Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Morning Meditation

I awoke early, before anyone else this morning. On the rare occasions this happens, I normally sigh deeply and snuggle back down, but today I felt drawn to the peace and stillness of this Sunday morn.  It was already warm in the sun, but with just that hint of sharpness in the air - the next season waiting in the wings.
I had a leisurely wander around the garden with my camera, trying to capture the late summer feeling - and it is, still summer - for just a little while.
I watched the hens devouring their breakfast - their bright red combs bobbing up and down.  Further along on the lavender hedge, a bumble bee was already hard at work, gathering the winter stores.

 I pass apple and plum trees laden with fruit - ready to be preserved for our own winter storecupboard.

 Garlic is already strung up in bunches to dry, and I stop to pick a tangle of french beans for our Sunday lunch.  The rowan berries are abundant this year - I always mean to make some rowan jelly, but never get around to it.  Maybe this year - surely the birds won't miss a few?
 Our sunflowers are late this year - nonetheless welcome for that.  I love the burnished colour of this one - still making up her mind whether to bloom or not - I think she will.  Purple podded peas hang on the vine, where they will dry and later be shelled into jars for winter use, and I stop by a drift of heady sweet peas and bright cornflowers - still enough for a jug or two yet.

Tomatoes drip off the vines - a daily harvest.  These plum tomatoes are loving this sunny weather and will ripen soon enough - plenty of time.  As I walk back down the path, shy violet peeps out - "I'm here" she whispers.  The herb beds by the conservatory door are bursting with seeds, soon to be saved in paper envelopes for another garden next year.

I sit down on the step, mug of tea in hand and watch the swallows cavorting joyfully in this blue Sunday sky.
They are here, still...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wandering Wednesday

Here I stand, barefoot on the grass, enjoying this warm late summer day.  I have just come out of the greenhouse with a harvest of tomatoes and squash, and paused to admire the hydrangea.  This gorgeous bush is abundant with huge blooms - blue, pink and mauve just now, but Autumn will fade them to old red and finally turn to a parchment-like transparency in Wintertime. I cut fresh flowers now, and use the large leaves on cheese-boards and fruit platters and later I pick faded heads to dry for Christmas wreaths and decorations.

Most of my wanderings today were between garden and kitchen.  We are back on the Mainland for a few weeks, and the garden here is burgeoning with ripe produce. Our hunger today was satisfied from this very soil.
Lunch was a quick courgette (zucchini) bruschetta. We haven't had quite the glut of courgettes we have in the past - but enough to keep us going.  This is a favourite recipe which I usually serve on pasta, but it is equally nice on a thick slice of country bread.
Slowly slowly sizzle the courgettes (sprinkled with a little salt) and chopped cloves of garlic to taste in a glug of olive oil, until they soften and start to break up and look more oily than watery. Pour off excess oil (keep it to use another time if there is enough)
Throw in some parmesan and a splash of cream.  Serve on warm  soft buttered toast, or you could toast it in the oven sprinkled with olive oil.
Grab a piece for yourself first, because hungry boys and husbands soon polish it off.

Later in the afternoon, I wandered down to the plot, basket on arm, to see what was suggested for our evening meal.  There has been a terrific crop of garlic - large bulbs of rosy pink juicy cloves.  Many of the lettuce we had planted here has either gone to seed, or is very expectant looking.  I pulled a couple of Cos heads that looked as if they were headed for the sky.  But what to do with an overblown lettuce?  Lettuce soup of course - with peas - yes!  We have a great crop of peas too - quite the best I have grown.  They are a rare heritage variety called Champion of England.  Despite the name, I am thrilled with them.  Can one be thrilled with a pea? Why not - they are sweet and perfect and the pods are mostly full of shiny regular green pearls.  They are very tall, however, and they did pull the netting over as they grew, so stronger supports next time. Back up to the kitchen.

Lettuce and pea soup
Sweat an onion (or any allium really - shallots, leeks, scallions) and garlic cloves to taste in olive oil until soft and transparent.
Add 8 oz (ish) of shredded lettuce and as many peas as you like (frozen would be fine too).  When the lettuce has wilted, add your stock of choice ( veg, marigold, or chicken)
Bring to the boil for a minute or two and then blend.
Add cream if you feel so inclined and serve with croutons.  I used the left over courgettey/garlicy oil from lunch to toast the croutons with.
This is the last week Gardenmama is hosting Wandering Wednesday.  I have so enjoyed taking part in this photo challenge.  I never knew where my wanderings would take me, even as I posted the photograph.  It has been a moving meditation.  Where will you go this week?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Island garden

A close up of my favourite lettuce 'Freckles' - one of the few things we have planted in our new garden.  There is quite a lot of space, but so different from our garden on the mainland.  All the ground is at the front and to one side of the plot - facing south west - which is good for the sun, but not for the full frontal south-westerly gales we have been assured we will see in the winter.

And a lack of workable soil (hence the bag of compost in the picture), means we are having to start small.  Our predecessor was an elderly bachelor who didn't have a lot of time for kitchen or ornamental gardening, and according to one of his nephews (although everyone we meet seems to be his niece or nephew) he used to bulk out his meagre soil with chipped glass from old  car windscreens.  We had already discovered this.  Anyway - we have begun, and some salads and herbs are already growing away, as well as some very late planted leek seedlings.  This will be a very large sheltered and hopefully productive bed once it has been cleared.

Down at the bottom of the garden, we have some willow and a crab apple which seem to be doing a sterling job keeping the worst of the wind at bay.  I have a feeling that finding the ultimate windbreak will be the dominant feature of our gardening and crofting lives here. 

We have already added to the shelter belt -  three different types of escallonia, which we have been assured will be as high as the fence within 2 years, and a couple of hydrangea, just because they are my favourite flowers.  There are a few really good garden centres and nurseries on the island, and it seems sensible to use plants which have been raised here.  There is also plenty of rope to be gleaned  freely from the beaches, so we can tie the plants down securely.

A couple of views up and down the drive.  There is already a fair amount of shelter in the form of self-coppiced willow, and the ubiquitous monbretia, which almost carpets the island.  We have already planted a couple of rowans (mountain ash) and copper beech, which are lost in there somewhere.  We hope to have a woodland area around the far edge of the plot, and maintain a meadow area with paths mown through.

Somewhere too there are blackcurrants and gooseberries in there, so they will be rescued, and the compost bin is already well established.   It is a work in progress, as all gardens are.  And  we have 2.5 acres of croftland  to work too!
All in good time - I will post pictures of that project soon.  In the meantime, we are back down on the Mainland for about a month to see Kenneth safely moved into his first flat (apartment), celebrate Kristine's 21st, visit Mum, who is failing quite a bit, and catch up with everyone and everything else, including the garden here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Beach Art

We are holding on to Summer as tightly as we can.  Every day gifts different wonders for us, here on our beach.  Today we were in an artful mode, as we played with our seaside treasures. Water, weed, sand and stones - just right for all sorts of sensory creations.

Inspired by Friday's Nature Table at The Magic Onions.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wandering Wednesday

Here I stand, again on the beach, with my husband and younger son. Our feet glow in a stream of water, turned to amber by the peat it has flowed through on its way to the sea.

This stream is a transient one - here one day and gone the next, sculpted by the Atlantic breakers that sweep into this bay, heaping sand and stones into ever-changing patterns.

The stream flows down from the hills and carves out its path anew with every tide.  Today it is wide and meandering, with deep pools of warm golden water.

We too change the shape and flow of this stream  - playing in and around the banks.  A little push here, a scoop of sand there, a run and jump there. 

With our every move around this fragile fluid world, we alter it in some way, and the repercussions can be seen further down - the water flows differently, or a sand ledge appears.  I think of that quote which reminds us to "take only memories, leave only footprints" In our wanderings, let us take care that our footprints are light.
Many thanks to Nicole from Gardenmama, who hosts Wandering Wednesday on her beautiful blog.  Join her and other wandering women from around the world, all with the gentlest of footsteps.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Delightful transports.

I was going to say that we went to a classic car rally today, but actually it was billed as the Western Isles Transport Group show. There were a few tractors and motorbikes, but it was mostly cars.  James is very interested in transport, he happily plays at 'garages' every day and we read a lot about cars and trucks.  So, seeing this as a sort of field trip on the subject, we headed off. 
We have a friend back down in the Central belt who refers to Lewis as The Isle of Rust!  Not a lot of rust in evidence here, I have to say.  Lots of shiny, shiny metal glinting in the sun. 
Ford had a big presence on the field, with this gorgeous turquoise Popular and lots of Escort Mexico's.

  Nice Hillman Humber.

James and his dad studying the inner workings of a Triumph Stag.
 A couple of immaculate Morris(es) or should that be Morrisii?

And a Vauxhaull Cresta!  I had forgotten all about them, but now I recall that our next door neighbour had one.  OK, I know I am sounding a bit anoraky here, but it was a very pleasant afternoon of nostalgia.  All around us were cries of  "Oh- my Dad had one of those!"  "Look - I've not seen one of those for years!" 

Like this old Bedford van, which was a former workers' minibus.  Mind you, there were some cars which I didn't think were actually vintage - that snappy red Escort GTI, or the Capri, for instance - surely some mistake!

 So, after all that, we couldn't wait to get home to have a go on our own latest form of transportation.

 James thinks it is a very sleek machine.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wandering Wednesday

Here I stand, my feet placed firmly on rock that is estimated to be 3 billion years old.  It is a shelf of Lewisian Gneiss, that is the bedrock of this land.  I am wearing my hiking boots, because I know that soon I will be scrambling around on rocks of a similar age with my 3 year old son.  I have stopped here, as it is my favourite spot to take a photograph of the Callanish Stones.
This stone circle has been standing in this place for at least 5,000 years - pre-dating Stonehenge and the Pyramids.  It gives me a great sense of comfort and security standing here and imagining the vast community of people whose feet have trod this same rock over that time.  I feel grounded, certainly and able to see any worries or troubles from a much bigger perspective.
I look towards the South and see The Sleeping Beauty mountain over in Harris.  Once every 18 years, or so, there is a Lunar standstill, when the Moon comes very close to the Earth.  When this phenomenon is viewed from the stones, it appears as if the mountain is actually giving birth to the Moon.  I imagine crowds of people gathered all those millenia ago watching this miracle, just as they do today.  The next time this will happen will be around the year 2025/6

Looking West over the bay, I notice the contours of ancient lazybeds, or runrigs - a common method of land cultivation used for centuries in this area, before sheep farming became the default use for the land. As we begin our own growing venture here, it is heartening to see these traces of a once productive countryside.

The Stones have seen so much, yet stand, welcoming, without judging or condemning, all those feet who wander to theirs.  A consummate example of being in the present.
Where will your feet wander today?  Visit GardenMama's beautiful space and take part in Wandering Wednesday  - you may be surprised where you find yourself.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Show.

We have had a really busy week,and i have been flopping into bed at absurdly early hours, trying to keep pace with this hectic lifestyle we seem to be leading (who said the pace of life here was slow?).  We did have our day out at the Carloway Show on Wednesday and really enjoyed ourselves, despite the lack of sunshine and rosettes.  Still, the Lewis folk really know how to turn on the style despite the rain - how cool are these wellies?

There were plenty of sheep to be admired.  

The sheep shearing competition was a pretty fierce event.  They make it look so easy, don't they?

Not sure what this chap thinks about it though.

The home industries section was another hotly contested area.  I was pleasantly surprised by the number of teenagers taking part in this - especially the cake making.  By the time i got close enough to take this picture, though, some of the entries had already gone home.

I was very interested in seeing the vegetable section, however.  Many people imagine that Lewis is a barren treeless peat bog of an island.  It most definitely is not.  The table was covered in various baskets of the most wonderful produce - a lot of it grown outside too.  No excuses for me then.

The winning fruit basket was just sublime.  We visited this man's amazing garden today, as he is quite nearby, and he was incredibly  helpful with his advice on growing conditions here.  It was a really useful visit, but I think it may be a few years before he needs to worry about any competition from here :)  Mind you, I didn't get round to entering my lettuces, and, although I say it myself, I might have had a wee chance.
Faint heart, though...

And finally - the heavy events.  Here is the eventual champion of the day (Ranald Fraser) as he prepares to toss the caber (the a sound as in apple).  The caber is an 18 foot tree trunk , which weighs up to 175pounds.  The competitor has to hold the caber upright, by the thin end, and throw it so that it lands on its heavy end and flips over.  Distance is not the object here; the caber must fall directly in front of the thrower - at 12 o'clock if you like.

Looks good to me.

And here he is again, throwing the 28lb weight over the high bar.

Great stuff!  And a great day out. We even met quite a few people we knew, which gave it more of a community feel for us.
It seems so long ago since my last melancholic post, and yet I can't believe how quickly the time is going past. Another busy week is ahead already and a few days of summer have been promised. Life goes on. x

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Home Making

 It has been two months since we came here.  Alan, the painter is almost finished - just a few bits and pieces totidy up.  The carpets are being fitted on Tuesday,and my sewing machine is ready for the fabric I will purchase tomorrow.  We spent the day putting up new light shades, washing down woodwork and hanging our familiar clothes onto new wooden hangers.  I washed new towels and bed sheets - placing them with lavender sachets into the linen cupboard.  I've never had a linen cupboard before!  Only blanket boxes or top shelves of wardrobes. I enjoy saying "It's in the linen cupboard"  such a fine phrase.  We are determined to be mindful about how we live here, and that includes the things we surround ourselves with.  I have read Sacred Space, Living a beautiful life and Timeless Beauty, still subscribe to Country Living and I am an avid reader of many beautiful and mindful blogs.  And still feels so ... what?  False?  Forced?  Artificial? Our initial euphoria of finding this place and the momentous decision to move has abated now as we get down to the business of living here. Something is missing - ok, carpets, curtains, furniture are missing, but as I plan the rooms, place candles, vases and wooden bowls, I gaze out of the windows at the stunning views all around and I feel as if i am going through the motions- I am not present. It feels - indifferent, somehow.  I had imagined that living the dream - and it has been a long held dream, would be constant joy and delight. I would be finally Home. But now, I wonder when a place to live becomes -  a home.

My Sister phones from Canada.  She remarks on the clarity of the line.  I say that it is because we are much closer to her now.  She laughs and asks what the  shopping is like, then "Do you like living there?"  I reply in the affirmative.  I wonder if she believes me - I wonder if I do.

We go for a walk earlier than usual.  There are a lot of people at the stones today.  A large group of Spanish/American tourists are on top of the rocks, taking pictures, while a private tour guide is pointing various things out to a Japanese family.  A young French couple take photographs of each other leaning against the stones and someone has placed a bunch of wildflowers wrapped in Christmas paper in the cairn at the centre of the circle. I watch James running around, as usual, trying to hide behind a stone, his bright blue jacket and golden hair making his hiding place fairly obvious.  "Count to fourteen and then come and find me!" he shouts.

We climb up to sit on the rocks and observe the people moving around - Big Daddy Sheep is grazing beside us - not even pausing to look up, such is his enjoyment of the summer grass.  We sit for a while, as James searches, unsuccessfully  for baby rabbits.  A large boat is anchored in the bay and we watch as a smaller craft detaches and heads for the shore. Another group of young people head up the hill and we see them stop and take in their first view of the monument.  I love to see people enjoying this space. A tiny something inside shifts, imperceptibly  and I begin to feel a bit better. I want to tell everyone - "I live here!"  Instead I remember that dinner is cooking in the oven and I am hungry. As I set the table on our return, I root around in some of the unopened boxes and find the new cutlery I had bought for this house. Yes, it is time to start living in the present.

We were recently back down at the old house for a week, catching up on various bits of business and loading the truck with more things for the return journey.  While we were there, Kenneth and his girlfriend took a trip up to see the house and explore the Island.  Our paths crossed briefly on our return as we disembarked the ferry just as they were boarding.  A quick hug in the terminal building waiting room and they were off.  He looked so grown up, confident, his own man. and I felt that pang of loss that happens when you realise your child is no longer yours alone.  Back at the house I could sense his presence and felt a huge emptiness, which gave way to tears. I missed him - really missed him, and wanted to be home.

Connection - that's what is missing. We have removed ourselves from hundreds of year of family - of instinctive knowing of a place and people. Recognising the faces - knowing the stories, being part of another's history - this place holds none of that. The home I was pining for is no longer there. It exists in my mind - a recollection of different times, different scenarios  different people - the pain of nostalgia.  Home is made from memories, conversations, meals, joys, sorrows - all those things-  not waxed wood floors and vintage pillowslips.  I know Kenneth and Louise will be back here - as will our daughters. James will grow up here and his all his childhood memories will be of Lewis.  My grandchildren will come on extended holidays, friends and neighbours will drop by.  Home Making is a slow business - it takes time and energy and love, but like the fabric on tomorrow's shopping list, we will weave ourselves - thread by thread into the warp and weft of this place.


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