Jonathan: The life of the crofter in the 21st century. Up 6am – shower, get dressed. Breakfast and washing up the pots with Denise. 7am – check emails, and into civil engineer mode for a quick reply about changes to the railway crossing at Royston in Hertfordshire. 7:30am – into crofter mode for drive to the Eriskay to feed and the hens and collect eggs, scatter some grain for the geese and make sure they all have access to clean water. Then the sheep – a quick count and a small offering of sheep nuts, just to keep them friendly – not that 0008 needs any encouragement! 8:30am – start work on fixing guttering to Hi Hen House, but discover I need a ladder to reach one corner, but ladder at home so decide to do something else. Walking back to the car our guests at Carrick come out to speak to me. Everything okay? No! Ah but nothing wrong with the house – it’s lovely – but alas their 12-yr old spaniel died this morning. They’d rushed to the vet in Benbecula but it died in the surgery. Apparently it had pneumonia. But they have a problem: where to bury the dog? So switch to grave-digger mode for half-an-hour or so whilst I struggle to find somewhere where the rock has more than just a few inches of soil over it! Ah yes, at the head of the peaty valley, where we’ve been planting trees. Wet ground, but easy digging. I got some straw to line the grave with and then left our guests to a private moment to bury their dog. Switch to builder mode to continue a drystane wall I’m building to provide more shelter by Hi Hen House. And then back to tidying up the grave. Off with the trailer to the skip at Acarsaid Mhor to dispose of accumulated cardboard boxes, rubbish from the shore etc; and then put up some notices about us buying this year’s sheep fleeces. Home for a clean up, a good coffee and toast with D’s amazing lemon curd. 11:30am – half an hour or so of work designing a website for someone’s holiday cottage business. Noon: A simple lunch of bread, cheese, home-grown salads, fruit and a very welcome cup of tea. Back to engineering for some emails about geotechnical report for a beach landing of wind turbine in Barra. Then boiler suit back on, and load up the car with tripod, total station, a flame gun and a petrol strimmer. 1:30pm drive to Askernish, and thankfully the guests are out for the afternoon so I got straight on with strimming the grass and burning off the weeds – a very noisy and smelly job all told! 3:15pm – tools back in the car just as guests return to cottage, and drive back south to the mill stream outfall at Tipperton on the very SW tip of South Uist. Clamber all over the rocky shore marking spots with red spray paint to come back to later to survey; set up total station over permanent marker I installed a week ago (when I came this way to walk the dog) and sighted five trig points on distant hills (one in Barra about 9km away!) to establish my position by a procedure called re-section. 4:30pm – back to the house to persuade D and Becky that we should have an early meal and then go and do the survey work. But Becky has gone out for a walk … Wound up a skein of hand-spun merino wool into a ball for D. D reports that whilst I’ve been out she’s sold almost £200 of items from The Hebridean Woolshed, plus eggs, preserves and fresh produce, all whilst she’s been spinning wool and making two batches of spicy marrow chutney and one of gooseberry and raspberry jam. When Becky is back and we’ve eaten, I drive over to Tipperton to set up ahead of D and Becky only to find the tide is already too high. Back to the house just in time to stop them leaving in D’s car. What to do now? Ah yes, make first ever order with Tesco Online for delivery to a carrier in Glasgow and forwarding to us here in Uist (Tesco have until now been unwilling to deliver directly to anything other than a mainland residential address). Carriage charges saved twice over by savings on staples for jam making. And then a little light browsing on the internet, looking up various things of interest … and watch the news … and some time together with D and Becky and the cats and Tilly talking and making things. 11:30pm – still light as I take Tilly for a walk along the road and then a run back along the crest of Cnoc a Deas, but Tilly comes back with a limp and blood dripping from her front offside paw, so a bit of a fuss and a palaver as we persuade her to keep still whilst we bathe it in TCP solution. The doggy treat helped. 11:30pm – talked to the goose eggs in the incubator – it encourages them, you know – and would you believe it there’s chirruping back from inside the eggs! On closer inspection there’s cracks in the shells of some, so they’ll start hatching tomorrow!! 11:45 – still not dark as eventually we all climb into our beds and fall soundly asleep at the first drop of the eyelids.
Jonathan: Nine years ago today, about this time of the evening, D and I were driving south along the M74 looking out for a place to pull up for the night in our motorhome. That morning we’d boarded the ferry from Lochmaddy in North Uist, heading back home to Shropshire. It was my 45th birthday and I felt keenly that I was at a turning point in my life. The day before, the last day on our tour of the Outer Hebrides, we’d discovered that the old walled garden with a modern house in it we’d spotted a day or two before was to be put up for sale. We’d always had a fancy for a walled garden, and indeed we’d lived in one before, in Bavaria in the mid 1990s. Our time there was the result of personal will; but this felt different – something outside of us, bigger than us, drawing us forward. Either we stepped back from the riptide of fate – and made our own way in life under our own steam as before; or we just waded in and let the current take us where it would. I remember now the extraordinary feeling I’d had that day, standing in the walled garden, with the sweet scent of grass warmed by the summer sun, and not a sound but the gentle lapping of waves on the beach across the road, the drowzy flies amongst the Veronica flowers, and the sound of a dog barking across the water in Barra – it was really that still!. It was if the walled garden and us had each been waiting for that moment, and time itself had paused awhile, wating to see which way it would go. Six months later we’d moved in; and since that day, in storm or stillness, anxiety or delight, plenty or dearth, there’s never been a day anything less than profoundly enriching.
Denise: There’s a major clear-out underway. Jonathan and I have been having a bit of a clear out: things we no longer need, never needed, or have ‘grown out of’: My Open University books; Hiking equipment; nearly five years of cover cds from Jonathan’ subscription to The Word magazine (all stored on hard disk, and a backup too, and no space to store the CDs themselves); engineering text books. Ebay, charity shop (the Thrift Shop in Daliburgh), or in the end just the wheelie bins. And daughter Catherine in Navarre, on the phone, is up for it too. She’s been living there 5 years now and by now if she hasn’t missed it she doesn’t need it. So that’s a guitar for sale, tent, Film Studies text books, travel guides, and all the cases for all the DVDs and CDs that we posted to her three or more years ago. (But there’s still about 150 CDs to post to her now, again without cases and inlays.) Selling on ebay never raises much money – hardly enough to justify the time spent laboriously listing the items, but it eases the conscience to know the item is going to someone who wants it.
Jonathan: Becky – our eldest daughter – is 31 today. She’s a lovely girl. A highlight of her birthday, she tells me, was the annual Aberystwyth Food and Drink Festival (sounds good to me!) on the streets of her home town. She told me of a young woman selling ‘food from the wild’, such as samphire cakes, crab apple jelly and the such-like. I can’t tell you how proud I feel to know that Becky values – is excited by – such things.: for not only does it say something powerful about her values, it also it says these values can be passed on two generations from mother to son, father to daughter, even though Denise and I have been conscientious in leaving Becky to find her own way in life, discover or forge her own values. This is not merely about what interests one – it is far more profound! It is about recognizing and rejoicing in the wonders of our planet, and the fruits of the earth which are there to feed us and supply our every need, both physical and spiritual. Autumn fruits are not just about food, but about receiving and giving, sorrow and sadness, death and re-birth.