The Unfolding Image

Susan Halcrow Spinster

Does the wind become my friend? Or is it the other way around, do I befriend the ever present wind?

Wind roaring down the bedroom chimney to my left, like tinnitus playing havoc with my mind. It is the first waking sound and often the last.  No one told me that I would have to prepare for a life of wind.

Alfie ventures out into the sweeping winds, ears pinned down to his skull, eyes squinting to the flare.  A sudden strong gust of wind is a Flan. The  Flan surges between buildings, finding any path to rush down, taking out a cat.  He has learned – he hurries across the tiny road to the shelter of the old abandoned walled garden.  How I would love that garden to be cleared, to be made good, to have the time and resources to do so, for it to be an area of calm and growth. When I walk in it, I think of its glorious days when Susan was alive, when she would have tended it, grown her vegetables, sat peacefully with her dog Ralph but now it is all overgrow as if in A Sleeping Beauty story, with rambling roses head height taking  over many years ago.

Nature reclaims – even in the winds. If it has to, growth creeps across the ground below the winds.

When I am not thinking of the cracked shower base, the car breaking down and being towed away then the  disagreeing conversations with the man that sold it to me, or the beds to order and get to an island, or the 3 day a week administration job, the knitting workshop administration and presentation to motivate participants, or planting the vegetables, repainting the window frames and the inside walls, I find time to move out of my thinking  head into the sensing body to be present to what is around me.  This is where my thoughts and feelings sit.  They wait patiently to be reawakened when I can fully perceive  and  experience the life I now have here.  And, in those brief wonderful connected times, I am free.

If I pick the first year of my arrival and go back 100 years to 1920, when Susan was here, I wonder what here life was like.  In some ways, it maybe was easier than mine because she had only the house and animals and garden – we complicate life by things that break – but harder because it was rare for a woman to be entirely alone in Shetland without family.  Susan was the last in the line although she had many cousins.

Susan would have been 47 in 1920, although she was crofting as her father had done, she was registered as Spinster in the censuses. For me, the connotations of Spinster are old, washed out, unmarried, without children, unloved women but no, not this  woman, her face shines in every photograph.  How can we speak to another through the lapse of time and loss of connections?  How I would love to talk with her, listen to her, knit with her, learn from her, walk Ralph with her but maybe there was no dog walking then – maybe the  dog just pottered around the  croft.   I worried about Susan and how she made a living – but there was no need of that.  I cleared that worry.

To sense one’s surroundings within and around us, to live connected to self and surroundings is an art that grows, is nurtured, is cultivated.  It takes a calm heart to fully listen to one’s own surroundings. How fully we perceive and  inhabit  our worlds and our ability to respond creatively to what we find depends on us being fully present.   Our sense of being alive in each moment depends on our capacity to play and imagine as well as sit or touch or listen or feel or taste. If we meet events with flexibility, curiosity, wonder and passion then we inhabit not only the world but ourselves.  It could even be when eating that cake, with a view of the sea, and really tasting that cake and really seeing the  sea.  Or it could be in the darkened archives reading Registers of Sasines, Valuation rolls and censuses as I have – we fall fully into that  recorded world.  But, of course, this can only be truly achieved when we have had the car mended, ordered the shower tray from afar, contacted 6 different people and organisations  to arrange for beds to be picked up from afar by Shetland transport and all the  other never ending daily practical requirements of modern life.  And then there are the emotional needs – what of those?

But, I wonder, If I did not have these ordinary things that tie me to the daily jobs, would my special thinking, living, breathing time all merge into one and be less precious? I had hoped that my live would merge and that my creative practice and life would have no boundaries.  Maybe Susan’s was a boundaryless life.  

It is through my writing that I find myself, reflect, understand some of the things that I am going through. This  is when I inhabit my world fully.  This is where my authenticity lies. To get to this point can often be slow.  I start with a thought and the words follow.  It takes time. The right time and a meeting  of mind and openness.

An unfolding image.

If you would like to read my monthly updates on my findings in the Archives regarding the family that lived in this house for 3 generations from 1838 to 1960, then these writings are on my Patreon site.

I am also writing a booklet on Susan and me living in this house 140 years apart.  There will also be a knitting pattern. follow this on instagram @traceydoxey

This project is supported by VACMA from Creative Scotland, Shetland Arts and Shetland Islands Council

I’d love to hear your thoughts

Author: traceydoxeydesigns

Site specific Artist using own created textiles, laser cuts and hand block printed wallpaper to engage with narratives of landscapes, social history and place.

5 thoughts on “The Unfolding Image”

  1. Beautifully written. I often daydream of a simpler life without the pressures of the modern world. As you say though, would those quieter times become less precious. As seems often the case, we sometimes enjoy and are more productive in those relished moments between the everyday than when we have a whole empty day ahead of us. Maybe Susan felt the same to a degree in that her quiet moments were fitted in between necessary chores on the croft, though somehow I imagine she was able to connect so much more to her surroundings and environment than our hectic world allows now. I for one am trying to relish those little moments whether it’s watching the little robin that visits our chickens to feast on any stray food, enjoying a coffee in lovely surroundings, or being lucky enough to view the changing seasons and weather from the hilly vantage point of our farmhouse. Thank you for bringing us these beautiful glimpses of Shetland, I look forward to reading more lovely posts and as a knitter seeing more of your work.


  2. The wind is part of coastal life, even more so when you are on an island. Islands are physically cut off from elsewhere and dependent on good communications both internally and externally. The friendship and community support is invaluable.

    Time becomes a strange factor in island living. Once you are accepted, you will never be forgotten. I lived on an island for a long while, left and returned after an absence of 4 years, bumped into someone walking one day who couldn’t believe that I had been away.

    You are on an interesting journey.


  3. Sometimes I think the things we wouldn’t choose, like working to live, like washing the floors, all those things we do to get by and maintain our homes and bills, are the things that make us.
    Sort of thing…
    Choosing or being able to pick and choose is as limiting as having things thrust upon us. Like listening to the radio, rather than your own collection, and hearing a tune you’d never known. You just never know what will come along. Or who.
    With this theory, I can excuse any tedium that comes my way! Ha ha!
    You’ll be so expanded by having to meet the needs and challenges of your new life, you’ll turn into the wind!
    I don’t even know what that means but it makes sense to me.
    I can picture your crazy raw island life as if it was uncharted wilderness and none had yet tamed it into ordinariness or mundanity.


  4. A beautiful inspiring piece and a reminder to take a step back to look and listen to our heart. I am working towards a simpler life and have started taking pleasure in the small things and not get stressed when things do not go the way I planned. As a fellow knitter I find my best time is when I am sat knitting and allowing my mind to drift away. I look forward to your posts and hearing about life in Shetland. Thank you


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