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  • Writer's pictureMonique Sliedrecht

Swallows, Blue Sky and Seaweed

The swallows have returned!

I could hardly believe it when I saw the first one flitting past while I was drinking coffee and reading outside one morning this week. The distinctive flight pattern and way that it swooped around quite low to the ground caught my attention, along with it’s highly distinctive and comforting chattering noises. I managed to walk up fairly close and quiet to get a photo before it continued on its merry flight around the house. The appearance of the swallows are a pleasant surprise and gift to be sure. It seems they were a few days early. According to years past, their normal arrival time would be today (the 24th) - to the day! (We’ve been keeping a close eye.) Perhaps it is the warm weather that has brought them over sooner. I’m always sad to see them go in late September, but so happy when they return. There is something about them that brings a sense of anticipation. They are harbingers of hope; signs of spring and new life — something we could all do with at this time.

We had 5 days of straight sunshine and blue skies this week. That’s almost unheard of in the far north of Scotland in April! Any other times this has happened the haar has rolled in from the sea, enshrouding us in mist. That is usually the price we pay for sunny skies up here. No doubt the time will come for the haar, but right now we’ve been very lucky. The great weather has allowed us to get on with the new vegetable garden. I’ve also been spending more time outside and extending my studio work to the outdoors.

Every day I’ve been going out for a walk along the shore and cliffs, looking at the various signs of new life. I went on a long walk this morning, when the tide was still low. I continued reading some chapters of my current novel ('The Salt Path') which seemed very apt for my grassy cliff-stop, where I sat among buttercups looking out over the sea and eating a pear I quickly grabbed before leaving.  It was a gorgeous day.

The fulmars are nesting on the grassy cliffside and were obviously threatened by my presence, but I’m hoping that over the days they will get used to me.

In-between pear eating and reading, I’ve been exploring the seaweeds at low tide, identifying them, and learning more about them, finding ways I might incorporate these sea plants into recipes and dishes. I haven't been brave enough to try anything yet, aside from using store-bought seaweed flakes that I add to my porridge.  It's another world to discover - the world below sea level.  Maybe I'll have to buy some sexy hip-waders, or even get a dry-suit one of these days!  But that's bringing it to a whole other level. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet.

The reality of the lock-down in Britain is probably hitting most of us here right now, as it is doing around the world.  It has certainly hit me recently.  While 'novel' at first, the reality is kicking in.  The concern over how long this time will actually be creeps up in my mind, making me wonder how to best spend my days and efforts. I'm learning that each time this question comes, instead of allowing my thoughts to spiral into despair, I discover a new gift: the permission to be present. I take the simple tasks in front of me to do, along with enjoying the details of the world around me.

That doesn't lessen any grieving the losses. On the more severe end of the spectrum, I know three people that have lost loved ones to this terrible pandemic. My heart goes out to them and so many others.

Dim in comparison to these devastating losses of lives, there are other new realities we need to face which include mourning other kinds of losses. Like everyone else, I'm finding that planning proves very tricky right now. I have recently had to cancel an international group exhibition I was curating for the summer in Orkney. And another exhibition is in question.  That is not easy. Life feels uncertain.  Making necessary decisions like this, giving up many of our plans and goals we were working towards, brings on a deflated feeling. I ask myself what I can do to 'replace' previous plans for the time being, and how can I anticipate new ways the exhibitions (or other things) might present themselves in the future.  It may be in surprising new ways that I have never considered.

We're having to let go of a natural impulse to 'control', to give things over, to be 'present', and move forward with a mysterious new rhythm for a while; which perhaps leads to carving out entirely new paths in our lives. This can be a time of processing, sifting, creating, appreciating.... I wonder what new revelations and discoveries this time has brought to light in you? I'd love to chat with any of you, so please don't hesitate to drop a line sometime.

In the meantime, this comes with love and thoughts from my wee corner in the north of Scotland. X

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