Year: 2014

red fishing boat
snow on the Cuillin

No tea room, but the hum of conversation of men in the back, their jackets luminous, waiting on the ferry. A line of gulls on the harbour wall, and one high above, circling. An engine hums. Diesel drifts across the stillness, a chain turning as the crane lifts and lowers, the trundle of a coach down the hill.

A fishing boat chugs into harbour, rippling.

Across the water, the ferry starts its return, snow still on the peaks, and the distant keening of gulls.

Mallaig, May 2014

The Benefits of Practice

The benefits of practice are not, for me, to get to Carnegie Hall.

It’s not excellence I’m seeking but the familiarity of practice:

Even in times of change and upheaval


you find it’s what you wander out in search of even when you’d rather not

the cuckooflower

realise that the noticing has become deep ingrained, a part of your routine, and a part of what you must do to re-establish it

ribwort plantain

simply, part of who you now are, and what you will always take with you.

like a dream

(Reflections on moving, and the gift of macro photography as a core part of my practice.

Thanks for all the good wishes – the move went as smoothly as these things possibly can, and we’ve been blessed with sunshine for the first week of being here!)

The Look of Home

I move house later this week.

This will be the 13th house I’ve lived in, the 13th place I’ve called home, in the last 27 years.

Yes, that’s a lot. And yes, that’s tiring.

I’ve moved for all sorts of reasons: for love, for heartbreak, for jobs, for security, to be in Scotland, to be by a river, for love, to live surrounded by birds, to cross the highland line, for family, for love.

Running through these many moves has been a quest, a wish to know where home was, and how it looked.  But the older I get, and the more tired I get of moving, the less I think that really matters.

I was in Skye at the weekend for a flying visit, an intensive two days of Gaelic.

(Yes, of course, if you’re intensely busy with a move, the best thing to do is to add something absurd on top of it ;-))

seagull on a car roof, mallaig

Whenever I go to Skye, I feel a sense of coming home.

crossing to armadale

It is the ultimate place for me. I know in part because I measure other places up against it.

A rocky hill in the Burren grabs my heart because it reminds me of the north end of Skye.

I turn a bend in the road on Barra and whisper: you can see Skye from here.

It’s something to do with my family history, with the otherness of the island, with the serrated edges of the skyline, with the light, with the language.

It defies analysis, simply always is for me and always has been so.

cuillin from sleite

But, for a whole host of reasons, I do not wish to live on Skye.

I simply need to go there sometimes. I need to know that it is there.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with the poem ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats. (It’s very lovely, and if you don’t know it, you can find it here.) The last section of the poem reminds me that you can connect back to your home through imagination, or remembrance.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Perhaps the house you live in is only one sort of home.

You can connect to home, whatever that is for you, through things that you read, and things that you write.

I think you can feel at home through language. When I hear Gaelic spoken, when I make a burst of progress and speak Gaelic with some fluency myself, I feel something slot into place inside me, untwisting, relaxing, a feeling that all is well.

Sometimes the song of a bird is enough to connect and remind you. The sudden rush of familiarity, in an unfamiliar place.

And so I move this time with simpler expectations: about the friendliness of a house; about being closer to work, and things that are going on, and people who matter; about still being in Scotland (for those of you who have worriedly asked!); about being two hours closer to the highlands; about being able to walk to a shop (rather than driving five miles to get there); and about taking with me all that I have learnt thus far.

stepping out
from my new front door –
the song of a blackbird

Life Renews Itself

This feels like the start of an auspicious week.

It’s St Patrick’s Day today, the patron saint of Ireland, a place that has worked its way into my heart, and gifted many happy memories, and photographs.


My grandmother was born on this day in 1904, one hundred and ten years ago.

My brother turns fifty later this week (though this seems implausibly old).

On Thursday, it’s the spring equinox.

On Friday, we get the keys to our new house.

I have to confess, that last one is causing me more than a little anxiety.

As well as the usual house-moving stressors, it’s overlaid for me with questions about how things will be.

  • How will it be, moving back to a town after these years in the embrace of the countryside?
  • How will it be, moving back to the centre of Scotland, seven years after I left for the edge places, to live by the river?
  • How will I find work that I love as much as the job I have now?
  • How will I find work that allows me the balance I crave between paid employment, and volunteer work, and time to walk, and take photographs, and read, and write, and think?

I have found myself lost in these preoccupations.

Eventually though, you have to let go of trying to figure things out.

I don’t know how things will be.

I can’t know.

Things will work themselves out in ways I can’t anticipate.

Life is messy, rich, varied and unpredictable.


(Of course, that’s what makes us love it so.)

Plus, spring is coming, and if there is one thing that’s spectacularly good for, it’s the reminder that life will renew itself, that it circles and returns.

The daffodils are blooming in the garden.

There are hints of blossom on the blackthorn across the road.

Yesterday I saw a bee.

The woodpeckers are drumming on the oaks.

Soon the swallows will be back.


In the evenings I hear the call of the oystercatchers screeching their way up the river, before they circle, and return.


The photographs are from Ireland:

Top: Looking across to St Colman’s Abbey, Inishbofin

Middle: Wall on Inishmore (Aran Islands)

End: Swallow on a gravestone at Corcomroe Abbey, Co Clare


Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

~ Kurt Vonnegut

Reading the Signs

There are small, but unmistakeable signs.

Snowdrops, just starting to curl.

Catkins, hanging heavy on the hazel.

Daffodils, pushing and swelling with yellow.

A woodpecker, drumming on the oak along the road.

Like the birds in chorus in the morning, everything is starting to sing:

Spring is coming.

Answering Back

I leave in the mornings ten minutes early, to take photographs on the way to work.

Sometimes, a lot recently, the weather’s too bad and it’s not possible, but still, it’s a core part of my practice, something that’s deep ingrained.

Sometimes I try to figure out why –

It’s not really to do with taking a lovely photograph, although sometimes that happens.

To be honest it’s not really photography at all, more a way of grounding, connecting with the earth, a way of noticing, remembering, of tipping head back, saying thank you.


Sometimes I think it’s a response, a defiance –

I read a lot in the mornings, wake very early and soak up a lot before I go,

I try to read selectively, with intention, I try to read poetry as well as the news, I try to read the words of real people (like you) as well as the processed fast food news of corporations,

And yet even so often times it’s a lot, overwhelming or depressing, nausea inducing or anger making,

Sometimes I just feel tired at the amount of energy you need to expend just to hold a line, to hold firm to your own point of view, your own way of being,

And somehow this practice, this ten minutes, this standing grounded eyes to the sky – it’s part response to that.

Affirmation, or defiance.

Some way to answer back.

Drinking Up the Light

I was back at Caerlaverock at the weekend.

Despite the general atrociousness of our weather recently: wild and wet, then cloudy, grey and wet,

and then cloudy, grey and wet again,

for a while: the sun came out.


The landscape shimmered.

streaks of light

After days of grey, the world sparked briefly white, and yellow


And it made me feel like this:

an early daisy

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