This one place

Rocky place shrineThis is the one place which I don’t yet know how to leave. Which I can’t quite believe that I can leave. My place. I recognised it the first moment I saw it. In some curious way it has defined this period of my life – this period that I’m now leaving. In some even more curious way, it has defined me. This place, with its vast expanse of slabbed rock extending underfoot like a multicoloured, layered carpet which slopes gradually down to smaller rocks, coated with emerald green algae, onto which the sea continually crashes. This undulating rock carpet is founded on gneiss, of course: Lewisian gneiss, one of the oldest rocks in the world. Gneiss is metamorphic rock – yes, metamorphic: a word shot through with all the possibilities of transformation that I could ever want. How could such a place not define me? I’m no geologist, but my understanding is that the layering effect is a form of igneous intrusion, produced by granite interwoven with bands of minerals, such as quartz. Whatever it is, my rock carpet is spectacularly beautiful, unique, and never fails to make me catch my breath in wonder. When you tread on it, you cannot help but do so with reverence, precisely because you are walking on some of the oldest rock on the planet. This rock has endured, and there are times in everyone’s life when endurance matters. The past year has been such a time in mine. This rock not only endures: it metamorphoses. It changes in form, it adapts to whatever storms and stresses may come along. It is phoenix rock, emerging renewed from temperatures greater than 1500°C and pressure that is greater than 1500 bars. Such things of necessity cause profound change if you mean to survive them.

Brighid1 LRThere is a corner of this place which is a shrine. Cliff walls provide a home to succulent plants and to a miniature version of Scots lovage; a pool at the base never dries up and is inhabited by a species of fairy shrimp, or maybe gammarus … I have sat here often by the pool, cross-legged. In the cliffs behind the pool, if the light is right and your mind is open, you can identify several faces in the rock. One is the outline of a younger woman with a snub nose; another is the outline of a craggier face which belongs to a crone. In the cliff face to the left of the photograph you may see, if you are looking for it, the silhouette of a hag, and indeed it is known that in such places the Cailleach may stand and stare out to sea, perhaps looking for her husband the Bodach, otherwise known as Manannan, the sea-god.

Cailleach2 moon LRHere, I have immersed myself in those stories of the Cailleach, the creator-goddess of this land. Here, I have become Cailleach for a time; I have become Storm; I have listened to the stories of stones – some of the oldest stones on the planet. I have stood for long periods of time by the side of that silhouetted Cailleach and stared out to sea with her, imagining the long ages and the unyielding rock and the unending power of the sea. Here, I have learned about endurance. I have learned about standing – and more than I ever wanted to know about making a stand. I have learned about digging in, and for sure I have learned about digging too deep. I have remembered too that the Cailleach, for all her seemingly harsh ways, danced her way across the mountains even as she brought the onset of winter, and I have remembered that I too have always loved to dance. This place has seen me grieve, but it has also seen me dance barefooted across its warm rock.

I’ve learned many things in this rocky place. But what I have learned above all else, four years on, is that I am not, after all, a creature of rock, or stone. I am not gneiss. I am a spirit of air and water: mutable, changeable, transforming. And when you dig yourself too deeply into an element that is not your natural element – as I dug myself into this hard, stony, peaty earth – then if you are very, very lucky it will spit you out rather than swallow you up.

It was a close thing, but she spat me out. Back to the horizon, and the distance; back to that clear light place where water meets sky, moving on, fluid, transforming, migrating. And on, down along the river, into the land of Riverwitch …

This piece is adapted from two longer articles on my ‘Re-enchanting the Earth’ blog http://reenchantingtheearth.com/2013/11/17/the-lessons-of-place/ and http://reenchantingtheearth.com/2013/08/04/stone-teller-extracting-stories-from-stones/

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5 comments on “This one place

  1. I love your description. Earth, rock, stone, they bring me back into myself, having no Elemental backup from Earth in the heavens when I was born. I can fly away all too easily on these Crow wings and have had to learn to find places such as these to rest by. And the digging in too deep, resonates here at my Hearth and Home. My intended stay here, in this beautiful valley was but for a few years before I returned West! And here I am twenty three years later, painfully pulling up roots one by one. Brave you for letting go, for not being seduced by beauty. And Blessings on your journey. X

  2. Thanks, Veronica. Right now all of this is about the leaving, but the move is such a necessary and positive and joyful thing … which may become apparent as early as next week, when I find myself temporarily in Riverwitch country 🙂 Hard to express the concurrent sadness of leaving such a stunning place and the joy of moving to a new one, other than in weaving the two strands sequentially and over time …

  3. I really understand what you are going through. Something which seems almost impossible. I had a farm for ten years and grew to love the valley I was in. I knew the angles of the sun, the feel of the wind, the roar of the distant sea, the roar of hundreds of bees passing overhead, creating a shadow as they look for a new home. I longingly looked at the trees I had planted and had eaten the fruit there-of. My children grew up there and I used to find small toys in the vegetable beds when I was digging…. How could I sell this place and leave it?
    I did. It was hard. I still miss it. But I have moved on. I have a new farm, a new project, new views to learn, new trees to plant.
    Good luck with the move.

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