…and somehow it becomes May again. It’s unseasonally cool, grey and breezy from time to time but the primroses are out in force and I’ve had at least one gloriously warm, peaceful day sitting among the birches, trying to paint them. The result was a disaster, as you can read about on my Vistas blog (https://www.sketching holidays.co.uk/news-updates/), but the sunshine on my face, the silence of the valley the day before we opened to vistors and the beautiful, delicate yellow faces seeming to smile at me from all around was exactly what my soul needed at this time of year.
Winter has been long and spring a little slow to arrive; many places are now open for tourism although the anticipated surge is not quite upon us yet, for which I’m grateful. We need visitors, of course (the ones who ‘leave no trace’). But how many is too many? It’s an ongoing debate.
My most significant news this month is having finally managed to register for my creative writing Masters, which begins in October. I was unable to secure funding for my first choice, the Travel & Nature Writing MA at Bath Spa university, which I was accepted onto but, disappointingly, could not persue. I will now be studying with the Open University and as it’s a general creative writing course, my intention is to specialise in ‘creative non-fiction’, with a particular focus on travel, nature and memoir.
I am very excited to be joining this course and in the meantime have decided to keep up the momentum, enrolling on a 12 week course in writing memoir, run by the lovely Alison Wearing. I’m appreciating the discipline it requires, with useful prompts and tricks to kick-start the imagination along with a lot of helpful advice from published memoirists.
In the fifth week we are encouraged to write a piece based on a list, or the letters of the alphabet. Unable at first glance to relate this to memoir, I instinctively began matching each letter to the beauty of where I live, the associations and the feelings they evoke in me.
If it’s a little over-sentimental, I was probably inspired by the Scottish election results of last week, which were great news for those of us hoping for the chance to decide our own future via independence.
This is what I wrote:
A is for April with its freshness and chilly hope, when the first green shoots are appearing and it feels as if winter is finally over.
B is for blue, everywhere. From the cerulean of the sky to the inkiest indigo of the lochans; the ultramarine horizon and misty mountain distance. It’s for bogs, bays, beaches and boats but when I paint, I see blue.
C is for fluffy white cotton grass in June, and for the chanterelles, bursting like treasure through the golden fallen leaves.
D is for dusk, when the otters come out to play. It’s for dancing with abandon at a local Highland ceilidh.
E is for eagles, over the summits and hidden glens. And for the eider ducks with their distinctive cooo.
F is for fishing boats bobbing in the harbour, gaily painted, rippled reflections in the sheltered waters. It’s for fiddle, played fast and furious, forcing feet to tap.
G is for gorse, coconut scent wafting on the warm breeze, a blaze of yellow in late spring. They say when the gorse stops flowering it’ll be the end of the world.
H is for heather, a dusty mauve blanket spread across the hillsides. It’s also for Home.
I is for the tiny rocky islets which stud the lochs, and the larger islands like sleeping green giants strewn around the bay.
J is for June, when the precious days are endless and darkness never falls.
K is for the kayak which escorts me around distant headlands of sea stacks and caves, amongst the guillemots and curious seals to where dolphin pods and the occasional whale swim by. It’s for the kelp I paddle through in shallow waters, admiring the jellyfish.
L is for lichen; on rocks in myriad shades and dripping like beards from the ancient woodlands.
M is for moss; bright, springy and soft beneath the birches where anemones and violets push through; on stone walls, branches, roofs and fences, a soft, velvet, vivid green. It’s for the morning mists which hover over placid lochs, mountain shapes in watercolour shades of grey.
N is for Nature, all around us and scarcely tamed in this ancient, living landscape.
O is for smartly-dressed oystercatchers with their shrill ‘peeek’ , bright orange legs scurrying over the stones, bright orange beak as they take flight and whistle past.
P is for the primroses which melt my heart each May, lining the roadsides and carpeting the woods, yellow faces turned hopefully to the early sun. It’s for the clown-like puffins, landing clumsily on cliffs, beaks full of eels.
Q is for Quinag with its five lofty summits and crinkly, wrinkly crags in shades of red as they catch the evening light
R is for our gushing rivers, alive with salmon; it’s the roar of stags in the rut. It’s for rocks (some of the oldest in the world), for rowans and ravens, whose croaks vibrate in the silent glens.
S is for sand. In long swathes and tiny, secluded coves; on machair-covered dunes, or wet with intricate, swirly patterns; in tiny pink crescents at the edges of lochans viewed from on high, or powder-white against the turquoise sea. It’s for the screech of seagulls and for the sea itself, which shapes our lives.
T is for the tide, and the rockpools it leaves behind, full of life and colour; the flocks of busy sandpiper at the water’s edge and cormorants on rocks, drying their wings.
U is for undiscovered: all the beautiful, hidden corners I stumble upon accidentally and those I’ve yet to find; and it’s for the undergrowth I encounter along the way!
V is for Venus and all the stars which pepper our clear, dark skies.
W is for the Wests, the salty winds washing our coastline. It’s for wet and for water of all kinds, never far away; it’s the whitecaps on the stormy seas. It’s for whisky, too, of course – the water of life. But do you mind if I stick to wine?
X is for the kisses I silently bestow on my homeland which nurtures, nourishes and protects me xxx
Y is for the yearning I feel when I’m far away and hear a Gaelic song, or a flash of memory fills my mind with this alphabet of love and belonging.
Z is for zest: the spring in my step as I venture out onto the hill, boots crunching the bog myrtle releasing its heavenly, midge-defying scent mingled with the dark, damp peat; or as I paddle my kayak into the blue at the start of another incredible adventure.