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

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

islands: punctuations in space, and Rona

window in the Argyll Hotel, Isle of Iona
My friend J is a wildlife expedition leader. Our contact is sporadic – I might not hear from him for years at a time. Once, from far out in the North Atlantic, I had a text from him. 'I've fallen in love with an older woman,' it said. That's all. It took me many days of badgering before that statement was explained a little. 'She's millions of years old,' he eventually replied. Later still I got to hear that 'she' was in fact the Isle of Rona in the Hebrides.

Rona probably has had cycles of habitation and cycles of desertion over a few millennia. She's generally seen as uninhabited now. So I was astonished, googling 'images of isle of Rona', to find a site of photos by a Bill Cowie, who in 2010 anyway had been living there since 2002, and photographing her.

I have a huge pull to islands (I have written about this in relation to my creative writing retreat, 'Islands of the Heart'*, that I lead each year on Iona – see entries for this March). I love the sense of being surrounded by the fluidity of sea and sky. I love the co-existent sense of serenity and inspiration that infuses me the minute I step ashore. I love that they are like little points of consciousness in the sea of the unconscious; I like that they are punctuations in space; I like that they are a stillpoint in the turning world.

I have much more to say about this, but for the moment I want to share with you a paragraph in the wonderful book Towards Re-Enchantment: Place and Its Meanings (R thank you so much for the loan of this book).

Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie spent a fortnight on Rona mapping the island with a naturalist and an archaeologist. This is part of her luminous essay:

'Daily, our sense of time slowed, days expanded like a wing... Time was clouds passing, a sudden squall, a shift in the wind. Often we wondered what it would do to your mind if you were born here, and lived your whole life within this small compass. To be named for the sea or a rainbow**, and live in constant sight and sound of the sea. After a mere fortnight I felt lighter inside, as though my bones were turning to flutes.'


* Islands of the Heart 2012 takes place 21-27 April, in the Argyll Hotel on Iona, as photo above. There are currently 3-4 places left.

** Earlier, Jamie tells us that Martin Martin in 1695 recorded in a travel journal that the people of the island were gone, and that we knew little about them other than that the Rona people 'took their surname from the colour of the sky, rainbow and clouds'.


  1. This is a wonderful book, isn't? I was lucky enough to attend a launch event at the London Review Bookshop, with some of the contributors.

    Everything else from ArtEvents (and the publisher Go Together Press, which has an overlap of personnel and publishes the utterly gorgeous Artesian magazine) is also wonderful - precious islands of art and craft and painstaking collection and fostering of beauty in nature and in art.

  2. Hi Jean!

    I'm glad to know more about ArtEvents as they've passed me by – I blame it on living in the sticks and a very busy life. I also don't know 'Artesian', and feel I really should after that glowing recommendation. Thank you for giving me something else to stay awake to read!


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