First Things First
2 Days Until Reunion With Marjorie
A week ago today I was having a wonderful day at my friend’s farm in Kienberg, Switzerland. In the evening gathered around the fire of the Kon Tiki with which they produce their own vegetable coal. Toasting to the friends who had brought us the raspberry champagne earlier for my last day and night there.
On the morning of the 6th of September my journey began, via Basel to Edinburgh and by train to Inverness, the next morning via Inverness to the Isle of Lewis. And I was full of excitement, barely able to sit still in my bus seat as the landscape that rushed by started to change. Less and less trees obscured the view, the vastness that makes my soul soar took over. Bens and Glens and Lochs emerged. The closer I got to the harbour of Ullapool, the closer I was to Marjorie.
The ferry ride was a joy- partly because I was able to work on a paid freelance project (which always fills me with gratitude as all is still new for me and getting paid to do something I love still seems a little unreal), partly because I was able to share my love for this island with two Americans that had four days to explore. As most of you know, my love for Aarau often transforms me into a tour guide, showing any visitor that is not familiar with the town around. It was only natural to me then, while mother and daughter where looking up the Callanish Standing Stones, to start up a conversation with them about all my favourites and my top ten places to visit.
Joanna, my host for September, picked me up and because I already knew her from one of my previous stays, conversation flowed easily between us.
First stop: Food for Marjorie. Second stop: Rubber Boots ‘Wellies’ for me. Because it is a necessity, and because I only feel like an invincible and genuine islander with my Wellies on.
And then finally- up on Gallen Head, I saw Sarah and Marjorie sitting, enjoying the view. As soon as I saw her black shape, I could not do anything else than call out to her.
My darling, my partner in crime, my love.
From a distance it seemed as though she was recognising my voice straight away but not trusting herself. Then she jumped up and I was so overwhelmed by longing, I had forgotten to set up my tripod with the camera to film the reunion. As I was getting down onto the concrete street with open arms to my girl, the camera fell over. Let me tell you though: All worth it. Relive flooded me as I realised she had not forgotten me and she was overjoyed to smell me. You will simply here my be delighted in the highest pitch possible, but still I wanted to share this moment with all of you. Since for the following days I gave all the attention, care and love that you wanted me to deliver.
There was this feeling that I associate with soul friends, when it does not matter how much time passes, you simply pick up right where you left off. While I am writing this in the living room of our small caravan home for this next month, she has her head on my thigh, breathing gently and content. During our usual cuddle sessions before getting out of bed and before going to bed (and as often in between as possible), she kept one of her front legs over my thigh and her snoring peacefully at night sounds like home to me. No better feeling on this Earth than this.
I missed her and do not want to ever be apart from her again.
Second things second
My new home for September is on the peninsula Bernera, also on the west side of the Isle of Lewis but more to the north than Aird Uig, which is where I stayed for the last few times on the island. Joanna, my host, used to live in the caravan I am occupying right now. Its state is alright and because it is late summer the temperature does not yet make it too cold to spend a month in it. I got used to living there pretty quickly.
The only thing that slightly bothered me in these first few days was the internet connection. While in the main house, approximately twenty meters from the caravan where I am, the internet router gives you excellent 5G connection, it does not reach to the caravan and my own data roaming with my phone only gives me access to the internet if the wind blows in the right direction (which it does at the moment).
Sometimes that is what you get in remote places. Joanna invited me to come over whenever I feel like it or want to though. Thus, even though it might be a slight change of convenience, being used to work whenever from wherever, I am grateful to her generosity and understanding. Maintaining my online jobs is important.
The new routine is very mellow as well. Taking care of chickens and sheep and horses is only a smart part. Mainly Joanna’s tasks revolve around the evolution of the croft itself: Planting trees, repairing fences, building new fences, building a shed, repairing the dry stone wall bordering her lands. If there will be bad weather days she was totally up for my idea on writing a business plan for her future dream: A retreat for people that have experienced trauma.
Great Bernera is only connected to the rest of the island by one bridge. Little Bernera can only be reached by swimming (not advised for most of the year) or any water vehicle, mainly boat or kayaks. No people live on Little Bernera but according to Joanna it has stunning beaches and is generally beautiful, as all places are that have been preserved in their original state and saved from human interference. So far I have been to Bosta Beach and had a 10 mile walk around the peninsula.
Their community can boast three big communal poly tunnels, a takeaway wooden cabinet on the side of the road where you can buy freshly baked goods, the usual egg boxes on the side of the roads, and a shed fully equipped with groceries. I was pretty surprised about the variety available there, anything from fruits to vegetables to loofas to popcorn or chutney. All with visible, heartfelt care. Flowers by the entrance and an undeniable trust in the people’s honesty to pay for what they take.
There is a very real difference on this island (and probably smaller, remote islands with small communities in general) when it comes to trust and a the feeling of being safe and communal efforts to support each other. And there is a graspable difference of rhythm as well.
The clocks tick different here.
Lastly but in no way anywhere near least
First Days of Work
Tree planting. What a wonderful, rewarding, lasting task. Isn’t it one of the simplest but most wholesome things one can do?
I heard a quote once:
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
For me it is such a wonder. I will plant trees that I most certainly will not see as they grow strong and tall. Those trees will bring joy to people I will also most certainly not witness. For generations to come those trees will shape the landscape, transform it visually and with their seeds maybe also be responsible for offspring that will conjure whole forests.
The tree planting continued the next day with three other volunteers joining in. Sallie, another WWOOF host on Great Bernera, sent reinforcements for the task of planting 40 trees.
The process is quite extensive. Depending on the ground you first loosen up the earth to even get in there with a spade. Then compost soil is mixed with seaweed to give the roots nutrients as well as a headstart on growing deep into the dense earth below. Winter will show which of them will still be there come spring. The notorious huge storms and strong winds, bucket loads of rain falls and sometimes freezing temperatures won’t make their first months out in the open easy. After refilling the hole firmly with the soil previously dug out, you water them generously and then tug them in with some sheep wool to keep the moisture inside the surrounding soil and also prevent weeds from taking over the reign and suffocating the youngsters.
A process so much faster with eight hands.
And glorious when once in a while you look up from your work and realise where you are and the landscape that presents itself to you.
Glory is the word that comes to mind.
Even more when your day closes off with a walk on Bosta Beach and the weather gods gifting you with the rare treat of a cloudless sunny sky. I am talking barefoot ocean dipping, glistening and dancing specs of light on moving watery surfaces and of course a scenery to die for. Oh, and midgets. I won’t include them in the glory. But they are there and so far I have not seen anyone rather staying home than enjoying the beauty outdoors to prevent getting eaten by them.
At least the continuous scratching reminds you days after about the wonder and grace you were able to witness with your own eyes.
No words can describe how much I have missed it. The wind (not the breeze, THE wind), the smells of salty seaweed and waves, of sheep, cow or horse dung, the barking of sheep dogs in the distance, the cry of seagulls, the rushing of strong rivers or gurgling of small streams, the movement of the clouds and their floating shadows on the seemingly endless landscape of hills and mountains and slopes and valleys, the smudging sound of Wellies slowly finding their way through swampy grounds, the infinite journey of waves crashing on the shores of beaches or bays, the satisfied exhale of Marjorie after a day of exploration while smoothly and contently drifting into the realms of her dreams.
As I am writing this I have to smile. I almost did not start on this blog at all. This week’s impressions, transformations, acclimatisations, revelations have been so intense that I felt so tired and uninspired to start writing at all. Now that I reread my words, now that this task has been completed as well, now that one of the weekly to dos is accomplished, I want to thank my dear friend Filipe. He encouraged me to write about the trees because I made this ears bleed talking about how much I loved doing it. And I am very grateful to have someone in my life that challenges me to stay true to myself and honour the promises I made: A blogpost a week.
Of course it is about quality and not quantity.
Sometimes though, you just need a nudge into the right direction and having someone that gladly obliges to do exactly that, means a lot to me.
Thank you, dearest Filipe. And thank all of you out there that have encouraged me throughout my life.
Now, beloved souls.
As always: take good care of yourself and your loved ones, be courageous and kind, be the change you want to see in this world, live freely and love fiercely.
From my heart to yours
All the love in this world