Susan, Smola and me.

As a reader of my blogs, you’ll know that in September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick, Shetland.  It has been a busy 7 months, buying a car, driving a car again after 12 years of not doing so, restoring the south bedroom to its original floor and fireplace and to a more relaxed palette, applying for work, getting project co-ordinator jobs, developing, devising and presenting successful online knitting workshops, digging out a byre, sieving soil, learning how to get furniture to an island parallel to Norway, that although is technically in the UK, it is miles away from London and finding that deliveries do not easily arrive on this island.

As well as living here, I have been researching Susan Halcrow and her parents and paternal grandparents who lived in this house for 3 generations from the early 1800’s.   I’m particularly interested in researching Susan (Cissie) b1876, d1960 who was born in this house and lived here alone after her parents died early 1908 and 1914 and then her brother died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

I, as Susan did, make the fire in the hearth, grow things, open the latch door and look out to sea every day.  We both live and lived here as single women.  

Through this new frame of mine, my Shetland practice became entirely local (Shetland) based and I began to want to develop a digital written piece with an online knitted design created through my own (phenomenological) lived experiences of living in the same house that Susan had. I diarised my life in small chapters related to the morning or light, or sun rises or moon and frequently of the wind.  Through a daily practice of experiential writing, I began to wonder about Susan and her life by researching photographs of her and working on a small colour blending knitting design.  That pattern became,  Good Wishes for the New Year  and it was exactly that – all about Susan. 

But, I wanted to develop a deeper understanding underpinned by archival researching of her and her family to write my story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and to share it internationally.  This can never be The story because I cannot talk with her but it will be a story to honour a woman who lived a long life within this house.

At the end of January, I read about The Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards (VACMA) which is a programme of small grants schemes with a range of local authorities and art agencies across Scotland to support Scotland-based visual artists and craft makers in their creative and professional development. I had become really interested in the idea of writing a booklet about Susan and I living in the same house about 140 years apart. And to write part of the story through the experience of developing a knitting design with Susan in mind. 

So, I applied for a Visual Arts and Craft Maker Award (VACMA) 2 days before the closing date, and submitted by the skin of my teeth on 2nd February.  The application flowed because this is real for me.  I don’t have to make this up, it is my life, my home, seen alongside a very real woman who lived here – I just have to find the right way to write it.

I hope to creatively experiment through an auto ethnographic practice (personal experience in order to understand cultural experience) to enable me produce a 16-page digital booklet about the real life of 2 single women in different times living in the same house (140 years apart).

I will be experimenting with written word, photography and knitted design to tell our linked stories and I will also include a pattern design in the booklet. The project will bring together my previous 5 year’s skills and experiences, my Masters, Artist Residencies and my move to Shetland in an ongoing commitment to my creative practice.

Within time, I received an email from Shetland Arts to say that my VACMA application was successful, which I was over the moon about. To enable me to dedicate time to the project, I stopped all online teaching colour blending workshops until the end of May to give me time to knit the sample, research the family in the Archives at the Museum and to design the pattern and to write this work as beautifully as possible.

Though, from next week, my part time job has increased hours and I also volunteer at Women’s Aid too so I’m finding life very busy and full on but still, without fail, this booklet, the writing, research, design and knitting has been on my mind every day since February. I’ve been to the archives 4 times, I write when I can, I have, tonight, just finished the sample knit which has two different sleeve finishes and uses two types of yarn – as a sample, I am happy. The pullover will develop into another piece.  I have a wonderful test knitter, Cait, from Cream City Yarn, a wonderful yarn shop and creative knitting space in a one-room schoolhouse located in the suburbs of Milwaukee.

Maybe the booklet doesn’t need a knitting pattern design in it, but a recipe of life in this house, and of knitting and two women.  

If you would like to know more about my research on Susan and the Halcrow family, I will be writing a monthly piece on my Patreon site here.

https://www.patreon.com/TraceyDoxey

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

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.   https://www.patreon.com/traceydoxey

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

Easter

I have lost all sense of how I feel about this new land of mine in which I inhabit. The night of gales so harsh brought snow blizzards in 53mph winds. It was not a surprise to me but still I was not ready. Every experience is still in my first year. The long, dark, lonely, isolated winter had, I thought, passed but the night of harsh weather brought it all back and I wonder what is my purpose to being here.   I knew at 6pm yesterday that the night hours would be harsh and I began to compare the weather here with the photos of Sheffield in blossom and there is no comparison, no point in looking south because either I embrace the weather here, or it will beat me. This is not an island for blossoms.

I looked out at the sheltering boats in my sight line, knowing they were there because of the roaring North Westerly winds.  I wondered how these men survive out at sea and the oil rig guys and then the poor sheep ready to lamb.  Before daylight vanished yesterday, before the light was anywhere near dark, the snow had been blown into a low sea of ripples coating the road as if a fine sanded beach but the snow was frozen into solid ice.  Ice ripples. It is both magnificent and daunting to see this elemental response to winds, snows, freezing temperatures and exposure to the elements through no shelter. I gathered wood for the fire and shut the door.

In the morning, in the bedroom facing the sea with a chimney full of swirling, angry winds, I have lost all sense of what I feel. Remnants of the long winter are still within me, in my bones and memory. The Easter blizzards have brought back a reminder of an isolated feeling.

At 5am, the sun will not show a hint of light, whereas during the week running up to this storm, the sunlight glowed at the same time. I imagined the sun wrestling in the sky with winds, snows and clouds so ferocious that all it could do was wait for a gap, wait for the elements to die down so it might shine.   The forecast gives no respite for 2 days.  It feels as though we are plunged back in to winter except that we have more day light hours. It is lighter.  The cats want to go out but Alfie is terrified of these winds but he can wait no longer.   I stand at the door shaking to my bones whilst he goes for a pee under the poor Christmas tree.  I think it is his doing that has made the tree lose needles. Tiggy thinks twice about the whole idea of going out but finally has to. They shoot back in the  house, brushing my legs with their bodies.

I  leave the outside porch light on to let the boats know that we are here on the  land, whilst remembering the story I was told last week of  the winter storm where a ship hit the rocks at the south end of Levenwick. Eleven men scrambled off the sinking ship on to the rocks, in to the sea and up the cliff.  It was pitch dark but in the  darkness, they saw a light in a small house which they made towards and were taken in.  If they had not seen the light, they would have perished outside, wet, in a freezing storm at night.  The rest of the crew were lost at sea and only the Captain and his sea chest were washed ashore.   Years later, the cabin boy, who survived, returned, as a skipper of his own boat, to the house where they were taken in.  He sat upon the cliff and cried at his memory – then he sailed the boat that he was skippering to  the place of the wreck, stayed a moment then sailed on.   This is a land of survival.  The cats and I are adjusting, learning, swimming, treading water as we only can.  City bodies on an island. 

It is way past the time of sunrise – the sky is still midnight blue, the sea as if ink. What will the day bring – I will have to go and dig out the coal, bring in the peats, light the fire and be grateful for this opportunity to live in this environment but even so, I am aware that this is the harshest of gales that the cats and I have been here for and feel that instead of looking at the harsh extremes, I begin to  actually see the extreme beauty where nothing is missed and  I am aware of everything.  

Living a real life, missing no details.

a labour of love…

Red gloss makes me look away. It’s the first inherited colour that I paint over.  Red, raises stress, draws the gaze, takes over the place especially when on the focal point of a room like a fire place. Layers and layers of gloss over an old iron fire place makes my heart ache.  The iron cannot breathe through paint.  Here, I had so many other things to do that the red paint was far from the first thing in this room that was removed. I have been spending hours sanding, painting, oiling floors, nitromorsing and brushing iron, stripping wallpaper, painting ceilings, walls and stone. Slowly, the south bedroom of my small house, with an unbroken view of the sea has grown subtle, more natural, in keeping with the elements. Yesterday, as I was leaving,  I stepped back to look at my house with the disbelief that I actually live within it. I actually looked at the house and thought, ‘Man, I did it’.  It has taken me 6 months and one serendipitous moment to stand back and admire my home as an achievement.   Within the first few days of moving in, the house became a love of my life – not the – because I have Jess and Patti but this house sure is a love of mine.  I shared this view with a woman from the village who trod on my joy by saying, ‘you never would have guessed’ she said she was being sarcastic.  After that,  I began to hide my love, my joy and retreat to the sound of the old wooden latch, the view, the light, the tangible history within the house, which have all become a deep evolving love of living here.  

To get things done, I have been compartmentalising my life by working an admin job, teaching online knitting workshops, writing a business plan, designing knitting patterns, buying a car, writing online pieces and I have been working on my guest room in order to prepare it for guests.  Everything in the house has been shifted around to make space for this room to be restored, lovingly.   I find things to dress the mantle, to converse with the room, view and light.  Shetland sea urchins, I found in Brindister, the old wheelbarrow wheel from my barn, a bird’s nest from Martin’s lambing shed and one from Sumburgh farm, a bird’s wing from St Nininan’s beach – tiny shells and large shells all found within 3 miles of here build a story of local nature, Shetland life.

I yearn for an old iron and brass bed for the guest room – much like my own.  I have sourced one but it is in London and I cannot get it here. There are no deliveries off the mainland. I will wait to get the right bed.  I hear the Oceanic sank just off Foula in 1914 and there were 3 days things were removed from the liner and afterwards, when it sank, many things were washed up on the West Coast.  The Oceanic was the sister of the Titanic and it carried many ornate iron and brass beds now on the  sea bed.

I’ve restored many homes but this room has been a pretty big job – I have shed blood, sweat and tears – at one point, I knocked myself off a chair when the belt sander chewed up my trousers when I lowered my arms whilst trying to sand the ceiling (yes, really)  and that was really scary.  I did the  risk assessment, I knew the biting of the sander but it still happened. Finally, the sander has stopped. The screw and  plate had worked lose. I spent an hour trying to fix it but could not – so I finished the floor sanding by hand.  The guy at the paint shop is on first name terms with me because I’m a weekly customer.  The paint is the best I could buy. It’s inspired by a sample of wallpaper that I’m completely flattered that Emma has agreed to print.   When the paper goes on the walls, if Emma agrees, I will share its story – because event the wallpaper has a story.

I’ve just closed the bedroom door and realised that it is only 60% stripped.  I forgot about that.  But when it is finished, this room will be an unassuming, living, breathing room to gently connect to Shetland in more ways than one.

sanding again and again, oiling, fixing.

before

Look over your shoulder

17 Feb 2021

If on the 17 mile journey on the  way home from work in Lerwick, you realise that you don’t have enough petrol to get to town tomorrow, then you have to continue past home southward to get petrol and along the way you find a place you have never been to before, whereupon you arrive in time to watch the clever dog working the sheep with ease and grace while the unexpected winter sun rests upon your face and the roaring sea is in sight line, then you wander and find the  marks of your dreams – where a woman stencilled upon her croft house walls many, many years ago and the  pattern is still faintly visible even though the house is open to the elements – and after all the wondering if you made the right decisions to move to an island from a city come to a head because at that very moment you become washed over with a sense of pure contentment whereupon all the uncertainty and current concerns fade away and I know that I made the right choices to get to this very point on earth that I never knew existed and I look over my shoulder at the five year journey I have made to get to this one pure moment of clarity understanding at my own achievement – to  live life fully – even if it hurts sometimes.

To look over one’s shoulder to see the journey of risk, decisions, learning, acquired knowledge, tears and joy is to truly come to a resolution – it may be fleeting but these moments are the pure moments that mark out lives. I will never forget it.  My life choices have not been easy nor have they always rendered happiness but without doubt, I am trying to fill my life with curiosity.

A similar pure moment happened to me when I lived in China and found, exactly one year to the  day of arriving, that I also turned and looked over my shoulder at the journey – that was in 2009.  It is here but it happened in a similar situation when I was walking to Tiger Hill and all the stars aligned.

https://www.travelblog.org/Asia/blog-424932.html

Shetland Winter walk

On the doorstep, the air of the first pre-dawn breaking light is heavy with the scent of peat smoke.  It has faintly snowed as if salt has been laid down. Eleven geese fly in a staggered distorted V line, calling as they fly overhead in the dark blue sky.  The fine white snow covers the earth.  I’m heading towards the beach, it is 7:30am and the sky is a deep mid blue, the sun has not risen but the horizon is a faint burning pink line.  It is neither dark nor light.  Everywhere is silent apart from the trickle of the brook beside me babbling, occasional geese flying above and the ducks at the top house waking.  Few houses have a light on. It is Winter hibernation time – even Alfie went back to bed after he’d eaten at 6.

A large boat sits in the bay. It’s quite unusual to be here.   I’ve looked at it through my tiny eye glass. It is piled with containers and its lights are on day and night. I have since found out that it has stopped for repairs on route from Estonia to Iceland. It’s a different world.

When I breath in sharply, icy air surrounds my nostrils – there is no scent in the air – yet. 

Sheep rise stiffly and move away from my approach.  I try to not disturb them from their icy beds.

Towards the beach, my footprints leave not trace in the frozen snow.

I think, as I walk, that it is as if I have never lived in any other place, yet I have only been here about 20 weeks.   The sand is frozen in the shapes of yesterday’s footprints.  I came for seaweed but it lies frozen in the sand so I leave it. The beach lies below the Winter sunrise horizon line – it is entirely in shade and entirely frozen.  To my right, the cemetery is outlined in the early morning light.  I can see where Susan lies next to her parents above a thousand years of history. The grave stones stand as a crowd of people against the light.  

 At the edge of the cliff, I stare at the large boat in the bay. I can hear its distant engines chugging. The natural sea laps below me.   As I turn, I catch a glimpse of my tiny house on the hillside facing South East.  It has stood there for 200 years.  The white houses are all white, they do not glow pink as a reflection from the sunrise.  I feel calm, at one, at peace, yet there is a hint of uncertainty edging my fragile calmness – similar in shape to the pink edged clouds in front of me.  The light lightens.  It feels surreal to be standing on a bank above a crescent beach, listening to the ebb and flow of the winter tide. 

Rabbit holes pit the ground around the cemetery walls.  The rabbits know what lies below that ancient mound.  In this light, I see that all the beach is faintly covered in salty snow.

Sea, tide, ebb, flow, beach, wet sand, footprints, shells, tide mark, tiny shells, frozen seaweed, snow covered sands, frozen footprints.

The clouds are edged in frills of pink facing the rising of the sun god.

On my return, the sunrise has crept into the porch, indicating a return of the sun to a  more easterly position.  When I open the door, I see the sunlight flooding across the bare chimney wall in a shard of light.  The crystals throwing rainbows onto the ceiling, the shadow of the bar in the window frame flanks the wall in a perfect shape.   

I actually gasp at the magnificent light in my simple home, a home of few things, and know for sure that I would not wish to be in any other place in the world at this moment. The house provides me with safety in my unsure world. It is a place of shelter, a place of life, a place where I live and see and feel this world around me. I mean, really see and really feel this world – eyes wide open.

Online knitting workshops

Colour Blending workshops.

For some time now, I have been thinking of doing online Colour Blending Workshops with Fair Isle knitting.   Colour seems to be my thing in knitting.   I’ll never be as good a knitter as the Shetland ladies but I do have a sense of freedom with colour ideas and I think that is because I come from down south and have never been taught traditional ways.  I see in colour from the place I live, the sky, the sea, the reflection in the windows, the beaches, the soil. I incorporate these colours into my designs which are always inspired by Shetland.

I was approached by one of my lovely Patreon supporters to see if I would be able to zoom a meeting with her and her friends on colour blending.   One of the good things that has come out of COVID is that we are all now becoming more familiar with online meetings.  I often video meet with friends from Sheffield and Fair Isle on WhatsApp or FB messenger. My son also messages, my daughter is more in hiding from me – sometimes I can corner her.  The connection gives real time conversations and a chance to catch up – especially when you live alone – you feel less alone.  Verity and I make tea at the same time – Mati and I sometimes knit, my son usually looks online whilst talking with me. I love this – a natural conversation whilst sometimes doing other things.   I’m mostly eating.

I had been thinking of Zoom workshops but knew I had to subscribe to carry out workshops of over 40 minutes – today, I subscribed. It feels a big leap.  It feels good.  I feel ready.

On Saturday 23rd Jan, I will be carrying out a workshop with the lovely ladies from Canada and on Sunday 24th, I’ll be zooming with UK ladies – so now there will be no stopping me. 

Here are some of the workshops that I am thinking of

  • Swatch Book Saturday
  • Shetland Saturday catch up – show me what you got.
  • Colour blending
  • Yoke sampling  (that’s not an egg yolk)  it’s for cardis.
  • Norwegian Star cushion making

If you would like a 1:1 workshop – I’m set up.  If you would like to have a specific workshop with your knitting group or guild – let me know, I’m ready.

If you are an individual and would like to join one of my workshops with other lovely participants – then you’re welcome. Just contact me through this site or email me at the email at the end of this post 😊

The workshops will be interactive BYOY –(Bring your own yarn), informative, skills based and time for fun and questions.  In the workshops, we won’t be ‘knitting’ but looking at colour and how to blend.  I used to teach English in China and here in the UK, I have devised my first workshop session for Colour Blending – here is the core of it –

This is a design workshop where you will learn the skills and gain experience to enable you to blend colours and design your own samples of Shetland traditional tree and star yoke patterns. It’s a fun creative session to experiment with colour in Fair Isle knitting to take forward to create your own swatches for future projects.  You’ll be able to throw yourselves into the many colours of yarn on offer to us and you will look at your stash of yarn with a different eye.   We will look at a traditional Shetland tree and star pattern, used on Shetland cardigans and jumpers, and at examples of Fair Isle knitting including Yokes, flat knitting and knitting in the round.  I will show you real examples of Shetland and Fair Isle knitting and design pattern books and explain how I blend colours.

 This workshop will aim to work towards you making a hat using your colour ideas.   I will show you how to work on your own idea and choose a tree and star pattern and colours for colour blending so that you can make your own colour combinations that work really work well for you.

At this online workshop, you will learn: –

  • How to see colour / tone / contrast
  • How to blend colours in your knitting to create a harmonious pattern.
  • How to get excited about colour and not frightened
  • How I take inspiration from my Shetland surroundings to design using colour as a base starting point.
  • If you love colour and textiles, you will enjoy the opportunity for experimentation
  •  

I am looking to carryout February Online Colour Blending workshops on

6th, 7th, 2oth and 21st Feb – 10am – 12noon for UK participants or  3pm Shetland time 10am Canadian time and anywhere in between.  If you have a group, we can figure out the time.

If you are interested, please contact me using the contact form or email me on traceydoxey@hotmail.com

My knitting designs are here.

Ravelry: Designs by Tracey Doxey

take a look – you’ll see lots of easy colour blending projects. Sea Urchin hat is almost one year old and a beautiful traditional Yoke pattern which is perfect for colour blending.

Blue Winter

10.01.2021 08:21am

Blue light

This weekend has been all about a northern Winter, blue light, snowfall, walking to the top of the hill, and scraping the ceiling.

Two of us have had an attempt at sanding paint off the ceiling now.  I bought a fairly expensive belt sander and duly plugged it in and hit the ceiling with it. Holding 3kg up above your head whilst wearing goggles and a face mask, standing on a chair, is testing to say the least.  It didn’t work.  So I started scraping the paint with a ‘magic scraper’ but it wasn’t magic at all, then Nitromorsing, then I paid a man to have a go at sanding and in one hour the entire room was filled with paint flakes and dust but there was nothing in the dust bag and some areas were sanded but more paint was still left on the ceiling and it was all looking very intact with 50 years of rippled paint beaming down at me. He said it couldn’t be done and to go over it with another ceiling. I thought about it.   I poked and wiped a little area clean on the glass in the window so that I could see out, heart slightly sinking at the magnitude of it all – then shut the door for two days. 

Saturday, I returned to the ceiling with fresh vigour, armed with new paint stripper and optimistic hope.  Somehow, I had forgotten the midweek sinking feeling.  Two hours later, there is little effect on the paint from the paint stripper and scraping so I pick up the sander again.  Whilst sanding above my head, I can feel my stomach muscles tightening to hold the weight of it all and to balance – maybe this hideous act of restoration can be exercise too.   Saturday tea time, I close the bedroom door and shower off the dust.

Sunday, I wake to more fresh snow and decide to ignore the bedroom ceiling until I have walked to the top of the hill which overlooks both Levenwick on the East and St Ninian’s Isle on the West side of Shetland.  On passing Jimmy’s, I catch him feeding the birds and mention that I’m walking to the top of the hill and the abandoned mast – just in case I never return and I’m either in a blizzard or lost or slipped or dead – I’m on the hill, right?  I’ll call in on the way home to let him know I survived.  Living alone risk assessment –  it’s a good idea to tell someone where you are going when it’s remote and there’s bad weather.  In my bag I packed a little back up 1. a newly recharged domed torch that sticks to the fridge and can flash.  I figure this is a good idea in cases I need to flag down a helicopter.  2. a foil blanket in case I get caught out and need to hide under something. 3. a flask of tea.   No money and no chocolate.  

I’ve not left the village before the first blizzard of sharp harsh hailstones, bigger than pepper corns, lashes across the land from the West.   I take shelter against a wall in an old, roofless shearing shed.

Even I think it’s a stupid idea and I know Jimmy will be looking out of his window wondering where I am.  After ten minutes, there’s a seasonal change from harsh winter blizzard with hail to calmness and a speck of blue sky so I set off again.  The blue light is reflected on the new snowfall, which reflects back a whiteness.  Pink edged, dark grey filled clouds begin to surround me, there is a faint sound of wind but it is positively calm compared to 5 minutes ago. Out to sea, a snow storm rages.  I can see it pouring, sieve like in vertical strands connecting cloud to sea.  I’ve begun to watch the shape and colour of the cloud formation indicating the weather in that particular spot.

Only two sets of foot prints have been before me – one of human and the other of a large dog. The pink frills edging the clouds become peach then fiery gold – the sun, suspended in the moment, is hiding somewhere behind the snow clouds colouring the cloud edges burning them into a golden light. Whilst writing, the paper page turns pink from the reflection of the clouds many, many miles away.

I am the only living human on this great hill –  I know this for sure because there are no other footprints. Sheep follow alongside. Abandoned snow topped peat banks to my right marking what would have once been a busy place. To the north, the sky is one sheet of orange/ grey, as if fire smoke and to the South, dark rolling fog coming towards me.  It is magical to see the earth’s weather system for miles in both directions – doing different things. The southern weather becomes quite frightening to watch – as if a harsh storm is rolling uncontrollably covering everything in its path.  On the hill, I’m hoping for a view of St. Ninian’s Isle but the likelihood is becoming slim.  I now begin to look for possible shelter – not even a building but a wall.

The ice on the road is frozen like the waves of a sea. Frozen ripples with small snow drifts at either side. The light is blue – not the sky, but the light itself. The ice is too slippery so I walk in the snow alongside.

Slowly, slowly, not entirely walking but meandering, Bowie on a loop in my head, I reach my goal of the abandoned telegraph masts at the top of the hill with 360 degree view at exactly the same time new hail as sharp as nail points stab my face.  The wind howls and whistles around the masts. Briefly,  I look over the edge of the cliff to St, Ninian’s way down below – a perfect natural tombolo beach visible from above.

I turn, to face away from the instant hail storm then start the return journey.  It’s easier going back downhill. 

Bleak blue light

Coldness on my back from the chasing wind.   The sea, way below, ahead of me is now a deep Navy Blue.  The storm sky has coloured it.  At ground level, snow falls gently, sheltered by the hill and for now, the wind has subsided. 

Back to the sander and dust storm.

Shetland Mid- winter

23 December 20
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08.01.21

Each day, my first point of contact with the world is through the sitting room window which frames the sea and the sky.  Some days, the window is full of a sea’s horizon, as if drawn using a spirit level.   Outside, the sky has always drawn my thoughts and gaze, but here, the day is written in clouds so visible in a long 180 degree joined up formation of whisps that colour my day.

On the bench, I look at the horizon thinking I am back in the Himalaya viewing the mountains – which at the time, I thought were clouds.  Here, each cloud edged in pink frills around its south side looks so much like a snow topped mountain range that I could do no other than think of being back in Nepal.

I have moved to a remote place with nature as my ever-reliable friend.  It is the sky that raises my spirits and gaze. I am drawn to the horizon line day after day, where the sea touches the sky and where the clouds rest in a row. Just after 9am, after the sun has risen, we have been having two pure hours of crystalline light where this small point on the earth shines in magnificent, unquestionable glory. 

A string of chandelier crystals, on a wire line, edges the top of the window.  The prisms and nuggets throw rainbows up the northern walls of the sitting room.  Already, I know where the sun rises in this composition of interior thrown light.  The sun rise has slipped southwards.  It throws its light in to the porch and the covered Jasmin.  With the light, I figure out my possibilities. I am alone but not alone.  I have my thoughts and feelings and they run unencumbered – wild and free.

08.01.21
Himalaya? or Shetland Sea and sky

Shetland Winter Solstice

On 21st December 2020, I met a friend in a layby just south of Cunningsburgh, which is actually a remaining part of the old winding road that used to skirt the coast from Lerwick to Sumburgh. Now, there is one main road in Shetland – the A970 –  a perfectly smooth, well-kept, tarmacked road that rolls out for miles from the most southerly point of the island at Sumburgh to the most northerly point some 60 miles later at North Roe.   Some of the sections of the old road still remain – used as laybys or viewing points facing the sea. They jut out beside the main road and this is where we planned to meet at the southern end of Cunningsburgh to watch the sunrise for our 2020 Winter Solstice.  In Shetland, we have, at this time of year, just under 6 hours of daylight.

Two days in the week running up to 21st December had given us glorious sunrises from about 9:02am to 9:15am.  I knew this, because I had watched the golden round sun rise out of the sea in Levenwick.   On 21st, we were positioned ready, hoping for light.  The sun did rise at the same time as the previous day but it hid in the clouds. All we could do was drink hot tea, chat, eat cinnamon bagels and watch as the day just grew light.  It was a beautiful start to any day but it was, for me, completely special with good company and a good reason to meet. When we knew the sun was up, but that it wasn’t going to show, my friend went to her place of work in Lerwick and I went on to Cunningsburgh beach to look for sea glass.

At exactly 10:02am when the earth tilted 23.5 degrees away from our Sun and the Northern regions of Earth experience the shortest day of the year — our Shetland world became the Winter Solstice and at exactly 10am, the sun broke through the clouds to be the most magnificent, powerful star in the universe at that exact moment in time at exactly 60 degrees north. From the beach, I could not believe its brilliance. It was one of those moments when you just do a little squeal of excitement without knowing you were going to do so or that you could, in fact squeal.   Here is that moment of pure brilliance throwing light.

I have long wanted to use crochet in one of my small designs but didn’t know it on that beach until I went in to Lerwick, bought 3 colours from Jamieson’s that were of that Solstice moment. When I got home, I started to make little granny squares like the rising sun to join to make a pair of mitts.   I picked out the colours that most reminded me of the sunrise but the joy of this pattern is that it can be made using any 4 ply yarn that we tend to have in a box all jumbled together. About 5 years ago, I started making a blanket in tapestry yarns – it still grows and it is as heavy as a rug.

Taking inspiration from the landscape that now surrounds me has become one of my greatest joys whilst living here. Every day, I look for the sunrise and last night, 27th December, I stood out at midnight under a perfectly clear, calm night with an almost full moon surrounded by a huge perfect moon halo. The Cats came out with me, I messaged people about what I could see and tried to take photographs of the moon but they never come out from the phone camera.

Storms and sunrises and moons are a huge part of winter and I am settling.  

here are the Crochet and Knit Winter Solstice Mitts that I made – the Pattern is here https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey

https://www.ravelry.com/designers/tracey-doxey