Maps of belonging

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:

Meenderry from the bog 2

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.

7 comments on “Maps of belonging

  1. Thanks for the kind words, everyone (and apologies for the delay in moderating/ replying to comments – just back from that mammoth two-day journey to Lewis and with no internet access en route). And yes, Ravenhare, the rowan has always been some kind of icon/inspiration. When I lived on a croft outside Ullapool, on the shores of a sea-loch, there was a solitary rowan tree in one spot by the water, healthy but bent over by the prevailing winds, with its trunk springing from the tiniest crack in a rock and its roots seemingly embedded in stone. It seemed as if nothing ought to be able to grow out of such a narrow, unlikely place, but rowan is a master of such things. Lots to learn from trees!

  2. Luckily the physical places and people we truly love can never depart, staying locked in our hearts, emerging to feed us with laughter or tears once in a while. And, we can sometimes have the joy of returning to visit. Sometimes not though because places and especially people often change as indeed we do. Truly, one can never step into the same river twice. But, if we have developed the eye for beauty, new, beautiful places ever will present themselves to us and we fall in love again. May your journey continue to be beautiful because you seem to have the eye (I) for it!

  3. That wee rowan, and you …I see you both as pioneers – endeavouring to get a grasp, and to grow into that stunning landscape. A’the very best with your grounding and rooting.

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