Sunday, 24 October 2010
Walking the Land, Walking the Sea
Yesterday was a magic day that rose up out of the ocean. I walked along the coast in the wind and golden October sunlight while gulls and crows and little specks of birds swam through the air like schools of fish, far above me and the sea cliffs. Two small towns sat almost on the waves. I'm told the ocean stands up and crashes over the houses in the winter, they sit so close to the sea. Behind the houses, great cliffs press in, the immovable giants that have forced the placement of the houses to be so precarious.
Every turn of the coast was precious. At each step I found the bones of poetry scattered about. The words that relate to the sea are my favourites: whelks, limpets, creels, anemones, flotsam, coral, cockles.
I picked round white stones from between the fingers of the tide, jumping back from the bigger waves. I scrambled over rocks, stepped over heaps of seaweed.
I came to this place with a group of landscape painters; we had all rented a studio together for the day. The studio was halfway up a hill with windows that watched out over the whole of Gamrie Bay. On cold days like yesterday one can sit up inside the studio and paint the reds and greens of the headlands, the white-capped ocean, the black rocks, or the grey stone roofs below. My short morning walk lasted most of the day though, and so I only spent a couple of hours inside with the artists.
First I went to the harbour.
I decided to set off to a second village down the coast, a single string of houses with a path in front of them, narrow enough that waves could leap up to it and lick you as you passed through the town.
When I had rounded a promontory and come across the town (which was really not a far walk, just that I was always stopping to look and look) I sat down and sketched a wee sketch in the cold air until my hands turned icy and I decided to keep on.
In the village everything smelled of sea air and coal fires. Little lines with drying laundry sat in front of each house.
And then I turned back.
As I made my way towards the studio again, I discovered that the tide had risen and that my path home was becoming the sea floor.
There was still time, when the waves receded, to pass. Just.
Distances are relative on the coast. A town may sit in close view, in easy reach with a little walking, but then in the seaweed just nearby something moves and time and distance twist a little, and then the town is very far away indeed. It might take another hour to reach the town.
Do you see them hunting their lunch in this tangle of seaweed? Running across the beach in the ebb and flow pattern of the sea, like leaves in a wind, leaping out the way when a big wave surprises them.
And then it was back into the studio, to drink tea and look out of windows admiring the view, cheeks rosy from the cold wind, head full of dreams and wondering, thankful.
Just before we left to return home, a patch of mist appeared on the sea. Then a rainbow, and then two. Proof of a perfect day written out across the sky. And then it was gone in a downpour that fogged up all the windows, and we were winding up and up, away and home.