Hibernation Diaries – Sleeplessness, Outlander, The Province of the Cat and the Coming of the Blossom

This week marked my first foray into gloominess in this era of lockdown, Covid-19 and social distancing. I started the week with a pain in my back and a new bout of insomnia (something I attribute less to worries about Coronavirus, than the hormonal see-saw that seems to characterise my early forties). Added to the grim of a few grey mornings, I found myself lapsing into a parallel sort of woe that only subsided with the return of sunshine, and a couple of restful nights without pain in my back, or in my legs. I tiptoed around social media, hoping that no one would nominate me to post pictures of my favourite albums, or my dog, or anything else for that matter – realising that for a few days, I needed to get a sense of my own mind back. I retreated to the world of stories, nuance, and context – things I’ve been struggling to find in the standard places of late. And so I went to my books, first delving into the world of Outlander in The Fiery Cross, the fifth instalment in the best-selling series. I finally finished it, all 1400 pages, a weighty tome to rival War and Peace. I still marvel that the author, when starting to write the series, had never visited Scotland, let alone set foot in the Highlands. (The series at this stage is of course no longer set in Scotland, but somehow, always remains there. It makes me wonder if Diana Gabaldon herself is possessing of some sort of travelling gift, like Claire, her protagonist, such is the sense of her affected Highland heart).

Next, I moved on to The Province of the Cat, by George Gunn – the Caithness poet, playwright and bard who also happens to be the leader of my writing group. For some weeks now, I have been feeling homesick for my home county – an emotion made strange by the fact that I still live here, oddly enough. Like everyone else though, I can no longer wander around the place, and I’ve found myself missing the parts that cannot be accessed from my front door, or a period of 30-60 minutes of daily exercise. I see others dreaming of far flung destinations, and realise my small dreams are just as inaccessible – coffee at John O’ Groats, the gentle undulations of a walk at Olrig, the wind in my hair at Dunnet Head. Through George’s words I can travel once more through my beloved county (The Province of the Cat referring to the naming of Caithness by our Celt and Nordic ancestors). Early in the book, George writes of his desire to seek out ‘….the Caithness I see every day, but also the Caithness deep inside of me. When I look over my shoulder, I see that Caithness, those various Caithness’s, following me.’ I realise this is exactly how I feel when I write about Caithness, and my feelings towards her. If you want to read a book that is truly of and about Caithness, then please read this one. (I cannot, of course, promise that you will not still feel homesick by the time you turn the final page.)

Invigorated by stories, though, I finally brought myself back into the hopeful light of cheerfulness. I went out on daily walks, carrying my Highland heart with me, seeking out that portion of Caithness I can still reach from my front door. In turn, the world responded, the sun returned, a lone tulip bloomed in the grassy verge, I dipped my blue toes in the garden.

And then one morning I woke to the arrival of the blossom on our cherry tree.

And I knew I had been sent a love letter, written in new beginnings, sunrise, and the dawn chorus of the birds.