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Time Machine

[58.45629601734811, -5.048953341343835]
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…

It’s a time machine, the sea.

From out in the Minch, you’re seeing the land

as the Lord of the Isles would have seen it. 

You sail along, part the water,

it folds in behind. 

You’ve made no trace. 

You’re moving silently,

self-reliant in an environment

that has hardly changed for eons.

If you can read the geology

it tells the full deep time story.

It’s all just there for your imagination to see 

with a real sense of discovery,

of days gone by on the sea highways – 

Viking boatmen who named these landmarks,

Spanish sailors who came to grief in the Armada time,

the puffer trade, like clockwork,

on the old sea roads.

Here’s the past. It’s not long ago

boats were vital

to the very existence of these communities.

In so many anchorages you can see

where stones have been cleared

to make a little slip

for a small boat

to go fishing from the bottom of the croft.

These people lived their lives

close to the sea, dependent on it.

Our economies have revolved

around the shoreline:

close in you see a salmon bothy, lazy beds, 

derelict homes, ruins, 

old shielings going back to earth. 

Someone lived there,

did a lot of work there, 

took their livestock out to graze

in that now uninhabited spot.

Things are fragile. 

The kelp industry has been and gone.

Yet the tide keeps coming in and out

and on the sea you can see 

straight back into times past

and out into the future too


(with thanks to Alan Rankin and Murdo McPherson)