April 28th, 2012 Doug
The Guga Stone
Sometimes goodness is not within the solan goose.
There are times it lets loose evil,
when its arctic wings cast shadows on smooth
waters, bringing dark news and upheaval
to men on days of peace,
when it seems to pluck and seize the high wind,
capture thunder to release
wrath upon its rivals,
these fishermen with vessels
moving through quiet seas.
And that is why men clutch the guga stone
in gnarled and calloused fingers,
a talisman that soothes them like a prayer,
the means by which they figure
the tricks and ruses of that ruthless bird
as it sweeps indignities on those
who misuse and abuse its world.
April 26th, 2012 Doug
When she sculpts and hones
she feels guided by her ancestors,
their lost skills stirring once more
in her bones,
Returning slowly to her,
each shift of wrist and finger
shown to her by them,
loaned from that distant source
from which her careful art had grown.
And so she completes her craftwork,
chiselling the folded wings,
the cruel stillness of that eye
which despite the strong winds blowing
stays fixed in that position,
determining what shoals have swam
into its slaughter zone,
weighing up what segment of the catch
glinting on the cold horizon
it might claim for its own.
April 23rd, 2012 Doug
When Fiona Robyn set the challenge of writing a blog post on My Most Beautiful Thing, it took a lot of thinking to decide what that would be. How can you choose just one beautiful thing?
After much soul searching, I realised that the one thing that means more to me more than anything else is just being there, standing amongst the landscapes that mean so much to me and my work. I’m luck enough to divide my time between two very beautiful places; the South Downs of Southern England, and my beloved west coast of Scotland.
I live in a small village on the edge of the Downs, beautiful soft rolling chalk farmland, with a landscape that has been shaped by man for over four thousand years. I’ve only been walking over it every day for the last ten years, but the sights, sounds and smells of the area are now very familiar and dear to me. At the moment, early mornings are the best time to see the area. The skies are filled with the sweet sound of Skylarks marking out their territories, and over the nearby woods, Buzzard soar and play on the rising warm air, calling to each other with their plaintive mewing.
When my wife Fiona and I return home to Scotland, our time is mainly spent around the coastal landscape of the Firth of Clyde and Argyll. Our family live on the North Ayrshire coast, overlooking the beautiful islands of Arran, Bute and the Cumbraes.
I don’t know how many hours I have whiled away just watching the ever changing light and mood of the islands; from the snow capped mountains and stunning clarity of a midwinters day, to the brooding skies and stormy light of the vernal equinox, it is a constantly surprising and enchanting place. It is a landscape I return to very regularly, both in real terms with visits to our family home, and in the art work it evokes with the memory of it’s stunning beauty.
So, my most beautiful thing? A chair in the porch, a good read and my sketchbooks on the table beside me, and the theatre of my beautiful islands taking place out of the window. Bliss!
Follow this link to find out more about Fiona’s book, ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’, and the other wonderful elements of the Writing Our Way Home website.
April 23rd, 2012 Doug
A ST KILDAN WOMAN WRITES A LOVE SONG TO HER NEW HUSBAND
When I first heard you were to be mine
my heart trembled
like a wren within a wall,
hoping your fingers
would be soft as down
and not rough
of quills on wing-tips,
trusting, too, that as we bedded down
on Fulmar feathers,
you would not possess
the Gannet’s savage thrust
but instead the slow and easy rhythm
of a Cormorant
diving for bright and gleaming fish.
April 12th, 2012 Doug
Hope you can take some time to view the new website page for the Guga Stone drawings.
And watch the page over the next few weeks for more images to accompany Donald S. Murray’s superb writing.
Click on the Guga Stone button on the menu bar above to view the drawings.
April 2nd, 2012 Doug
Picture Ishbel …
Night after night she stands with shoulders hunched outside the door of her home on the island. She shakes her head sadly, thinking of her husband Fionn and the way he behaves inside their home. While most other men in the community make sure they are clean when they sit down to eat, he drags both feather and down everywhere he goes. White, black and grey fluff and quills bristle from each inch of his clothing. His hands are smeared with blood and guts, feet caked with ash and mud. There are even these black globules of tobacco juice he squirts from the side of his mouth. They dot the fireplace and floor like small reminders of the night he drags with him round their house at all times.
She dare not say anything in response, fearful that neither hand nor voice would show much restraint in chiding her if she opened her mouth. Instead, the other night, when he is climbing cliff and crag, she sits down and commits all her complaints to paper, anxious that, somehow or other, she might give in the feelings of grievance and annoyance that overcome her every time he steps in through the door and do something she might regret.
‘There are times’ she writes, ‘when for all that man is said to be foredeigned the head of the household, I have more than my share of my doubts that he is … .In terms of common decency, Fionn is little better than the dog that rushes and races behind him round the island. His toenails and fingers are like black talons, never cleaned. His beard is clogged with dirt. It is all I can do to stop myself killing him at times …’
She feels better after scrawling down these words. It is as if she is at long last confessing thoughts that were trapped inside her head as surely as she herself is confined to the island. She pads up and down once she has written them. Now they are on the page, she does not want them to disappear, to put them on the fire and see them flutter away in flame and smoke up the chimney. Nor does she want him to find them. There would be fury then. He would stamp, sulk and spit verses from the Bible in her direction, small reminders of how much she depended on him for the food he brought to their home.
‘I guard and protect you,’ he might say, using Scripture for his own purpose. ‘Like the Lord our God, I cover thee with my feathers and under my wings shalt thou trust.’
She shivers when she thinks of this, knowing when he rages, there is the possibility of him even bringing the elders and the minister to their home to grant him support. He is only doing much the same as us, they would say. ‘Why are you so vain and full of yourself that you expect anything different?’ It is partly in fear of this moment that she hides the note behind the clock on the mantelpiece, knowing he rarely looks there, pretending it has never been written.
It lies there for a long time, gathering dust from the smoor and ash of the fire, till one day she thinks of the mailboat. That had been their visitor, John Sands’ invention many years before, when both he and others had been marooned upon the island. The strange notion had come to his head when he tried to think of ways of alerting others to their presence there. Before that time, they had relied only on flames to warn people that some trouble had occurred, setting a bonfire on the island’s highest point to tell them something wrong had occurred.
And so the shape of a small boat was carved from a piece of driftwood. This was later attached by a rope to a sheep’s bladder in an attempt to keep it afloat. Inside it, he placed a sealed cocoa tin; their note asking for help enclosed wrapped in oilcloth within.
She did the same, spending evenings while Fionn was absent whittling away at a piece of wood, hollowing it out for the container, weighing it in her fingers, making sure it could float. After she had done this, she takes it down to the waters, watching how it bobs up and down on the ebb-tide, moving away from shore. She knows from the movement of the ocean that it could be taken away to the north or west, to Iceland or the coast of Labrador, places where – she trusts - they will not be able to understand the privacy of her thoughts or where it is too far away to matter very much. She stands there watching the tiny vessel drawing further and further from the island, not noticing Effie creeping up to stand beside her.
‘Where are you sending that to?’ Effie asks.
‘No one … I hope no one … I’m trying to get some unwanted thoughts from my head, sending them out on the water … Trying to make sure they’re not with me any more…’
Effie nods, the fringe of her dark hair waving under the headscarf she worn the last four or so years as a married woman. There are some thoughts that trouble her too, words that she cannot express to anyone on the island, believing the answers they might provide will be meaningless and unsatisfactory.
‘Why has God allowed all my children to die?’ she asks all the time. ‘Three have failed to live for long within my womb. Another died soon after she was born. Why is God doing these things to me? Am I that evil and wicked a person …?’
She, too, steps out one evening with the mailboat under her arm, walking down to the rocks to set it on salt water. The vessel shifts out a little before it turns in the wind, swirling towards the shore as if all the questions she has asked are determined to stay with her, haunting her days and nights for years to come. Determined to avoid this, she hitches up her skirt and paddles out into the sea. This time she gives the small boat an extra shove, hoping it will not come back, that a current will take it far from this place. Slowly, steadily, her wish is granted. She watches it begin to leave the island. Perhaps it will be washed ashore on the northern coast of Norway, the Faroe Islands, the coast of France, locations where they will not understand what she has written but only the urgency of her questions and wishes. Perhaps, this voyage will take all the barrenness and waste she has suffered away from her, releasing her from its burden and weight….
Other women watch her from their homes in Village Bay – all with different concerns and troubles. There is Catriona, puzzling over a question that keeps returning to her mind. (‘What would it be like to sleep with another man? One that does not smell of bird-fat and feathers? One like a visitor from the mainland with the scent of soap and after-shave?) There is Agnes whose man sometimes pummels her with his fists those nights he dreams of being attacked by a gannet on the cliffs. (‘What can I do to calm him? Who can I do to protect myself?) There is Seonaid, worrying about how she will live alone for much of her days, not having the chance to find a husband on the island. (‘Far too many are cousins of mine. The one who aren’t are not the ones I like…’)
And so their letters, one after another, sail out from the bay, a flotilla of small hopes and wishes that they do not want those on the mainland of Scotland to read, only those who would be baffled and confused by their words and desires, ambitions and dreams, only those who would allow them to keep these visions and aspirations marooned in the depths of their own hearts ….