Wednesday 8 September 2010

(39) Raasay

‘A myth may have been true, and is always true’
Meg Bateman, after Karen Armstrong

Our Kisakata, after countless displays of rivers and mountains, land and sea, is Skye, after views of numberless waterfalls, allts and lochs, beinns and sgurrs, isles and kyles

Our heart’s inch-space is Sorley's ‘window through which I saw the West’

Our Noin Island is Raasay

Our gusty rain hid Mt. Chokai is cloud-topped Glamaig

Our old cherry tree of Saigyo is a birch or a hazel or a rowan of Sorley

Our imperial tomb is a poet’s memorial, Sorley’s Cairn, Hallaig, and the house of his youth that bears no marker

Our Chokai supporting heaven, its image resting in water is Dun Caan, its image resting in Loch na Meilich

Our island is also sad, for ‘every single generation gone’

39 Raasay, Scotland, (Boswell & Johnson)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Meg came with us, on the ferry from Sconser to Suisnish, pointing out Sorley's last home, at Peinchorran, where he looked back on Raasay, remembering his gran rowing him over as a wee boy. In a few days, at Loch Insh, we will meet Emma Nicolson, who grew up here. We ate our lunch, as is traditional, in the car in the rain, looking down on his childhood croft, over the the view from the window that looked west from Oskaig, sipping Ali Shan Taiwan Oolong (aged 10 years).

39 Sorley's childhood home, Raasay
Alec Finlay, 2010

The Woods of Hallaig

39 Map of Raasay (places named in ‘Hallaig’ underlined)
from Sorley MacLean: Critical Essays, (ed. Raymond Ross and Joy Hendry, 1986)

Eck’s Hallaig was walked a few years ago. Even more it’s Hamish, reciting in his armchair, calling it one of the great modern European poems; and Martyn's setting, listened to on the ferry, with Sorley’s reverie and the overtone fluting of the rushing waters: Eyre Burn, Inverarish Burn, Allt na Moine, Allt Thomais, Storab Burn and Glam Burn.

39 hokku-label
(‘tha i/ na beithe’, she is birch, after ‘Hallaig’, Somhairle MacGill-Eain)
poem, AF; photo, KC

39 hokku-label
(‘tha i/ na caorann’, she is rowan, after ‘Hallaig’, Somhairle MacGill-Eain)
poem, AF; photo, KC

39 hokku-label
(‘tha i/ na calltainn’, she is hazel, after ‘Hallaig’, Somhairle MacGill-Eain)
poem, AF; photo, KC

Ken’s Hallaig is the coastal walk from Fearns to Hallaig, and the first time he has set foot on the island, though he's often seen it across the sound on past trips to and from Portree.

for ‘Hallaig’ read ‘Hallaig’
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Borgesian signpost –
Pierre Menard's latest work
is 'Hallaig'

Sora’s Hallaig

I leave Eck and Meg where the road ends at North Fearns (the name's from alders though I see none). Below a single white house the Wanderers' Tuck Box dispenses tablet and brownies.

39 Wanderers' Tuck Shop
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I follow the muddy path between coast and Beinn na’ Leac towards Hallaig, slip and almost fall as I approach a mother and daughter coming the other way, meet a frog, indifferent to my presence.

39 frog on the path
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Tarskavaig's wild geese –
today the old poet takes
the form of a toad

39 Sorley's Cairn
Ken Cockburn, 2010

In drizzle I reach the memorial cairn to Sorley Maclean (1909–1996), with his poem 'Hallaig' in the original Gaelic and also in English translation. Our pair for the grave of the poet Noin (988-1050), which Basho visited. The cairn overlooks the bay by Rubha na' Leac where bright kayakers have beached. Then the birches of Hallaig crowd the path, slim trunks pale-green lichen's attached to, the floor grassed, steady sound of the rain.

39 Hallaig birches
Ken Cockburn, 2010

dancefloor shifting
light spinning
slender girls

Back in the clear I pause for lunch at house remnants, low walls thick grasses top. Realise I've no water, midges around, oatcake and banana, midges everywhere, brownies delicious, midges unbearable, still munching time to move on.


On Dun Caan

Eck’s Dun Caan was walked many years ago, from Balachuirn, the house in the hollow. He walked up where Ken walks down, in the path that’s a burn.

Meg explains it’s name: a fort, but of a god, Canu; not a god of any thing, but the male principle: rays fanning through stones impregnating the earth. If the (Dutchman's) cap fits.

Canu (m)
Cailleach (f)

Back at Sconser the auld hag bends over Glamaig, An Coileach, the chip on her shoulder.

The women are all within me, says Meg. The seasons are all within the Cailleach.

Winter, Samhain,
when the year begins
she is hag

in Spring, Beltain
she is a maiden

to become Lammas
the mother

39 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010

Sorley’s ‘she’ is not the pine plantation of the laird; she is the beloved native wood; she is beithe, she is caorann, she is calltainn.


On Dun Caan

Ken’s Dun Caan

39 hokku-label, Dun Caan
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Heading north to Dun Caan, less Danish than Boswell asserted, I start south seeking access to the ridge to avoid sheer cliffs SE of the summit. Rain still steady and everywhere the ground's wet, boggy, heavy going. Burnside birches run downhill, I climb and cross above them, refreshed from a pool-filled teacup.

39 drinking cup
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Tacking uphill I pass a huge heather-topped erratic. The ground doesn't get any drier, deep gouges in the landscape look like they should be rivercourses, but they're grassed and tree-lined.

39 gouge / gorge
Ken Cockburn, 2010

Higher still the ground's flatter and pool-dotted, like Sutherland flow-country. Cloud above the Cuillins on Skye clears.

39 looking over to the Cuillin
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I trudge on, Dun Caan always in view, but seemingly no closer. I'm grateful when rock protrudes and gives me something solid to walk on, and now no rain here either. I come to the steep slope beneath the rock-curtain of the summit where sheep look surprised to see me, follow a sheep-path round towards the map-marked path, see Meg above me, and we ascend to the summit together.

39 hokku-label, Dun Caan
('We had a Highland dance / on top of the Dun Can, / the highest mountain in the island', Boswell)
Ken Cockburn, 2010

39 Dun Caan summit, looking S
Ken Cockburn, 2010

I look on Hallaig birches and flow-country covered. Rain's closing again over Skye but winds won't blow it this way, moments even of sunshine. When a military plane flies overhead, Meg says Gaelic poetry has often contrasted the beauty of the landscape with the violence that takes place in it. We pour a lidful of Poit Dhubh into a summit-pool – mouth of the volcano – for Sorley before we drink and, pace Boswell, dance a few steps. Then it's the long descent down a stony path running with water. A hill-runner, yellow top and mud-spattered legs, passes us heading uphill, later passes again on his way downhill.


Basho’s Compass

More than any other station, here at Kisakata Basho compassed the land. Mt. Chokai dominates, the highest peak in Tohoku, at 2,236m., towering over our Cuillin.

This station is an opportunity to pay homage to another inspiration for this project, Hamish Fulton ‘Hermit Futon’, as we fondly byname him – whose art is one lifelong walking poem in disguise. This his homage to Chokai – like Basho he sets out from Kisakata – which he pairs with a communal walk at Como, walking as a pedagogic manner of instruction, teaching by experience, a method he has been pioneering in the last few years. This print was published by ‘Big Peter’ Foolen, of October, Eindhoven.

Hill Walk: Art for a mountain hut, 1999; a portfolio with a sequence of 9 prints, published by October Foundation

The Woods of Inver

‘We climbed and we climbed
Oh, how we climbed
My, how we climbed
Over the stars to the top
Of Dun Caan
Forcing the lines through bracken,
peat and heather’

after Brian Eno, ‘Taking Tiger Mountain’

39 wish, birch, path to Inver

39 wish, hazel, path to Inver

39 wish, hazel, by a pool, path to Inver
Alec Finlay, 2010

Sorley’s ‘road is under mild moss’; this path’s wild under banks of heather and fern. My knees have no ken of the ways of my boots. Magical bowed birks, braided with hazel and willow.

39 circle poem
Alec Finlay, 2010

39 hokku-label
(‘seeing / found // in-bet / ween // the / birches’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 201

39 hokku-label
(‘fern / fingers // soft / moss’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

39 butterfly, Inver
Alec Finlay, 2010

Once I had a slender love from Raasay; she fluttered into my life like one of the butterflies that follow me down the path today, settled for a week and a night. Reach out and she’d flown off, my hands or heart making clumsy patterns in the damp and empty air.

The burn sounds gush when the path comes close, fade as it winds on down; different waters come together, swelling the river.

39 hokku-label, Inver
(‘she was a film / on my heart // when she came / she tasted of coffee’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

I’d forgotten that what went when the village fell into ruin was the bridge, for the beach is on the other side of the river. Retracing my steps I risk a fallen alder ladder.

39 alder bridge, Inver
(‘love / is // a / bridge // that / lives’, AF)
Alec Finlay, 2010

39 wish, birch, Inver
Alec Finlay, 2010

Basho’s at Inver, in the kayakers camp. One-by-one they paddle in; they had the smoother path. Seeing how close Portree is makes sense of Bagh an Inbhire, the port over the bay. Views of Trotternish Ben Tianavaig and The Storr where we’re headed tonight, if we make the last ferry.

Saigyo’s here too.

At Inver
a rowan’s covered
by the tide
the canoeists paddle
over blossom

AF, after Saigyo

And Sora’s here.

legs of a crane dripping
from the ocean freshness

tr. Cid Corman

heron’s shanks drapple
frae brisk sea

ver. AF

in rain a Seishi
silk-tree sleep blossom

tr. Cid Corman

a snoozin butterie
hings frae dreich birks

ver. AF

And their friend, Teiji.
a fisherman's home
the shutters taken out in
to the evening’s cool

tr. Cid Corman

a tailor’s hame
wi th’ westlin windae

ver. AF

How could I have found what I was looking for if I didn’t know – grin, eh, always on the wrong side of the river. I knew the place was here still; still lost still of it's people. I hadn't come to find what had never begun, nor even to overturn the traces. I came to walk among the trees, still slender and beautiful, and I found myself rushing back uphill, listening to the water rushing down.


D is for Diamond and Departure

39: wordrawing, diamond passing
Alec Finlay, 2010

Timed to the minute, here are the poets down from the hill. We meet at the diamond point, and though sheep and a self-confessed 'bad reverser' conspire against us we're second last on the ferry. A last look back as we reverse this morning’s voyage.

‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s bay
a grey mountain rising
from its waters to the east
to the west a slope of green earth
piled with new sawn timbers’

AF, after Harry Matthews, ‘Lateral Disregard’ (after an observation by Kenneth Koch)

39 Sora & Meg discussing Basho, CalMac, Raasay
Alec Finlay, 2010

39 Boswell & Johnson, Raasay
Ken Cockburn, 2010

(AF, KC)


Martyn Bennett was a highly influential Scottish musician; his extraordinary outlook on music, culture and society, continue to inspire today. The Martyn Bennett Trust was set up by his friends and family to support musicians who share Martyn's passion for innovation, experimentation, and boldness in the composition, arrangement, and performance of music.

Peter Foolen is an independent designer and publisher of books and editions on contemporary art. He is based in The Netherlands.

Hamish Fulton is an acclaimed walking artist, photographer, poet, and author of several books and essays.

Sorley Maclean is one of the most important and best known modern Gaelic poets. The Sorley Maclean Trust serves to aid in the study of this esteemed poet and introduce new audiences to his work.

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