Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Orkney: arrivals

21st May 2017 
Looking towards Eynhallow over the Broch of Gurness

Eynhallow Sound is still today. Low tide, with bowed kelp trunks breaking the few waves there are. A raven is chuckling away on a fence post, a low stone-knocking conversation with itself that is oddly reassuring. Hugin or Muninn having a bit of a grumble maybe

Swallows buzzed the car on the way, playing dare and double-dare as I bounced down the narrow little road. Then there were those little brown dunnocky birds that shoot across the front of the car, dolphins on a bow wave. I am always surprised to arrive and find I don’t have a neat swallow and dunnock presse in the front grill of the car

Eynhallow Sound
Sometimes just getting here feels like a pilgrimage in itself. Not even getting here to Gurness but here onto the Islands at all. This trip started several weeks ago when i left home and came trundling across the country, storytelling my way round Highland schools and steadily wearing myself down to the frazzle of an ol’ toad who set off at 5am that morning to drive the final stretch north to the first ferry of the day

Arriving at the ferry really starts the final movement for me. I simmer like the sea, a rolling tide of excitement that has me wanting to hug strangers as we load the catamaran and wave at every puffin I see. I tend to do the latter anyway

I come here full of ideas but am gradually recognising the difference between need and want. There are places I would like to go to, islands I would like to see, whales I would love to stare at, point at and probably faint over. But more importantly, there are the places I need to go to. Places where I stop. Where I don’t have to go inspecting, ticking a mental box of sites visited, plants seen, stones identified, stories told. These are the places that hold me, enchant me, tell me to shut up and just relax. Their names become a litany in themselves: Gurness and Brodgar, Stenness and Birsay and the Happy Valley where the bluebells fill the woods like smoke

I arrived this time carrying burdens. A knee that feels like its ready to fall apart so that a pirate’s wooden leg has a certain appeal. A work diary that excites and oppresses in equal measure. And heaviest of all, the imminent departure of a long-standing and very dear friend. In hospital, 700 miles and probably 3 days away so that by the time I reached her I would be too late. So, I chose north and long distance vigil, sitting beside the sea here at Gurness and reaching across the miles, watching hares in the field and the precise shapes of gannets, sharing memories and acknowledging change and departure and grief.

Sometimes just getting here is enough.

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