Opening the back door for the Cat to venture out, I stood breathing in the stillness of the morning air as the grass heavy with a thick spreading of dew slept on. A beautiful but deceiving morning, perfect midgey weather. Usually the horrible little things don’t bother me. I get bitten here and there but on the whole I make it out of summer unscathed. Chris is usually the one to get eaten alive, with huge mump-like bites coming up on the skin. ‘Will you stop itching Christopher! It’s like sleeping next to stray dog!’ I would bark. This year was different, I’d had a taste of my own medicine with more than one heavy handed bite keeping me awake in the night. The midges are part and parcel of living in Scotland, and definitely in the package of living on the islands. A breeze in the air is a daily wish as the summer awakes. No wind, more midges. A pair of dark black ears flapped above the hedge signalling the cows were up for breakfast and with continuous ear wafting taking place, I imagined they too were battling the early morning annoyance. Milo had now arrogantly waved me goodbye with an upright tail and feeling a nip upon my arm I hastily shut the door, uninviting any of those who had found themselves on the wrong side of the door. I detected no breeze, oh I do hate midges.
Children with brightly coloured nets and buckets skipped at my sides whilst parties of people jumped off the rocks into the clear waters of topaz. ‘A good sign’ Isabelle had said, ‘Summer is here when the kids jump off the pier’. The campsite was busy with tents and vans making the village of Port Charlotte a steady stream of people in and out of the post office shop. Cars with roof racks slept on the pavements, tired with the burden of carrying fishing gear and brightly coloured kayaks. Holiday makers walked by making plans for the day ahead. ‘Hello!’ Bea shouted ‘What are you doing!?’. ‘We are going fishing’ the little boy replied. Pavements and door steps passed my feet sporting layers of bikes and collections of twisted driftwood bleached brittle by the sun. My eyes gazed over collections of pebbles worn smooth by the currents, picked up by childrens searching hands for holiday treasure. Washing lines strung with beach towels and shorts flapped among white washed cottage walls lining the shore line like a barricade. A striped kite of rainbow colours lay abandoned in a bay window until the winds picked up again. Collections of sea glass catching the sun slept in another. A lady having breakfast on a tray, sitting in a deckchair and reading a magazine looked up and smiling bowed her head towards me. The water busy beneath the lamp of the sun, made that easy swishing noise it does when the tides are calm and coming home. Port Mor lay in the distance as we made our way back to the house and I could see children already awake and playing on the park. I thought of people grilling sausages and eagerly awaiting hot tea from whistling kettles. I loved it, I loved it all. For the first time I felt a love for Islay that until now had lay dormant. A moment for the memory box, I will store it up and place it in the bank with the rest I think.
You would maybe assume that moving to the Hebrides, especially if you have been here on holiday, is all good. That these moments of love are instant and frequent. That the bond is instantly made and its strong with three strands. I can understand the assumption, all holiday destinations and places of intriguing beauty probably have some form of it. However it isn’t quite how you would expect. Especially as I had never holidayed on the isles, thinking about it I’d never been on a boat until Harris bound. I have found that like any stable love, a life on a Hebridean island takes time to build. Infatuation in love is common, new, exciting and most of all blinding. Infatuations do not however last. Do they ever? They burn out as fast as they alight. Leaving confusion and tears within their wake. It takes time to relax into the marriage of Hebridean life. Its a marriage that needs time, patience and a whole heap of grace. Who’s doesn’t? I have been on Islay nearly a year now and away from Harris for a little longer and that binding of cords is just starting to form. I have a child in school and have begun making relationships with neighbours. I know my way around. I know what the weather sounds like trying to enter in through the bedroom window and can gauge just how windy it is by how horizontal the trees in the garden are. I know some of the wildlife I share the island with and the time the Co-op opens in the morning. It is true that the winters are a challenge, the culture can be confusing and that there is a unique set of obstacles to jump over when moving to the Hebrides. It is however, truly and without doubt a love built on the rock of infatuation that will burn the house down the fastest.
The water was calm and motionless as a mix of lilacs and silvery blues bled from the sky into Loch Indaal. A lone kayak with two figures, silhouetted itself against the waters glassy surface. I stood content with the view, watching the oars dip in and out of the water. I could make out little red life jackets, like small red berries bobbing along with the current. The view from our bedroom window is great for watching boats. Most days, at some point or other you will find me, camera in hand, binoculars by my side leaning out of the window flung open in an abandoned hurry. ‘Look Chris! Look! I think that’s a standing stone, can you see a standing stone!?’ ‘Lucy, the only standing stone I can see is you! Will you move!’. On calm still days the air carries the voices of the fishermen flinging creels into the sea. Some days I can hear their conversations and even the music drifting from the radio. ‘Your going too slow!’ I heard a rough Scottish accent booming early one morning, ‘Wrap it round the other way you bloody idiot!’, as the engine gave way to a gentle hum. One or two talkative gulls always circling overhead, eager for an easy catch.
Elizabeth-Ruth could not and would not sleep. Midnight struck, one am went past, by two am I admitted defeat and took her downstairs. Tea on, television on, I was now awake and quite content in being up without the chaos of the others. As the darkness of the night hugged the house, I pulled my one and only trusted blue jumper over my head and padded towards the kitchen as the kettle pinged off. For the first time I felt the darkness of the Scottish winter once again approaching. The wind for the first time in weeks began again to call out for me by name. Pushing its song down the chimney and against the windows with alarming strength, combing the leaves on the trees in the garden bare. The inky blackness kept me from seeing out to the sea but I knew she too would be raging against the edge of the land. I find great comfort in moments such as these. It was now nearing four and Elizabeth had decided that sleep was once again a plausible option and so after lifting her heavy soul upstairs I went back down to make more tea and grab the laptop. I was now firmly awake and so writing seemed a good option. The wind I could hear was not letting up and I thought of all the campers at Port Mor. I love the weather when its like this, but I like it inside four very sturdy walls, with double glazing and a constant stream of electricity. Filling up my ageing hot water bottle, I padded up to bed taking the sound of the wind and rain with me, grateful that God had not instilled in me a passion for Hebridean camping.
From the Scottish Hebrides, Lucy
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