stillness on the Red Moss and flax almost adrift in soft peat: from lint holes, the memory of sunbeam on sundew and a thousand thousand blues above
jade mounds in bracken, stumps, lighten lighten but never still, always different, ever the same— the sun on metal hexagons on wooden walkways
looking to Bavelaw in the lee of Hare Hill I think of Stanley Roger Green searching for that unfound cairn while Threipmuir glitters
in scenes from a stillway of pinecone and feather can I be dappled by light, by trees? a trunk’s bend and branch’s oscillation a hoverfly lands on this nearly white page
[words and images from a morning walk through the Red Moss of Balerno nature reserve at the foot of the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, and then along the shore of Threipmuir Reservoir, Friday 2 June 2023.]
Sitting at the northernmost point of the Tarbat Ness peninsula (Rubha Thairbeirt) at 2.34pm on 9 May 2023, I find myself taking a moment to drink in the sound of these waves—all different, all the very same as across the countless centuries which have collided with this headland.
That wavecrash of water on stone on water, and that infinity of white noise, both of these sounds signal to me that it’s now finally time to contemplate time.
A bed is laid in a secret corner For the three agonies – love, birth, death – That are made beautiful with ceremony. — from The Finished House, George Mackay Brown
My dad would have been 89 today. I don’t know that I miss him any less or any more than any other day since his death in September. But there’s an increased focus on this first absent birthday, I think, which makes me recall all the more acutely the decades when he—and my mum—were everything in my world.
This photograph of him and me is probably from mid to late 1975 or perhaps early 1976. I’m the one on the right. Look at his hair-and-cardigan combo; look at my red shoes; look at those vertiginous stairs. I’ve no idea what colour his shoes were, because as is customary my mum has cut his feet off in the photograph.
This was taken in our first house where we lived until I was 13, and which I loved. It had been my dad’s parents’ house. It had curious angles and sometimes even more curious angels in its architecture of happiness and security. Love is everywhere in this photograph, in every fibre of the stair carpet, in our smiles, in the way my dad’s hand holds me close.
And even though I don’t miss him any less or any more than any other day, I still miss him in a way that’s impossible for me to express, and which I don’t even want to put into words. It’s love which causes the most pain, but that pain, which diminishes, is worth enduring, as the by-product of that love, which will never diminish.
I bought a new electric guitar. Was it a whim? No, it seemed like the right time, or at least a better time than there’s been for a decade or more. Somehow, as I feel its weight in my hands, the years slip back, fold in softly on themselves, liquify. Flickers from the past play out on the projection screen of memory: moments of friendship, of intensity, of solitude. Minutes becoming hours becoming the book of days. It was once my instrument; maybe it’ll be so again.
In the meantime, there’s the sea; there’s always the sea. I can offer you 40 seconds of it*, but you should repeat these 40 seconds as often as is necessary to fashion your own sea. A friend once said—or rather sang—that the sea is madness. But it doesn’t have to be.
Anyway, the guitar came today, a few days earlier than I’d anticipated. I wasn’t ready, but its arrival does feel like a turning point, or more likely a signpost to somewhere else. I’m not sure where that is yet, but the draw of the unknown is intoxicating, isn’t it? Sometimes we just have to walk the coastal path and see which sea it finds.
* This sea is from Cambo Sands, Fife, 4 March 2023. Other seas are of course available.
At Longniddry Bents, the teeth of the sea gnawing the horizon’s blues. Seven days on from dad’s death, I walk this unfamiliar shoreline unsure how I should feel, and frayed at the meniscus of making-do.
i.m. James Lavelle, 1934-2022 Longniddry, East Lothian, 19 September 2022