Island Blog – Music and Brilliant Rebels

Today is my last day in this wee cottage on the cliffs (or near them).  Skylarks sing all day, random dots with tails overhead, like quavers in some divine music score.  Pipits twitter on fence posts, alert for the nest-stealing cuckoo, she (or he) that I hear all around me, but never see.  Covert little tinkers.  Every walk shows me new wildflowers.  Sorrel, vetches, worts, bluebells, primroses, orchids, daffodils and so much more.  I could bore anyone for hours on wildflowers, wild birds, wild anything.  I meet a couple with a walking map and cannot resist interfering.  They are looking for the Whisky Cave, an old illicit still made of stone within its mouth, well hidden from the drink police. I’ve never been.  I just know where it is and that, my dears, is to my shame.  For 20 odd years I waved guests off in different directions with absolute confidence, and never said I had never heard the music myself, nor absorbed the majesty through my own lookingness. When you work in a place, you never go anywhere else but that place, not when it’s a 24/7 job plus infants and working collies, a milk cow, dinner to cook and a husband who is always at sea, even when his backside is on a kitchen chair.

The land rises and falls.  The cliffs are falling away, eversoslowly, but falling nonetheless. The endless percussive push of the waves has carved out new caves, or they will be caves in a couple of hundred years.  For now, they look like a perfect semicircle of smooth basalt elbowed into the larval rock. The burns are dry.  No rain for six weeks and that isn’t good for the milk.  Lambs need milk, ewes need grass, grass needs water.  Simples.  There’s a wee concerto in there somewhere.  Let’s call it Synergy.  Or let’s not.  I can hear it whether, or no, we name it and, despite the sunshine on backs and faces, it plays out in a minor key.  A, I think. 

I startle a Meadow Pipit drinking from a puddle of mountain rescue, spring water from way up there where the sky begins, that will bubble up from the deep and sonorous ground as it has for centuries, and spill from the open lips of a rock that is now stuck with the job.  All other rocks kept their lips sealed. At the source I can hear the bubbling and the timpani and the tune and the rhythm.  Bog plants surround it, Kingcups too, Creeping Jenny, Yellow Pimpernel and Water Avens.  The colours would take yonks to mix on a palette and I still wouldn’t get there. I’d need endless mediums to help me compose a rapture, and they’ve all dried up from lack of use.

Sunrise this morning #4am was stunning.  I can see both from here, the rise and the fall into the sea.  That’s what happens, seriously.  The sun sinks, reddens, fires up the sky, sinks, reddens some more and then slides into the Atlantic in complete silence.  We are silent too.  There are no words for this.  Only music.  D, I think, major, but with an Elton John twist which means you never really know what base chords to play.  I have spent hours working out some of his musical texture on my wee piano and have decided he is a god.

Sometimes in life, there is only music.  When words are just jibber jabber, or not enough, or contrived, or used in defence or for control or to facilitate abuse, music is always faithful.  I listened, open minded but wary, once, to Disturbed singing The Sound of Silence.  I thought, Silence?  Disturbed?  No chance.  But I listened and what I heard made me gasp in awe.  That big tattooed man festooned with earrings and other rings in other places sang with such gentle power that I almost forgot Simon and Garfunkel. It was almost, no, it was, that I heard the words for the first time.  ‘And the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls.’  Ouch.  They still are. When I think about going home to caring, I blanche (B Minor) but it is what I will do.  And it is honest and true and my life and shut up about it.  Although my break in this beautiful and loved swathe of clifftop madness has felt too short, it may not be.  My encounters with the music of the land, in my reading, in my sewing, all ‘withoutus interruptus’ has been quite marvellous, but none of us can play forever.  Life is boots and buttoning up and old songs and a storyline that needs music to bring it back to life.  Could be Bach, could be Disturbed. I’ll take both home with me.

I met a young friend recently and she with a life full of work and two little girls told me she had forgotten music, its power in her life and her need for it.  I know those times, when we let ourselves drift into the functional, thinking that if we do it better tomorrow then we will feel good again, but we never do, no matter how much bettering we bring to bear. If we go faster, plan more concisely, answer texts quicker, get to the shop earlier and so on and so on, then we will get a gold star.  Sounds like a Prokofiev violin to me.  It has no nourishing provenance, that thinking, and yet we think it, nonetheless.

I watched two kayaks move through the sea.  One of the men is a friend.  He had told me of this voyage from Glasgow to the island and that it would take a week, best guess. The chance of me taking a clifftop walk at exactly the moment they were passing is music.  I watched what I thought at first was a lunatic white bird diving over and over again.  I have seen this, to be fair to me, way out there when seabirds find a bait ball, aka, a huge ball of sand eel, terrified into a circular pack because the dolphins are herding them up from below.  The birds see it and in they dive.  Over and over, and it does look like they are all jumping on a salty trampoline, from a distance.  Anyway, this was too regular, so I looked harder.  One white paddle. One black, two kayaks.  I stayed to watch them round the point.  I chuckled as I considered this.  Men rounding the point.  I know plenty like that.

I’m listening, now, to ‘that greatest of all love affairs, a violin and a human body’ (Mary Oliver).  Joshua Bell.  To my mind he is the best.  Although he plays the notes long written down, the quavers, crochets and the ones without stalks, he adds his gypsy self.  He plays games with phrasing, squishes them up and then pulls them out like soft toffee.  I chuckle whenever I recognise his naughtiness come through a piece I have heard a zillion times, and he lifts me into a closer listening.  Actually, I want to dance.  I want to shout Yes!  A brilliant rebel!  I love brilliant rebels, perhaps because I am one myself, (and we are thin on the ground) although I have often wondered what I am rebelling against.  My mother asked me that once – no, many times.  At first, I listed the usual.  Rules, Domination, A Government that’s all fur coat and no nickers, Radio Four, School, Lack of Choice, Oppression, Hypocrisy, Allbran, Semolina, and so on.  Latterly I would just be honest.  No idea Mum, and she would roll her eyes, turn away and sip her drink but with, I noticed, a little smile curling her mouth into an African upside-down moon.  There was music in that too.

I walk the mile to the Wifi Hut, and, as I arrive at the steadings through an open gate. I hear music piping through the metal posts. The score lifts and luffs on the back of the wind, hitching a ride to the other side of nowhere but deviating through a man-made hole, like a brilliant rebel, to sing a few notes just for me.

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