The silence is
a backdrop to
a steady

A sea surrounds me
rising up
to the

The horizon is farther
in the land of trees
which I cannot see
for the woods

The silence is
a backdrop to
a steady

A sea surrounds me
stretching out
ever moving
to infinity

The horizon is distant
in the land of the sea
there I can see
beyond infinity

The fog of time

Wreathed in cloud
the tree tops hide
as the year ends
the future is foggy

The signpost looms
marked 2017
A lamp sits atop
Its colour indiscernible

Is it the red of hazard
the green to proceed
the amber with caution
or the indeterminate white

Yesterday's clarity
replaced by today's low cloud
January the minus fourth
2016 nearly over

The land of trees

Clouds have fled
the midday sky
the wind's
a token breeze

My horizon's lined
with nearby trees
bare of leaves
it's mid-winter time

I'm in the land of trees
the nearest water flows
from pond to pond
to widest rivers yet

It's many a mile
to the distant sea
where storms roar
far off to the northwest

Solstice time

Days are short
Light runs short
December runs forth
It's nearly solstice time

When the wind howls
and the rain rattles
through the long
dark hours

Not long though
until the sun returns
through the fall of snow
and the screaming storms

Short story XXIV

At the cross-roads stood a collection of old buses, in varying stages of decay and delapidation. The main road was empty, ribboning away towards distant hills in one direction, and up a gentle incline headed north. One branch led along the shores of a sealoch, fringed by tidal mudflats and low, rocky hills. The other branch angled away steeply up the nearby hillside, then veered left towards the trapezium shape of Roineabhal. Nothing stirred.

The flock of sheep waddled its way along the rough track, up from the fank. Perched on the quad-bike, the shepherd slowly followed them behind, with his trusty collie dogs keeping the sheep under control. Roineabhal presently appeared round the corner, its dark green shape looming up against the skyline. The track skirted the hillside, towards a brief encounter with the road, before veering north into the boggy interior. The line of white signs for passing places came into alignment for a brief moment as they marched towards Roineabhal. Nothing else stirred.

It was possible to climb to the summit of Roineabhal from where the road crossed over its southern shoulder. Looking back, the lone walker could espy the distant houses in the village and the long ribbon of the sealoch disappearing towards the east. The landscape to the north was a confusion of water and land, difficult to discern where land ended and water began, or where water ended and land began. Even with a map, it could be treacherous. The walker knew that. A distant noise drew his attention. Was it traffic on the road?

The noise receded again. The wind sighed in the grasses and the rocks, feeling chilly as it was funnelled through the pass east of Roineabhal. Grey clouds slowly moved overhead as the road angled down along the slope. No traffic moved at all. Stretches of water extended this way and that, but the roadway was steadfast in its motion through the watery maze.

The hut stood forlorn at the shore of the loch, with Roineabhal towering over it. Waves lapped ashore, spurred on by the breeze. Its sign intimated that it was in use by a local fishing group, and a boat was tethered to a mouldering stake nearby. The sun peeped through the clouds, making occasional mirrors blink off the surface of the water. Water had also filled up the boat, and little ripples were blown across there too. A car was parked nearby, but appeared to have been there a long time. Its windows were steamed up, grass grew up the tyres and mould was encroaching. No tyre-tracks were visible in the sandy trail leading to the hut from the nearby road. This swept north to cross the outfalls of Loch Langabhat.

The road remained strangely empty. Its white kerblines angled up the slopes of Roineabhal, and curved sharply west across the outflows of Loch Langabhat. Another hut, lying a few hundred yards off the road, again with a derelict vehicle left outside. A deep rut led down towards the water's edge, but its swirling depths were anything but inviting for boating. The door swung open and shut on the breeze, but nothing else stirred.

After the sharp dogleg crossing the Langabhat outflow, the road smoothed into a gentle curve. The link to the Bernera road followed the Grimersta River system north, but this was soon left behind. The conical shape of Coltreasal loomed up ahead, closing off the northwestern end of Coire Geurad. Which is where a small rowing boat lay abandoned on the shore. It was ever so slightly unexpected to see smoke rising from the rudimentary dwellings higher up the hillside, not far from the roadside.

The road junction was deserted. One branch led north, towards Kinlochroag. The other angled south, within sight of another loch, with a house on the far bank. But that was of no interest. None would even think of going near it. The forbidding bulk of Scalabhal reared up in the middle distance, but the road gradually veered away from it. Upon crossing a stream, the remains of habitation could be made out. A hint of smoke seemed to curl from one roof, which had remained intact.

The rowan bent in the strong breeze, whistling up the loch. This ended where the rivers ended that voided into it. Ended too had the lives of the few houses that stood above the water's edge. Strange names, which had settled into the dust of lives left behind. The end of the road too. There had been plans to extend it further south, into Harris, but nobody felt there was much point. Nobody lived at Luachair anymore, or at Crola, or at Ceann Loch Reasort. Boarded up were what remained of windows, no longer reflecting the light of the setting sun. Only the rowan remained, the wind mournfully singing in its branches, of lives born, lived and ended there. The dark hills fringing the loch as it marched west, until Taran Mor shielded what lay beyond, the island of Scarp, and beyond that, the Atlantic. So many had crossed that water, leaving behind their old life for a new one far away. The road ended here too, 14 miles from where it had started. Leading through the empty interior of Lewis, where sometimes people lived. Oldest of all, below Scalabhal, some twenty centuries back. The shieling settlement at Coire Geurad. You'll be hard pressed to find the Road of the Rowan. It does not exist on the ground. You can go to Balallan, to the South Lochs junction - only three roads leave from there, not four. Roineabhal stands in splendid isolation, as does Loch Langabhat. No roads touch either place, nor is Coltreasal scarred by such an intrusion. The house by the loch is private beyond privacy, and only a private road leads there. The Queen's Highway does not. The Road of the Rowan can be found by those who go looking for the dwellings of old, abandoned under duress or voluntarily. It leads everywhere in the Long Island. If you know where to look.

Sunset window

The sun has set
on the sunset window
the chair stands empty
for the final time

Left behind
two years ago
now followed
those gone on ahead

A line has been drawn
under the ledger of life
the book is closed
Rest in peace.

Cnoc an Uan

Who of those
on Cnoc an Uan
that August day
would return

Who of those
would return
only in name
on Cnoc an Uan

A tower now rears
looking out to sea
over which they left
never to return

except in name
on a bronzen plaque
so many names

Who of those
on Cnoc an Uan
that November day
would not be remembered


Darkness falls
the lights light up
showing us the way

November darkens
as the solstice looms
with the howling wind
or reflective calm

Leaves flutter away
as the year's end approaches
with the light set to return
after the birth of Christ

Mod nan Eilean

The last chord drifts away
from the old school hall
soon all will go their
separate ways

Celebrations over
for achievements
and first place

The old language,
older than what I write in,
echoes from the halls
native or learnt

The sun shone down
as the ferries sailed
carrying the festival

The language remains
between sea and ocean
the culture continues
from lighthouse to lighthouse

I see the land
I see the winter
the last tourists have gone
from the isles of the west.

Lews Castle

Where the wealthy once played
in luscious ballrooms
dividing the interior
to shoot and fish

Where their chattels,
enumerated for poverty,
had less than nothing
to live on and pay with

Lowly walls sinking into the ground
only chimneys left standing
empty hearths cold
staring out over empty moorland

The mansion too was left
abandoned and crumbling
young ones were once taught
from where their elders were ruled

Where the wealthy once played
we now learn of their days
and those they subdued
from near and from far

Resplendent yet empty
the way it once was,
but no longer is,
Lews Castle

October summer

Shadows lengthen
with the equinox past
blue sky arcs
under the sinking sun

The eighth month
for the ancients of Rome
our tenth
and first full of autumn

Green's turning
yellow if not brown
fluttering down
the wizened leaves fall

South wind the wings
of those impelled to move
as winter beckson
in a chilly morn

Orion marches
up the pre-dawn sky
his faithful hounds
at heel to his east

The southeast breeze
yet brings some late warmth
before the clouds
drift back

Autumn's gentle face
we have on show this week
Its wild battles for winter
are yet to come

Silent Langadale

The silence of Langadale
nor the stoney pavements of Tobson
The high cliffs of Robhanais
nor the paths of the Grounds

You're not gone
You're very much here
But where you once walked
Is now beyond you

You were last here in 14
all of us were
all of us that were left
came to this ancient place

In the summer sun
little did we know
that soon the time was to come
that you couldn't tread there again

You may be back once again
and can but look on from afar
Where once you joined me
in silent Langadale

The loneliest water

The loneliest water
where some once lived
a boundary once
where land was shared

Far from others
fringed by frowning hills
ending out to sea
where an island with none left

The stream tumbles down
by derelict homesteads
the water stretches west
just round the corner

Outlines of walls
overgrown paths
the odd ovine
in a land once for bovines

From Luachair to Crola
From Dirisgal to Lamadal
From Ardmhor to Crabhadal
None now live - on Loch Reasort

Wet day

Darkness falls
on a sunless day
as the western breeze
carries raindrops east

The road glistens dark
the drops dangle down
from the rusty wire
on the broken post

Silent sheep stand
in sullen misery
heads drooping down
their fleeces soaked

The clouds tear
but the sun has set
darkness delayed
not postponed

Short story XXIII - part 10

I watched a dull grey pencil stripe beginning to separate sky from darkness to the east. I had finally been met at Hamnaway, but not in the way that was arranged. Beeping satellite phones, morse code signals from the sea, before dawn.

Short story XXIII - parts 1-8

I started short story XXIII in July 2015. This is a reminder of the parts I wrote then.

The engine droned monotonously as the bus went down the road at a steady speed. The hills on the southern horizon were blue under the summer sun, as the lochs winked in the distance. Far away to the southwest, one hill stood out. At this distance, it wasn't all that conspicuous. Taran Mor, standing guard at the mouth of Loch Reasort. Of the forty passengers on board, only one or two could pinpoint the hill. The others, visitors to the island, had their minds on their imminent visit to the Callanish Stones.

The engine droned monotonously as the bus went down the road at a steady speed. The hills on the southern horizon were blue under the summer sun, as the lochs winked in the distance. Far away to the southwest, one hill stood out. At this distance, it wasn't all that conspicuous. Taran Mor, standing guard at the mouth of Loch Reasort. Of the forty passengers on board, only one or two could pinpoint the hill. The others, visitors to the island, had their minds on their imminent visit to the Callanish Stones.

We laughed as we reached the double-tracked section of the Uig road, between Kinloch Roag and Loch Croistean. "The B8011 (M)", my driver smirked. "I remember it being single-tracked, and going round all the houses in Enaclete", I replied. "It's certainly taken minutes off the drive, and made it safer". Soon, our mirth was cut short as the road reverted to its single-tracked, winding state at Ungeshader. "I've been told, by the way, that you'll have to walk from Carnish," my driver presently said. That was a disappointment. "The jeep that was to have taken you to Hamnaway is out of action, broken down near the house. Nobody else has a vehicle that can tackle that sort of road". However, I soon found out that not all vehicles were even able to tackle the Queen's highway that is the B8011.

The gentle, green slopes around Carishader, the stark valley west of Miavaig and the broad swathe of land around Uig Sands lay behind me. Utter silence was only broken by the wind sighing through the heather, and the clatter of water in the rocky channel. Mealisbhal, the island's highest mountain, reared up to my right. "You'll be met at Hamnaway", my friend's words echoed in my mind. Hamnaway. Eight brutal miles away to the south. I glanced round, and could just make out his vehicle crossing the bridge across the Red River. The yellow strand gleamed dully under the low cloud, but I turned my back on it as I resumed my slow, painful journey along the rough track. South. And even beyond Hamnaway, my journey would head south. "Mind if I join you?" came the voice. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

In the far distance, the bay of Hamnaway shimmered under the low cloud. We just about emerged from under the grey pall, the woman telling me the stories of the outlying shielings, where the villagers of the district would take their cattle during the summer. She was going round to check out their locations. No, we were not going to share tents, thank you. Where I was going to head south from Hamnaway, she would make for the moors east, towards Morsgail. I did not tell her of the boat that would be awaiting me. After a few more hours of hard, ankle-breaking walking, we finally reached the shoreline. Not a breath of wind stirred, allowing the midges a free for all on unprotected skin. The sun peeped from under the cloud, as its edge rolled in from the west. The house was unoccupied and locked, so we pitched up a little distance to the south. The sun set. We chatted away in the gathering darkness, the wavelets making a brief sound as they washed ashore. No other sounds were audible. Night fell.

"Have you heard from Eva yet?" As if on cue, the satellite phone beeped, and a message appeared on the screen. "At Hamnaway. Nearly gave me the slip at Carnish. You have six hours."
A beeping noise awoke me. As if a text message had come through on my mobile. None had arrived, and there was no signal. None of the providers even came through. Quietly, I opened the tent's front flap and glanced at the other tent. Did the noise come from there? But surely, she couldn't have a signal either? My friend's words echoed in my ears. "You'll be met at Hamnaway". The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. I had been met at Carnish.

Short story XXIII - part 9

Very, very quietly the boat edged into the loch from the sea. Ahead, to the east, a line of grey announced that daybreak was near. The night vision camera revealed the house near the shore and two tents at its side. A pinprick of light was pointed at the incoming craft, on and off, making out a message in Morse code. What the night vision camera did not spot was the evidence that the message was futile, as the object of the communication had moved out of sight. The other tent was empty.

After remembrance

Flowers of the Forest
stills into

the Last Post
moves into

the church door
clicks shut
and the clergymen leave

will remember them
that did not grow old
nor the years condemn?

The memorials
mute markers
the tombstones
silent pointers

Slumber on then
into eternity
we will remember you
yet not the lessons

Your suffering has ceased
we'll all rejoin you
until the Day breaks
and the Shadows flee away

In memory of

As dusk falls
the hills fade
into rolling

from the heights
of the chalken

Like so many
of armed

over wire
in fire

from the heights
to the depths
of oblivion

To the river
to the sea

The fields
yet yield
a harvest
of iron

The fields
yet hold
those who
were never found

The memorial
starkly stands
high on the
chalken escarpment

The fields gently roll
to the river below
in memory of
those lost at the Somme

Longest day

On the longest day
my longing is longest
for what can never

A fortnight later marks
the beginning of
what has now

Going forward
looking back
you'll stumble over
the future

Forget I shall not
but the book is closed
it continues
in me