In November 2014 I undertook a residency at the Inshriach Bothy for one week. through mixed media drawing, photography and found object I used the time as a source of exploration into the subject of experiencing place.
The work I produced forms a self contained project box, pictured on my website.
Below is an excerpt of writing I produced whilst at the Bothy, it falls somewhere between the creative and the documentary. It was created in response to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and all quoted text below relates to the book.
“Far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life but so much over and above my usual allowance.”
The river is a constant grounding sound that wherever I stand in Inshriach I hear the bubbling.
It is still flowing.
I find it reassuring, dependabhle. A sign of continuation and routine.
Working to illustrate a higher power; not to imply that God makes the water flow but that the world does not depend on human presence to be.
The planet runs on a lifecycle transcended from our own, we call it slow but perhaps we are fleeting beings. I have come to consider, while sitting here by the river, that while the river flows she illustrates this lifecycle,, the passing of time, very differently to the way a mountain might.
I sit by the river at sunset, the light lingers here just that bit longer. I arrived with great intention, but here I find myself just sitting, watching the river flow.
I try and capture the shapes of the ripples, they only appear for a moment and then they are gone; so hard to catch.
Time, an intangible dimension that we so often chase and try to measure, and what is it worth? Really, there is only now with the perceived past and future, but if memories can be untrue and the future undetermined, then we have naught but this. Now.
The ripples seem to mimic earth’s surface, moving as if in fast-forward, mountains and valleys moving, eroding, and changing. So I would just sit and watch caught in a moment of tranquility, stillness and peace.
The light at this time is like no other, coming so pure from so low in the sky. It isn’t day-light but twilight. It gives a glow. The sun moves fast in the sky until I see it pass behind the distant mountains. Its rays linger,
“[Sitting here] I am refreshed and expanded”
“I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs in the undisturbed solitude and stillness while the birds sang around or flittered noiselessly through the house, until by sun falling in at my west window or some travellers wagon on the distant highway I was reminded of the laps of time.”
The fire cracks close at hand. I have to listen past it to hear the land.
My Robin, toot. He is just inside his heather bush, hiding, testing me.
I can hear more birds but I don’t know where they are, hidden by trees and mist.
Their song is gentle now that the dawn chorus has passed.
There is a breeze today. It tickles the trees and makes them shiver. A gentle noise that is barely there.
My Robin flutters into view, sitting on the closest branch. As near to me as he can be without leaving his home. He sits and watches, shifting from time to time, hop hop.
A Crow. Alone he calls.
I hear the road, I wish I didn’t but it runs quite close. It isn’t busy but it grounding enough.
Caw, Caw, Caw, look at me.
I hear the river; it flows high. We had some rain in the night and the ground is still heavily saturated. You can feel it in the air; a mist is setting, silently.
So constant I hadn’t heard it at first.
The gentle background of the river and the road sets for a great melody of bird call. It isn’t loud, repetitive or constant. It just is.
The dark is worrying me, I can’t see out, I can’t see past my feet. It isn’t the dark but the unknown which terrifies me. What is it out there? Nothing. There is no movement, no noise, just my own mind whirling. I wish I could see.
It’s hot in the Bothy, claustrophobic.
Hot and close, Dark and Close. There is no one here, I am alone.
I came to the Bothy with expectations of beauty, tranquility, and calm. I worried about loneliness but I didn’t think it would settle in until I had had time to be alone.
It’s the first night and the lights won’t hold out. It’s a strange feeling going from a world with so many distractions and responsibilities into a place so absolutely removed.
It’s strange. I have been alone before, but now I have a whole week of alone stretched in front of me.
7 blank pages.
“Fishermen, hunters, wood choppers and others, spending their days in the fields and woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more favourable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation.”
Fold down larger pages. A great expanse for small and delicate text.
Night has fallen, the mists have risen and above me is a sight that stills all thought. Above me is the vast, unbroken expanse of the universe, to which the earth looks, and it is not that I, here, am alone but that she, the earth, is; we are one.
And beyond? Perhaps we are as one alone, perhaps that is not the point and we should look for something other.
This sight is more than my vain thought.
Walden says an old fashioned man would have lost his senses but I believe quite the opposite. An old fashioned man would have gotten on just fine, used to darkness and contented without the distractions of the modern world. A modern man would be far more dangerous alone.
There is no noise at night, no birds sing, no thing is moving. I hear fire cracking. I hear the trees groaning under their own weight.
It is this; the lack of sound, the lack of sight, which instills terror. The intense solidity of the vastness of unknown that can set you into panic.
No yard but unfenced nature.
Profundity. Sitting in the morning light I see what has been, all of history is present in the light of the sun. The landscape knows no markers of change, only that which lives on its surface. but you cannot change what is underneath.
We are not destroying the planet, we are destroying ourselves, and I think that I am okay with that. FARM
The farm is my closest connection to the outside world, though often deserted when I arrive.
I can get a hot shower here, it is a true luxury. No material object or elitist vanity, but rather a state of being clean and warm. In terms of existence, this is a luxury.
People come here and live on the farm to get away from life and the stress of being, but it is its own society with all the qualms of life.
Politics of being.
When to get out of bed, which job to do first.
But Lucy wants you to do something else.
Who used that plate? Who isn’t doing the washing up?
So much about here is absolutely as it would be elsewhere.
The back drop is different but, it’s all the same. The residents of the farm don’t seem to last more than a few months at a time before moving on.
My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp frittered by the ticking of a clock.
I came to know nature while at the Bothy. My days dictated by daylight; sun down is at 16:00: the moment when I have to lay rest to productivity. I sit in silence by candle light.
In darkness I wouldn’t venture far, I would nurse the fire and cook my evening meals, go to sleep early, so as to rise early, that I may break my fast before the light of day.
It is quite terrifying to think of the dependence we have on the sun. It is the source of all life. When it is dark and you are truly alone, you realise how massive its impact on our planet is.
I find that natural places give us an overwhelming sense of morality, it is terrifying and profound: it is sublime. I think it is something in the eternal nature of place. Mountains and lochs, rivers and trees and valleys, they are so permanent. We are not.
“I found myself, and still find, an instinct to a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another towards a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good.”
I am here for but one week before returning to a world of society and culture. My experience of remote living do not compare to that of Walden. I am curious though, as he describes a descent from the spiritual or good life into that of the primitive. I know that this is not primitive living for me but it feels more spiritual, going back to my everyday seems more primitive. Although I will be far from the sticks and stones, the decisions we make when distracted as we are in modern society are much more the primitive. We lose sense of true cost, true luxury, true living.
I like to think it started before we were conscious of what it meant.
“I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for the wilderness which he represented.”
“Being my own butcher, scullion, and the gentleman for whom the dishes were served up I can speak from an unusually complete experience… when I had caught and cleaned and cooked my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary and cost more than it came to.
A badger stole my soup with no regard for my feelings.
I was asleep when he came, he was scraping and banging on the decking and the Bothy wall as he shifted the chair. Terror had struck me for half a moment, before sense returned.
I just watched him lollop down the lane after ratting out my supplies. What will I eat for dinner now? After scaring him away with my broom I watched him go down the lane and I felt guilty for sending him away. I didn’t scream or shout, I didn’t even threaten, my mere presence was enough for him to turn and leave.
As I shone my torch through the window a badger looked sat. It was the first time I had seen another mammal so close to the Bothy since I arrived, only birds and insects and the occasional deer but always in the distance. He held the tatters of an empty soup carton his claws. And although I knew the dangers a badger may pose, he looked quite amiable.
We didn’t mingle.
The robin that lives next door must have been well acquainted with people by the time I showed up. A new resident every week at the Bothy, must make for great curiosity in the little bird. He would often flitter close by, landing on the doormat whilst I wondered, sketching and collecting. I came to find him sat on my milk one afternoon as I returned in search of warmth and comfort.
If I sat in the doorway watching the morning light settle on the world, as I often did while tending the fire for breakfast, he would sit on the nearest branch, watching. As close to me as he could be without leaving the safety of his home.
One morning after a trip to the compostable, I had left the Bothy door open to air out the wood smoke. I came lumbering down the pathway, I heard a small thud and some fluttering before little robin flew out and back into his bush.
I didn’t see him for two days after, I suspect he was shy after the injury but I feared for his life