from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Thursday, 31 March 2011

lochs, lochans, islands, sea

Travelling, the rhythms shift, and days pass below the keel (metaphorically) in different currents and tides. That's a fancy way of saying that I'm aware it's days since I wrote a 'proper' blog, and having just awoken to the fact that it's Thursday, the weekly posting of a poet from the anthology is also overdue. Tomorrow I shall be setting out again to travel back down to Mull and then Iona, where the Islands of the Heart writing retreat starts on Saturday.

One of the things we'll be looking at is the way words connect us to each other. John O'Donohue says: 'Words create the bridges between us. Without them we would be lost islands. Affection, recognition and understanding travel across these fragile bridges and enable us to discover each other and awaken friendship and intimacy. Words are never just words. The range and depth of a person’s soul is inevitably revealed in the quality of the words she uses. When chosen with reverence and care, words not only describe what they say but also suggest what can never be said.'

It's been hard, the last week or two, as I've said before, to know how to pick up threads when (admittedly as always) such big things are happening in the international community, and set against these one individual life and its reflections on itself and what passes for its thought processes seem freighted with insignificance at best, self-indulgence at worst. But. And/but of course there is a collective aspect to any suffering, on a psychic level – we are not separate organisms operating in a social vacuum; we are part of an ecosystem that operates at physical and subtle levels simultaneously, and as I mentioned before in relation to Indra's Net anything that happens to any one of us happens to us all; in a real way we are 'one another'. I guess the knack is holding that awareness in the forefront of our minds, and trying to step lightly.

If you read the 'blue boat' you will know that I'm in the Scottish Highlands, having travelled the exquisite West Coast shoreline and up through the glens with their lochs and lochans shades of pewter, reflected lilacs, ochres, rust, and the presences of mountains and islands. The places I had remembered from a life-changing journey here so many years ago when my life needed to take a different direction, and that I wanted to revisit: Eileann Donan castle (I know it's touristy but oh! - the quality of light! - And having remembered to recharge my camera it told me immediately that my memory card was full; and no I didn't have another. Will see if there's something clever we can do, with the help of my nephew, to download/upload from my daughter's camera via bluetooth); Shieldaig, Lochcarron, Plockton, and all those little lost bays and days between.

And here we've alighted for a couple of days on the shoreline of Gruinard Bay, in my sister's little house. From the garden there are more islands and mountain peaks than are countable; maybe one car an hour goes past, max, and the two perpetual sounds are the burn to one side and the waves, below. Yesterday we walked the dog at Mellon Udrigle – isn't that a great name? – near the little ruined Sand Chapel, built on the ruins of, reputedly, a chapel from the very early days of Celtic Christinity, ca. C6th, and that, of course, built on an earlier possibly Pictish and pre-Pictish pagan site. In the tiny graveyard there are vestiges of a double-ringed ditch enclosure. I spent a long time teasing out the etymology of the name from my knowledge of Brythonic Celtic tongues and my very scanty understanding of Scots and Irish Gaelic (family interest but also from my uni days reading Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic): was determined to find a way to make Maellan U Drigle mean 'hill/tump of the druids', but I think that was simply wishfulness. Anyway, we had a great walk.

The last five years have been a big time for my family. One of the changes is that my sister, R, decided that having hung on doing the 'right thing' with an outgrown lifestyle with its salaried job that caged her for the sake of the two adored sons, threw it all in once the second son left for university, and started the long walk, carrying everything she needed on her back, from Portland in Dorset to Cape Wrath in the far north of Scotland. It was hard. But the highland landscape infected her terminally to the extent that she has, for the moment, settled up here in one of the last of the few remaining wildernesses in Britain. She has very little materially (that's never been an emphasis for our family), but she's saved her soul.

And now, she and I at opposite ends of her kitchen table typing in disjunct rhythm, there is an incongruity in the writing about rather than the experiencing of. And there can be too many words. A new collection by Charles Wright offers this:

'Poems have too many words,
                                       and not enough silence
Where words might have been.
Everyone knows what silence says, and says so eloquently.
But what do words say, what do they mean?
                                                  Not much just noise not much.'

I think of another little poem by a close friend which is full of silence; the silence that is full of the everything of the natural world. So, borrowing from him, I am going to close down this machine; and go out into the everything of everything...


  1. And the sweetness of the water, the softness of the bogland that wobbles as you walk over islands of peat. Thrift and bog cotton, lapwing and curlew. And then there are the islands that inhabit the mind, filling horizons, breaking up sunsets, softening the Atlantic force, leaving quiet, smooth water lapping at the shore. I take vicarious pleasure in your journey.

  2. Thank you, Veronica. Trust Portugal has its compensations for lack of bog etc! Sank up way over my boots in a particularly juicy one by Mellon Udrigle!



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