Boundaries

Updated: Mar 1

The first grey, dawning light, slowly brightening the horizon from the east behind Tresco. As I walk around the pool, glass-like, the only ripples from the swan gliding gently, the sky to the west holds its air of sleepy darkness. The cows bellow their mellow greeting, barely visible, their rich red colour hidden against the damp old bracken. Silver misted dew lays heavy on their backs and droplets of water cling to their curly coats. No popplestone wave this morning, it is simply calm, quiet, meditative. Apart from the animals I feel like I could be the only being on this island.

My work on the farm today includes planting carrot seeds, 17,000 of them. The only sounds as I stride up and down the field are the scratch and squeak of the wheel on my seed planter and the constant trill of birdcall summoning the spring warmth. The soil is dark, soft and deep. It sticks to the wheel making it hard to push and clods fix themselves to my boots. A speckled bellied thrush joins me to feast on worms and grubs, disturbed from their earthy home.

There is no sun to warm my back, although the air is heavy and humid. The thick blanket of grey cloud lays unmoving and unbroken across the islands. In the distance, St Marys to the south and Annnett to the west fade in and out of the sea mist. From my vantage point by the greenhouse, I can watch the tide ebb quickly. Spring tides leave the channel empty, the seabed and sea creatures exposed to the sky for a few hours. The turquoise waters disappear to leave great swathes of pale, wet sand, only to refill a few hours later and be hidden once again in their underwater world.

One of the most challenging aspects of island life can be the changes in population on the island. Most islanders are naturally folk who are quite happy being in their own company. Not unsociable, not miserable or uncaring, but happy with solitude. During winter the population of Bryher averages about 60 people, we enjoy a huge amount of personal space, solitary walks and we each respect each other boundaries. In the summer months the population increases to several hundred as visitors come and enjoy all that Bryher has to offer. It is a change we have to get used to each year, as we learn again to share our spaces with others. It’s a contrast that brings friendships and fun but also frustrations as our homes and lives become open to all.

I wait until there is enough water to swim and then return to Green bay, my current favourite spot. The air has freshened a little, the cloud lifted just slightly but the day holds on to its gentle stillness. Little waves of clear bubbling water lap onto the sand, the boundary of earth and sea, moving with the tide.

Slowly being swallowed by the incoming tide are the remains of an old stone wall, standing upright like the spine of a buried sea monster, it marks the boundary of a time gone by. It’s a wonderful reef type structure to explore underwater, home to bladder wrack forests, limpets, top shells, crabs and probably numerous other creatures that I haven’t spotted. It’s not deep water but the difference in how the same things can feel in and out of the water is striking. Looking down into this rocky world from above there is a visual sense of beauty, but once you are submerged it becomes a world of heightened senses; of movement, of the waves washing you backwards and forth, the weeds brushing against your skin, the light through the water, the sound of the sea, the salt in your breath.

Boundaries are all around us, physically, emotionally and personally. It’s an interesting exercise to think about how we are affected by, and how we affect other people’s boundaries.  

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