MATT STALKER: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

 Everything is slower here. In these crannies of the mountains, the mode of supplying elemental needs is still slow, laborious, personal… There is a deep pervasive satisfaction in these simple acts. Whether you give it conscious thought or not, you are touching life, and something within you knows it.”  Nan Shepherd, ‘The Living Mountain’


Inshriach Bothy

The walk from the wood store to the axe’s haggar at the chopping block; the careful assembly of a rickle of broken fingers of kindling atop the reeshle of crushed newspaper, brought to fragile life by the flame of a single match, nursed until grown-up into a blaze enough to raise the rationed water from cold, to warm, to boiling. And then its almost ecclesiastical ministry to the coffee grounds, followed by the rich smoky smell, steam rolling over itself in ascension, the heat on the lips and tongue as the cup is drawn to the mouth, and then — finally — the taste.

Everything is slower here. And gratitude comes easily.


Glossary (with thanks to Nan)
Haggarclumsy hacking
Ricklea structure put loosely together, loose heap



There must be many exciting properties of matter that we cannot know because we have no way to know them. Yet, with what we have, what wealth!

Nan Shepherd, ‘The Living Mountain’

Loch an Eilein

Such quality of light I have seldom seen. The Sun dropping behind the Cairngorms casts colours across the sky that bring to mind peaches, gold bullion, candy floss, the aphrodisiac neon of the urban — things that have no place here amidst the timeless Scottish hues of brown earth, of white frost, of mustard yellow and mauve heather.

Standing at the edge of a loch standing like glass, reflection is a natural process. The mind is drawn into reverential silence. Sentinels of the water, we stand as quiet as the venerable Scots Firs rising up from the earth around us. We don’t speak. To utter a sound now is to heave a rock into the stillness, disturbing the way things are: just as they are.

At the far side of the water, the slightest of breezes ripples the surface, trembling the Rorschach reflections of the forest. Its fringes become animated — pixelated, deconstructed, forms dissolving in skittering morse code dashes and dots.

Time doesn’t mean anything here. Each moment extends out fluidly, soundlessly, peacefully, magically.

JENNY BROWNRIGG: Research Residency, 2016

Photographs of Eigg from the 1920s & 1930s: MEM Donaldson and Violet Banks. My ongoing research is writing about the early women film-makers and photographers who were documenting Scottish Highlands & Islands life in the 1920s’ and 30s’. A visit last year to Mary Ethel Muir Donaldson’s photographic collection at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery archives showed that she had made a series on Eigg. Her photographs illustrated her travel guide ‘Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands‘ (1921). Whilst I had been able to spend time in the places that other photographers or film-makers had lived, such as Jenny Gilbertson (1902-1990) on Shetland, and Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004), who stayed on South Uist and Canna, I had not yet been able to travel to experience any of the key locations that Donaldson (1876-1958) had photographed. The weeklong residency on Isle of Eigg gave me the invaluable opportunity to pinpoint then visit the locations in the photographs, taken 1918-1936. The week also allowed the chance to find out more about a second Scottish photographer, Violet Banks [1] and her photographs of Eigg from her tour of the Western Hebrides c. 1920s & 30s’.


Map of Eigg, green arrows denote sites Donaldson photographed Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2016)

On the Saturday ferry over from Mallaig to Eigg, I showed digital images of MEM Donaldson’s series on the island to Lucy Conway (the host of Sweeney’s Bothy with her husband Eddie Scott) and another islander, Eric Weldon.  They immediately helped identify locations. A further resource has been the impressive, ten years in the writing, ‘Eigg: The Story of an Island‘, [2] by local resident Camille Dressler. This book is part of an excellent compact collection called the ‘Walking Library’ [3] at Sweeney’s Bothy. Dressler recounts that Donaldson stayed at Laig Farm, on her visits to Eigg, which in that period as well as a working farm was a Temperance Hotel. [4] Two of Donaldson’s photographs show the farm. The first shows the start of the path down to the farm, with the gateway at the side of a cliff-face. The second denotes Laig Farm’s grouping of low buildings, in a small valley with a sandstone headland rising behind [5]. Laig beach, close to the farm, is the site of third photograph, which shows a woman, likely Donaldson’s companion, the illustrator Isobel Bonus, walking along the gray sands. The distinctive silhouette of the island of Rum lies on the near horizon. Donaldson takes another photograph at this location; a detail of the strange fossilised stones found at the south end of Laig beach.


Detail of ‘Coast of Eigg, Sgurr in background’, MEM Donaldson, Ref: 958.20.505, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery. (r) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2016)

Like Laig Farm, a good number of the photographs are dotted around Cleadale itself, where Sweeney’s Bothy is located. Donaldson was drawn to ‘sites with historical associations’ [6]. She photographed two local children, Joanne MacLellan and Katie-Ann MacKay fetching water from St Columba’s Well [7] at Cleadale, where one can still take a drink of its cool, clear water, credited with healing powers, from a generously provided mug. (Lucy tells me later that this is the water for both drinking and showering with at Sweeney’s Bothy!)  The well was said to be blessed by Colm Cille and believed to prophesize the fate of those children baptised in it, from the ‘number of rivulets running down’ [8].  Perhaps this story prompted Donaldson to photograph the two girls at the well. Further around the coast, in another photograph, a white bearded islander, Lachlan MacAskill points with his stick to St Donnan’s ‘pillow’ stone, lying in front of the ruins at Kildonan Church.


Framed MEM Donaldson photograph of children at St Columba’s Well, Eigg, exhibited at Galmisdale Bay Café and Bar, Eigg.

St Columba’s Well, Cleadale Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2016)

It is important to note that we read these images differently, according to our own experience. I am a similar audience, thanks to where I live, as Donaldson’s main readership was. Hugh Cheape asserts that as her photographs were to illustrate literary work, the perceived audience would have been those who were ‘probably town-based’. [9] Before my visit to Eigg, this series of photographs had their only identifiers of location as the general catalogue credits from Inverness Museum & Art Gallery Archive, which was enough to bring me to Eigg. Local knowledge shared during this residency, has brought the photographs into a new focus. The image of a woman, possibly Isabel Bonus, with knapsack on her back, walking along a track was identified as being at Cleadale, ‘round the corner by the quarry‘. A traditional cottage and byre are identified as ‘Mairi’s house and shed‘.  Dressler when looking at the same photograph pointed at the stone in the foreground and recounted that a previous owner, an old man, ‘always used to always sit on the rock’. For the island resident, the photographs are coded in a different way, moving naturally to the detail such as who currently owns the croft pictured. Sometimes the information that stands out in a local reading is an anomaly in the landscape. For example, it was remarked that it was ‘unusual to have a boat there’, in another photograph.


(t) Detail, ‘figure, Miss D probably, on road in Eigg’ Ref: 958.20.185, Inverness Museum & Art Gallery (b) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2016)

Both Donaldson and Banks photograph key landmarks on Eigg, in particular An Sgurr, the distinctive pitchstone outcrop, the highest point of the island and the Massacre and Cathedral Caves. Donaldson’s photographs of An Sgurr place it within the context of one of her walks, showing the approach to it from a route than can be traversed across a plateau. Banks chooses to show An Sgurr by placing a woman in scale with its’ highest point, called ‘the Nose’. Both Donaldson and Banks also separately photograph the loch to be found en route to the Sgurr, known as Loch nam Ban Mora – ‘Loch of the Big Women‘ – where the submerged causeway to the crannog in the middle could only be forged by a race of women of ‘supernatural proportions’. [10] The name refers to the Queen of Moidart’s warrior women, sent to murder St Donnan and his monks on Eigg. Lights from the dead bodies of the monks bewitched the women, leading them up to Loch nam Ban Mora, and luring the women one by one into the water, with all drowning.  Both Donaldson and Banks also photograph the Sheela-na-gig, at Kildonnan Church. Sheela-na-gigs ‘are carvings, often found in churches, which consist of a female displaying, or drawing attention to, her genitals‘. [11] Alasdair Alpin MacGregor also photographed the Sheela-na-gig on his visit to Eigg.

(t) Detail from Violet Banks’ photograph album, Royal Commission of Ancient & Historic Monuments Scotland Ref: PA244.
(b) Photo: Jenny Brownrigg (2016)

Donaldson’s work in particular has very much been given its place in Eigg, represented in (photo)copies of her work held in the photographic collection at Eigg History Society Archive and in Dressler’s writing on Eigg. Donaldson’s photographs can be found framed in the Pier cafe and bar. This archive gives the unique opportunity to view Donaldson’s work alongside other vernacular historic photography collections, amassed from photographs by islanders, held over generations, in an ‘Awards for All’ project led by Eigg Historic Society for the Eigg Trust, started in 1997. Taking an example, one of Donaldson’s photographs is captioned by John Telfer Dunbar in ‘Herself‘, a biography, as ‘taking the peats home’ where ‘the woman with a white kerchief tied round her head is described as ‘the embodiment of good nature, health and contentment’. This woman is named in a photocopy of this photograph held in Eigg Historic Society Archive as Ishbel MacQuarrie [12]. Donaldson photographs MacQuarrie at work, but also her home, which may for Donaldson signify the changing traditional architectural vernacular of the Highlands and Islands. The caption for this photograph in the archive relates to the disappearing history that the architecture represents and an anomaly which may interest the urban readership- ‘Lossit and last black house on island with hipped roof covered in thatch. Note roof of byre next door is upturned boat’. This croft house also features in the islanders’ own photographic collections, in particular the Katie Maclean Collection, with family connections to the MacQuarries, which denotes ‘Donald MacQuarrie, wife Mary, children and Isobel MacQuarrie lived here’. Ishbel MacQuarrie is photographed here as she is a relative who is part of a family. Therefore, the photograph was taken with different reasons- to record the actual person and her significance to the related photographer. The Eigg Historic Society photographic archive provides a significant collection for study of local history and how islanders documented themselves and their surroundings.

MEM Donaldson’s photograph of Ishbel MacQuarrie features on the cover of Camille Dressler’s book ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island’

In 1935, Violet Banks established her own commercial photography studio in Edinburgh. Lucy Conway organized for me to speak about Donaldson and Banks with the Eigg Historic Society. At the event Camille Dressler identified that three of Banks’ photographs of Eigg, that appear in her photograph albums held by RCAHMS, are also held as facsimiles of postcards in the archive. The copies show images of Laig Bay, the Sgurr and a view of Eigg from the Isle of Muck, all bearing the credit ‘Photo: Violet Banks‘. This provides another use of Banks’ images, for commercial purposes, and another line of enquiry to follow up, in looking for the original postcards.

‘View of Eigg from Muck, Photo: Violet Banks’, photocopy of postcard, Eigg History Society.

Jenny Brownrigg Nov 2016 For more information


[1] Veronica Fraser, an archivist at Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland writes about Banks’ life in ‘Vernacular Buildings‘: ‘Violet Banks (1986-1985) was born near Kinghorn, Fife and educated at Craigmont, Edinburgh, and at ECA (Edinburgh College of Art). In 1927 she was senior arts mistress at St. Oran’s, a private school at Drummond Place, Edinburgh‘.Banks’ photographs of the Hebrides, Fraser recounts, were discovered by John Dixon of Georgian Antiques, in a drawer in a sideboard that had been part of a furniture purchase and then gifted to RCAHMS to become The Violet Banks Collection. P67-78. ‘Vernacular Building 32′, Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group 2008-2009) ISSN:0267-3088.

[2] ‘Eigg The Story of an Island‘, Camille Dressler (Birlinn Ltd 2007, 3rd edition)

[3] ‘The Walking Library’ for Bothan Shuibhne, Isle of Eigg, is a project by Dee Heddon and Misha Myers, with this particular iteration in 2013. The ‘Walking Library’s‘ aim is to bring together books on walking and its contemplation, and is a collective gathering of book recommendations from those that accompany Heddon and Myers on a walk, in this instance from Carbeth Community Huts to the Walled Garden, with Sweeney’s Bothy in mind.

[4] P.104, ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island’, Dressler, C.

[5]’The Geology of Eigg‘, John D Hudson, Angus D Miller and Ann Allwright, Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, (2014, Second Edition) is part of the ‘Waking Library’ at Sweeney’s Bothy and accounts for the rock formations of Eigg.

[6] P.45, ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006)

[7] P.50, ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island‘, Dressler, C, (2007, Birlinn Ltd, 3rd Edition)

[8] P.7, ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island’, Dressler, C, (2007, Birlinn Ltd, 3rd Edition)

[9] P.45, ‘Herself and Green Maria: the photography of M.E.M. Donaldson’, Cheape, H, ‘Studies in Photography’ (2006)

[10] P.4, ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island’, Dressler, C, (2007, Birlinn Ltd, 3rd Edition)

[11] P.98, ‘The Small Isles, Canna, Rum, Eigg & Muck’, Rixson, D, (2011, Birlinn Ltd, 2nd edition). Copy in Sweeney’s Bothy’s Walking Library.

[12] Donaldson’s photograph of Ishbel MacQuarrie ‘gathering the peats’ is also the cover image of Dressler’s ‘Eigg, The Story of an Island’.



With thanks to: The Bothy Project, Lucy Conway & Eddie Scott, Eigg Historic Society, Camille Dressler

DYLAN GAUTHIER & KENDRA SULLIVAN: Self-directed Residency, 2016


“Then the rain came down, and the broken stalks/ Were bent and tangled across the walks;/ And the leafless network of parasite bowers/ Massed into ruin; and all sweet flowers.”  ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley. ‘The Sensitive Plant’  (1820).


It’s been raining for several days already, and the clouded sky has meant no power since we got here.  We stalk the solar inverter – flipping it off for a while whenever the sky brightens, then back on.  It hums for a minute or two, then an alarm sounds, then we turn it off again.  We are in the bothy in Inshriach.  The space leads me to think of a “sympathetic architecture,” like a crook in a tree branch that provides a perfect support for you to lean into.  The small cabin is well equipped in this regard, and full of nooks you can lean against for support. We’ve brought too much food, and there was food here to begin with.  It seems to have been designed with the measure of a single human body as its template.


Overnight the rain turns to frost and in the mornings we crunch across the path to the chilly outhouse, open at one side and facing out toward the forested part of the property.  The wood stove is a slow cooker unless you’re willing to fill it with so much wood the air in the cabin becomes almost intolerably hot.  Cooking with the front door open in the middle of winter.  Boiling water for tea takes almost an hour until we figure out a short cut, putting a small pot directly in the hot coals.  You have to get up before the sun here, which isn’t hard since it rises toward 10 am, even with our jetlag which will last the whole time we’re here on account of the barely any daylight.  The sun sets again toward 3 pm, and in that five-hour window there is much to do.  There is preparing a meal, taking stock of the wood pile, chopping wood, straightening up in the cabin where in the darkness each night things tend to get jumbled and lost in the corners, some irretrievably, it seems.  The ambiance of the forest outside is Shelley-an, still, our direct neighbors a family of sheep that wander a large expanse of fields beside the Spey.



Without power, we have to forego our technology – writing on paper in shorthand to save our light-time, reading the few books we brought by candle or the couple left in the bothy (especially this one).  And so really our technology consists only of candles, an axe, a stove.  We drive the car to a hike around a nearby lake with a castle we can imagine Shelley or Byron living in so we can charge our cellphones.  

The writers Timothy Morton and Maureen McLane have expounded on Shelley as a proto-environmentalist, whose language comes in direct contact with landscape in a moment when the Industrial Revolution is already showing its impacts. Shelley’s writing, in that sense, mirrors the American transcendentalists, or the Hudson River School of painting. Visions from a vanishing wilderness. Here, the poet’s concern for nature, the animal, and the inanimate, is an aspect of or a compliment to a life of charged political radicalism. As Morton notes, the poet wrote about pollution in 1813: ‘the putrid atmosphere of crowded cities; the exhalations of chemical processes.’” Shelley’s proto-ecology is a precursor of a modern response to capitalism’s ravages and feels notably prescient today.  

Morton Writes: “Prometheus Unbound’s latent Spinozism provides a way of thinking of technology not as inherently evil but as perverted good. This is consistent with the speech in Act m about the rise and fall of Prometheus: technology is a two-edged sword, bringing fire, health and language but also disease and disfiguration. The drama is about redeeming technology, about hoping that the sword may be refashioned with only one edge. The machine of light that cuts into the earth is a kind of one-edged sword, a version of science fiction’s laser beam. It is metaphorically associated with the progress of liberty, cutting up and decoding the dead matter of the past.” (See: Shelley’s Green Desert)



Taking stock this morning, the Spey has risen 9 meters overnight.  We could hear its throaty rushing before the sun came up and we had to remind ourselves in the night that there was no way it could reach us up here on the hill in the Bothy.  Still, 9 meters is a substantial amount of water where yesterday there was none.  There are trees sticking up through the river’s muddy surface. We worry about the sheep – what about the one stuck on the other side of the fence last night?  I’ve been keeping a daily inventory of everything we consume.  This eats up more of our daylight, so I shift and this becomes an “after dark” activity, one that now has to happen by candle light, from memory.  There are five candle lanterns which together offer enough light that you don’t smash your head against the loft, ladder, bookshelf.  Even with such a limited pantry it’s hard to remember every detail – three cloves of garlic, five, no seven clementines. How many candles did we burn this morning?  This basic existence belies the complexity of the technology that brought us here – a flight over the Atlantic, a train up to Edinburgh, a car from there.

7sullivanflood1 7sullivanflood2 7sullivanflood3 8sullivanflood4

Outside of the inventorying, I’m trying to write about Shelley in the woods. The operative elements are anarchism and environmentalism, or – given that the second didn’t exactly exist yet in his time, his ’environmental sensitivity.’  

I am reading from a passage in Edward J Trelawny’s Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron.  In it, Trelawny (“Tre”) finds Shelley in the woods, huddled beneath a fallen bough, pages of poetry and books scattered on the ground before him, glazed over in contemplation of his work.

Notes for a film script about Shelley and Byron (d’après Trelawny)

The old man picking up pine cones. Tre asks him if he has seen a stranger. “L’Inglese. malincolico haunts the wood maledetta. I will show you his nest.

As the two advance the ground swells to ‘mounds and hollows’. The old man points to a brackish pool of water with his stick. Beside the pool, a stick, a hat, books, loose papers fluttering and being carried off by the wind. The pool again, boiling in the Italian summer heat. The camera pans across a fallen pine. Beneath the bough sits the Poet “gazing on the dark mirror beneath.” Shelley does not hear Tre approach. Tre stoops to examine the Poet’s books. Sophocles, Shelley’s favorite Greek dramatist.

Shelley: “Hollo. Come in.”

Tre: “Is this your study?”

Shelley: “Yes. And these trees are my books,” [he pauses, then adds, childishly,] “They tell no lies. You are sitting on the stool of inspiration. In those three pines the weird sisters are imprisoned, and this [pointing at the water] is their cauldron of black broth. The Pythian priestesses uttered their oracles from below – now they are muttered from above. Listen to the solemn music in the pine-tops – don’t you hear the mournful murmurings of the sea? Sometimes they rave and roar, shriek and howl, like a rabble of priests. In a tempest, when a ship sinks, they catch the despairing groans of the drowning mariners. Their chorus is the eternal wailing of wretched men.”

Tre: “They, like the world, seem to take no note of wretched women. The sighs and wailing you talk about are not those of wretched men afar off, but are breathed by a woman near at hand – not from the pine-tops, but by a forsake lady.”

Shelley: “What do you mean?”

Tre: “An hr. ago I met your wife, Mary, at the entrance of this grove, in despair at not finding you.”

Shelley stands up, snatches his scattered books and papers, thrusts them into his hat and jacket pockets, dances across the top of the tree trunk and swoops up three pages that have landed on the black pond, with a half-clumsy, half-nimble gesture that gives the impression he will most certainly fall into the dark and brackish water below.

He shouts: “Poor Mary! Come along; she can’t bear solitude, nor I society – the quick coupled with the dead.”

Mary comes out of the wood, hearing the voices of her two passing friends. “… & … & … &”


The three run off through the woods, dancing and laughing. They pass three peasant girls washing in the pond. The old man with the donkey. The donkey gives the three friends a sour look, figuring them all for lunatics. Shelley’s drops a page of his scrawlings and the camera pans in: “Ariel to Miranda take / This slave of music.”

Cut to the river.  Shelley’s VO:

“When my brain gets heated with thought, it soon boils, and throws off images and words faster than I can skim them off. In the morning, when cooled down, out of the rude sketch as you justly call it, I shall attempt a drawing. If you ask me why I publish what few or none will care to read. It is that the spirits I have raised haunt me until they are sent to the devil of a printer. All authors are anxious to breach their bantlings.”]

(See: The Poets of Scotland and Musings Under Beeches.)


This morning we are told this is the worst flooding anybody can remember, at least since four months ago which was the worst flooding since four months before that, etc.  Every flood breaks some new record.  We are told it usually floods in April, but never in December.  The water has come up into a neighbor’s field.  Tragically, we are told that a kayaker has been lost in the flood this morning.  The dark sky continues to pour rain down into the valley, and the top of the hill seems less comfy, less isolated. In the rain, and without much daylight, time seems to be flowing backwards.

We spend our few daylight hours walking the dry edges of the property, checking in on sheep, taking video of the swollen and flooded Spey.  At night the winds are blowing so hard they shake the cabin and we’re sure there’s a new crack in the plaster right beneath the roof line.  It occurs to us how trapped we are in a circular logic of being artist-writers who focus on environmental themes.  You can’t escape it.  You can go basically anywhere these days to experience climate change.  This is like the logical loop that Morton writes about.

A new friend in London tells us how our cultural imaginary associated with climate change is shifting.  As recently as a couple of years ago it was all about depicting glaciers, capturing them mid-melt, calving, or the errant icebergs, sea ice adrift.  Today the thought-image on climate change is of islands being swallowed up by the sea, or else evacuated, neighborhoods, towns, or even entire nations moving to higher ground, like the small nation of Kiribati that has recently purchased land in a neighboring nation and is planning a full-scale retreat.  We are told that Scotland is a rainy country, but nobody can downplay that the past few years have brought more rain than the country’s rivers and streams can hold.  

“In England, the sky is Black.” Byron. Here, it is green, blue, mossy, sea-teal, but the river is dark.

A river presents a challenge.  It is always altered.  Rivers flood seasonally, change themselves entirely over the course of the year, so it is hard to visually depict how altered weather patterns affect them.  The displacement of seasons is equally hard to pictorialize.  Winter acts as spring “used to,” but how to show this?  We head to town to stock up on wine and soup and on our way back workmen are putting out new “road flooded” signs along the low road.



The rain has subsided and and it won’t rain again until after the New Year.  The Spey begins to retreat out of the fields and back into its well-worn path.  Downriver, a bridge has been washed out.  The old Inn that used to host the Ceilidh has flooded again – the Ceilidh will be moved this year for the second time.  Northern England is still receiving rain and parts are under water.  Our train – actually the entire West Coast train network – is cancelled.  We will have to take the East Coast line several days from now and even then it will still be raining in Northern England.  Everyone says it’s a rainy country, but rainy country or no, this is too much rain.  Conversely, at home, in California, the drought feels permanent.  I realized a few years back that I couldn’t remember when there wasn’t drought.  People still talk about the drought as if it’s transient rather than a permanently altered state of living.



The bothy is warm from the cooking fire, and at night the sky clears enough to see the stars.  One of our friends who has come to stay and share the small cabin with us for the New Year’s Eve points out what may be the Northern Lights.

In the high winds of the previous night we retreated to town for an evening meal and to charge cameras and laptops.  We stop at the inn just as a gust smashes through a perimeter fence, lifting the thing 20 feet through the air and bringing it down on a silver Audi.  The front desk clerk asks sheepishly as we come out of the restaurant, “You’re not driving a silver Audi, are you?” “No.” We retreat from the inn just as the night’s trivia contest is about to begin.  

The road is quiet, we take a chance and navigate around road closure signs, creeping slowly in case there is a flood that might sweep us away.



“I can only print my writings by stinting myself in food.” ~  Shelley.

Oat cakes (3).
Carrots (4).
Apples (2).
Rice (1 cup).
Crisps (1 bag).
Endive (3 heads).
Leeks (1).
Tomatoes (2).
Tangerines (4).
Eggs (4).
Cheddar cheese (4 oz).
Norwegian sardines (1 can).
Tea (6 cups).
Milk (2 cups).
Logs, large (12).
Cairngorm Wildcat (2).
Matches (6).
Candles (8).
Firelogs (1).
Newspaper (1).
Wine (2 bottles, red).


“Our life is two-fold: Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed Death and existence:
Sleep hath its own world, And a wide realm of wild reality.
And dreams in their development have breath, And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy; They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts, They take a weight from off our waking toils, They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past, – they speak Like Sibyls of the future: they have power – [I transcribed this in the dark as “poewr,” perhaps a poetic power?]
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not – what they will, And shake us with the vision that’s gone by.
The dream of vanish’d shadows – Are they so? Is not the past all shadow? – What are they? Creations of the mind? – the mind can make Substance, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.
I would recall a vision which I dream’d Perchance in sleep – for in itself a thought,
A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.”
~ Byron, The Dream



LYNN DAVIDSON: Self-Directed Residency, 2016

Poetry in The Bothy

I was at Inshriach Bothy when October turned to November, just after the trees had turned to gold, yellow and copper, and as I was turning away from a Southern hemisphere spring towards a Northern hemisphere autumn. It was so still. So quiet. I’m used to the movement and stage whispers of the sea and didn’t quite know what to make of the quiet and the still. So for the first day or so I just stood inside it. I stood in the birch trees with their veils of gold leaves, looking through them to the purple Cairngorms and felt like I was inside a Gustav Klimt painting. Sometimes a breeze would drift through the veils, and the gold brushstrokes would detach and drift and build up on the ground instead. Nature animating art. I climbed up behind the Bothy and stood still and –twice – an owl flew past, low, fluid and almost silent.


I waited to feel frightened of being alone in the woods in the little Bothy, but I didn’t (‘woods’ to a New Zealander are where fairytales take place, quite different to ‘the bush’). I didn’t feel frightened, even when, one evening I picked up a rough walking stick resting in a shadowy corner with ‘ALONE’ printed down one side and ‘NEVER’ on the other. I didn’t feel freaked out when the dark fell at 5pm or when the brief light from the solar panels ran out at 7 or, if I was lucky, 8. I remembered how a fire needs attention; from chopping kindling in the morning to the arrangement of sticks and logs and the long, slow breath to enliven embers. Reading in front of the fire I dropped down deep into the words and the story. When I picked up my pen to write my journal or tinker with a poem I felt more like myself than I had in years.


I had one visitor – Stef, a German/Kiwi/Scot who lives in the area. Stef takes people on walks into the Cairngorms, stopping at particular places written about by the likes of Nan Shepherd and Robert Macfarlane to do a small reading from their work. We talked a bit about writers and walks. I tried to get the kettle to boil on the hotplate. The fire just shrugged its shoulders and sucked its teeth. We shared my last slice of banana cake.


The little radio was, just like in the old days, the centre of entertainment. I carried it up the ladder to bed and listened to stories and talks and music in the almost-dark. A lamp with a tealight creating a small glow. New Zealand poet Bill Manhire wrote a beautiful poem called ‘Kevin’ where the radio is a kind of heaven:


I don’t know where the dead go, Kevin.

The one far place I know

is inside the heavy radio. If I listen late at night,

there’s that dark, celestial glow,

heaviness of the cave, the hive.


And it finishes like this:


There are mothers and fathers, Kevin, whom we barely know.

They lift us. Eventually we all shall go

into the dark furniture of the radio.


The radio felt like a very ‘far’ place to me. The British accents. The Archers. Desert Island Discs. Far and intimate, like the Bothy itself.

I worked on my manuscript of poems, sifting through, making changes, thinking about shape and stories. I fanned out pages on the floor. I often worked in candlelight. It was only one week, but it was one whole week of writing in a still and deep place with fires and candles and a radio. A lot happened in that still place. I found that ALONE/NEVER was true, and, in the right circumstances, not freaky at all. I read Alec Finlay’s book Mesostic Remedy, a book that brings poetry into conversation with Bach flower remedies. I don’t know much about Bach flower remedies, but loved the words that were art and exploration and remedy in themselves. I liked the names of plants: agrimony, aspen, willow and, my favourite, rock rose (for terror). I used to grow rock rose in my seaside house in New Zealand because it was hardy, a survivor, and the flowers had a poppy-like fragility to them. I didn’t know they were a remedy for terror.


You look at one thing and you miss another. You look at a robin examining a licheny twig, you miss a deer’s quick pointy steps in the woods. These are some of the things I noticed in my week at the Bothy. The things I didn’t see are still there at the edges, sniffing the air.