The cottage sits on craggy ground, a couple of miles from anywhere else. The peace of the wilderness surrounds it, and, for 6 days, me too. A black house, once, the walls are 3 foot thick and built with old stone, for stone is always old. Full of stories too. Whoever lived here in a time when the greatest intelligence was inside the brain instead of fleeing about upsetting migrating birds and the natural development of children knew how to protect his family against the bonkers west coast weather, the cold and the long dark winters. He might have been a fisherman and his wife might have trekked down the cliffs for seaweed, dragging her salty burden back up to the potato patch, to lay it down over the precious earth, hopeful of a good feed for the following autumn and beyond. Children would have walked miles to school along narrow tracks, over boulders, through rushing burns and grasses thick with orchids and all the worts. The fisherman had a boat, but no engine. He had his intelligence and his experience only to guide him. Life was tough but life was enough back then. More than.
I feel the underfloor heating warm the soles of my feet. I hear the strains of Debussy’s Girl with the Flaxen Hair emanating from the CD player, reminding me that once, when I was a young mother with long chestnut tresses and a girlish hope in my heart, an old man gave me that title. He was a woodworker, fashioning tables and stools from old ship’s timbers. I still have the hexagonal side table he made for me from solid oak with my initials carved on the top. I remember him with his huge battered overcoat, worn in all weathers and secured around his midships with a length of orange binder twine, the flourish of a sailor’s knot dead centre. Broken boots he wore on his feet and his fingernails were always black, and, on his head, a pork pie hat, one he said he found on a bit of wasteland and rather fancied. It was too small, but he bothered not about that.
Outside the grasses tremble in the breeze. They are too short to do more than tremble. I Don’t recognise them. A few miles away, where I live in an equally sturdy old stone house, though not as old as this one, we don’t have these grasses. We have manicured gardens. We have pulled out all that looks weed-ish and arranged our stones in pretty lines or curves, just so. Out here where there is almost endless space, the end being the Atlantic Ocean, there is room for all growing things, some indigenous, some imported from exotic locations by previous owners of the estate. The current young keepers of this land are more clued up about climate change and the dangers to wildlife of manicured gardens, as they are about recycling, migrating bird protection, eco friendly washing products and the waste of energy. I applaud them, for it is so much harder to sustain enthusiasm for mindful attention to the weakening cries of our planet than it is to have the TV running all day and to throw out yesterday’s left-overs just because they’re yesterday’s, or to whack up the heating instead of knitting a big jumper made from sheep and then putting it on.
Geese graze the hillside, one that is bedecked with mothers and their lambs, for this is lambing time. Ewes call for their recalcitrant young. They’re over there, I tell them, in that big tumble of little white ones, running together, leaping and racing across the sunshine grass and paying absolutely no attention to the yelling of their mothers. Much like my own children when I mistakenly tried to summon them from whatever exciting game they were involved in. Mothers and timing do not make good partners. Everyone knows that. A Pied Wagtail bobs on a fence post and the air is a chirrup of Goldfinches. There must be hundreds here. Strange looking black flying insects with legs hanging down cluster around the wild fushia but never land. I have no idea of their mission but, as they are there all day, I guess they do. I sit on a driftwood bench and lean my back against the old stone wall. It’s warm and there’s a heartbeat. I can feel it and it calms me. All the angst of arranging a 6 day break drains away as my own heart matches the beat. The food plan, the carer plan, the wifi plan, the dog food plan, the this plan and the that plan seem a lot more than 7 miles and one day away. I can see the point of land on which I live over there in the distance, between where I stand and the blue hills of Rhum, Eigg and Muck. To my left after a walk I see Gunna, Coll and the Treshnish Islands which will now be alive with nesting puffins, shearwater, guillemots and shags. Chaos, or it sounds like it as the boat nears the islands, an ear-splitting sound, or many sounds from many beaks and they all seem to be able to hear the call of a mate. It amazeballs me. The cliffs, the scary high cliffs will have a nest on every ledge and the guano spills will turn the stone white ere long. Puffins, the frock coated gentlemen of the bird world arrive with beakfuls of sand eels and scurry with a grunt down their respective burrows, making us all laugh at their comedic faces.
Here I can read all day if I choose, or walk or sleep or write. I don’t have to make space for myself for space is already here and free for the taking. I inhabit it and in turn, it inhabits me. Troubled thoughts come, of course they do for I cannot wipe my mind that quickly, but the anxious self- questioning is becoming a very small whisper, like a wee puff of smoke that soon dissipates in the wind. I know that in my experience of a shared life I was not allotted much space. Agreed I didn’t fight for it, thinking in a traditional sort of way that a wife comes second and has no chance of overtaking. However, I have pondered long on this subject and never wanted to be first, as in beating someone else to the prize. I just wanted enough space to be whoever I turned out to be instead of turning into a woman who is the direct result of being confined inside her life by another or others. It wasn’t on offer however and it is only just now that I can see how simple it is (and indeed might have been back then) to make space for myself by myself and without a single angry demand or noisome whine.
I will end with a quote from the book I am reading again and loving all over again. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, by Peter Hoeg, in Miss Smilla’s voice:-
‘I feel the same way about my spatial freedom as, I’ve noticed, men feel about their testicles. I cradle it like a baby, and worship it like a goddess.’