It was a summer afternoon in Wester Ross. Two moments: one near, on tide-swept sands, with glorious and gloriously blue amalgams of sky and water; the other far, on a distant shore, a vista of sweeping rain and a gang of clouds marauding the hills. Near abouts: a meeting of warm land and cool sea over a deserted beach. There were midges of course, but on that day a lithe breeze kept them at bay. As she was discovering the chaotic delights of the disused Fishing Station, I was Charles Darwin standing on a deserted shore looking across to Tierra del Fuego. Not a sign of a dwelling, a boat, or even a person on the coastal footpath. A vast panorama spread beyond the edges of my unturning vision. Out on the grey blue water, I became Captain Vancouver sailing up the Inner Channel exploring and mapping every indent, nook and cranny of the double coast. Suddenly, five indians in their log canoe appeared paddling around the point, navigating by the feel of depth and the thrum of the current inches under their bare feet and bottoms.
This place, the larger vicinity, the region driven through, on and onwards, into and out towards landscapes vaster than anything I’d previously known in this small island; it had already staked its claim on my consciousness. I was transfixed. On my own, decent progress during a walk was almost impossible. I would stop every few moments aware that something new and different was going on. To miss anything seemed an affront to the sublime. I would walk early in the morning whilst she lay peacefully in bed, her arms stretched out on the blue-striped cover, her hands and fingers gently curved, at rest. This morning time was alive with a colourscape of silences, different shades of low-level noise. There is no camera able to catch the play of real all-surrounding images with those extensions of fantasy the imagination blends and stirs. No microphone can be sensitive enough to the surround sound in air and landscape, the faint breath of the sea, and the incessant conversation and playback of her tender evening voice in my thoughts. Here the past was invading the present, speculating on the future, our future.
I ventured inside the hut at the Fishing Station. Curious to see what she was up to. She was arranging, like children do, her found objects. Along the few shelves fixed to the corrugated iron walls her quiet hands placed and replaced, shifted and turned; then, the click of the camera, again click, adjust the focus, click. Ropes lay at her feet snake-like, hemp and nylon, that urgent orange, that too smooth blue, mounds of old fishing gear mostly unidentifiable, not an idea where the floor might be found, so completely covered. If there had been a door it was no more; just a gap in the wall, seaward.
These objects she arranged: screws, bolts, nails, strange keys, boltless nuts and nutless bolts, small bottles, a can or two. Everything hand-size, tarnished, rusted, some oiled, stained oil-black. I felt an intruder witnessing her preparations for a secret game, a ceremony of recording and removal. A kindly ‘do not disturb’ sign hung about her face; a blankness, a dream-like visage of the initiated, as though she held some premonition of this material’s importance, a treasure found in a shack of a shed, a ‘find’ she would collectively decode. Already this visit took on the character of a preliminary investigation. She began wrapping and tying some of the more unusual items in cloth, making mummies that in a few days she would return to and unwrap to find their imprint and press marked on the cloth.
We lost time in this place. Only the incoming tide was a clue to how the afternoon had advanced. The beach, at whose far end the station had been built, held a gentle new moon’s curve. The water’s encroachment of the beach became mesmeric; it was difficult to leave the looking until its tide journey had been completed. But we did, and wandering through the dune meadows, between the diffident cattle, past the remote farm at the end of the track, gate after gate, then the proper road, the twice a day post box, two houses set well back from the road, a woman leading a boy on a horse, up a rise, a lay-by with a camper van, walking backwards to keep the view to the red sand beach in our sights as the afternoon light began to turn from gold into auburn, then with fingers threaded into fingers down to the wooden cottage. And there, later, after love’s welcome and its celebration, stillness.