Something happened today, more of which later, that reminded me that I need to resume writing my blog. Here is a small piece I wrote earlier this summer and which I will post now by way of introduction to later contributions.
When you live in an area that is generally considered inaccessible and remote, choices can be restricted. Without a sizeable private income, finding a way to make ends meet can be a challenge. I have noticed people arrive here because they fall in love with the landscape and then, several years later, look exhausted and have forgotten why they moved.
Norrie and I are both self-employed and making a living takes a great deal of time. Years ago we took stock of what we could do and decided to make our house and garden the centre of our lives both emotionally and financially. Tourism is an inevitable part of living in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain and so we open our lives throughout the summer to many guests. Living at Ard Daraich is like participating in an endless house party of wonderful people and we have extended our knowledge of the world and gained many friends by throwing the doors open. Tourism in the West Highlands is a very seasonal business. We have to make a living from the work we can do for only five or six months of the year. For the remaining months, our world shrinks to a small group of close friends and neighbours as we firstly regain our energy and then prepare for the following season. It also means that the creative process is endlessly disrupted.
Last week we were delighted to welcome friends Tom and Laurie Clark to come on what has become their annual visit. You could not imagine more appreciative visitors and with their simple life, which does not include a car, I feel it a great privilege to show them places they have not seen before. With a deep love of landscape and wild flowers we had yet another wonderful few days. They are also very generous with the interest they show in my creative practice. After sitting in my studio for an hour before supper, they suggested I try a more integrated approach to making and try not to see my life as either making work or making beds but to try doing both!
Tom and Laurie had recently returned from a visit to a monastery in Assisi, somewhere we are going later in the year. Those who have been to see them in Pittenweem will already know, their life has the dignified simplicity of the monastic, freeing them from the endless multitasking of our busy twenty first century lifestyle and so it was with great delight that they reminded me of something I find all to easy to forget. I yearn for simplicity and I achieve complexity.
To start a daily practice, suggested time, first thing in the morning. Get up half an hour earlier and go to the same place with the same equipment and draw for half an hour. Not a difficult task and as essential as the daily practice of a pianist or opera singer or monk.
So, today, 20th July is the first day and my subject, Glen Gour, fifty yards from Ard Daraich. Last night I sorted out a minimum of equipment and packed and repacked it into a small bag, too small and had to find a larger one. My thoughts were that I needed to distil the choices to be very simple and to repeat the same thing time after time. I woke, bathed and was in my studio before the household and set off with excitement. There was a light drizzle but I decided not to return for a more substantial coat as the clouds were high and there were wonderful mists hanging against the vibrant green of the hill in July. The walk takes me along an old drove road, a walk I am extremely familiar with as a dog walk a flower walk and evening walk a morning walk and a moonlit walk. An early morning walk is slightly outside my normal body rhythm! The colours were intense and yet again I remarked to myself how lucky I am to live next to such beauty and apparent wilderness, although the ecologist in me knows this not to be true of the west highlands despite the uneducated appearance that is what I am looking at.
I go as far as some large boulders, also familiar as a picnic spot, a suspected adder home and other repetition. And begin to look and then to set out my little kit. Within less than three minutes, despite the plop of trout and the screech of a buzzard family, I am driven to pack up. I was eaten alive and of course in all my enthusiasm for Toms idea I had forgotten the real reason I have not made much work in the glen this summer…it is midge heaven!