Sitting at the table at the caravan on the shores of the Atlantic a few miles north of Arisaig, Scotland. The sun is shining and the southerly wind has died down since this morning. When the sun came up it was blowing whitecaps but now the water has the calm flowy look of a huge river.
Sam and her grandmother are sat on the sofa across from me. Alwyn is teaching her how to crochet and Sam is making melodramatic noises of protest when she can’t seem to make the crochet work as she wants.
“I think I’ve done it,” Sam says.
“That’s it,” Alwyn says.
“You’ve done it.”
“It doesn’t look right. I don’t think I’ve got it.” She starts to read from the crocheting book. She waves her hand about in front of her face, trying to get the shapes right. Alwyn is patient and still, like a statue dispensing guidance.
“Around and through… did I do it?”
“Did I do it?”
“I mean it looks crap compared to yours. Okay, let me…”
“No, you’re going the wrong way.”
“Whoops. What have I done. I don’t know what I’ve done. What do I do?”
“Put it round the hook again…”
The Whitleys say ‘hook’ like ‘whoook’, whereas I say it like ‘huk’.
This morning we walked out along the beach for a mile or two, all the way up to where Loch Morar lets out into the ocean. Up into the wind on the way out, and with the wind on the way back. Out at sea, haze dimmed the shapes of the islands of Eigg and Muk. We found a cluster of mussels in a little tidal pool and made a mark on the OS Maps app on my phone. We planned to come back with Danielle, who wants to collect the mussels and cook them and eat them.
I’ve never been so good with animals. Even mussels, which are barely even animals at all.
In Japan I had to shuck a bagful of scallops once a year during the harvest. The fishermen set aside a certain amount for the people of Yubetsu, early in the summer. The town would feast. I’d shuck my bagful and make a meagre meal of them with white wine and garlic, except for I’d overcook them and they’d shrink and crust over and just generally look paltry.
Yesterday we walked over a couple of small peaks east of the campsite. They rise some 300 meters above the caravan, down at sea level. It was a lovely walk during a lovely day.
We descended down the face of Creag Mhòr. There must have been a fire there sometime recently because the ground was scorched black and all the tops of the heather had been burnt off. Sam thinks that the ground must have been full of peat, which is apparently flammable. I thought that made sense since this is after all Scotland. It must have been struck by lightning or something.
When we got down to the bottom of the crag, we followed an electric line along the Fort William-Mallaig railway down to a crossing. The railway was fenced off with barbed wire that we didn’t feel like trying to cross over; not with a railway crossing so nearby. The crossing itself was gated off but we could tell from afar that there was an honestly pretty pathetic stile crossing the railway-fence, so we wouldn’t have to hop the gate.
Before we reached the gate at the railway crossing, we ran across a sheep. We thought this was pretty strange since all day we hadn’t seen any sheep in the hills, and all the droppings we came across were deer droppings, which we did see some deer.
And yet here was this sheep, which had noticed us from afar but which wasn’t hurrying away in that sort of furtive way that sheep have, as though they want to keep an eye on you but don’t want to be caught looking back at you. As we got quite close we could make out that it was stuck on something, which turned out on even closer inspection to be a serious-grade-looking bramble.
The sheep must have thought we were some sort of threat as it tried to bolt. Since it was stuck on the bramble, however, it didn’t get more than a foot or two, swinging itself around like a dog on a rope before collapsing on its side.
We cut the sheep free from the bramble but it didn’t get up and didn’t bolt off. Sam kept saying that it looked exhausted, the poor thing. I couldn’t tell; it just looked like a sheep. I had never been so close to a sheep, except for maybe in a zoo, petting or otherwise.
We tried to prop the sheep up on its feet, but it didn’t seem particularly interested in standing. We also tried giving it water, but the water just ran in front of its face and over its nose without it seeming to notice. How long had the sheep been there?
Not being particularly keen on leaving this random sheep in what seemed to us to be a non-sheep-safe location, we decided to pick the sheep up and carry it off over the tracks, where a sheep-populated field lay.
Sheep are much lighter than you’d think. Still, hauling this sheep a mile down the road was tiresome, and the farmhouse we came to, while gorgeous, happened to be empty. The sheep’s head bounced as I walked. I tried to feel for a heartbeat but couldn’t find one. It might have just been all the wool in the way. Sheep also smell much better than you’d think. Smelled like a cozy sweater.
I put the sheep down on the side of the road by some running water. Some other sheep, of a different breed, stood at some distance, heads all swivelling in our direction. Curious.
The sheep was clearly still alive, though it refused to stand up. We got our hands underneath it one more time and tried to prop it up. Sam said that’s what you need to do with lambs, show them that they can walk. The sheep’s legs went all over the place for a second, spread-eagling like a baby deer.
After a second, though, it suddenly found its legs and bounded off a few steps. We watched it go. It wandered over to a grassy clod and started nibbling, which we figured was a good sign.
Our sheep friend apparently saved, we wandered along down the road back to the car. On the way back up the road to the highway, we ran into a herd of cows that refused to get out of the way.