Hibernation Diaries – Learning New Skills in Lockdown, Quiet and Cianalas

And so another week passes in lockdown. Seven weeks of homeschool, thirty-five sessions of P.E. with Joe Wicks. Our children at home for the longest period of time since starting nursery. Homeworking, Facetime calls, daily exercise, a seemingly insatiable familial hunger. Dirty dishes piling up like small, obstinate mountains where they lie. A new dishwasher duly ordered – lockdown, it seems, is not the time for domestic martyrdom. Once again no one comes to visit us. The holes in our lino and the coffee stains on the carpet are content to bide their time.

The Scottish First Minister announces that lockdown will continue. Before the end of May, we may able to go out for exercise more than the designated once. Before all this, it is recommended that we wear face coverings when going out shopping or travelling on public transport. I pull a scarf tight over my mouth and nose when I go into town to pick up a prescription. I feel strangely humiliated, devoid of all confidence, unable to look anyone in the eye, self-conscious that I seem to be the only person in the world right now covering up my mouth and nose. The sun is out; there seem to be more cars around than last time I ventured out like this. I scurry home to the comfort of our solitude, relieved that for another month at least, this experience is done. I read that people are over-reacting or under-reacting, sometimes within two minutes of each other. Information is no longer knowledge, but confusion. There are so many experts speaking over each other that I can no longer hear a single thing.

At home, I trim my hair and make barista-style coffee – part of my new repertoire of ‘lockdown skills.’ Online tutorials are the new curriculum – when the world gets small, you can learn to do just about anything you want. My son and I practise Gaelic on Duolingo, attempting phrases with all the lyric cadence of ‘That is a chicken and Irn Bru,’ which I’m sure will prove most useful. A new Gaelic word presents itself to me, a term that conveys a sense of longing or belonging to a place and is often associated with feelings of homesickness or nostalgia – cianalas. I realise this is the word I have been seeking to explain my attachment to my home county, Caithness, for a long time now. It occurs to me that perhaps I have never heard a more beautiful word in my whole life.

Spring Day looking to Orkney

I read, a book called Quiet by Susan Cain, a book about introversion that starts with the quiet courage of Rosa Parks – a still, small voice that paved a way to making the world a better place for all of us. I am comforted by this book, the way it speaks to me with each page I turn – ‘that’s me!’ ‘that’s me!’ – although of course, I suppose I already knew most of these things about myself. Introverts, Cain says ‘…often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation…Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.’ I have always suspected I am better in writing than in person. My lack of finesse at small talk, too, is vindicated – not often being the domain of discussions on what you think happens when you die, or where your dreams go when you wake. This book stems the flow of thought that declares extroversion as the ideal temperament available to us. I am reminded of the famous quote by Gandhi: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ ‘Shout about the change you want to see in the world,’ would have been quite a different suggestion. Some of us, I think, are content to simply ‘be’.

Quiet Book by Susan Cain

Happy to be ourselves, then, we stride out on our daily walk along the coast path, delighting at a group of homing pigeons, out too on their daily exercise and circling above us, sky dancers in the Springtime. I wonder at their desire to stay close, to stay together – do they not taste the freedom of the salty, coastal air? I think perhaps they too possess that sense of cianalas – that feeling that is more and beyond any other word I can find in the language of my upbringing. Something stronger than birth, deeper than the paths of my memory awakes within me.

And I turn the corner, feeling the pull of the land that beckons me back home.