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Thursday, 22 January 2015

Off The Shore - A lighthearted short story from IONA

 Regular readers of this blog may remember that in October last year we were at a writing retreat on the Island of Iona, admirably run by Kenneth Steven, the Scottish author.


One of the challenges Ken set us was to write something that linked us with the more ancient communities that had lived on Iona. Walking by the beach, my eyes fell on the seaweed which littered parts of the beach. 21st century seaweed would be very little different to 7th century seaweed, I reasoned.

What emerged surprised me. I have never engaged with short story writing, but I really enjoyed producing this very short one. It was not difficult to imagine the situation at all and I found a quite remarkable website which gave me several of the ideas used in the story: it was packed full of information about the use of seaweed as fertiliser and the encouragement to its readers to make use of seaweed if they had it available to them, felt to have that sense of being of the ‘Wisdom of The Ages’.

Ken’s challenge gave rise to an opportunity to discover something I knew nothing about; the internet provided impressive detail and these two, linked with the Island’s ecology, resulted in the following light-hearted story, which I hope you might enjoy


Off the Shore.
An older monk of seventh century Iona talks to a Novice from beyond Mull.

‘You probably made your long journey here expecting to see and hear of miracles. Well, that’s good; so let me tell you of one that I witnessed.’

‘We were approaching the sowing season with the last year’s seeds waiting impatiently to be in the soil.’

‘I was one of the brothers instructed to take part in the first and biggest kelp gathering of the year. Oh! I’m too old for that now; it’s the slime and the smell and the weight of the fronds before they’ve been at least partly dried by sun and warm breeze. Now I know the seaweed is a gift from God that makes barren, windswept soil like this fertile. But the Spring lift! It’s a killer!’

‘I still can’t fathom why we grow the food-plants quite so far from the shore, but we do. So it’s down-and-back, down-and-back fifty times a day with the brackish bundles, kept partially secure by those long strands as thick as three fingers, and the rest of the slimy load making the back of the habit sodden - and icy-cold if the wind is blasting from the north or the east.’

‘So I lay awake, gloomy at the prospect of the gathering and listened to a wind howling round our huts as a mad storm gathered over Mull. I couldn’t sleep for the din and the threat of losing the roof. All night the thought of being out in that wind and rain, going backwards and forwards to ever more distant parts of the shore, became uglier and uglier with the seaweed harbouring all sorts of black and slippery evils.’

‘Then about first light, the wind began to drop and I dared to hope for a gentler day for the gathering. As the greys gave way to faint greens in the East, there was even a hint of sun poking out between the retreating clouds. By the time the bell rang to summon us to Prime, I was fully awake, but still fretful, as I reluctantly headed towards our communal gathering place. At least all our shelters were intact, Praise God!’

‘Then the miracle! The wild winds of the night had torn up a rich mix of kelp and wrack and green hair-like seaweeds and dropped them in a pile as high as your shoulder, right at the foot of the growing beds.’

‘Oh! Praise the Lord for His goodness!’

‘Of course, you as a young man from way-beyond-Mull would have no idea of the graciousness of that gift: it’s incomparable. It brings the whole growing area into life. It keeps the soil moist when the fickle winds dry the surface unexpectedly and threaten tender plants. Burned to ash, it helps those plants to reach a generous maturity. Also, a compost heap laced with seaweed is like no other! And, even more, balls of seaweed left on the ground among the chickens, within the space of a single day, yield hordes of tiny, creeping, crawling creatures that the chickens fight to gobble up as soon as the balls are rolled over.’

‘It’s wonder on wonder on wonder – and, for a whole moon’s cycle we didn’t have to gather any more of the stuff.’

‘Now that’s what I call a miracle!’

Kenneth Steven’s blog can be found HERE 

The website about seaweed as a fertiliser can be found HERE 

And if you love Iona, you may enjoy the more serious IONA: The Nunnery -a poem of justice and women’s place in the church


                  

Ten thousand billion suns - A scintilla of God’s Universe

Ten thousand billion suns - A scintilla of God’s Universe
It is currently thought that the Universe has at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars! Hence the use of the word ‘scintilla’ for a mere ten thousand billion.

Cross and Particle Accelerator (CGI)

Cross and Particle Accelerator (CGI)
Cross and Particle Accelerator. The words of 'A Prayer for Understanding' can be viewed by clicking on this image

Nebula (Embroidery)

Nebula (Embroidery)
Nebula (Embroidery) to accompany the poem 'Invitation' which can be found by clicking on the image.

Orange Galaxy

Orange Galaxy
'Orange Galaxy' posted to accompany 'Bounded and Boundless'. Go to the poem by clicking on the image.

Cosmic Icon 7 Summerflower

Cosmic Icon 7 Summerflower
Cosmic Icon 7 - Summerflower Nebula (Acrylic)

Cosmic Ikon 8 Moth

Cosmic Ikon 8 Moth
Cosmic Ikon 8: Moth Nebula(imagined-acrylic) The Gold field of deep space is intended to convey the Lordship of Christ over the whole of the Cosmos

Surprise garden rose (Photo)

Surprise garden rose (Photo)
This beautiful head of roses in our garden, which are giving off a delightful perfume in the morning sun, seems a fitting picture to link to the sonnet 'Evolution and Beauty'. Let the picture take you there. It is a surprise because it is growing high on a bush of otherwise pure yellow roses: amazing!

Cross and Vortex

Cross and Vortex
'Cross and Vortex' to accompany 'Stars and Planets Sing Your Glory'. Click on the image to go to the poem/hymn.

Gaseous Cosmic Threads (Mixed media)

Gaseous Cosmic Threads (Mixed media)
Gaseous Cosmic Threads: Mixed media - acrylics and painted threads

St Francis’ Sky (Photo)

St Francis’ Sky (Photo)
Warm Umbrian Hills: Click image to take you to the poem St Francis' Sky

Cosmic Labyrinth (CGI)

Cosmic Labyrinth (CGI)
'Cosmic Labyrinth' - This icon is a symbol of the path through the near reaches of the Cosmos with its 'Havens' where current advances in science (2012/13) are celebrated. By clicking on the picture you will be taken to the latest version of the poem of the same name.

Cross of Autumn Leaves (cropped Photo)

Cross of Autumn Leaves (cropped Photo)
Time, perhaps to consider a restorative break before the approach of Advent/ Christmas. Let this image take you to 'On Drawing Apart'.

IONA: The Marble Quarry (Photo)

IONA: The Marble Quarry (Photo)
On the South shore of Iona is a bay which shows the industrial scarring of a beautiful place. Read of it by clicking on the picture

Butterfly Nebula (CGI)

Butterfly Nebula (CGI)
The Imaginary Butterfly Nebula . Anything like this would be a real Curiosity! The image will link you to the reflection titled 'Curiosity' which is actually a celebration of the achievement of landing the Mars Rover of that name

Light of the World amidst stars (CGI)

Light of the World amidst stars (CGI)
'Light of the world' posted to accompany 'To Light'. Find the poem by clicking on the image.

Iona from Fionnphort (Watercolour)

Iona from Fionnphort (Watercolour)
Iona from Fionnphort. At this point of the Isle of Mull, the end of a pilgrimage or trip to Iona is in sight. Click on this picture to take you to the poem 'IONA - The Pilgrim Way'

Cross and simple Prayer rope (Photo)

Cross and simple Prayer rope (Photo)
Cross and simple prayer rope: make one like this to use as an aid to using ‘The Jesus Prayer'