The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses…

View from The Croft, 19.00hrs 23.10.12

…Over The Hill

It’s been the most beautiful of days.

Again.

From sunrise, a fishing boat blinking past Port of Ness harbour,  the sky grew from peaches and pink to ever-changing blues. It was frosty and hundreds of spiderwebs strung between the spikes of the croft reeds shimmered with fat beads of dew.

The air was sharp and cold and the nearest house, down and across the village road, was already puffing out peat-smoke which filled the air with its reassuring reek. As the sun rose so did a mist, settling into the hollows of croft land for miles around and Venus, alone, pinpricked the sky.

The rest of the day was cloudless and still, just sunshine, which burned off the fog and frost, and I worked outside all day just to be  in amongst it.

And tonight everything reversed, the sun set in familiar deep colours, those eerie clouds of moisture rose again, the moon appeared.

As I locked the hens in their coop for the night I spotted the cat perched on a fencepost, silhouetted against the darkening sky, just taking it  in also.

I’ve had more happy days in recent memory than in years of Glasgow living and for no other reason than nature provides.

I feel privileged to be here.

Eleanor Nicolson

This is Eleanor Nicolson, she is 14 years of age and attends the local secondary school, The Nicolson Institute, here on the island.

She also sings songs and plays guitar rather damn nicely.

Here she is playing an original song of hers live.

Maybe they’ll rename the school when she’s rich and famous…

http://soundcloud.com/eleanorxnicolson

Harris Tweed Ride II

Last year I organised Glasgow’s first Tweed Ride and such was the demand for another one in 2012 it would have been rude not to oblige.

Being so far from the city meant that this time around I took a back seat / saddle and placed the event in the hands of two Glasgow chaps I knew would make a sterling job of it.

And that they did…

Homeward / Breathe In

A new video from the new album of music by Lewis singer-song writer Iain Morrison.

Homeward is the first release from the forthcoming album ‘To the Horizon, Sir’.

It is available as a free download HERE

Weirdly, I’d penned a very short story a couple of years ago, having never seen this video, but now after watching it seems to tie up a little spookily…

 

Breathe In

He rose from his old armchair, in his family croft, sat on the shores of an expanse of sand, perched at the edge of the Atlantic.

Draining his glass, he slipped off his unknotted boots and thick woolen socks and pulled his navy geansaidh over his head. The jumper’s neck rasping at his own, tugging at his ears as it did when he was a young boy.

Stood barefoot outside his door he let his toes curl in the grass and faced the wan yellow sun which was slipping beyond the western horizon. Lazy evening clegs buzzing fore and aft, like four stroke engines far over the hill. As he walked away from his red door, ewes and lambs scattered over the rock strewn headland. He felt the dry heather now roughly caressing his soles and the mosses soaked like bathroom sponges, washed his steps.

Nestled between ridges, hunkered against the prevailings, the empty blackhouses stood. Walking through the mantle-less doorway, nettle beds held their sting as he reached down to pick up a great block of stone that once made up a wall. The roof and beams were long gone leaving him ringed in lichen rock, ragged tattoos of silvers and bronze.

Walking, stooped, across maram grass, whipping lightly in the evening breeze their in-curled leaves bowed at him, sphagnum gave way to machair. Clovers and dogweed kissed his path as his heavy steps led him to the beach where, like stars in the universe, below him they flowed countlessly.

The sands were hidden from everyone but the sea and in the rocks at its edge flotsam and jetsam stored up from voyages unknown lay. A long faded plastic box, marked STO NO AY  COOPE ATI E, held a blue rope, plastic and faded and frayed.

Setting the stone down he sat once again and set about coiling the rope into embracing knots. His small fingers spun hitches and cloves from straight lines, unforgotten intricacies bound the block and kneeling now, the gniess tight in its sea-beaten grip, he looped the remaining rope around his neck, crossing it over his chest and tied tight at his back.

Taking the strain he rose to his feet and walked to the waves breaking on the secret shore. Razor clams rose beyond the waterline and the limpets and mussels clung to the nearby rocks opened wide while his footprints led to darker sands and seafoam.

Cold brine raced around his ankles hugging them as he walked on, knee deep now, up to his waist, the sea carried his weight, held him upwards, refused to chill his bones.

The waves of Uig broke across his breast and he strode firmly now, forward into deeper water.

His grey eyes lifted towards Hiort as the sky erupted into golds and burnt ambers. Water face-slaps him one last time, stinging his thoughts away one last time

Dropping his burden, rock that preserved generations, he was pulled down. Remembering, he released everything to the roar of tides and time. Arms raised, feet still grounded in sands, he breathed in.

(M.D. 2010)

Chicks

Tags

I’d mentioned previously that there were six hens and a cockerel now on the croft.

Chickens are pretty much a basic for any crofter or smallholder and so after the wee starter flock of Hebrideans it was a no brainer to get some chooks on the go.

They reside in a hand-built wooden coop, nice and simple design, waterproof roof / lid, 4′ x 3′ x 3′ in size, roosting perch, single nesting box, small door, brass air vent…that’s it. The coop gets a good layer of wood shavings and a bit of straw, all very cosy. They are hemmed in by a 5m x 5m square run of dark green, heavy, nylon netting held up by spiked poles that allow me to move the pen around to let the ground recover from all their scratching and crapping. I’ll probably let them free-range at some point but this will keep them safe until they start laying and encourage them to keep to the coop and nest box when they do start dropping eggs.

I got the critters at 6 weeks of age which made them pretty scrawny, feathers not fully developed, quills poking through as if they’d been plucked alive in parts. Kinda gross really. This was their first venture into the open air and they still needed protection from predators (seagulls, cats, crows…) so I took a roll of small-holed plastic netting and added a a very small porch to the coop so they could hang out and find their feet, so to speak. They get fed growers pellets and whatever else they can peck up from the grass and ground, there’s water of course and I need to sort out some grit and poultry spice at some point I suppose.

I’ve been amazed at how quickly they’ve grown, every morning when they get let out at sunrise they seem to be bigger and better looking. They’re also much bolder, the protective inner pen is wide open now and they run around the main run doing their stuff. If they catch sight of the cat or a large bird flies overhead they bolt back under cover but they’ve been taking on thieving starlings who come near their feeder and generally look like they can handle themselves more. Yesterday the Ram tried to get at the feeder of food and ended up tangled in their netting but somehow doubt they felt able to take him on, but in future who knows?

There is one Rhode Island Red, two Frizzles and the rest are hybrids of RIR, Marans and Barnevelders and hopefully they’ll start to lay in December. Right now they’re just eating and growing and sorting out their pecking orders.

The weather here is cold, windy and wet today, they came out to eat and drink but haven’t ventured very far from their front door at all. I pegged a piece of off-cut tweed across the coop entrance as the prevailing was blowing straight inside so they have a bit of a windbreak at least.

All very exciting huh?

To be honest I thought they’d be pretty uninteresting, just good for eggs and perhaps one for the pot every so often but their behaviour is fascinating and I’ll happily kill a tea-break watching them chase flies or interact with their new environment.

They remind me of little dinosaurs…

There names? Dolina, Murdina, Kenina, Alexina, Katrina, Christina and Tiff Peaches.

Don’t ask.

Catrin Evans

Catrin Evans is a 15 year old singer songwriter who lives on Grimsay a small tidal island in the Uists.

Apart from that I don’t know much else except that at 15 she shows a lot of potential, showing shades of Laura Marling, and should be another one to watch from this remote part of the world.

EP on iTunes

Wee Studio

Wee Studio is a recording studio/booking agent/record label based in Stornoway here in the Isle of Lewis.

They have a neat YouTube channel that houses all their goings on including live sessions from local musicians.

Check them out.

http://www.youtube.com/weestudiotube

TBWTTS Is Back

Have really been neglecting island musical talent on here recently, something I intend to rectify toot sweet.

Let’s start with Lewis singer songwriter Mr Colin Macleod aka The Boy Who Trapped The Sun who has some new music in the pipeline…

A Day In The Life – Epilogue

The Croft, Port Of Ness, Isle of Lewis, 1978.

I woke the next day at dawn with a slight hangover. The temperature had dropped and tempting as it was to stay in that warm bed, stuff needed done. Besides, there was no one else there beside me to swing the decision. It was raining outside, a cold, driving rain lashing the windows from clouds that hid the sunrise.

Yesterday’s idyll was soon forgotten. The day brought with it a long shift in the loom shed, the poor lighting making the complex plaid in the heddles hard work when mistakes were made. Fingers were cold and errors were plentiful.

The postman arrived with both cheques and bills. The cheques, such an archaic way of settling payments and invoices, could only be cashed in three days time when the mobile bank passed through this remote village on its weekly visit. Then another three days to clear meant it would be a week until the funds arrived in my ever dwindling account. The bills demanded payment at once, as usual.

Despite the impression given over these recent series of posts that all is rosy in the croft garden, it’s hard work and will only get harder as plans progress. This isn’t River Cottage or Escape To The Country, it’s not easy to make ends meet, harder still to make inroads into all the work that still needs done to make the croft flourish.

I’m not a rich man and know now I never will be, there’s no trust fund or money made on property booms to play with. Only graft, turning what few skills I have into resources and remittances for all the work rendered. But I relish the challenge and the hard work, because the gains are truly my own and noone elses.

Such is crofting.

After such a long struggle to get here, a harder struggle, so fortunately, finally, to sign a sublet on this wonderful piece of land, a good day like yesterday makes it all feel worthwhile, worth the sacrifice and the stigma associated with trying to carve out a better way of living, now alone, in the back of beyond.

Things won’t always be like this, one way or the other, but you gotta take these moments of outright happiness when, where and while you can.

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal – that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.”

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods