The process of learning to belong to any new place is in part a process of internal mapping. Not just physical mapping – I know where this track leads; I know what is over that hill – but emotional mapping, as the landscape begins to reveal its mysteries to you, to hint at its stories. Like any new relationship, it is about building attachments to particular locations and features which, over time, become familiar and loved. You can learn to belong anywhere, in this way, if you choose. It’s an act of creation, and like all acts of creation, it’s also an act of love, an enormous leap of faith.
I have found somewhere here to attach to, a blessing in these early days. I think of it as an anchor – literally, something which anchors me to this place, the first specific location which I have begun to love beyond our own small patch of land and the river. Somewhere to head for on my early morning and afternoon walks with the dogs, a place I look forward to arriving at, and to sit in for a while as the dogs collapse panting in the heather. It is arguably the best kind of anchor of all, because it is a rock: a huge rock, twice as tall as me, and wide. Here it is, glowing in the afternoon sun. It sits on a high point in the bog, and from there I can look out right across the valley, and down onto our house.
It is host to woody vines which creep over its surface, and to heather which grows in its cracks. It is covered in lichens, of all textures and colours. It shelters other mysteries, too: I hope to see this beautiful little rowan seedling grow tall and strong over the years. Characteristic of its kind, it has placed itself in an unlikely but protected hollow, sheltered from south, west and northerly winds.
This rock has everything: there is even a dry, soft, strawy place to sit, leaning back against it and facing south to Errigal.
This week, I’ve been lucky enough to sit there and watch the full moon over our house just after dawn:
And so this rock, and of course the river, form two large location points, two anchors on the love-map of belonging which I will carry away with me tomorrow, as I return for the last time to Lewis to pack up the house and, finally, leave. We will wake in the middle of the night, the dogs and I; we’ll pack ourselves into the car and drive east to take the morning ferry from Belfast. We’ll stay overnight with my mother in Ullapool, and by Friday afternoon, after one last crossing of the Minch to Stornoway, we’ll find ourselves home, and yet not at home. Because home now is here, by the river.