north light

Month: July 2014

Holding the Edge

The Celtic monks loved the places at the edge – islands off islands off islands.

These sites make fine places to walk, and think, and be quiet for a while. Many of the old monastic sites are to be found in the west of Scotland and Ireland, but there’s one on the east, not too far from here now, only a ninety minute drive to Lindisfarne.

Last Thursday was a happy combination of a day off, sunshine, and the causeway opening in the middle of the morning – the island closes and opens with the tide – creating the promise of a day.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones to figure out this happy combination, and from the causeway on there was a constant stream of traffic: people, cyclists, coaches, cars, heading for the edges of the edge.

The place was seriously mobbed, but even though the crowds changed the feeling of the place, I couldn’t help but feel glad there were so many there.

Dozens and dozens of people, off the beaten track, breathing in something of history, of refuge and retreat, of the quest for peace, beneath the hugeness of the skies.

I came home refreshed, sun kissed, with sunburn on my shoulders, and big wide vistas in my mind.

And here, a few days later, sitting in the sun of my back room, and making plans to head out again into the loveliness of a Scottish summer, it seems slightly absurd, disrespectful almost, in a time of war, and planes being blown out of the sky, to talk of places and moments that are full of such loveliness.

To write about big skies, and breathing underneath them, and the long quiet quest for peace.

To read the news is to know the world is full of darkness, destruction, devastation and pain, beyond our comprehension. You can’t ignore it, or pretend it’s not there.

And yet, I also know – or rather, it’s not a knowing, but more a sense, a feeling, a belief – that it does make some kind of difference to keep on affirming what matters and to claim some part of the air space for quiet, human voices, in amongst the toxicity of news, and incessant branding.

Perhaps in some way that is what it means to go to the edge, and hold it.

Perhaps that is what the monks were doing.

Perhaps that is what we need to do, and keep on doing.

Hold on to the belief that another way is possible, still.

so lonely
in this polished world
clicking in the reeds
on Linlithgow Loch

The human eye adores gazing; it feasts on the wild beauty of new landscapes, the dignity of trees. The eye is always drawn to the shape of a thing. It finds some deep consolation and sense of home in special shapes.

~ John O’ Donohue

Refusing the Operation

I pause on the bridge over the Bog Burn, to stop and watch the river.

Behind me, the world moves past: people cycling, running, walking briskly with dogs, or trudging home with shopping. I don’t know if they wonder what I’m looking at, I mean, it’s nothing special – a slow moving stretch of water, slightly brown coloured, it’s hard to know how clean, and I shouldn’t really call it a river at all.

But still, if you squint, or somehow soften your gaze, you might notice the way the hawthorn tree is drooping, laden with blossom, drifting right down to the water, so the blossom is touching the surface, and connecting with its own reflection.

Tree, blossom, surface and reflection on this slow moving, brown coloured water, blend, and merge into one.


It makes me think of a painting.

It makes me think of a poem.

It makes me think, I need to keep refusing the operation.



The picture is from a few weeks ago – the blossom is long gone now.

The inspiration is this poem, Monet Refuses the Operation, by Lisel Mueller.  It begins like this:

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,

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