A storm of solar dust; the glorious Northern Lights; an almost total eclipse of the sun; and then the equinox and some of the highest tides in a century. It has been a heady week of spacey stuff.
I wasn’t prepared for the disruption it would bring. Any yet I should have known there would be repercussions, after the way Hale-Bopp streaked across the sky and wreaked wonder and havoc in my life back in the Nineties. I remember first catching sight of the Great Comet ploughing through the stars above my hill and knowing at once that it signalled something momentous.
This time the disruption began just as the eclipse cast its shadow then returned the world to daylight. Impulsively I decided to view a property that’s for sale in the village, just as a distraction from work – or so I thought.
And while it may be back to business as usual in the Heavens, my world is still in disarray. Will I? Won’t I? Should I make my (tiny) home by the edge of the sea in a holiday village that’s a ghost town in winter and a heaving mass of tourism in summer? I need a handhold on stability after three nomadic years so the promise of sea views and a fire for the winter has a strong appeal.
I took a long walk along the coast as the high tide flooded the path and white froth crashed over fences and gates, blurring the line between grass and the green deep. The world sparkled around me and the path meandered through the streets, right past the door of the cottage. Eclipse Karma.
My mission this week involved driving 150 miles through some of Scotland’s most glorious scenery to interview salmon farmers on the far west coast. I’ve been deprived of snow all winter in my frost-free, east-coast cottage, removed from mountains and the spectacular raw wildness of the west. I jumped at the chance.
I saw snow alright, on the tortured hills of Glencoe, the mighty Buachaille Etive Mor guarding the entrance to the notorious narrow pass. Late afternoon sun broke through the snow clouds to create lighting effects that accentuated the drama – if that’s possible in such a place. I followed labouring lorries loaded with straw bales bound for livestock farmers on the islands. And I stopped to get close to ducks looking longingly for food.
And the work? A ride on a boat; questions about how salmon farmers handle protected predators like seals (scare them, deter them or shoot them). And finally a sea loch-side hotel and a sleep within hearing distance of the tide.
Chain links zig-zagged up, across and over the top of the rough cliff face, pristine steel glinting and signing the way. I tugged hard: the bolts didn’t budge. So no excuse.
“Suitable for children aged 9 and over,” the internet had reassured. But the sign low down on the path was less gung-ho: “Beware of being trapped by the incoming tide; of being struck by falling rocks and stones; and of falling from steep rock on hazardous coastal terrain.”
And this was just the short recce ahead of the full-scale birthday adventure planned for later in the month. So many thrills still in store. Eeeek.
… and hitch an effortless ride on the swings.
You’re never too old for a play park or climbing trees. Right?
I suspect there will be yet more tricky twists and turns to negotiate in 2015. But for now the sun is shining in Aberdeenshire’s wintry woods. Happy New Year.
The temperature in Sweden’s forests is sub zero, it’s slippery underfoot and thin ice is setting in swirling patterns on the lakes. There’s no scorching Meseta sun or cafe con leche around every corner and the paths are quiet and empty. Spain is thousands of miles away, yet the companionship of camino family and recalled memories of that pilgrimage to Santiago feels close.
Where next, yellow arrows?
A crown of candles on a white-gowned girl brightens Sweden’s darkest days of winter and celebrates the early Christian martyr, Santa Lucia.
It’s not difficult to understand that during a long Scandinavian winter, the notion of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed for hundreds of years, and most likely in pagan times too.
Everyone in Sweden recognises 13 December as Santa Lucia day and listens to a Lucia and her attendants sing the customary song which describes how the Saint triumphed over the darkness and found light. Boys in white gowns carry little lanterns and wear tall paper cones on their heads and sometimes men dressed as chimney sweeps follow the procession, brushing away the darkness.
Lucia traditionally wears ‘light in her hair’, which is usually translated these days into a wreath of electric candles, but in one performance I watched a girl walking carefully while balancing the precarious ring of melting wax. Friends who have had the honour of being a Lucia describe the nightmare of removing melted wax from their long blonde hair for hours after their performance.
Other Lucia traditions include starting the day with rice porridge – sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon – and eating saffron buns and gingerbread. It’s a happy day, a great warm-up to Christmas, and I’m still humming the Lucia song two days later.