Sunday, October 31, 2010

Touching the veil

Samhain has assumed a special significance for me this year, having spent the last few weeks in the company of Death as I sat with my Mother. I talked to her often about those who had gone on ahead, and who would be waiting to greet her.  Whether she could hear or understand me at the time,  I don't know, but I found it deeply comforting to think of the ancestors being there for her.
John O'Donohue writes in his beautiful book, Anam Cara, that as someone approaches death, the veil between the worlds becomes transparent and may even lift, as those spirtiside await their loved one. We felt this thinning in several ways. My daughter and son both had dreams of their Gran looking happy and relaxed in a place of light.  The night after she died, my husband dreamt he was in a high, white airy room looking at the negative image of a candle flame, through which my Mother had apparently passed, and the same night, my uncle, who is almost 80, dreamt he was in his Grandmother's house with my Mother.  

For twenty or so years, my cousin and I have been, separately researching our family tree, pooling our findings when we can.  It is the kind of hobby that is all consuming for a while, but then becomes ignored for several years, until something sparks it off again.  I have been stuck for a long time now, trying to trace details of my maternal great great grandfather, who was born around 1835.  He was a bit of a character, it seems, and changed his forename from Patrick to Peter when he joined the army - living in Presbyterian Edinburgh at that time no doubt made having a Catholic sounding name a bit of a handicap.  Anyway, I feel eyes glazing over here, so I will attempt to be brief.  I came across him on the 1861 Edinburgh census, where he gave his place of birth as St Andrews. I excitedly and diligently spend a whole day at Register House, searching for him in the previous census and old parish records of St Andrews to no avail. Then I found him on the 1871 Leith census where he claimed Edinburgh as his birthplace. Was this a fabrication also?  I never found out until - my cousin came to visit my mother last week.  As we sat, chatting by her bedside, he mentioned his discovery that our great grandfather (son of Patrick/Peter) had been born in Cannonball House . Leading on from this very interesting finding, I sought his opinion on Peter's two birthplaces - why would he say St Andrews and then Edinburgh?  Ah! said my cousin - it wont be St Andrews in Fife - it will be St Andrew's parish in Edinburgh!  And, of course, he was right, but I rather think Patrick/Peter was nearby and decided to provide a bit of inspiration.
Anyway,I proceeded to spend the next two nights on the wonderful Scotland's People website, where for £6 you can obtain 30 search credits and before you know it you have frittered away £18, but you are on a roll and just one more £6 and you will fill that gap on the third branch.  I found many chinks in the various brick walls I had run up against several years before, and many gaps were filled. What a lovely feeling it was as each one revealed themselves to me. I really felt I was touching my ancestors through the veil - true magick.

And so we find ourselves again at the end of a year.  A time to look back at what we have created, how out plans made last year have worked out - let go those things we no longer need.  Time also to look forward, to plan anew, to make divinations, and draw ourselves in for a time.  The spiral never ends.
All being well, my next post will be from Lewis -  a land where the month of November is called  Samhain in the native language.  Blessings to you all.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


I have been so comforted by the heartfelt messages I have had here in this space, and been so moved by your comments and emails, cards and gifts.  My Mother's funeral service took place on Thursday.  It was a sad and happy occasion.  Her suntanned, smiling face looked out from the service sheet - a photograph from a long ago holiday, and we sang two of her favourite hymns (Morning has Broken and Be Thou my Vision).  James and Finlay crawled about  under the seats, playing with some toys they had brought, and when the Minister asked us to please be seated, Finlay loudly inquired why he was still standing up!  
My daughter, Kristine, had written a poem for her Gran the previous night, and she managed, through tears at first, to read it to the church.  My husband remarked later that he felt like jumping up and cheering at the end!
A lot of people came and later shared their memories of Mum with us over a cup of tea.  There were many bursts of laughter from various groups as they recalled incidents from the past.    I think that she would have enjoyed herself and my Dad was happy with the day.
So, life is going on here still - a bit slower than before, as we gather ourselves.  Looking through photographs and mementos. Cherishing our memories, but also holding on to what we have right here, right now. Carefree boys playing at our feet - having such fun.  My son-in-law arriving for dinner, still wearing his pirate costume from the Halloween celebrations at the school where he teaches.
 Picking the last of our apple and pear harvest - ready to go into our fresh juices over the next week.  Learning to knit socks and excitedly telling my husband that I have just turned a heel!  Planning and preparing for our first year of crofting - talking oats and barley at the moment.

We will be heading back to Lewis, hopefully on Monday, where another small progression will be made  towards the fulfillment of our dreams.  At least the furniture will have arrived and we will have somewhere to sit and discuss our plans.  We will be back here at the end of November until the middle of January, keeping Christmas with the family and getting this house ready for the market. So, plenty to keep us occupied and no doubt much will find its way onto the blog.
Blessings and love to you all. xx

Friday, October 22, 2010

Journey's end

My Mother, Helen, died very peacefully this morning at 6 o'clock.  She spent her last night with my Dad - her beloved of 51 years.  We are so sad at losing her, but glad she is now at rest and that we had time to  honour her and say our goodbyes properly.
I would like to thank everyone for their messages of support - each word meant such a lot to me,.  Blessings to you all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The pause between.

Many of you know that my Mother has been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for several years.  At the beginning of the year her condition deteriorated enough to require 24 hour nursing care, and she was admitted to hospital, later transferred to a nearby nursing home.  over the last two or three months she has steadily slipped further away, and now she is almost at the end of her earthly journey. We have now returned to the mainland, summoned by the phone call we dreaded, to be with her in her last days.
Plans have been put on hold for now.  The trip to Wales for our nephew's wedding this coming weekend has been cancelled, as has the subsequent visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology.  New outfits and shoes will remain in the wardrobe, and crofting is a world away.
And so we wait in that pause between breaths, the calm space between the waves.  Relieved that her struggle of the last years are almost over for her, but sad that we will no longer have her presence.  We sit round her bed, chatting, playing her favourite music and reminiscing, hoping that somehow she can hear us.  We bring sweet smelling oils to soothe her,  James and Finlay play on the floor beside her bed and we wait and watch.  For so long we have rehearsed this, but now, as we approach the stage, it is different - it is real - it is not someone else - it is our Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Wife, Sister, Mother-in law, friend - still here with us,  but waiting on that shore xx

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Family fun

We enjoyed having our family come to stay with us last week.  First visitors to the Island were daughter Karen, son-in-law Daniel and Grandson Finlay.  We were blessed with the most amazing weather and had a truly magical time.  Karen and Daniel loved the island, and Finlay loved playing with his Uncle James. Suffice to say, we spent most of our time on the beach.

And if we are not at the beach, we are at the Stones.  A wee bit colder there - hats had to be borrowed for those not used to the breeze, but the sparkling morning made up for it..  Then it was back to the beach where we were entertained by the surfers.

Then, midweek, they went back home on the 2 o'clock ferry.  Waiting in the queue at the other side were our next visitors - my dad and my sister.  My sister, Susan, is home from Canada to spend a few weeks with our Mum, so we were glad they were able to take a couple of days to visit our new home.  Still nice enough for beach and stone outings - will we ever tire of them?  It has been so good to show our loved ones the things that brought us here, and to share in their appreciation. 
And now it's back to thoughts of crofting. We have an appointment in  couple of weeks with a very helpful chap from the Scottish Agricultural College in Stornoway, who will help us with our crofting plan and all the red tape that is involved - not quite what we went into this for, but there is no getting away from it it seems. It will be good to have some objective opinions, and it will make us clarify some goals.  At the moment they are very  vague - keeping a few sheep and growing vegetables  does begin to sound a bit lame and we need to actually make a start.  We have been advised, by the Clerk of the Common Grazings Committee that our 'souming' , based on the size of our croft, is 8 sheep and 1 cow.  hat means we are allowed to keep that number of livestock on the common grazing land.  There is room for more, apparently, as many crofters don't actually use their allowance, but I think that will be more than enough for us to be going on with right now!
The picture above is the front view of the barn that I omitted in a previous post - can you see it with a turf roof and red doors?  I can...

Thursday, October 14, 2010


We are still here - busy with lots of family visitors.  It is so good to welcome them and show them around this beautiful place. A spell of wonderful weather has resulted in many magical days at places like this. Normal  blogging will resume after the weekend, so leaving you with this image from Uig Sands on Monday. Keep a thought in your heart for Linda Norgrove, who grew up running around this beach - such beauty now holding a bittersweet edge.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Autumn in a treeless landscape.

When we were planning our move here, I read as much as I could on the history and landscape of these islands.  Many descriptions focused on the lack of trees, giving various reasons for this, such as climate change, or the Viking raiders setting fire to the forests.  Some writers claimed there is no real Autumn here - just a gradual fading of colour into darkness - as if Autumn was dependant on the presence of trees.  Well, being here, I can say that the colours of this season are beautiful- deep and rich and golden.  Without the trees, you see the Earth and she is a wonderful sight in her Autumnal robe.
The land truly glows beneath our feet.

 making us look closer

and we see other signs of Autumn - ones we might otherwise miss - like the intricate embroidery that makes up the pattern of this glorious season.  

 Click here to visit others seated around the nature table.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back to the Land

So, we are back here in this wonderful land.  Severe weather and my succumbing to a short lived virus has meant our first few days have been fairly quiet.  Just what was needed though, as the busyness of the last couple of weeks has begun to be replaced with a feeling of calm and serenity.  As the days have progressed, so the strong winds outside have eased and we have slowly stirred from our nest to explore our new world again.  First stop as always has to be the Stones.

James has enjoyed trying out his baking skills in his new kitchen - very delicious cinnamon, date and cranberry scones they were too.

And, of course, Robbie, the dog is with us this time.  Getting over his infection - the good fresh air will see to that. James is delighted to be able to show his old friend  his favourite sights.

Oh, and we have joined the Library - imagine having to walk that far though!

Finally, down to the Croft.  We have a fair number of tumble down buildings on the land. Among other things there is an old lambing shed, a workshop and what was known as the Tup's house (a tup is a ram), but we think it will be rebuilt as a hen coop.  Most exciting of all, is the barn.  This was the original croft house - a tradtional but and ben - where the family lived in a room at one end, and the animals were housed at the other.  Somehow I forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building,  but the bottom row is just a few snaps from inside.  Quite a few old tools have been left for us.  Am I the only person who would get so excited at the sight of a bunch of old pitchforks and hay rakes?  What about that huge ditching spade - isn't it wonderful?  There are boxes and shelves full of treasures waiting to be discovered over the next few weeks and months.  I am also thrilled by this fireplace - there are bars through the chimney, to smoke hams from and a chain hanging down for pots to boil over the peat fire.  My mind is whirling with the possibilities for this old place.
I am so glad to be here again.
Thank you all so much for your good wishes - and for sharing the journey with us.


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