4am. The ice-cold weather has permitted me the luxury to read in bed this morning. I have no dog to walk, no animals to feed, no gym to cycle to for a swim and now no job to attend. For now, I’ll appreciate and enjoy this small luxury of reading a borrowed book from this lovely home. It’s a painfully sad book telling the stories of the clearing of crofters across Scotland, Orkney and Shetland in the 1800’s by the lairds for grazing. The crofters had 40 days to leave. It’s a shocking inhumane story which leaves me looking at the ruins in the landscape with different eyes now.
The heavy vehicle outside is too interesting to ignore, so I
rise and open the attic window to be greeted by an overhead, surprising view of a gritter. Yesterday was like and ice-skating rink on the little road. We’re a long way from Lerwick and a fair way from the main road so it’s a surprise to see a gritter here. During the night, at about 3:30am, I rose to a fully visible, eerily moonlit croft and voe. A large sheep was asleep in the road by the house. On hearing me move, she slowly unfolded her cold legs, stumbled and wandered off. In the horizon line to the North, I could see there was visible a deep pink swirling glow, not green as an aurora but pink in the clouds. This place is deafeningly silent. Nothing stirs and before the moon arrived, it was absolutely pitch dark. I feel totally at peace.
A woman whom I met yesterday because I spoke to her 4 collies on the road, explained about the otters’ house on the 1st
mound in the voe and that the 2nd
mound is an old broch but now has no visible evidence. She said that only once has there been a whale in the voe outside
the house but once there was something huge and dark moving deep in the water. They waited for a fin but it did not surface – so they thought it was a huge skate. I would have been backing away from the water’s edge in fear of the unknown. Even if the large creature was confirmed as a skate, I would have still stepped back without taking my eyes off it. So many things to learn here, see, sense, understand, let unfold. I’ll go and wait by the shore later today for the otters.
Night turns gently into day here. I am not close enough to the east coast to see the sun rise over the horizon but I do have 360 degree view of this world that we inhabit. I remember saying to Mati that the ocean at Fair Isle sometimes looked fuller than other times and I began to measure it fullness by the horizon line from a still point to see whether or not the line was visible in its entirety or punctuated by the lighthouse. Then I could tell if the water was fuller. Here, I am by the voe, not exactly the
ocean. It is still, beautiful, sheltered sea water.
Yesterday, I walked 3 miles and followed the unnamed road to join the main road to West Burrafirth pier where the ferry leaves to Papa Stour. Along the way, everything of any visual interest attracted my wandering attention. Planticrubs, ruined remains of crofts, abandoned crofts, tussock grass, the reflections in the calm waters, the iced over voes, the roadside littered with smashed shells from the birds, a jade green canoe, pulled into a noost reflected in the calm sea. Every moment full of endless eye fulls connecting to life and lives. Unbeknown to me, the ferry went to Papa at 9, or else I would have been on it. It returned for just after 10 and I hurried to look at it and get on board for a sail across the sea but I had forgotten my purse and had no coin nor ticket. The ferry men were laughing. They said, they’d never seen anyone so excited to go to Papa Stour where only 6 people live. The timetable was explained to me and I plan to go next week but for the journey back returning after dark and
I still have the 3 mile walk home from the pier at 8pm in isolated undulating landscapes and certainly in pitch dark. The ferry man offered me a lift home. Patti was not keen when I told her but nothing will hurt me here and I’d have to wait from 4 – 7pm in the dark at Papa for the return – so I’ll think on it. On account of the ferrymen being accompanied from Papa by dolphins, I climbed the highest hill surrounding the ferry pier to look out to sea. I sat and waited for the length of time it took to eat 3 hobnobs. There were no dolphins or whales but I could see a haah coming in from Papa Stour and a rainbow piercing the horizon line between sea and sky. If there will be dolphins alongside that boat when I visit Papa next week, the ferry crew need to take cover because I will explode with unbridled joy.
As I was about a good mile from the ferry pier, tell tale signs of its closeness began to appear. A taxi bus going to collect ferry passengers (1, actually), work vehicles driving up
and down and ferry vehicles. Apart from that, there was nothing on the road. Along the way, the voe draws the tide miles from the sea. It has frozen over in places in tidal ripples. To my unowning naïve eyes, the boggy landscape looks semi lunar overlaid with soft wet velvet but I have not been to the moon – only Tibet.
More rain falls on the already drenched boggy land. Here the sphagnum moss covers peat. Its beautiful, spongy texture indicates a deep wetness in the ground. I try not to crush it, remembering what Tove Jansson wrote about moss in The Summer book, ‘We learn that if you step on moss once it will rise up the next time it rains, step on it twice and it won't rise up, step on it three times and it dies’ I remember this every time with moss.
In complete opposite to the outside, long swathes of bright winter light fall across the oak floor in the house.
No bird initially fell for my picnic breakfast of bread, seed ball and pizza crust this morning until after the hail when one starling
dared to sit on the fence then more and more until eventually, they descended on the food and it became a little hectic. There is one resident seagull that the owner of this home feeds when she is here. He has been to visit me but is still shy. I hope to win him over but he missed out this morning. in contrast, the starlings are far from shy.
It has started to hail once again. I will wait for the weather to clear, then head out to wait for otters.
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