“This 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 wrote that in this post, back in January. I wrote about the stone figure that I found almost four years ago in this place that I call simply the Rocky Place: a large silhouette of the old hag of the land, the Cailleach, carved out of the rock and staring out to sea. I knew it was the Cailleach because the stories say that she stands in such places, looking out and waiting for her husband, the Bodach – identified in some of the old tales as Manannán Mac Lir, the Trickster god of the sea. What is interesting about the chiselled silhouette of the Cailleach in this place is that behind her is the face of a man, larger and full-face, carved into the same section of rock. (There’s a photograph here.) David pointed this out to me the first time I took him to the Rocky Place and showed him my Cailleach, and it gave me some comfort to think that although I had seen her as a solitary figure on this harsh shore, maybe her husband the sea-god was there with her, after all.
But now, finally it comes to leaving this place that I don’t yet know how to leave. On Monday the movers arrive, and on Tuesday we’ll take the early morning ferry off this island and, though David will return briefly to clear up the croft, I will not be coming back. And so today we went, he and I, accompanied as always by the two dogs, on a final pilgrimage to my Rocky Place. A pilgrimage rather than simply a leave-taking, because there are some moves in life which must be made more mindfully than others; some choices which must be made more actively than others. Tipping points, when worlds and lives hang in the balance.
Almost seven years ago, David and I were married under a tree, surrounded by a circle of family and friends, at the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool. We wrote our own ceremony, with poems from friends and our own words that were written for each other. And today, we went together with the dogs to the Rocky Place, to stand before the Cailleach and the Bodach, and to say some of those words again. This time there were no fancy dresses or smart suits – just a couple of grungy old croft coats and waterproof bog boots, with two little sheepdogs as our only witnesses. We said again the words that David wrote for us back in 2007, and which have so much more resonance now. And so we commit ourselves to this new journey, to this new migration:
We came here over rivers, oceans, mountains
Through fires and a darkness, across high passes
We scoured the rocky valleys for precious stones
We netted the seas for fish with pearly eyes
We ran and ran
We crawled and flew
We passed within a hair’s breadth
within a wing’s beat
of never finding
of never knowing
But we have come here through fires and a darkness, across high passes
over rivers, oceans, mountains
holding life by the tail
to take life by the hand.
I stood for a while alone with the Cailleach, my head level with her jaw. I stood and stared out with her in the general direction of Donegal. Then I stepped down in front of her and found that I am just tall enough to reach up and kiss the mouth of the hag. And so it was that I found, finally, a way to leave.