Island Blog – Till Tomorrow

The seals are calling today. I hear them as I round the point but I can’t see them. Their eerie crooning comes on the breeze, one, two, maybe three of them. I stand to listen, allowing the song without words to enter my body, my mind, my soul. It shivers me but in a wonderful way. I cannot live without the sea and all her friends. She lives inside me, her tidal ebb and flow, the pull of the moon, today a pink fingernail hanging like parenthesis. The seals sing on, the lift and fall of their melody something unreal, ghostly. I am not surprised that such music terrified sailors back in the days when they feared falling off the edge of the world and felt the dread of scurvy. Safely rooted here on the Tapselteerie track and inside the knowledge we have today about seals and their singing, not to mention the confidence that neither I nor anyone else will ever fall off the edge of the world, I smile and linger. Taking the song home with me I wonder what they are saying. It will be for a purpose, that’s for sure. There is no sentimentality in the animal kingdom. Every sound, every move is about survival.

I meet nobody on the track. It is just me, the turning trees, the dying bracken and sunlight dapples. Birds flit and flutter, busy on the berries now red as blood and just asking to be eaten, the seeds spread only by travelling through the digestive system of the birds that respond. Scabious host peacock butterflies, blue, red, purple and of such delicate beauty. Harebells, heather and many bullish seps, big enough to shelter a small rabbit from a rainshower, flank the track. Leaf fall carpets the woodland cut-through, red, gold, brown, butter yellow and copper and I see nature’s artwork laid out below my feet. A cooler breeze today I think. Autumn is moving in, but softly this year.

The last visit to the sea takes us down a steep slope and across crunchy seaweed. It sounds like I am walking on crisp packets. Last week this weed was stodgy soft, greened up again in the high tides of a full moon. Be patient, I tell it. High tides will come again soon when that fingernail gets above herself and puffs out like a balloon, causing many of us sleepless nights and itchy teeth. It will wait. It knows how to wait, has done this waiting thing for thousands of years, after all. I heft my old self onto a tall flat rock. After himself died I did no hefting at all. I just stood like a dwarf before a giant and longed. Now my hefting ability is growing balls and I am thankful. I am no good at dwarfing. Although I am shrinking, it is normal but I know that it is just my body, not my mind.

I sit in the sun and watch the water. A Merlin erupts from the bow-backed shore hazels behind me in a startle. He lifts and floats across the narrows to scoop up into a distant tree, startling a heron who lifts with a screech. Ordinarily, the wee doglet would ignore a heron but as it lifts, it screeches and that screech bounces back from the far rocks creating an echo. She is startled, the doglet, and barks back. In turn, her bark barks back at her, once, twice. She barks again, certain there is another dog around even if she cannot see it. I clap my hands to stop her and the far rocks clap back. Good Lord this is turning into a situation. I am aware that the folk in the holiday cottage are at home today and I don’t want this echoing percussion to upset their peaceful afternoon. I heft myself down and whisper a farewell to the sea, the Merlin, the heron and the echo rocks. Was I to speak it out loud, the whole echo thing would kick off again.

Till tomorrow, I breathe. Till tomorrow.

Island Blog 142 Back to the Sea

2014-06-05 11.16.07

 

I have come to a conclusion.  One I might have come to long ago but didn’t, not least because I couldn’t really explain it, should anyone ask for my ‘workings’.

Workings are what art teachers demand when they stand before a huge canvas, liberally splodged with texture, glue, sparkly bits, string, and fat brush strokes telling them absolutely nothing.  ‘Where are your workings?’  they asked me.  I had to find out first what they were talking about before answering.  Once I knew, of course, I back-dated said ‘workings’ on paper, parchment,card, board and copper plate and stuck them into my Workings Book, which I didn’t know I had till a fellow student found it stuffed into my locker – another thing I didn’t know I had.

When a painting is abstract, there is a process.  You begin with the real thing.  A duck for example, or a pot of flowers, a seascape or a human form.  You draw that bit first, kind of whizzily with a loosely held pencil or bit of charcoal or even a paintbrush if you’re jolly smart.  You might be out of doors doing it, perched on a cold stone wall in the middle of Linlithgow, or you might have hooked a buttock or two onto an old tree stump on the shore of some spectacular place, or you may just be at your desk beneath the blue light of those vile tubes.  Wherever you are, you are supposed to be capturing the thing of interest onto a bit of paper in your drawing pad.  We were for-bid-den to call it a sketch pad.  We are not sketching, class.  We are drawing.

Semantics.  It amounts to the same flipping thing, but it’s always best not to argue, when the argument is about words and what they mean to other people, especially teachers.

So, you capture this interesting thing and then you loathe it to death.  It is, at best, dreadful, and looks nothing like it should or even could and even less than nothing like the interesting thing.  If it was a naked being, then I was doomed from the outset.  I could have a deliciously formed adult male just feet away from me under the blue lights and, in a matter of one short hour, he would be reduced to a Lowrie figure with no blood pumping through his veins, nor sinewy life in his supple limbs, both of which were there until my pencil removed them.  Picasso, I kept whispering to myself, fighting back the tears of shame.  Picasso.  Gee-ed up by such thoughts I stuck one eye on his thigh and thought I’d got away with it until Miss Fineart mosied over and snorted, alerting the class to do their own spot of mosying over and snorting.  The young man in question couldn’t move, for which I was deeply grateful as he was facing away from us and stark naked.

So much time was spent on ‘workings’ for pretty much all of my pieces for End of Year Show.  In my case it was both a lottery and a farce because not one back-dated working had entered my head for a single second as I plunged headlong into the world of the abstract.  Abstract just comes first for me and that’s that.

Back to my newly drawn conclusion.

I believe without a doubt that I came from the sea.  Not as a mermaid, or silkie, or even a fish.  I am not talking about the body of me, but the spirit of me.  Whenever I am by the ocean I am at peace.  I can go there carrying tension, rage, frustration.  I can feel heavy and old and tied down and lumpish. But, when I have stayed awhile, listened to the tide roll in or out, felt the salt spray in the breeeze and tasted it on my lips, I am a new woman again.  I don’t just believe that it’s about dumping my baggage for the old tide to take away, because whatever I took down there doesn’t join me as I walk back home.  I never see it again.

When I am in busy places, far from the ocean, I can do whatever I need to do, for a while.  But after that while, which isn’t very long, I feel the old scratch I can never itch, the one that tells me I am not all that wonderful, in fact, not wonderful at all.  I feel irritations niggle at my gut, threaten to spill out of my mouth.  I feel claustrophobic and find it hard to breathe.  No, it is not a panic attack.  There is nothing my logical mind could find to panic about.  It is true that all around me is concrete, noise, people rushing here and there, traffic, lights, dirty pavements and man-made deadlines.  I know how to cross a road safely and what bus to catch.  I know where I am heading and the time arranged for me to arrive.  There is no panic in any of that.  So it’s not a panic attack.

It’s just that I am not in the right place for me.

I know the rocks on the shore.  My eyes need to see the broken mussel shells, left by geese or an otter.  They need to see thrift, purple and trembling in the salt breeze, gulls white against the sky, calling out to each other as the new tide brings in the sprats.  I watch them poppling the surface of the water, pushed up by a predator deep beneath them and out of sight to me.  I must see the kelp thrown high upon ancient rocks, the little pools left by the flood tide, the tiny shrimps stranded till the next one comes in, perhaps whilst I sleep.  I have to see sunlight on the yellow lichen, turning it to gold, to hear the popping of sea-gorse seeds, marvel at the darting of goldfinches on the barbed stalks, and hear their animated chirrups at the abundance therein.  I absolutely must watch the single snow goose leading four, no five families of greylags across the sea-loch in serried ranks cutting perfect lines across the water.   I know the state of the moon by the tides and the state of the tides by the moon. I know the sea and the sea knows me.

It’s not a fairytale.  it’s a conclusion. Mine.

So I go, as I will always go, every day of my life.  I will go to where I came from.   Back to the sea.