Battleship

It stands by the forest trail, quite near the shore, porous to all sides. Incongruous red clay pipes line its perforations – modern additions to the grey whinstone and white mortar of the walls. On either side of the door, and occasionally on the other walls, tall, narrow arrowslit windows. I can only imagine this ruin bristling with guns. Were the locals holed up in here, awaiting the Vikings or the Germans? Doesn’t feel right. There’s not even a view of the shore – a ridge of land obscures the sea. And how even to reach those vents high up in the gables?

Vents. OK – perhaps ventilation – but for what? Did they dry or smoke fish here? Was this the storehouse supplying the fort high above on the hill? Perhaps grain from Kilmartin farms was landed below and stored here, guarded from every angle by musketeers.

On return, we scour the internet and find a few photos of this very one, and some similar. A threshing barn. The grain harvest piled up here and stored until winter. Arrowslit windows to allow air circulation and deter mould. Often, a larger, high window to admit owls, to control vermin – and sometimes a lower entrance for cats. At threshing time, the grain flailed and thrown into the air, where the strong through-draft winnowed away the chaff, and goodness fell centrally to the floor, piling up, and held in place by a couple of boards across the door opening – the threshold.

Kestrel

“Look! You can see how it just flickers its wings for a brief moment, and then hovers. It’s a kestrel!”

As the car continues, I twist and crane my neck to keep it in view.

“They’re slightly reddish in colour, though against the light perhaps you can’t see. There it goes!”

Closing its wings, it plummets to the ground. Moments later, it flaps heavily off to a location more distant from the road.

“I think it’s got something! Look how much slower it is now.”

The car rounds the bend, and the kestrel and its prey vanish behind a heather-clad cutting.

Sparrowhawk is something else. Sitting in the living room, face steaming with the healing vapours of thick cocoa, I gaze out at the snow. On the multi-headed bird feeder – more like a tree – they’re busy. Great tits, blue tits, chaffinches. Blackbirds and dunnets on the ground, gathering up the crumbs from under thy table.

Suddenly, a great scatter. They explode in all directions, like a silent, feathery firework.

Bang! Something hits the window glass.

Looking out, I see a pitiful small corpse. A chaffinch, so dusty-grey pink in its fine breast feathers, lies in the snow.

We pull on wellies and go round to the now deserted terrace. Picking up her frail warm form, cradling it in my hands.

“She may be OK still. Bring her inside in the warm.”

Inside, in a shoebox, sentinels warding off the cat, the fragile bird gradually comes round.

Hamilton Hill

Unremarkable behind the house. In summer, beyond the beech hedge, one field of barley and another of sheep. The lambs run speed trials back and forth beneath the horizontal dyke half way up – tiny specks of white, careering, bouncing, like cartoon characters or jumping beans.

I clamber over the wire fence. The first foot bends the rusty wire, pulling it through the staples in a gentle, creaking sag. Swing the second leg over, tight thighs and clenched posture making sure the barbed wire doesn’t snag my crotch. Over safely, and landing on the un-ploughed field margin. If I pick my way along this edge, I can reach the broader pathway steeply up under the ascending rank of beech trees.

Here’s the steep sledging field where Lena broke her leg, tobogganing over ice-crusted snow, straight into the lower fence. Was it fear that numbed or froze their minds, that prevented them from bailing, or dragging feet to slow the descent?

I gently pull a grass stem, easing the upper part out of the grip of the first joint. The tender fleshy end tastes vaguely asparagus-like, and then the remainder settles into a satisfyingly tough chew and cowboy-casual look.

I’m breaking sweat now, as the gradient increases. Over another fence, and clambering along the low-key rocks and muddy margins of the burn. Well, it’s barely that – more a field drain, really.

Mermaid

A stick scratching in the sand fashions your form – and from Melissa’s mind, you are born.

“We were only trying to drown her.”

Innocence and caprice. Like the sea.

As I watch Enya squeeze into her wetsuit, arm arched and over backwards to feel for the zip’s tail, pulling upwards as it shrink-wraps her lovely form, I’m happy to take my chances.

Body boards and bodies run down to the surf. The waves, high, three or four feet at least, crashing on Tiree’s Atlantic shore. The board jolts upward, like a cork bobbing from forced submersion, shooting to the top as the wave’s force hits. I swim beyond the breakers and wait, scanning the near horizon for the next “big one”.

The salt’s in my hair, my ears, my mouth. My nose. It stings my skin. I’m alive.

Later, as we shiver on the rocks, hypothermia sets in for Melissa – too long in the water in ill-fitting suit. Emergency towels and warming drinks bring her back from the shivering, shuddering brink. So frail, such alertness needed, just to survive each day and the next. So glad as they grow older and take on more of their own survival – yet so happy to remain involved and connected.

We fight great random battles with flopping sword of kelp. The brown fronds slap like flaccid translucent whips, as if some merpeople enact a farcical sadomasochistic rite. Progressively shortening as the duel takes its toll, the stalks diminish to little more than daggers. Close combat ensues.

What more is written, drawn in the sand? What will wash away in tonight’s tide, and what new imagination from passing stranger will illustrate the dawn?