September 18, 2018

Christmas, 2017

We leave Iona to spend Christmas in London with my love's family. The way down is something out of a fairytale – snow has fallen overnight and blanketed the Highlands, hanging heavy on the pines.

In London I get food poisoning and Saoirse gets it after me – we spend a night vomiting and a very boring morning in the ER – luckily she's fine and we get to go home. Another day we take my nephew to the Winter Wonderland and we chase each other through the fair, drinking mulled wine and eating candy floss. We look like a strange little family. Saoirse is fast asleep in the carrier and misses most of the excitement, waking up only to stare at the bright lights.

We don't stay long in London, we head to the countryside where the family has rented a house to host everybody. The village it's in is your perfect english fantasy, with lovely cottages and lots of cafés with delicious food. It's sort of strange, spending Christmas in a different family, but it's also fascinating to watch these dynamics from a foreign point of view – so many cousins together remind me of my own, and I miss them.

It feels like we've just packed as much entertainment and life as we could in the last two weeks, and seeing the shape of Iona appears through the fog as the ferry crosses the sound feels right. We breathe, again. We spend new year's eve with family and some new friends in the hostel, sharing a meal and our plans for the year to come.

The first day of a new year is exactly like the others – Saoirse wakes up in bed between us, we cuddle, then put on our warmest clothes and go look at the sea. My love and his dad run into the icy water for a swim. We run back, make breakfast, and settle on the sofa to watch the view whilst the baby plays at our feet. She is five months old today. And as she settles for the night I sing to her, and tell her that no matter what this year holds, it will be magical. If I do nothing this year, but nurse and rock and cradle – if I do nothing but be her mother... it will be enough, and plenty.

May 20, 2018

Song of Iona

This place is noisy in the best way.
In a weird sense, it feels like the quietest place in the world. No cars, no motors, and very few voices. When you're walking, everything feels silent. But as soon as you take the time to listen, music appears.

First there is the wind, of course. Strong, wild wind, coming from the south, but more often from the west, blowing across the Atlantic on a long stretch, nothing to stop it. Sometimes it brings icy crystals and hits your face like a hand wearing too many rings. It gets everywhere, whispering its way under coats and sweaters and making you shiver. You can't always distinguish it from the waves, but the closest you are from the shore, the clearer you'll hear them, softly rolling on the fine white sand.

Overhead the birds fly and sing. First the seagulls, then the ravens that seem to congregate on every mount and hill. Sometimes, a flash of black and bright white light will signal a guillermot. And of course the little robins are everywhere. There is one living in Saint Oran's Chapel, dancing lightly between the benches and the nooks of the stones. It will land of your hand if you stand still enough, and twist its head to look at you and ask for crumbs.

Around the croft, in the morning and at dusk, the sheep cry out. They stomp and run to me when I walk over with a bucket of food, and they huddle together under the rain, their black wool covered in little pearls of hail. Walking down the village, there are more sheep on the road, the Hebrideans with matted black wool, the scottish Blackface with their mask on. They bleat as you walk by, sometimes putting their head close to the fence looking for scratches. The highland cattle, five bulls in a field, look over the graveyard. Each of them a different color, from clay to sand to the darkest black, they look like they just climbed out of a cave painting. They are gigantic, slow, and timeless. Their bells echo along the shore.

There are so many more sounds on the island. The little brook next our house gargling through irises ; the clings and clangs of the otter playing in the barn. There is the sound of my wellies getting stuck in the bog, the sound of the purple heather breaking underfoot. And everywhere, all the time, the wind. Rattling the fences and making the metal pipes sing. Howling as it blows under the tiled roofs. And whispering a forgotten song, running through the ghost grass, making ripples and waves. Always circling, looping, retracing it's steps. It feels like the wind is drawing one of these celtic patterns, weaving a complex mandala around the island.

Sometimes I go out in the evening, and sit on the bench overlooking the water, down by the beach. I listen to it all – the wind, the waves, the sea birds, the voices who carry so far on this flat piece of earth. It fills me with a calm I've never known.

April 22, 2018

Scotland, November

When Saoirse was born and we decided to come back to Europe, we didn't have a plan. We just knew that we wanted to be safe, to find somewhere to live, and to have as much time as we could get with our new baby. There was of course the option to move back to London, but it would mean one of us working crazy hours just to make rent, and the other one staying at home alone – so we decided against it. We started thinking of Scotland, and we found a hostel looking for people to work over the winter. It turned out to be the best decision we made.

Iona is a small island, but it is a special place. My favourite name for her is “an island off an island off an island”. It sits about two hours away from the mainland, connected to the vast island of Mull by a ten minutes boat trip. The small ferry runs a few times a day. With her grasslands so pale and her long stretches of white sand and turquoise water, she definitely belongs to the Hebrides. There are almost no trees, and the only hill rising from the flat land is called Dun I - “the Mountain” - an Iron Age fort settled in 100 BC.

This place is so old, its history is almost undistinguishable from its legend. In 563, an irish monk called Columcille founded an abbey here with twelve of his companions, and from there converted most of Scotland to christianity. The abbey became a beacon of learning and creativity, producing many important manuscripts. Many kings, warriors and priests are buried here. It's a place full of spirit, a “thin place” for some, where the barrier between heaven and earth is stretched at its thinnest. The clouds feel so close you could touch them.

There aren't a lot of people on this island (around 125), and now us three. This season we'll be stewarts in one of the hotels – the only one staying open through the winter. As soon as we arrive, we find ourselves at home. There isn't much – a small grocery store that opens at 10 and closes at 4 ; a post office ; a tiny shop who serves good coffee. Most other businesses close the same week we arrive, and soon the travelers will be few and far between, but we don't mind. We have a warm room of our own, and the openness of this unique landscape surrounding us. At night, the stars are so clear you can walk without a torch.

Life is simple here. Everyday we wake up with the baby, watch the sunrise over the sea. Then we each work for a few hours – me inside so that I can watch her, and my love on the croft, sanding and painting boats or digging trenches. If weather permits we'll sometimes walk down to the village, buy groceries or go have a coffee. Everybody here says hello and stops by for a chat. There are a lot of children on the island, and you can see them rush by on their bikes, carrying vegetables from the school garden. In the evening, we walk down to the beach, two minutes from the house, and watch the tide turn pink and grey in the dusk. When the wind howls outside, we'll cosy up with a book and light a fire in the stove, listening to the rain battering the windows.

It's a quiet life, and it's perfect for us.