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Colonsay prose poem

Out-island, pre-cambrian fragment
set adrift from Greenland 1,800 million years ago

Craggy landmass
grey, green and russet
rocky heights, moorland and bracken …
lying on the rim of a vast ocean, a tiny treasure

From the ferry deck,
Slipping away on the starboard side, Hebridean Mull 
Jura to port
on the south-west horizon, a grey smudge of land
separated from the sea by a mist,
Colonsay hovers

We dock, the ferry dwarfs the quayside at Scalasaig,
a simple place
one general store, a café, community hall
grey and white houses dotted around the hillside,
the kirk, perched on a rocky mound

On a sunshine-bathed May day
blue skies are washed clean by North Atlantic winds,  
fresh from Newfoundland



Waves crash on Colonsay beaches
lap and run over white sand, golden sand,
sand the colour of putty
sea spray over rocks covered in almond-green lichen
orange and saffron yellow
seashells, limpets, electric blue-ray limpets
seaweeds, ruby red, mustard, pink and brown, green sea lettuce

Beyond Ardskenish peninsula, grey seals bask on rocks
two sea otters play
tumble, whirl and swirl in crystal waters,
up and over a jutting rock
oyster catchers pipe, and the wild winnowing sound of the curlew, borne away on the wind

A necklace of treasures strewn along the Plaide Mhor tideline
sunshine yellow whelks and ginger coloured periwinkles, Littorina fabalis,
lavender corals and strings of chocolate-brown bootlace seaweed
and where the rocks meet the sea
sugar-pink cushions of sea thrift, succulent stonecrop and butter-yellow tormentil
powder-blue spring squill, Scilla verna – ‘a lover of wild places where the wind beats the cliffs with sea spray’
Inland, around the sapphire waters of Loch Fada
larks, ascend to deliver their twenty minute repertoire
The rare, elusive corncrake stalks through long grass and rushes, its call, a fingernail running across the top of a comb.

Along moorland edges, spotted wood butterflies, green-veined white,
multi-coloured peacock, and orange tip
cologne fragrance of bog myrtle mixed with warm wafts of spicy coconut from prickly gorse

A feast of foraged foods
mussels, navy blue shells hidden and clamped to kelp-clad rocks,
wild mint and watercress, purple-flowered creeping thyme
pine-green watercress, wild garlic, land cress, dandelion and stinging nettle
salad-flowers of primrose, violet, pink purslane, and daisy
Wild flower honey and botanical-rich island gin

Black honeybees Apis mellifera mellifera, hum, hover and forage
through woodlands of pine, sycamore, beech and oak
where wild-hyacinth heady bluebells bloom,
across moorland heather
and along primrose-studded grassy banks, tracks, and pathways





Lime-green rosettes of butterwort nestle in damp mossy grass,
its violet-coloured carnivorous flower not yet ready to lure a passing insect,
early purple orchids, thyme-leaved speedwell, dog violets
Colonsay yellows of shining celandine, flag iris, gorse, kingcup and primrose
frilly bogbean and gold bird’s foot trefoil, tinged with red

In the misty early morning, springtime cuckoos alternate their calls across the moor
a background to the liquid song of the blackcap,
a single bleat in the distance, as a sheep calls her lamb
a timeless sound
an old wild billy goat, rambling solo around the moorland
his ancestors shipwrecked here with the Spanish Armada


At intervals throughout the day, the reconnaissance flights of a pair of noisy grey lag geese,    
passing low over tree tops
hen harrier, fine wide wings glide over last summer’s heather,
overhead a hawk poised, focused on its prey below, and beyond
the peewit call of lapwing who, with blunt black and white wings, dip and swoop in one accord
Across the stream from our cottage, the straw-coloured reed bed,
studded with marsh marigold, and lady’s smock,
reed warblers cling to individual stems of last year’s plant; 
as the wind passes through the straw-coloured stems they bend and cross in mesmeric, shifting patterns

In the lost, outer gardens of Colonsay House, rhododendrons with giant leaves,
musky American skunk cabbage with exotic lemon-yellow arums
giant gunnera, unfurl from tight cello-head buds,
to leaves of gigantic proportions,
black stems and chocolate-purple flowers of Pittosporum tenuifolium
magenta candelabra primula, grow wild and free, self-seeded over the decades
rich mahogany red bark of myrtle and carpets of fallen fleshy pink magnolia petals lie alongside skeletons of last year’s leaves
A mile of sand laid bare at low tide, the strand walk to Oronsay, 
Colonsay’s tiny sibling, its history outweighs its size  
Prisoners of the Napoleonic Wars built a network of dark grey dry stone walls, 
up and over Mesolithic middens, 
left by ancestors who dined on oysters and hazelnuts
In 1353 John of Islay, Lord of the Isles worshipped here
Oransay’s 14th century priory dedicated to St Columba,
its cloisters now open to the sky, the ghost-chants and prayers reverberate around ancient crumbling walls
The Oronsay Cross stands tall and proud, adorned by the Crucifixion and
entwining leaves which budded and were green in 1510 AD 
On May Day, my first swallow of the year, swooped over the Priory ruins


In the island’s north, soaring over the craggy heights of Balnahard
a golden eagle, whose ancestors
bore witness to who was lain in a moss-clad cist grave
five thousand years ago
Pagan and Christian worshippers fashioned a life here


In summer the visitor numbers swell
The ferry spews off extra traffic and people.
Walkers, birdwatchers, backpackers, artists, tourists, cyclists,
Hebridean island-hoppers
returning visitors, armed with binoculars, cameras and sketchbooks.
They come to have a look, to discover, to rediscover 
to find peace in the landscape, as we do, to breathe the Atlantic air




Late summer and early autumn
the palette changes
sunlight shifts to soft gold
the craggy hills are covered in heather
the colours of Scotland, tweeds and knitwear
soft purple and bracken
Visiting in early autumn and I reflect.
What would this tiny island be like in winter,
at the mercy of the weather, 
icy blasts sweeping down from the Arctic
and across the North Atlantic. 
Short days, long hours of darkness,
a small community  

adrift



Easy to romanticise the roaring fires, 
hearty stews, 
wee nips of whisky 
to keep the spirits up
But I would give it a go, just to be here

Almost mid September and still the swallows swoop and swish
They do not want to leave either.
As the ferry pulls away from the pier
the foaming trail left by the vessel 
stretches out behind us. 
That's my trail.
As Scalasaig becomes a distant, small collection of buildings
I feel myself being dragged away, 
pulled and prized away.
The world offers endless holiday destinations
but that craggy outline, diminishing into the distance, keeps calling me back. 
I know now where the wild apple mint grows
where the bees fill their honeycomb 
where bluebells bloom either side of a grassy track
and where I might, just might, see otters play.
Colonsay is enough for me, and more







Comments

  1. And I shall return to wander its shores again.

    Timeless beauty that sings to my soul.



    Sorry couldn't help myself...what a beautiful piece of poetry.... really very good. Fantastic xxx

    ReplyDelete

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