Sadly, we did not manage to get on to Eileach an Naoimh, our planned retreat venue this year- the weather made a landing (via small inflatable from larger boat) rather dicey. Lindsay, the skipper of Sea Leopard II (highly recommended if you are in the need of a boat charter in these parts) had a good try, from a couple of different points, but a storm was approaching, leaving only one sensible choice.
We had the choice of loads of other venues in the area, but opted for the northern end of Scarba- offering shelter from the approaching south west storm in the old birch trees in the hollow of big hills.
It was stunning, despite the weather being a challenge- made all the more special by two sea eagles who were our constant companions- huge birds, with 9 foot wingspans riding the winds over the raging tides of the Grey Dogs.
This year there were 11 of us who traveled in the end- a really great bunch of blokes from all parts of the country and many different walks of life. We had lots and lots of laughter, times of deep silence, prayer, fireside conversations and experienced the close camaraderie of sheltering in a rudimentary shelter rigged expertly by Sam and Neil.
There is so much I could say (and probably will) about our days together, but for now here are a few photos;
I took a trip into the wilderness of Argyll at the weekend. Along with some friends I canoed along Loch Striven, camping on the shoreline amongst the birch trees and the bluebells. The air was alive with spring- birds stuffing last years grass into cracks being watched carefully by all those noisy cuckoos. The sea loch still enough to carry the tell tale ripples made by porpoise or the eager seals or the arrow like dive of the gannets. A huge moon rising over the hills bright enough to cast shadows.
On days like this it is impossible not to be aware of the new season- winter is over and everything is coming alive (even though it was VERY cold at night!) However, our connection to these things is increasingly distanced by the way we live. Our air conditioned centrally heated living spaces remain the same temperature the year long, the food we eat is available no matter what the growing season and the lengthening days serve only to facilitate our leisure pursuits.
It was not always like this. Many of the festivals we celebrate have their roots in ancient ways of marking the changing of the seasons. We humans have a way of ritualising and celebrating boundaries and transitions- particularly the ones that matter- the ones that might be the difference between life and death. So, the coming of milk to the fist pregnant ewe came to be called Imbolc in these parts, and the first blossom on the apple trees brought about the riotous dancing of Beltane. Then there was the celebration of the very last of the harvest- Lughnasadh.
This connection to the natural world is one that many of us still crave, without always being clear why. It is something we only really experience when in the vulnerability of being in wild places. By watching the progression of the year from the sleep of winter to the wilt of late summer and the last blaze of Autumn it becomes possible to see once again this world for what it is, and our small place within it all.
Then the season becomes like a song. It finds its way inside us.