March 2017

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We have just had a week of sunshine, frostiness and no wind. Snow grains in the dunes are a strange sight.

In the greenhouse, made of super bubble wrap (or ‘Bubble Keder Polydress 9 Laminate Plastic System’, for any technipots) where I work for the Local Food Project, our young seedlings are germinating fast. I’ve just planted out last September’s Brassica transplants under netted hoops and old fish farm nets. Fingers crossed for their protection.

It’s a relief to feel winter is behind us. Gales will come and go, but the days are lengthening fast.   Hoorah. Despite weathering my fifth winter on Uist, I find the long dark hours tricky. Perhaps it’s the lack of other creature comforts, Mr Cheese and close family faraway… all needed to cosset my ‘southern’ upbringing.  I’m a Northern lass, but life this far up is still a challenge.

Painting a picture of bleak isolation for 21st Century island life is unfair and inaccurate.   We have fibre optic cables going down for what will possibly be revolutionary internet access. I can fly to Glasgow in 40 minutes from Benbeculair airport, fog permitting. Ferries in winter remain ‘elusive’ heading south from the tip of Uist, but onto Skye it’s not a bad service. And as travel goes, what could be better than a sheltered spot on deck with views to an uninterrupted horizon?

But isolation is more than accessibility. I’m thinking about snow grains and my rusty kayak this morning. Without the ‘enchantments’ that Amy Liptrot mentions in her moving book ‘The Outrun’, I agree with her, that island life would be unpromising and bleak.

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The trout fishing season began last week. Last month, I was touched to receive a set of instructions and hand tied flies in the post from the maestro of tying, John Sinclair after my performance (?) in North Uist Fishing Club last season.   What a fix of joy and colour. I hope I can do justice to them.

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Sprout has a new pal, Glen the Beardie, belonging to Crofter Charlie up the road. Together we explore Caranish estuary. I’m trying to turn daily dog walks back into drawing practice. I have a commission: to draw a ‘difficult’ crofter’s Shorthorn-Highland-cross bull. It’s not going well. I am very out of practice and neither of us is impressed.

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In the felt department I’ve made more slippers in Heb fleece and the odd bottom warmer. Feedback from the mentors about the way I work suggests I might start writing a book connecting land and my practice. However I’m a learner, a beginner, an incomer and we are all on the cusp of change. I am fearful for the crofting system and wildlife it supports. I do have an insight from my RSPB years with machair LIFE+, but I need to join it all up.

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I finally made a memorial vessel for my friend, outstanding conservationist and biologist, Barbara Knowles. I make these pieces intuitively and hope they celebrate a huge life not loss. Barbara made the trip to the Shiants three summers ago, displaying her usual courage at overcoming motor neurone disease. I’m so glad to have shared my first experience of puffin ‘flocks’ with her.

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Right off to the beach and into the sunshine. Here’s hoping for no Sprout rolling in dead grey seals or bits of washed-up fin whales.

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