Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Isle of Recurring Rainbows

One of the things about this part of the Hebrides is that the weather can change, dramatically, within the space of five minutes.  This weekend there was a storm.  The sea was white and spitting foam, the wind was being ferocious.  The rain would come horizontally in sheets and sting your face.  Just at the point where you decide to give up on your walk and turn back, the sun would break out and laugh at all your wet weather gear.  The upside of this is that rainbows would appear.  Sometimes part of a rainbow, sometimes a complete and dramatic arch, sometimes fragments of a double rainbow.  The ends would disappear into the mist, but once or twice you would see them hit the water in the Sound of Iona.

Coming out of the abbey late the other evening, my breath was taken away by the beauty of a moon and cloud-scape.  The moon was full, and there was an amber tinge to its corona, catching the edges of the surrounding clouds.  The moonlight spread across the Sound, which was rippled, giving a flatness to the colour.  Every shade of grey and silver were visible in a way I had never seen before.

Another evening, I had come out of the west door to a sky so clear the Milky Way looked like it had just been smeared across the night by someone with a huge duster.

The birdlife is on the move.  Most of the swallows have left for Africa now, but one family have nested in a chapel where the door is left open most of the time.  They sit quietly until a parent flies in, when they all squawk competitively for their food.  Sometimes they sit on a beam under the cloister roof and practice flying, hopping along from one beam to the next, and then missing out a few at a time.  They have a particularly interesting cry, like a radio tuning in, but in a nice way.

It is quite a leap to get from beam hopping to flying to Africa.  Like the rainbows, one of those every day miracles we are in danger of taking for granted.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hebridean Isles

After my duties in the abbey finished the other day, I decided I needed a treat, so bought a rather promising looking packet of upmarket 'Aberdeen Angus Steak' flavoured crisps.  I knew they must be upmarket by the price.  Not much change from a pound, thank you.

I happily started walking back to my accommodation in the village, which involved walking through a field.  The field has always been empty of creatures, other than frogs, for many years.  Yesterday however, this was not the case.  The field was full of cows.  I strolled along, admiring a large cow munching grass exactly in front of me on the path.  As I walked closer, I was able to observe that this was no cow, but a bull.  I regretted two things at this point a) my choice of crisps (I would not want to offend this animal by appearing to eat his mates) and b) the fact I was wearing a bright red jacket.  Somewhere at the back of my mind I could recall someone telling me that bulls charge at red things, and I realised, forlornly that I was the looking uncannily like a matador's cape.

I wondered whether I should turn around and walk back, but rejected this option as having a bull behind me seemed worse than a bull where I could keep an eye on it.  I sized up the wall on the right, and decided, if push came to shove (quite literally), I should be able to get over it without too much bother.  Then, remembering the advice I had given to many guests in California about mountain lions, I engaged the bull in friendly, but firm conversation.  My conversation didn't seem to interest him, and he carried on pulling the grass up, so I was able to walk past.  He is quite a handsome bull, with a lovely shaggy, ginger coat and NO HORNS - phew.

The Hebridean islands are so beautiful.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit the Isle of Ulva with some friends.  We took the scenic route, winding round the base of magnificent mountains, and along the side of sea lochs.  Each time the car turned another corner on the single track road, it was hard not to gasp at the landscape opening up before us.

After an hour or so we arrived at the Ulva Ferry.  The view from the boat was also amazing.

We were en route to a harvest festival, held at a church that stands disused at all other times of year.  Many local people make the journey to this remote place for the service and there was amiable conversation as we walked up the track to the kirk.

There was standing room only by the time the service began.  We sang hymns accompanied, unusually, by a piano accordion.  This made for a very jolly atmosphere, which was carried on by some school children singing songs and waving puppets.  A young woman sang two traditional Gaelic songs, which were quite poignant.

Afterwards, we walked back down to the boathouse, to sit with tea and cake admiring the mountains which were casting jagged shadows in the late afternoon sun.  As we drove back we saw an otter playing in one of the lochs.

It's good here - really good.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Oh, I Do Like to be Beside the Sea-Side......

At last I have arrived on my favourite Hebridean island, a small dot at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. It has all been a bit of a whirl, because in the space of just a couple of weeks, I have gone from being beside the Pacific, to being beside the Atlantic.

It has taken a while for my head to catch up with where my body is.

The weather is certainly rather different from the perpetual, glowing sunshine of California, which in all honesty, can become rather DULL.  (If I say this often enough, maybe I will start to believe it).  In fact, I feel nothing but pity and sympathy for those poor folk living in GORGEOUSLY WARM WEATHER.  They must get VERY BORED of wearing sun screen and shorts all the time.

However, I have to confess that this morning, walking to work along the fields overlooking the Sound, I was grateful it wasn't raining and I didn't need to put on my coat.

I have been here often enough to KNOW BETTER. 

Within five minutes, the weather had gone from overcast and dry, to driving rain. It was coming at me so hard, I didn't even want to stop and put on a plastic poncho I had in my bag (I will explain what this was doing there later). I knew in the time I would have to rummage in my rucksack, open the packet and work out where my head went, that I would be drenched anyway.

I started running for the abbey door and skidded in, looking like I had just stepped out of the shower, wearing all my clothes. Today was also my day for collecting supplies for our communal house. I dripped up to the kitchen and the cook was so surprised by my watery appearance, she immediately grabbed a towel and started trying to dry my hair and wipe the rain off my face and nose. I felt about five years old again - which was strangely comforting.

It is fascinating to see how being in new places makes you yearn for, and value different things. I particularly remember being in a group on a long train journey in India, where we all were suffering from 'Delhi Belly'. For the hours of that trip, the most coveted item, worth more than all the diamonds and gold in the universe, was a meagre wet wipe. Now, on my Hebridean island, I found my self jealous of someone wearing AN ARMY PONCHO. The proud owner was standing in a downpour, looking smug and DRY underneath his camouflage. I wasn't sure the camouflage was strictly necessary, as no one has attempted a raid on this island since some Vikings got ideas above their station.

You can imagine my delight, when I went into the gift shop and saw row upon row of plastic ponchos for sale. It was also fortuitous that they were black, because later this week I have to appear on stage as a singing nun. The poncho will make a very good habit, when turned inside out and worn over a white, cardboard 'crown'. Posing as a singing nun is not part of my duties here, but I seem to have been roped into appearing in a concert, singing a couple of songs from, 'The Sound of Music'. I have yet to confess that due to my hearing problems, I really cannot sing in tune. The poncho may well double up as protection against rotten tomatoes being flung at the stage. Well worth £4, I think you will agree.

My workplace for the next couple of months