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.

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