Poetry from my holiday

I promised to write something about my holiday in Shuna but words fail to express the experience.  Why have I, for decades, travelled to foreign parts for holidays when I have this on my dooorstep?  Dear little ‘Fishkettle’ ferried us around on fishing expeditions and to neighbouring islands.  We saw porpoises and otters and wonderful seabirds.  We pootled over to Luing across the Sound of Shuna and saw their famous red cattle and their whitewashed cottages.  Don Paterson wrote a poem about Luing.  I’m going back there asap.

Solar power and wind power have brought some modern facilities to South End House – low voltage electricity to power lights – but this is not why you travel here.  It is to experience the unique peace, tranquility and indescribable beauty of the Western Isles (and a chance to try out your wellies for consistency off-road – mine were fantastic).  According to Radio 4 in 50 years the Western Isles will have a climate akin to that of Madeira.  So get over there soon if you want to experience an antique land.

Out walking alone on Shuna

Half way through life and lost

(the straightway never in my ken)

I walk this place of bog, scrub forest

and clearings of head-high bracken.

With every step I take, it strafes my ankles

There is rain in the wind which does not slacken

or spare but tears at the stunted trees angled

through how many years of wind from the west?

I know not.  I know nought.  Only the half strangled

cry of a shag.  A sailing boat hauls wind up the coast

—   A West Highland Festival of Sail joyrider

I watch a while, sat on a slate, thought lost

in a sensual mist, smoking. Feeling I’ll remember

today with sadness and with joy in equal measure

These fleeting moments cut from the August calendar

Sense this day.  Astringent. Crude.  Bracken-pure.

Fixed by roots and stalk, unambiguous

The squelch of my boot, the meh of sheep, the scent of their spoor

in my nostrils.   Should this not be enough

to satisfy a beating mind?  Then turn

(artifice is absurd, ridiculous)

I round the cliff.  The whitewashed house sits stiff, stern

with its list of chores to be done before we eat tonight

Could it be some oxide of iron that’s leaching from the burn?

The Otter and the Otter Stone

I saw her

At some distance

Sleek like a wave

Wash to the shore

Flash of silver throat; whiskered —

I should have hollered

Had I been sure but

Just then she arced her tail —

Once she’d gone beyond, beneath

Then I understood, what she had been

Still the otter stone remained

All following week I watched

That stone willing it to uncurl

Show me its whiskers and its tail


2 thoughts on “Poetry from my holiday

  1. This is beautiful, Ingrid. So glad you had a refreshing time and left feeling you want to go back. Well, we are off to the other side of the world (Scandinavia and Guernsey this time) and, like you, I sometimes ask myself “why?” when there are beaut beaches and quiet little spots without the jetlag! We had a super holiday in Victoria at the end of June – bushland retreat for one week and near-the-beach spot for the second week on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne – all on timeshare. But, of course, the drawcard was to see Andrew and Briony who were over, but didn’t have time to include Sydney.

    Much love from us both

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