unexpected partner – the Wind
The 16th day of the 11th month. 2021
19 days in the city and finally, no longer is my first involuntary sense that of hearing.
My body is not accompanied by that initial, uninvited, instinctive sense to hear before listening, which partnered me for the year I lived in the small croft house facing the sea, in Shetland. I learned that my human body automatically responded to the anger or the brevity or the absence of the sound of the wind whipping around the house or down the chimney by hearing to listen. We gather information by hearing. but, what of it when there is nothing to hear?
I no longer need that first sense because here, in the still city, basic survival it is not a requirement – for me, though it will be for others – I think of the homeless, or abused.
To hear before the body wakes fully is about survival, it is a fully lived experience of the close surrounding external world. Hearing first is a heightened way of living dictated by surroundings.
To hear fully in this way is not heard by all – not even in a lifetime. In my case, it / was is closely related to fear.
I am sure that the experience was heightened because I lived it alone, in unfamiliar surroundings, without a person to share any of my experiences with. If I had had someone by my side to share the initial waking of a day, I am sure the immediate sense of acute hearing would have been diluted, slower, but I didn’t. Living alone in extreme weather conditions is not like living alone in a city or town where the weather is halted in some sense by buildings.
And I think that here it is uncovered – the second layer of external and internal effects that required survival techniques – being alone. I did it all alone. Dealing with everything alone in extreme conditions multiplies sensory response – when there is not a support network to turn to.
Humans intuitively have sensory responses to situations. When I am alone, sensory perception is heightened.
But, three weeks back in the city and I am not yet used to its silence. Even in the long queues of purring traffic, the emergency vehicle sirens, the streets of people talking, kids and dogs, it is all still and silent to me. I am surprised by the stillness of the crowded city. I am not yet used to the loss of the wind.
Stillness meaning windless.
A swapped state of experiential extreme natural elements, which almost can be looked back on as charming, but only from the comfort of a busy city. A city where the fierce weather is removed and it is not a daily battering, nerve fraying occurrence.
Two years ago, I lived on Fair Isle for November and December and the winds did not shake that island world. Last year, I arrived in Shetland in September and the winds did not shake my world for weeks, but this year, 2021, the winds did latterly shake my world daily. In the end, my experienced days were accompanied by the ever-present winds of between 40 and 55mph driving around the house – driving me in. But, when the exhaustion of a howling harsh wind is removed, only then can the memory of it change in to something that was maybe a dream.
So, I have lost my partner – the wind, and I am not sorry. I had craved a changing world from a city, and I got it. I experienced it fully.
Looking back through journals, I see that every entry expresses my daily companion to some extent or degree – the weather features in every written page and not as an English conversation but as an observation of how it affected the day – both positively and negatively. My closest daily companion, with all its friendliness and rage was the weather – the fog to the ground for weeks, the brightest blue sky and sea, the lashing rains, the sea spray plastering the windows, the sun sparkling, a full double rainbow as big as the world view, the cracking open of the day light in the fold between earth, sea and sky, the extended moonlit nights, crisp crunchy ice, the crystalline constellations and stars above and the winds – all extreme, all experienced fully.
The elemental life that I so craved for five years before moving to Shetland, became my first and last daily thought – and, you might say to yourself that I knew what I was getting in to. And I will say to you, no human will ever know such extremes until you fully live it, without escape, alone with your own thoughts. Even if you did your research for extended previous stays, it appears that the weather is changing and living with extreme winds is different.
At the end of a Shetland year, what does one desire? A windless day? A respite in weeks of fog? A walk along a beach, a street, in a park, through a gallery, by the canal or along a pedestrian shopping street? A full moonlit night? A partner? Ease in the storm? A long awaited visitor? A long train journey south? A son sitting opposite me at a table with a dinner laid out? Or a daughter’s arm place around my shoulder as she steps off the train? These are not material things. Materialism is long gone from my desire – these desires are peace.
It is easy to – guild the lily, over egg the pudding, lay it on thick, go overboard when all is beautiful and in Shetland there is plenty of beauty but when there is no longer the heart for it, it is time to go.
An inner landscape changed by an outer one. I changed into something vulnerable.
I missed my son and daughter. I missed the choice to visit them – for them to visit me. It all changed, it went off like a light switch.
Release comes in bursts, in letting go, in acceptance. The process to understand will take time – it is complex.
True enough, I am not stirred by the sun rises in the city, nor the way in which the moon shifts. I do not have a clear unbroken view of sun or moon or sea as in the beautiful house in Shetland but I am calm in the arms of the city – both inward and out. Nature was not enough in all its beauty. A beautiful house was not enough, in all its glory. In the end – a painful experience which I am still slowly unravelling. I am a changed person from it . Someone told me, ‘the soul knows where it has been’
It will soon be Christmas, but before that will be a friend’s birthday – a time to celebrate with more faces in one room than I had seen in one year in Shetland. A place to be part of something bigger than just me and a beautiful house.
I am slowly processing so much. Slowly, slowly accepting the moving city of stillness in all its chaos. Everything is familiar but new again. Nothing yet everything has changed.
At Christmas, with a daughter, there will be a serving of dinner and memory making of family, however small but true.
I wonder if the last year was all a dream but I am assured that it was not. And, I regret nothing, not the dream, nor the extreme move, the purchase and sale of a house within a year, the extreme move back, the terrible fall on the ferry, and now, my feeling adrift. I regret nothing because, I suppose, when my energy is high, I am a soul searching woman.
Below is an entry from my journal. I notice now that, retrospectively, the wind was creeping in. I read that I was fascinated with a sense the excitement of everything new, including the wind.
It was A dream.
15th day of the 11th Month, 2020 – one year ago.
Now, every day, the winds blow to some degree (except the occasional pure crystal clear still day – but they are few in Winter). By the porch, I have a creeping juniper that is growing flat to the ground, over the flags, across the stones. It seeks solace and creeps lower than the wind / under the wind. It grows entirely horizontally covering the contours of the stones, adopting the shapes beneath it, twisting its arterial trunk backwards upon itself to grow low. This tree/bush cannot escape the wind but it has devised a way to survive. I nearly removed it for practical reasons of access but it has been a topic of conversation for anyone local – they say it is years and years old and I will respect that. I am learning each day. It will go on creeping.
On waking, my first sense is hearing. Before my eyes are open, I register the day by what I can hear. This is not a conscious decision, it is my living body waking to my surroundings, possibly drawing on human’s need to survive. I now realise that anyone living in this house before me would have done the same – listened. Weather can dictate our entire Island day. Wind is no element to strike up a fight with. My living body listens to the day before I open my eyes. If there is no sound of wind, sight swiftly decides the situation by looking seaward. These sensory responses of hearing and sight take place over a nano second.
My waking gauge of the strength of the wind is primitive, having said that, I have unwritten and flexible wavering levels of experience. If I can hear the sound of wind wrapping around the house, down the chimney to the blocked fireplaces or rattling the gutter downpipe in its socket – the wind tells me it is here and from which direction it arrives. It will blow my hood down, blow the ash from the fire into a dust cloud, will make Alfie squint and fold his ears back when he exits the porch, will make my door knocker, knock as if the wind itself is trying to get in.
I was told that there is a sense of hibernation here in the winter. I have yet to burrow down.
We have had one storm. I sat by the fire watching the fanned flames in the stove burn the coals away at a ferocious speed. I need a capping on the chimney before next winter. It is difficult to get anyone to come out at this time of year. I have not yet gone through a winter but learned I need to stop the wind fanning the fire.
Yesterday was a harsh weather day. Visible driving winds from the west full of spiteful rain, chased down the hill, across the road in sheets towards the sea. I thought that because the house faces East with its back to the West and a hill behind the road, I might be protected from the Westerly winds but found that the wind hits the other side of the hill with high pressure. On this side of the hill is low pressure due to being protected but the low pressure sucks down the high pressure and causes Flans, which are sudden squalls of wind that are channelled in direction and take out anything in their path. They have been known to take out residential caravans, sheds and outbuilding roofs.
I have decided, at my cost, to never leave the house now without wearing waterproof trousers during Winter. I can be drenched in minutes without warning. Often after brief fine weather, we have fog rolling over the hill, often accompanied by winds.
I am finding this fascinating – taking me back to a way of life dictated entirely by weather. This I never felt in the protected city.
I have a small porch, and in it, I have dragged the solid garden pot plants that I had growing so calmly in Sheffield. A jasmine, star jasmine, orange blossom, two cherry trees grown from stones and a rusty pot with Allium like fireworks. Outside, they were all suffering. Inside the porch, they are flourishing sheltered from the winds and salt water rain. Yesterday, rather belatedly, I dragged in the hydrangea which now resembles sticks with odd burned leaves from Sea salt in the winds. I am hoping that they will regain strength.
Here are no Autumn Apple harvests or fir cone collecting days or bunching of dried flowers for wreaths – I will look to other ways of foraging and collecting – I have started with whale bones from whales long washed up on a shore in Scalloway.
I am growing and learning along with the plants in the porch, and the starlings and sparrows coming for their seed breakfast.
One thought on “The moving city of stillness in all its chaos”
Such an evocative account of the beauties and challenges of life in an extreme climate: really appreciate your reflections on your experiences on/off Shetland Tracey.
(And your knitting…I can’t knit and I long ago gave up the struggle to teach myself- but am in awe of anyone who can magic up some alchemy from wool and a couple of long pointy sticks!)