CLARE BLACKBURNE: Self-Directed, 2014
A new year’s start and I wake to snow, breath a cloud lingering with the steam from my coffee, the forest outside the window muted by white.
I found this place on the nth page of a Google search, adrift in the heat of an Asian summer, 17 floors off the ground, humidity a second skin over everything.
Wandering in countries of dust and noise and colour – painted with a different palette entirely – I traced routes in places I had no maps for, followed signs I couldn’t read. It was a good kind of dislocation, it turns out, shifting me away from bad patterns and into new territory.
But now a craving for the familiar again: for the grey-skied emptiness of a Scottish winter, for washed-out greens and mountains thick with firs, for another kind of isolation.
The idea of a hut has always been there – something primitive, a log cabin bolt-hole in the wilderness, Basho’s haiku shelters in the mountains of Japan, Thoreau’s Walden hideaway, Le Corbusier’s Cabanon on the Cap d’Antibes, and even the rain-stained garden shed of my childhood, with its trays of bulbs and green shoots in the dark.
But perhaps all this, as with every ready-made narrative, must first come undone before we can risk things as they are. Over the past few years, I’ve grown skilled at a particular kind of solitude, but here it seems an unlearning is what’s called for.
We carry imagined audiences with us everywhere – into every corner of our lives. We script our experience, cast about for how to share what we witness, update the account of it on the hour and post photos that frame things down for consumption.
Off-grid, off-line, bothy is an invitation to drop all this, to feel things unmediated, if such a thing could ever be possible.
And yet, perversely, perhaps, I have come here to write – empty pages spread out on the table, the shelf of books behind me a distillery of knowledge, these four walls fitted to the task, holding open a space cleared of everything but the basics. An intimacy of one: if I can’t find clarity here, then where?
The silence of the first hours quickly populates itself: the myriad noises of the forest; rain on the tin roof; the putter and rasp of the kettle on the stove; the creak of the wood as it warms and cools; storms blowing through the glen, buffeting the hut like a small boat at sea.
And, at first, my own soundtrack of recurrent thoughts and tunes on loop – dialogue turned inwards and amplified.
I want to emerge with something finished, something as contained and essential as the bothy. Yet more than the finding of words, this week turns into a gradual falling away, a slow stripping back of the tangled and a rediscovery of things presumed lost.
After all the straight lines of the city, this is a reconnection with the organic geometry of trunks and branches, and the constant shifting of weather patterns outside and in.
Ultimately, I have no sense of narrative that could ever be separate from this: the roots and lichen underfoot; midday twilight in the thick of the trees; a creep of luminous moss across wet stone and soil; the dark pull of the river in flood; first light tinged pink over hills; a sudden encounter with deer at dusk; the spattered stars and sharp arc of the moon; the prodding of embers in the stove and their unlikely bloom into flame; the uncertain swing of an axe and satisfaction of wood cleaved from wood; the breakfast visit of blue tits and chaffinches; the black notebook on the table a staggered conversation with everyone who has stayed here before.
None of it takes me anywhere but back – towards what feels like a centre of sorts. And yet when I leave, dumb-tongued and foreign in the bustle of town, I feel I have travelled for miles.
– Clare Blackburne, Inshriach Bothy, January 4-10, 2014.