Shetland, Fair Isle

Learn, live, grow

I have returned to Shetland, initially on the invitation of Mati because she was heading off Fair Isle for a trip off the Island and offered me a couple of weeks to stay in her house, look after Lola and the cats and write – that changed for her but the dates for me did not.

I travelled to Shetland, ironically, or not, exactly two years to the day of travelling the same journey to live on the Island in the house I bought in Levenwick.  On that journey, in 2020, I travelled north by car and the North Link ferry with my beloved cats – I was filled with hope and excitement at a new life by the sea.  But, I left the island 13 months later, and in many ways, I am still coming to terms with those 2 years.   I never thought that I would do this return journey to Shetland after selling up and leaving, but here I am, back again.  There is something that seems to draw me back to this extreme place – I think, maybe, it is love, which, in itself, shows me that my move to live here was the right one at that time.

When I booked all of the details to get here, three planes, two taxis, one bus, and a car and an overnight in Lerwick (and the same for the return), I wasn’t really feeling much at all, then, when the final detail was arranged, I almost felt excited. 

Each stage of the travel up north began to remind me how far, both geographically and emotionally, I have moved.  When the 32 seater plane touched down at Sumburgh, I felt slightly emotional, as if coming home.   This surge of, almost tearful, emotion has happened to me every single time of returning to Shetland since 2016 – usually on the top deck of the Northlink when passing Bressay lighthouse. Maybe the feeling was relief that I made it after all the practical things that could alter on such a long journey or maybe it was connecting with an island that I do know intimately after living here – walking West Voe beach by the airstrip and watching the planes coming in or when collecting buckies at Grutness waving to the many different aircrafts that flew overheard.  So many things have happened here for me. Or maybe, it was the emotion of meeting a long lost friend – the islands of Shetland.   My connection runs deep to the islands, as deep as with my most precious son and daughter. If this is the case, then, the emotion I felt on landing is one of love.

My next emotional meeting to overcome was catching the bus from Sumburgh to Lerwick because it diverts to go through Levenwick, right past my old house but somehow, I was offered a lift by a visiting councillor in the taxi – I accepted. This meant that we didn’t painfully and slowly drive through Levenwick, stop outside Jimmy’s house where I walked his dog every day, then, opposite Herbert’s old house, at the shop where you can’t really buy anything in date, and then by the surgery.  The taxi passed, unemotionally and unconnectedly, above the hamlet of Levenwick, on the one and only road south to  north, onward to Lerwick. When we passed the village, at a fair speed, I fleetingly caught sight of the community hall and the foot-channelled, tufted grass path beside it that I walked every day for over a year, to the beautiful crescent beach and I felt nothing.  I have no idea how some emotions build or slip away but I really just looked over my shoulder, then concentrated looking forward as the taxi driver cut almost every corner possible.  I thought of all the road kill I had seen on this road to Lerwick over the 13 months of living here, mostly hedgehogs by the dozen, birds, and one day a magnificent otter. I sat in the back of the taxi whilst the councillor and the driver talked of things I could not hear and wasn’t interested in.

They dropped me at the Lerwick hotel.  I got out, thanked them then walked to the hostel.  In Lerwick, I couldn’t believe that the Queen had died.  I shared this disbelief with the lady at Isleburgh hall, reception who stoically replied, ‘well, she lived a long life and she’ll get a good send off.’ Which put an end to any additional conversation and, in itself was not incorrect but I felt a little sharp or matter of fact or just plain Shetland pragmatism.  This far up north, whatever you think of the United Kingdom, here is a very different land, structure and feeling – especially to royalty, Boris or Liz, or bank holidays.  I kept the thoughts of the Queen to myself and shared them with my kids and my lovely neighbour looking after my boys back home.  Home seemed a long way away with different thoughts and feelings to that of here. At home, the Queen means something even to folks who don’t care about royalty.  The Queen was a very special woman in her own right and our country of England will miss her presence and continuity.

It didn’t feel strange to be back in Lerwick at all, I didn’t bother with walking around – there was no point, the whole reason for being here was for a stopover before the plane from Tingwall to Fair Isle.

In the morning, before sunrise, Bains beach called. It is a small place of great beauty in the town. Always crystalline in clear turquoise water, crescent in beach and clear in view towards the island of Bressay, (even if fog) Bains beach is flanked by The Queens Hotel and the most famous house on the island – the Lodberry or Perez’s house.  I think it must be the most photographed house in Shetland too.  What a rich and full life these places have had, going back centuries.  Both buildings have stone stores built in to the sea.  I remember my first visit back in 2015 where I found out that Jimmy Moncrieff, his brother and parent’s used to live in the Lodberry.  His brother still does. I called Jimmy at his office at the Amenity Trust and went to visit him.  He photocopied information about the Lodberries and I suppose my love of Shetland started around that time, Sept 2015.  In January, 2016, I returned for Up Helly Aa  and Jimmy got myself and a friend tickets for one of the hall’s dancing and party all night.  Since then, I have built up my love of Shetland to the point of buying a home, living by the sea and leaving again. 

I was lucky with the flight from Tingwall to Fair Isle.  They sometimes don’t go because of wind or wind or even more wind and sometimes, they are delayed.  The flight on Friday was a dream flight. 25 minutes inside, over and below blue – blue plane, blue sea, blue sky, blue clouds, little wind – perfect conditions.  We landed and I was greeted by people I have long known who both live and work on the island of Fair Isle in a number of jobs.  One of them being Fire officers to meet the plane or guide it in.  Fair Isle islanders work really hard, in all weathers, relentlessly.  Their commitment to community is extra and above. Without the community working together to make things work, no one could live here – as it is, I think there are about 50 islanders though the island population is now swelled by contractors working on the water and building the new Bird Observatory after it burned down in 2019.  They are an impressive bunch of people with a vast array of skills to survive here. I think that these extra characteristics are some of the things that I also fell in love with here. Shetland creates stoic, pragmatic people who survive in the harshest of conditions as well as the most beautiful extreme terrains. 

perfect

This trip, I felt was to ‘draw a line’ so to speak, on my whole Shetland life but since being here, I find that Shetland, in all its many facets, is in my heart, though my emotions are like a pendulum, anxious at all the wind again, drinking in the familiar sights and enjoying the unexpected. But I do know where I am best placed now, and it is not in Shetland.  I nipped for a cup of tea with Marie, she mentioned that I am maybe ‘closing the circle’ and that seems a really nice way of looking at this whole cycle and journey in my life. 

As my stay on Fair Isle beds in, I note that I fluctuate from bitter/sweet thoughts about my life 60 degrees north and wonder how I could have made it better for myself when I lived here, but really, on my own, I could not have sustained it for another ten years and I missed access to my son and daughter.  The isolation and the relentless wild winds began to drive me crazy.

We are guided by the weather here.  Holidaying or staying for a few weeks or even months is not fully understanding what it is to live here. So many things affect a life on the islands, least of all the weather and quite frankly, that part is enormous. 

For now, I am beyond grateful to have returned to both Shetland and this rock 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, to have friends who welcome me, to have a place of great beauty and creativity to stay and think and breathe.  It is a gift of love, learning, personal growth and time.

If you are a knitter and would like to knit any of my small patterns, I am offereing 20% off all patterns on ravelry, while I am here on Fair Isle, link here

New Pattern, writing and – knit a little ‘after thought thumb’.

In November 2020, whilst I was living in Shetland, I made a new hat design called Good Wishes for the New Year – the story of its making is here

If you have been following my story, you will know that the hat pattern was entirely inspired by a beautiful woman called Susan Halcrow, who lived in the same croft house that I had bought in Shetland, from 1876 to 1960. This was the beginning of a love story, not only with the house but with finding Susan then knitting designs inspired by her life that I uncovered at the Shetland Museum Archives. I had the honour of connecting to her life, by living in the same house – her house, as she had so many years before. I treasured the memory of this woman through the return of her artifacts to the house (jugs, bowls, plates and glasses) and by being handed photographs of her. The first design that was inspired by Susan was Good Wishes for the new year. It is a hat designed and named after a note she wrote on the bottom of her Christmas cards one year. Below is the note on the card – just look at her serene beauty.

I sat in that croft house and opened that same door as she would have done, and looked out of the same window as she did and I connected to what I knew would be the colours around her when she lived in the house. I went on to knit 3 more designs based around Susan and my life in the house that she had also lived in – Dear Susan has an 11 page story along with the design and that is here. It is a story I am particularly proud of.

I have just designed a little pair of mitts that will match the Good Wishes for the New Year hat and the Good Wishes beret and, although this is a very small pattern, of no great consequence, it has suited me to make them whilst I have been searching for a home back to Sheffield, after returning from living in Shetland.

After 8 full months of living in 8 differnt places and the cats in 6 places, I have finally secured a place to call home. It is broken and a little ugly. nothing is nice except the area, the light that streams in and the neighbours, whom I do know because ironically, the flat is in the same set of flats where I sold one to go live in Shetland in 2020, yes really, but the one I sold was lovely, wheras this is a shell and I will be starting again, again.

But, I am happy to be back in the city, with a box flat and little else. It is where I belong, where I can be me – I don’t really belong anywhere and have realised that I have been searching for a long time – but living in Shetland was too isolating and lonely for me as well as other things that I found difficult – the constant wind, for one. I will explain this when I write the book because, In September, I hope to return to Shetland to write about my year in Smola, Levenwick. I will stay with my good friend Mati Ventrillon on Fair Isle and I will catch up with good friends in Shetland but I will not go to see my beautiful house. It will feel a little painful to have let it go and no one could love it as much as I did. And maybe Susan did.

but I have no regrets because – what a year I had and I went for my dream – both feet and I did it – I achieved what I wanted to do though I didn’t think I would be coming back.

A friend of mine came down south a couple of weeks ago. When she was sailing into Lerwick from Aberdeen to go home, she said that she looked over at Levenwick and though of my Shetland Self. I thought that was rather beautiful and I miss her. I miss the sun rises and sun sets, the beaches and the whales and my friday fun days with Emma and swimming in the sea with Lyn and I have decided to write about it now that there has been distance between leaving and returning.

So, I will be in Shetland in September and if you would like to support that travel, then, you could buy a knitting pattern that I have designed. They are here. the small income from each pattern sold, will go towards my travel to Fair Isle.

Dear Susan

the new mitts pattern is here.

when I started unpacking the boxes from Shetland, I found precious sea urchin shells and heart shaped stones and glass and tiny perfect shells. Treasure.

https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/good-wishes-mitts

and I would appreciate any pattern purchase to help me with my travel costs for the long trip north.

there is a photo tutorial in the pattern on how to knit your ‘after thought thumb’.

and if you would like me to report on anything from Fair Isle let me know. Mati and I might do some live instagram sessions. I will also be doing a couple of online colour blending workshops whilst there so let me know if you are interested by signing up here

Releasing this little mitts pattern in a heatwave seems silly but I wanted to share it with you. It is a bargain price of £3 – the cost of a cup of coffee in a local cafe but you will have this for ever.

Stanage Edge, Peak District, and 5 miles from my flat.

EXPERIENCE: I lived a Shetland Island dream.

I have decided to write a book proposal to send to agents to write my story of living in Shetland as a single woman – in the most beautiful house and also why I left. I sent a pitch to the Guardian for their Saturday magazine ‘Experience’ section. It is below.

I bought and sold a 200-year-old croft house in a pandemic year.

At first sight, the 200-year-old croft house in Levenwick, Shetland, felt like it had always part of my life and I part of its existence. Its childlike front faced east, towards the horizon where the sea bordered the vast sky. The coronavirus pandemic was in the early, frightening months when I sold nearly everything I owned—including my flat in the city of Sheffield—and made the 800-mile journey north to this house that was now mine. I had decided to buy it on a sound, the click of the old wooden latch hitting its wooden casing and the sight of the flag stone floor.

But my move to Shetland was not a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic. I had stayed on the island multiple times over the previous 5 years, and I’d always had a faint idea that I might move to there one day. Yet it was in March 2020, when Shetland friends sent me links to the tiny, jewel-like croft house for sale, that I knew it was time at age 57 to make my dream happen: living by the sea in a lifestyle of creative knitting. 

I arrived in September 2020 with 2 cats, 2 bags, and a cat pram, followed by a few pieces of my furniture a week later. I felt as if I had never lived in any other house in my life. Its easterly facing windows offered ever-changing light and colour, whales in the bay, sunrises, passing ships, dark night skies of stars and the Milky Way or full moons that seemed to rest on the house roofs. The island was there for me to explore, finding favourite spots to collect cowrie shells, taking ferries to see Iron Age brochs and knitting on the beach. I began my creative life of knitting design, writing and teaching online knitting workshops.

Because of the pandemic, no one was allowed in anyone else’s house or car and everything began to close for the approaching winter, but I was happy, learning about myself and living a life close to nature. I began to restore parts of the house, sanding wooden floors, getting the leaky shower repaired so I no longer had to wash in a bucket, sieving the rocky soil in order to grow vegetables in the shelter of the roofless byre.  At Easter, a two-day blizzard coated every window with frozen snow as if at the North Pole, an unfamiliar and beautiful experience. 

I researched the croft house and the generations of people before me, including a woman who lived there for 83 years. She and I had opened the same doors, looked at the same view from the porch, sieved the same soil. I cherished my time with two friends, one in the village and the other 40 miles away, an 80-mile round trip for us to visit each other. But, by May, I began to feel very alone, which was a deeper feeling than that of lonely. I missed my son and daughter, still in England, and I missed my Sheffield friends and the city’s multi-cultural, outward perspective. Then, there was the wind.

Until you have lived on a treeless island where the wind visibly surges from the four points of the compass, down chimneys with a roar that lifts the bedroom floor boards, pins the ears of the cat to his head when he leaves the house, drives salt spray across the windows from a sea half a mile away, and nearly rips the car door off unless you use two hands to open it, you have not experienced wind. Shetland’s wind is nearly constant and can easily blow between 40 and 70 mph. I found it invigorating at first, but it soon ripped into my thoughts and became exhausting.

When I began to go out every morning to see if the barn roof was still attached, I knew that I could not sustain a solitary life in the raw harshness of Shetland at my age. A friend had said to me, ‘If you bide in Shetland, you’ll need a man.’ A partner may have alleviated much of the loneliness, but my decision to leave Shetland would have been the same.

I learned that a place of great beauty alone is not enough to sustain me. I found that I wanted the multi-cultural, open-minded existence of the city. I needed real connections to people who didn’t just talk about me but with me. I loved the little croft house, but I had to let it go, selling it in the Autumn and returning to Sheffield in October last year, without home or job or knowing exactly what next.

When I came back, friends said, ‘well, at least you tried.’ But I didn’t just try.

I did it, and I undid it.

There is a quote, ‘she believed she could, so she did.’ I believed in my Shetlands dream, and I had the bravery to do it and the courage to undo it when I knew it wasn’t mine anymore.

—Tracey Doxey

May 2022

Grateful thanks to Ann Senuta (who lives in New Mexico) for editing this text for the pitch.

if you would like to support me with the idea of writing my story, then please contact me in the contact form on the home page – I would love to hear from you.

Extract from ‘A house of two women’ Dear Susan,

The below text is an extract from my ”Dear Susan’ knitting pattern and 15 page story of my Shetland croft house life and the symbiotic relationship between myself and a woman that lived in the house 140 years before me. Even if you don’t knit, the personal story will draw you into a Shetland life – both modern and old. Read the full story here

Shetland, May 2021

One day, towards the end of May, it rained so heavily that when the winds took up the weight of sky and sea water, dropping it upon the house roof, I could hear nothing else but the sound of pelting rain. Dampness penetrated the house, not as seeping or leaking but as a shroud that rested upon my body.  I lit the fire in an attempt to fight back. After one hour, the weight lifted and I began to knit, waiting for the promised summer.   By early evening, the sun came out as if there had never been rain at all so I walked to pay the wood man for the fire wood and on the way home, I took a detour to the beach.  I wandered the edge of the surging waves, churned up by the afternoon’s winds.  The sea, still being in a fury, was not able to slow down its waves to meet the sudden calmness of the early evening.  The ebbing sea left a wake of tidal crustations as if lace edges on the beach.  I looked for Buckies but all in an instant, I saw a tiny green sea urchin the size of a small flat pea.  I bent to pick it up just as the tide surged over my shoes but I caught it before it was lost back in to the sea.

I wondered if you ever walked to the beach to collect sea treasures or if you never bothered.

Shetland, The Visit, August 2020

Dear Susan,

I begin with the outside, with what I have to hand; my reason, my eyes, my spatial understanding, and an openness tinged with the unknown.

On arriving, I need my first investigations of your croft house interior to be made alone. I want to inhale the house, listen to my internal feelings at first sight then recognise how my body responds to the old stones – I need to let body and stones talk to me. Thoughts and feelings need space.  I need space.   I haven’t yet found you.  I do not yet know that you were born in this house 145 years ago.

It is a pale grey day, mist rolling over and down the hill behind the house as if a blind has been half pulled down a window. The sky is bleached out, the day is calm and windless, not particularly notable.

I open the front porch door, then, I try the house door with its mismatched glass panels. It opens in to the tiny vestibule area. To the right, there is a third old, board-door, painted white with a hand-hewn square wooden knob, which I turn to the right.  The simple mechanism lifts a wooden latch inside.  That sharp click sound of the latch lifting and hitting its wooden casing is the sound that I will forever remember of this place.  It is my first sound here and it will probably be my last when I leave.  It is a click of old wood against old wood, heard by every man, woman and child that has ever entered this house before me, for the last 180 years.  Human touch leaves tangible traces of every hand that has opened it before me. The patina of years lies dirty on the paint’s surface.

Simultaneously, within the sound, my heart is given over to the first sight of the flag floor and fire place in the sitting room. In an instant, I am sold on sound and sight.  I know I will not pull out of this crazy unseen deal to buy a house and change my life entirely.

Heart over head, I move in three weeks later, with two cats and a bag, the furniture and belongings on a lorry, to arrive a week later.

like wall paper under next to my skin

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

Anais Nin

Dear Susan Jumper, Levenwick Beach, Shetland.

Read the The Dear Susan Jumper pattern and 15 page story, which you can find here, It will be part of the book I will be writing about my life in Shetland, a letter to a house, Susan and the landscape and my knitting. There will be 15% off this pattern and story for the weekend of 7th / 8th May 2022.

Mati and me

what it says on the tin December 2019
mati and me

Mati messaged me this morning, she is on the 5pm Northlink ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen tonight, now, in fact. She’s heading to London for London Craft Week. I’ll miss that event but I will catch her that last day that she is in London and we will head for the fabulous Wellcome trust Library on Euston Rd and maybe have tea in the tea room with Green Burleigh pottery. I’m looking forward to seeing both Mati and Patti in London – what a treat

tea?

Mati messaged this morning to ask if I would do a 1 minute recording of my experience in Fair Isle – there is a blog on it here so,today I found voice memo on my phone, and just spoke from my heart and memory about my experience on Fair Isle for two months at the end of 2019.

You can hear the recording at the beginning of this story.

It is a little longer than 1 minute.

Now that I have decided to write my own story (book) of living in Shetland, I may go back to write it in Shetland and where better than on Fair Isle? Maybe you would like to join me in a virtual meeting – let me know. I am thinking of September.

here’s the Sea Urchin pattern, mentioned in the recording. It’s been my most popular knitting pattern and one that I use in my colour blending workshops.

I think my stay on Fair Isle embedded my love of Shetland. It will be good to go back for a visit, though I’m not that keen on the tiny plane from Tingwall to Fair Isle but it is always worth the journey.

In my dream…

In my dream, I am walking along the side of the croft house, holding the white washed wall with my right hand to both steady myself on the uneven ground and to touch the old dwelling, built an unknown number of years ago, but recognised as being almost 200 years old.   The white wash paint, cheaply thrown in a thick running coat painted over the wall just before I bought the house, by the previous owner’s husband – a stoic man a very few words, is/was beginning to flake and grow a frill of green mould around the edges of each flake, a little like lichen, created by the harsh southerly storm whipping winds and lashing rains.

It, having stood for almost 200 years, defiantly, strongly, needing nothing but paint to protect it, had seen and heard generations of families who lived here/there before me, is/was my protection against the fierce elemental swirling world. 

Every second of living in that beautiful house, I knew from which direction the wind was blowing.  I felt it, heard it, saw it even, the ever-present wind.  The house, picture perfect, faces/faced the sea to the east but I had already begun to look Southward to distant thoughts of friends and son and daughter. Threads of invisible people pulling me back through lack of regular contact and communication. It was then that I recognised a deeper loneliness than I had ever before in my life – the loneliness of self-imposed isolation that would not change over time but become more heart wrenching.

In my dream, I walk/ walked along the side of my beautiful croft house to the roofless byre, to sieve the soil to grow things but nothing really grows/ grew outside in Shetland without a great deal of protection from the elemental sea salt burning winds and harsh rains. The time-heavy extra labour to protect growing outdoor plants that grow horizontally below the storms, takes its toll on body and soul and does not always pay off in fruitful crops or a feeling of personal value or reward but becomes at best, a learning curve and at worst, exhausting.   I began to dream of having a polycrub but that was out of my reach financially and with land space.  I then began to realise the value of land on that island. Land struggled for by many for many generations and still held as priority.

In my dream this morning, here in the city, there was a brief and fleeting, but very real walk along the south side of a house I once bought and loved.  I heard the crunch and shuffle of endless rocks and stones beneath my unsteady feet to walk ten steps in my memory of a place that was home and felt completely right, for a while.

April 14th 2022.

rocks and stones

Tin, paint, paper, creative generosity and kindness.

It arrived at my most sad moment.

returning, walking back from work, having cried openly all the way to my temporary home, along the roads, with all the bags, on opening the door, the parcel wrapped in brown paper rested on the hall table in my friend’s house.

I knew exactly what it was and whom had sent it.

the generous kindness of Françoise Delot-Rolando, an artist that I have long followed for her beautiful paintings of fragments of clothes. beautiful clothes. She had contacted me a few weeks before asking if she could share the painting she had done of an old cardigan I had knitted some years ago.

on seeing her message to me, i thought she was joking but she was not. I was honoured by her connection. her equisite, detailed, expression in paint of my expression in yarn took my breath away, so you see, i knew what was in the squared parcel wrapped in brown paper. a gem, a gift, a rare thing.

i stupidly opened it whilst on the phone to a service that i thought might listen to my deepest sad moment, a moment that surfaced so strongly that the flood gates couldn’t hold it back – a result of analysing my current housing situation. six months without home, constantly moving from pillar to post, searching, getting one, losing one, then another, and another loss but i began to learn from the losses. all the hours of searching online, phoning for viewings before all the viewing spaces are gone within 2 hours of the property going live on the market, no slowing down of the cruel speed within which hiked-up house prices rise by the week to be bid upon by people paying 20% above the asking price with their hard earned money to be in a ‘best and final’ bidding war where we all offer more over the most we can offer and we are in a whirl wind of houses going for a ridiculous price whatever their state.

i hear of people going to painting residencies labelled, Loss and Renewal, painting into being. everyone has loss and renewal but loss pours from me and i yearn for renewal. in my deep sadness in not finding a home, i am becoming a shell, a husk of what i was – functioning well at work, but not any place else.

BUT – then, there the little orange tin glowed on the floor, sent from France, to remind me of kindness and good. from a good woman who does not know me but for some kind and beautiful reason connected.

Françoise has a keen eye for detail, painting something more than a knitted pattern in a cardigan, more than a fragment of clothing expressed in paint and marks but the nuance of telling the story of a life in a garment.

but this perfectly formed, generous, gift arrives and i cannot take my eyes of its form until finally, i stop blethering about my situation and see a thing in front of me to be most grateful for.

when finally i get a home, and i will, shabby or broken or not, with its high price tag and cost of living in energy and worry, take this painting and it will hang in pride of place and i will be removed from this sad day of mine.

grateful thanks to Françoise Delot-Rolando, for lifting me on this grey evening. Please take a look at her beautiful work on the website or on instagram mentioned below.

https://lamenagereenvrac.tumblr.com

instagram @lamenagereenvrac

Pebble stack building – Church Ope Cove

At Church Ope Cove, I arrive just in time for sunrise. I squat on the pebble beach to build a pebble stack, reaching arm’s length for stones.

What I soon realise is that I cannot rush building a pebble tower. There always needs to be a solid safe foundation stone. I cannot grab just any stone because any stones laid on top, rely on the base and each other to stand strongly. I soon realise that I cannot rush the build otherwise it will be messy and unstable, ultimately falling down.  The building of a pebble stack at sunrise, which I briefly recognise as an analogy of me and my rebuilding of a life,  teaches me to find a solid foundation stone. As I build, I recognise myself as both the possible unstable stack and the foundation stone. I connect to the stack because I am not entirely stable at the moment and I have been building on instability, therfore, becoming wobbly and unstable.

I am the foundation of my future life and need to make this position strong and secure, with balance and steadiness.  

Hello Day, hello balance, hello understanding.

In the nineteen minutes between the visibility of the very top of the rising sun and its full emergence, I learn that the stack foundation stone is not stable and neither am I. We are both unsteady.  I start again, with new stones, finishing with a perfect egg shape, that can neither be built upon nor be entirely safe but is aesthetically pleasing.   I will continue to practice building pebble stacks every day I am here now, mindful of self and rebuilding. I have rushed the job because I am distracted by the sun rising and a swimming man. Rushing is also recognised as a problem of mine.

As a small fishing boat passes, I wave to the fisherman.  He does not wave back. 

I shout, ‘Wave to me, wave to me.’

And he slowly raises his right arm and waves briefly left then right, half-heartedly but steadily and surely. I laugh out loud reciprocating with both arms waving with gay abandon.  

At this precise moment, I feel free, clear headed, understanding some small but importante requirement of rebuilding a new start of self and home.  

wave to me, wave to me.

Get the foundation right and the rest will follow.

I watch as a man strips to shorts, gloves and sea shoes, wades bravely into the choppy sea without flinching and swims.  He is submerged in freezing water to his chin.  This is his foundation stone.

I need to stop my internal struggle. Stop the internal fight with myself and internal dialogues. I need to stop. It will help build a steady foundation stone.

Pebbles are pulled back into the sea.  The ebbing tide rolls a cacophony of singing stones. Once again, I reach for my knitting and knit to the rising sun, feeling the sun’s warmth and glow upon my face, the pebbles singing to the ebb, a man swimming  and a rare deep, honest contentment fills me from inside out.  Nature has taught me a clear lesson.

I understand something fundamental. We are our own rocks. 

We sing, we balance, we fall, we are unstable, we are attractive and attracting and we are also rubble.

Winter Solstice – at the still point of the turning world

At the turning point of the earth, on the shortest day, when the sun is furthest away, I celebrate Winter Solstice thinking of a gradual return of light. Celebrating the Winter Solstice is marked by people all over the world, in their own beautiful, personal ways.

I go outdoors. I wanted to connect with the environment but nothing prepared me for how I responded to that connection.

I waited for sunrise in a white sky. It did not arrive, but I felt its energy opening me up to connect to something hugely greater than self.

As the dank air penetrated, without plan or thought, I stood on the edge of Stanage,  opened my arms, closed my eyes and breathed in connecting with the landscape and something deep within myself.   I rarely express my life’s energy with open arms.  Today, I did. 

Here I am in my favourite spot on Stanage edge. Standing on ancient rocks, facing the horizon, in the split second of raising my arms and closing my eyes, there it was – that one pure moment of inner freedom, letting go, connecting with living the dance of life. 

It is an empowering action to accept life with open arms to allow my inner landscape to melt into the present moment. It is also slightly embarrassing but honest.

TS Eliot came to mind, written in Burnt Norton, one of the Four Quartets, he said it better than I ever could :-

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor

fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance

is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity.

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement

from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline.  Except for the point, the still

point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been : but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time…

I am reminded of the man who gave me these 4 Quartet booklets about 25 years ago.  A wise man, a teacher, a friend, a patron, a good man who was previously the Provost of Derby Cathedral and retired as Vicar at Chatsworth where I also lived at that time. A man who swapped books with me.  I gave him Jeanette Winterson, he gave me TS Eliot and William Morris books. We learned from each other.  I often think of him when I am at the still point of the turning world. And, I am grateful.

Today, I returned to Stanage Edge, as I have done so many times over, to acknowledge my internal and external place in life. I return to the solid rocks again and again connecting to past and present, whilst thinking of future. These stones and rocks become an anchor to steady my heart.

A familiar sight holds me, grouse utter their sounds in the heather, a cow bellows, the wind is a gentle whisper.

It is the shortest day of the year – Winter Solstice and I am finally

home

Cold fingers and knees atop an edge of ancient stones.

Today, I wore my newly finished ‘New Year Beret’, which I started in Shetland and finished in Sheffield. 

If you would like to look at the New Year Beret pattern, it is here.

I wish you a Happy Winter Solstice and I honestly want to say Happy Christmas and Good wishes for the New Year.   I want to say thank you to every one of you who have joined me this last year in an online workshop and thank you to those who have bought a pattern from me.  I’m truly grateful. Tracey, December 2021

The moving city of stillness in all its chaos

 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.

23rd September 5am

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.

bow

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.

Sunday

Winter winds

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.

Growing things.

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.