Paradise Misplaced

Weather: There have been a couple of sunny days, but for the most part of it, the weather has been overcast, damp and decidedly wintery.

There have been some calm, still wet days, that the famous Scottish midges love. For these occasions we have been given (courtesy of Dr. Sean Kippin) and are field testing  Cubby’s Midge Salve, ‘made with love in Glasgow’ . It smells very nice and we live in hope.

When London and the rest of the UK was having a heat wave, we were wearing two jumpers and needed hats to go outside. The summer solstice on June 21st was cloud covered this year – which for novice skywatchers appears unremarkable. Still what ever the weather in Uist one can always say it is ‘BIG’!

As we move into the next phase of lock-down, small changes start to become noticeable, most recently it is the wearing of masks in the shops and in all unbubbled encounters – this  was implemented on the 10th July. The experience of the mask is unpleasant. Anyone who wears glasses, which we both do – firstly you need to smear soap on your lenses – this stops them from fogging up, although we have been further informed (by key workers) that this only works for short periods. All day mask wearers, with glasses, are going to be struggling. Breathing in a mask is also claustrophobic and meeting fellow ‘masketeers’ is an almost ridiculous encounter. The fact that this very surreal happening has descended upon the world, and such extreme measures are being put in place is scary, and also, at  times unbelievable. Being here, in Uist, it has been extra difficult to comprehend, as there have been no reported cases (yet), although we are all living under the constant impending fear that we will all be subjected to COVID-19 … soon.

 “We’re doomed!”

On a very much more somber note – we have been hearing from people and friends about peculiar illnesses and there have even been some unexpected and sudden deaths, which we are sad and devastated about. This really is a very frightening and hyper-realistic time, that as regular people, we could not have predicted and certainly can not imagined. What will the new normal be like?

Our stay at Minish has been spectacular and we feel blessed to have stayed in such a beautiful location. In the past few weeks, at Minish, a splendid short-eared owl, with a face like a wizard, visits regularly, gliding low, swooping circles, mapping the terrain for mice and rats. The cuckoo, which last year was loud and clear all summer long, has not been as vocal this year. Perhaps it has a new patch, or maybe the weather was not been quite right? The seals, are definitely fair-weather creatures, they only sunbathe on the rocks when the wind is warm and calm, and most luxuriously when it is sunny. This year the Herons have used the Minish flight path, to the sea loch, to collect food for their nesting chicks. Herons in flight are a joy to see, graceful strong wing movements, streamlined, from long beak to long feet. The surrounding sheep have also got to know and trust us, the lambs are now fat and independent…

As we drove away from Minish, to the house in Lochmaddy, a Golden Eagle soared  overhead, circling witnessing our departure. According to Pure Spirit Eagle Symbolism

“When an eagle appears, you are on notice to be courageous and stretch your limits. Do not accept the status quo, but rather reach higher and become more than you believe you are capable of. Look at things from a new, higher perspective. Be patient with the present; know that the future holds possibilities that you may not yet be able to see. You are about to take flight.”

We feel forever hopeful…

We have now moved into the Big City of Uist – Lochmaddy. It is a cute cottage, with lovely neighbours. There is a garden that ends at the moorland, which stretches out to the horizon, with some good looking fishing lochs. We have already spotted red deer stags at the end of the garden, so close that the velvet covering on their antlers was easily visible. The deer are not always revered here, they have a reputation of increasing the tic population and destroying gardens, but we love them, and sat watching them, whilst they also watched us looking at them, until they silently danced away, disappearing into the camouflage of the heather and bracken.

Our time here, so far, has in some ways been idyllic (even with COVID-19) and much of what we describe is the beauty of this place, but we are not naïve in our expectations and our decision to take up residence here has been very considered. Remote places can be challenging environments to interact with and the communities can, at times be inscrutable –  this period of lockdown has proven intensified and tested the best of us.

Andy MacKinnon, the curator at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts centre has done an exemplary job, embracing Virtual Reality software to develop and create online exhibitions and events.

The virtual opening of our exhibition ‘In this Day and Age’ (work in progress) was on 3rd of July and this was shown as part of an event that included The Living Wall, Uist Arts Association – Summer Open Exhibition, and Ecognosis by Benjamin Skop and Amund Bentsen

Our Exhibition will run, in a virtual and eventually, (hopefully) actually until 24th September and it will coincide with the Symposium and the Open call, projected and virtual Photographic exhibition. We are thinking, perhaps, a closing event might be permitted by this time?

This has been a very busy period for us, despite the fact that there have been no actual physical social events or distractions.

We have moved house, selected and hung our photographic images for the work in progress exhibition, we have taken part in a zoom conversation for NEPN and the zoom seminar for Shetland College UHI, Centre for Rural Creativity –  A3 Session – ‘Imagining An Island’. We have also been preparing for the forthcoming Symposium ‘Imagining and Island’ and are part of the selecting panel, along with Rosalind Blake for the open call exhibition, which is now confirmed to all take place in September

Meanwhile, there have been numerous and significant Black Lives Matter protests in other parts of the U.K. Statues have been tumbling and H.M.G. is busy confusing everyone about what they may or may not do, (even senior government advisors).. The football season has restarted. After a promising re-start, Newcastle United have been knocked out of the cup (surprise!) and the Scottish easing of lockdown is slowly unfolding. We are expecting to see summer visitors to the island with the ferries fully operating again around the 15th July or so. 

Our cats have had a wonderful time in the fields surrounding the Minish house. Angelo is the boss cat who comes and goes as he pleases. Alice, our young, slightly clumsy Siamese cat, was so excited one sunny morning, whilst chasing a fly in the bedroom, that she shot out of the roof window and fell 20 feet onto the ground below – Completely, unhurt and unflustered. Her beautifully bred characteristics make her a liability in the natural environment and we are concerned about her new love of the outdoors because of the risk that an Eagle might take her. We will ensure this does not happen to her!

We would sincerely like to thank all those individuals who have contributed to the work in progress, In This Day and Age. THANK YOU!

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