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Summer Isles
[58.01801287451283, -5.375214946259784]
Mandy Haggith

The following poem (and pieces of poem-ish writing) was written using the words and phrases of project participants in meetings and interviews, some online, some in person, in response to questions about their experiences of swimming, paddling and sailing around the coast of the northwest Highland Geopark area (i.e. the north coast and west coast…

I think of the sea as a classroom. 

I’ve got a few pieces of paper

so legally I’m allowed to take you into it

but the classroom does the teaching. 

I don’t need to do very much. 

We’re schooled by the teacher,

always, every time

You learn mental rejuvenation, 

get a bit of exercise and physical experience,

then there’s tides, weather, light, swell,

wildlife, geology – 

there’s so much to be learned 

from the school of water, 

so much more than I can say. 

Everybody thinks when they book

it’s going to be mirror calm,

a beautiful massive ball of fire

is going to sink into a sea of lava

while we drink a dram on a distant island

and don’t get midged. 

It doesn’t always happen that way.

We’ve got so many variables,

dynamic differences, 

intrigue and mystery. 

It’s always changing. 

We have golden coral sand

and rugged exposure. 

The coastland both magnifies and shelters. 

You are truly at the mercy 

of the whole environment, 

immersed and humbled.

This is a dangerous environment

and you’ve got to treat it with respect

but the danger is higher

by painting it as some evil, natural force

than it is by approaching it

with the rationale of 

learning from an educator, 

a back to basics approach, 

a childlike relationship with the sea.

There are little lessons: 

I’ve messed up my tides,

I’ve paddled against current

I’ve trudged through mud, 

I’ve got pretty knackered 

so I don’t know how much further

I could have gone,

I’ve had physical beat downs. 

There’s always lots to learn. 

I remember getting totally schooled

paddling into the back of a cave,

surfing a wave,

a crashing cacophony of noise,

sensory overload

inside this cauldron. 

I managed to turn and bust myself back out.

That was scary. 

How long would I have remained 

washing around in the back of the cave?

Who would have found me?

It was a simple lesson. 

I won’t make that mistake again.

We’re schooled by the teacher,

always, every time.

Out on the water, 

everything slows down

and I think

as a species

that’s what we struggle to do.

It’s primal, the hardest lesson: 

it’s always going to win. 

The sea will always win. 

It’s your boss. 

That’s the way it is. 

That’s the way it will always be. 

We’re schooled by the teacher,

always, every time.

(with thanks to Tim Hamlet)