Last gasp of winter

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I cannot sleep. I’m not sure why. Ordinarily I don’t have this problem. I’ve slept through neighbouring houses being struck by lightning (Black Isle, 2000), a marching pipe band rehearsing outside my window (Aberdeen, 2003), waves crashing against the front door (Black Isle, 2005 + Islay, 2012), 90mph winds against my window (Uist, 2014) and the countless, endless noises that come with years of city-living. But at the moment not even the relative silence of suburbia I find myself in can help me sleep.

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This morning I stood awake at 4am, alone, quietly watching the weather outside. I felt like some auld fisherwoman, waiting for her man to return from the high seas. Despite it being the middle of the night, in Scotland, in February, it was quite bright. We are experiencing a late winter burst of weather complete with snow. The snow clouds working hard above us have an almost luminous effect; I find it irresistible.

Later, at an hour most would regard as a bit more human, I went out for a walk with my partner. It was real daytime, not the middle of the night, but that strange snow-light remained, bathing us in the gloom, surrounding us with drifting snow showers.

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I appreciate that unpredictable weather must be a hindrance to so many people, but I adore it. I take little more pleasure than wrapping up for a walk and facing the weather head-on. At those times I feel less like an auld fisherwoman and more like an intrepid explorer. Perhaps I will sleep tonight, cocooned safely from the great white outdoors.

According to Dwelly, February was once, somewhere, referred to as am mìos garbh-fhrasachthe month abounding in boisterous showers. It seems fitting to think of it as such today.

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Birds in the garden

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Sparrows, sparrows everywhere. Once a wren and a few times a robin. More starlings than I can count and enough wood pigeon to bend the feeder out of shape.

Having a garden is a joy – even more so than I had anticipated moving into a ‘proper’ house. It is north facing and as such this time of year it is largely just soggy grass but none the less the birds are there and happily going about their business. No thanks for the humans and their food supplies, but none are needed.

In our previous residence, a flat up in skies, we saw birds living in the tops of the trees immediately outside the living room and kitchen windows. It in itself was a pleasure but having no means to support them meant weeks could go by without seeing a single flutter and the nest in the tree alarmingly quiet of young. Not so now with feeder and dishes of various treats and temptations out for the birds. So far none of the blue tits, chaffinches or wagtails I’ve seen elsewhere around here, but there is hope for that yet in 2018.

Sparrow photo © Jose B. Ruiz / naturepl.com

Eun
– bird
ee-an

Eòin – birds
Yaw-yn

Gealbhonn – sparrow
gyall-uh-vun.   Gaelic has an abundance of words where vowel sounds between consonants are pronounced but not written (svarabhakti vowels, for those wondering). That uh between the l and bh in Gealbhonn is such an example.

Druid – starling
droo-tch
Dreathan donn – wren
dreh-han down

Have a listen to this love song from Tobar an Dualchais wherein a woman falls asleep on Ben Cruachan, dreams of a sparrow (and a cuckoo) and her old flame. It’s called Dh’Èirich Mise, Rinn Mi Gluasad and was recorded in 1952. I’m quite fond of it.

Thanks to Arkive and respective photographers for use of photos.

Wren photo © Jim Zipp / www.ardea.com

Yarns on Iona

I’m staring out the window of the study at the moment, watching the rain pool on the shed roof and the garden birds trying to figure out what this deluge is after weeks upon weeks of dry weather. I don’t mind the rain at all, but it does always put me in mind of whatever particularly nice recent weather we’ve had. Such was the case the week before last, when I spent an afternoon walking in Erraid and Iona whilst on holiday in Mull.

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I’ve been to Iona plenty of times before but had never before been to Erraid, a small tidal island most famous for being featured in Kidnapped. The walk was a great opportunity to stretch our legs, take in views we hadn’t seen before and get thoroughly burnt by the sun – the forecast was for a dreich day and we were shamefully caught out.

The afternoon was spent in Iona, which for me was a thinly-veiled excuse to spend some birthday money on Iona Wool. I’d seen their products at Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March and decided there and then and a garment in their yarn was in my future. I enjoy being able to support small enterprises, even more so when the staff are as friendly and helpful as they were to me. Not realising that there were cones available of my preferred yarns, I marched up to the till arms full of balls of yarn but the shop assistant stopped me and instead helped me find cones as “they are better value”. Much searching for the cones ensued, resulting in one very happy customer and some lovely conversations with another staff member. I admire any small business which is willing to forgo some profit for themselves in order to please a customer; I suppose it simply comes down to good customer service

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I’m going to be making The Oa hoody from the Inspired by Islay book with my yarns. The colours remind me of a lovely day, admiring beautiful blue seas and Ross of Mull granite stone topped with my favourite lichens grey and yellow lichens. The rain is still pouring outside so maybe this is just the perfect time to cast on.

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Ainmean-Àite / Place-names

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Almost every corner of Scotland has got some evidence of Gaelic in its place-names. Sometimes this is really obvious, other times it’s somewhat more obscure. The Gàidhealtachd – the traditionally Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland – is, as you would expect, rich in Gaelic place-names . These often carry stories and speak of the history of the place, though sometimes their meaning or origin has been lost. Understanding, researching and dissecting them is an ongoing artform and a point of interest for both lay audiences and academics for a long, long time.

For a number of years now an organisation called Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (AÀA; Gaelic Place-Names of Scotland) have been researching these, and working with Scottish Natural Heritage to produce bilingual booklets disseminating place-names of particular locales. Their latest release is Gaelic in the Landscape: Place-names of Colonsay and Oronsay. Previous editions have focused on Islay and Jura, the North-West Highlands, Strath (Isle of Skye), the Rough Bounds of Lochaber and Gaelic + Norse in the landscape. Each of these publications is beautifully illustrated and – crucially – free to download. I’m really looking forward to delving into the Colonsay and Oronsay booklet, not least to remind me of lovely trips there a few years back.

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As well as being really interesting to both researchers and the general audience alike, publications such as these, and the work of AÀA, are crucial to increasing awareness of Gaelic. They are accessible, informed and easy to digest, and provide an important route to understanding how our surroundings and language have shaped each other.

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Some Colonsay and Oronsay names which have jumped out at me:

Sruthan na h-Ulaidhe – the stream of the treasure

Uragaig – bay with rock-strewn beach (Norse in origin)

Uinneag Eircheil – Hercules’ window

You can find all the booklets on the SNH website here. The AÀA database is ever-increasing in entries and worth spending a few minutes exploring. Siuthadabh – enjoy!

Inspired by Islay

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Over the past wee while, I’ve been working with Kate Davies and her team on their latest venture: Inspired by Islay. A quick scroll through old posts on this blog will show lots of content from Islay; I lived and worked there for a year in 2012-2013. My job involved Gaelic cultural-heritage with particular projects I initiated being about the connection between the landscape and language. It is on this topic that Kate asked me to contribute an essay to the book being produced as part of the project (sidenote: the book has gone to the printers!).

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Kate’s work has long impressed me, and I’m chuffed that she has come to me to contribute small bits of work to other projects over the years, where she has wanted to use Gaelic. Gaelic aside, as a knitter  and general culture/history-enthusiast I’m always impressed by the thought and consideration that goes into all she (and the wider KDD team) does and produces. Other folk contributing to Inspired by Islay include really astonishing artists, craftspeopleavian experts and photographers, so it is an honour to be included alongside them.

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Anyway, the photos here are some snaps from my archive of pictures from Islay. My time on the island wasn’t always a song and a dance so it’s been really lovely revisiting parts of the island I fell for, and exploring further the rich Gàidhealach culture I am part of.

For all of Kate’s blog posts to date on the project see here.
In other news, I started a facebook page for my work. Like, share, comment, etc.

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