Waiting For An Otter

I listen to the wind. If I lived here I would want to know the wind force, reliably, in the moment, now, not check a forecast, I would want to be able to give it a number, get to know it. Listening and feeling can be deceptive, it is, as yet, unfamiliar to me. There are times when I think it wild yet find it to be moderate and times when I wholly underestimate its force.

Last evening, safe in my room I recalled days and nights in Faroe when the wind hurled and screamed as it blew incessantly. I wonder if there are many words for wind in the same way as Inuit have many words for snow. I want more than gale force, storm force, hurricane force, they do not tell me enough. Google offers me ‘Orkneyjar’ perhaps I can research and write on this.


I have two pieces of homework from Elwick Writers group. Playing with place names and a dialectical piece. Labradorian villages have been my choice for places rather than those in Orkney. My Orcadian pronunciations would be inaccurate, risk offence, and the metre might not work for a native speaker. If I choose words from a distant place, I hope my interpretation might be as good as another’s. My piece is called Zoar and I have worked solely on sound and rhythm. My dialectical piece, may be an exploration of the wind.

What nature, I wonder, the malcontent that sat so heavily over me yesterday? Today it has lifted and gone, replaced by a joyousness of being alone. Perhaps it is to do with my lack of control, lack of comfort in my surroundings, of food choices and walks, for out and back are never as rewarding as a circular tread. I find it generally a cold, lonely and empty house. It is too big, I think there are beds for twelve. I might curl up to read for I am not in the mood for writing. Perhaps I might study the blog post I found this morning, The Void by Alex Mathers, who was writing precisely about the vacuous hole I sometimes find myself in.

‘The Void,’ and why understanding it leads to our best creative work

I notice I can see Wideford hill from Vasa Point, perhaps that is why I have seen Wideford sands marked locally on the map. Soon I shall leave this island and there are still places I have not yet explored but I do not feel it has been easy to explore, do not feel it has welcomed me.

Times and feelings like this are of value though. Through living simply, I learn what it is that I need. When I fill my life leaving no time for lostness or aloneness it is hard to know who I really am. Aloneness is different from loneliness but some days I have a sense of aloneness that also feels like loneliness.

I have woken this morning, with a running blocked nose, and I reflect, that since being here, it is nearly two weeks since I have swum, perhaps weakening my resistance to infections. I blow my nose and brush the cold away, it will not strike.

I have a whole day to myself. I must finish the cleaning of the boat and clean the Croft but before I do them, I fancy an otter expedition, a walk down to the shore. It is time to be up and out if I am to meet my otter but I want to stay in bed, immersed in my words.

Perhaps I might take my iPad and sit down at the shore, watching, waiting for him. The reality of sitting at a wet, exposed picnic table in these winds makes me smile wryly, yet if I drive down, will the otter come my way? I wonder whether my presence would be greater sitting on a bench and smelling of human or sitting in a stationary car that smells of machine. I decide that my personal mission is both otter and exercise. I am unlikely to wait out in the open for long if I walk but the otter, of course, may not come today so driving might result in neither otter nor exercise. Walk it is then.

Most dilemnas can be resolved by deduction. Often though, for some reason, I do not like the logical solutions and keep myself embroiled in a loop of problem complexity. The walk or drive debate is simple but for me, my current dilemma is that I do not want to be here, on this island.

My choices then…. I can either be miserable, make the best of it or head out on a ferry for the day into Kirkwall. Hmm, that in itself, without a car, does not excite. The cathedral, the bike shop and tickets for the story telling festival would be my agenda, I’ll think on it. Another option would be to head out here and walk long but the weather is inclement and the terrain offers no shelter. Guidebooks tell me that all monuments except Burroughstone Broch are on private property and permission must be sought to visit them. Permission from whom I wonder? In essence it is really only the castle that as yet I’ve not seen, perhaps I might ask at the shop.

My morning plan develops: pull together yesterday’s thoughts, otter walk with my iPad, return for an omelette breakfast, ring Leona (the only person I know who might be about, I met her briefly at Elwick Bookwrights) before settling in to my HelpX tasks. So far so good but my plan comes to an abrupt end. what, for the rest of the day? I can write, I can develop my web site, upload some photos, try to get to grips with the formatting.

I had forgotten that walking alone is so rewarding. I had not imagined how engaged and purposeful it might feel to be walking this path alone, warmed by brilliant sun and tempered by fresh, gusty winds. A tiny speck in me had begun to tickle the idea of a dog but I kick the stray thought away, for I dislike the smell and the hairs and the need to wear wellies, hoping perchance that he shits conveniently so i can kick it in the ditch.

There is a spot at the north end of the bench where the seat is less wet. I face my back to the sun, side to the wind. I am close to yesterdays otter run. The wind is in the wrong direction and he will smell me but I sit regardless and watch Jonathon Livingston Seagull and friends soar, twist and dive unpredictably, finding invisible currents.

I ponder the idea of continuing further to the next point where gun turrets standout on the shoreline but my knee has already complained this morning and a pebbly beach is not for today. Perhaps I might drive, park up and walk the track, explore from there, I feel inexplicably full of joy and wonder. The day is my own and I am waiting for an otter who will not arrive.

Skerry and Holm are now words I can use confidently, hitherto familiar but without the completeness of knowing. There must be a very high tide today, the skerry has nearly disappeared. The wind is south westerly, the sky blue with white cumulus and wispy layers but a large expanse of dark foreboding menace sits on the horizon. I am waiting for an otter who will not arrive.

I seem to have chosen a lull in ferry traffic and am grateful for the peace. I can see how this might feel idyllic in the summer when nightless days, stretch endlessly and perhaps, if i were making independent choices here, it might hold me now. I am hungry, need breakfast, I think this is nearly the first time I have felt hunger since being here, meal times seem to come before I am ready and with a regularity of hour of which I am unaccustomed. My fingers are cold, I need gloves, I thought I packed some, but not, it seems, in the luggage I selected for my first few weeks.

Hummocks of islands, sea, clouds and sky. Small waves in blue-grey, dark grey, ocean, rise and fall but do not crest until they reach the beach, tumble then to the shore carrying with them the sound of gravelly rocks. How could I not want to be here?

Several times, especially in low light levels, the tower like structure on Vasa Skerry resembles a person. I think there is someone out there but cannot make out why they are there, what they are doing. Each time, I have had to look carefully to establish that it is, what it is, even though I know it to be the same. Approaching Shapinsay on the out of hours ferry, a large red light showed in the fog, I had no location for it until yesterday, it was Vasa Skerry itself, warning shipping, not to come too close.

My hands, toes and knees are cold. The damp that seeped through my trousers when I first sat, has not warmed as I thought it might. A few more minutes, just a few more minutes. My otter may yet come. The Mill Dam bird hide is another place I would like to return to, to sit and watch, bide my time, learn to use the scope, perhaps there is an otter there.

I can see Evie from here, a small scattered settlement on Minland, sandy beaches I understand, good for swimming. I hear a seal keening in the wind and feel a growing sense of cold. I realise the sun has now been buried by a dark heaviness that looks as if it will persist for some time. I predict there will be a rainbow, this is a world of rainbows.

I think the weather has been surprisingly good since my arrival but Thelma disagreed when I expressed this view. I said, perhaps it is more an attitude than reality, but she announced firmly, there has been a lot of rain, the stream has been running throughout. Most days we have had sun but along with it, rain. Together, they have depicted canvas after canvas of gentle skylines, open treeless land, then painted stunning rainbows. Beautifully strong rainbows, singles, doubles, complete or just thick stubby ends with a central arc hidden by cloud.

The ten am ferry approaches, from Eday perhaps, I can wait until it passes although I feel shivers in my legs and my goose-pimpled flesh smarts. My otter will not come today. Another ferry draws around the battlements, two by two they come, ferries today, german submarines eighty years ago. Soon, I will be able to begin to plan my exploration of other islands, take one of these ferries. I will choose brilliant days like today or go on grey days. Rain is immaterial, I can book a night, take the car, stay for two days.

The ferries head straight towards me, enough water today, this side of the skerry to take a tight line. I was surprised yesterday to see one pulling tight round the corner, a favourable wind and high tide lets them pass close by. Swans fly over and startle me, coming from nowhere, heavy bodies, squeaky wings, heading towards the loch. Behind them, I see a tiny fat stump of a rainbow, just a small stubby over Westray with nothing but ocean, Fairisle and Shetland beyond.

How different my mood when I am in control of my day. These working placements never hold my attention for long, over and over I say I will not do them again but seem to find myself doing so. They serve to give me structure and experience I could not otherwise find. I think i might start to look in Shetland. I have plans to head home for christmas and back out in the new year, Aberdeen perhaps then the ferry to Shetland.

My thoughts turn to a neglected message from SpareRoom.com that came in yesterday and to which I must give attention. A potential tenant wants a room for the year beyond and I need to deal with this before i commence my working day.

My work clothes share the washing machine with towels from the Croft, tomorrow I will clean my room and pack, my time here nearly done. It has been a day of writing in fits and starts, but is now mid afternoon and I am finished for the day. Funny how my plans have become distracted. It is good to have completed my work but I have missed three hours of sunshine. This mornings brilliant sun has turned into intermittent heavy showers with a stormy sky.

I don’t dislike rain, as long as I’m wrapped up I enjoy rain on my face, feel fresh and alive. I will still go out, head to the bunkers, the gun turrets and fortifications, buy milk and then perhaps look for an otter from the bird hide on my return.



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