Thursday, 25 December 2008
f2, 1/16 sec, ISO 100, -1.3 EV

Bolt & bar the shutter,
For the foul winds blow:
Our minds are at their best this night,
...& I seem to know,
That everything outside us is
Mad as the mist & snow.

Sometimes, Mas Sgier is only for standing on. It was running a force 10 through the wires, rolling boulders along the seabed with one hand & clawing the wool from the backs of sheep with the other when I took this shot...The wind nearly stripped me from the edge as well, such are her nails. But we are somehow kin. We call it the washing machine, that local abyss, when it finds it's mind, for good reason.
Eventually numbed, you get told to leave by the teeth of the storm, & push sideways like a drunk on the Glasgie offramp tracking back, -the collie ahead with his ears behind- to those soulless four walls & ponder the coins & coral on the window ledge & think fondly of Tromsø. No long now, until another magnificent qajaq territory draws you back again.
Nothing really prepares an individual for -12°C midnight kayak navigation underneath a dancing symphony of Aurora Borealis & the warm current drift. Who needs christmas lights & warm care anyway huh? Tromsø - the training ground of the hardy...or maybe the foolhardy says a pal with a familiar lopsided grin.
Either way, I have somehow become a repeat offender for well over a decade, sometimes in anger, sometimes in peace. I'd forgotten the turn of the years...Lars & his exploding pie recipe, iceberg bouldering in Speedos, snowaking, the wee girl who owns the coins....she must be a young woman by now...
She was 5 when she asked if I was a bad eskimo & we swapped coins...
I've always kept them - exactly where I said I would.

Immediate forward plan? Twin black knives, some deep water line, free running loops,
Qajaasaarneq rope for a dawn workout, two big lobster over a bivouac fire & watch the Hogmanay fireworks from a shoreline out in the remote blackness. Somewhere where the shoreline is steeped in oxygen & even an inkling of a dram, a lit cigarette or faint sound in the clear air alerts the senses like a downwind perimeter alarm. Empty peace - has more appeal than a heaving cattle market a thousand strong, & choosing it, empowers against sitting amongst quiet walls twiddling my thumbs. Sometimes being a prisoner of freedom has a few advantages I guess. Living by consistent & recognizable markers of sleep & waking, transitory weather systems & dark & light; extradition gazes in on a bizarre circus of learned & expected ritual. There is more life alone out on the vast ocean around this time than there is on dry land. Better to cut your teeth on cold stone & roll the night surf mad, possessed, than blunt your soul waiting.

Have a good one whatever you may be doing. Really.

posted by •≈ Sgian Dubh at 06:00:00 | 0 Retorts
Friday, 19 December 2008
Dusk flight & December landfall at the outer reaches - we all head for shore, airborne or sea bound inside a scarfs caress of gathering night storm. And what an evolution of storm. Ripples of thunder bounding across black open seas like lost cannonballs & light shows silhouetting the latest naked supermodels drenched in vast swathes of Torridon monoliths, squalls of hail running mad tempo on the bivvy skin & dousing fires. Sometimes, you are morally obliged, having made it through Lith Sgeir yet again, to bound out of your shelter & dance like a madman in the middle of it all.
Todays shipping forecast for the 19th is now reading: Wind, Southwesterly, cyclonic gale 8 to storm 10, increasing storm force 11 imminent, veering westerly 7 or 8 later. Sea State high or very high. Squalls. Visibility moderate to poor. Everything is tied down & everything that isn't, is flying. The vibrating tent fabric, the bothy cornerstones, running reeks & high desolate ridges should be entertaining over Christmas...

Anyhoos, in a week or three I should be able to scrape enough sheckles together & find a Ricoh GX100 & GRD replacement. I may have to sell the dug, my soul & a carbon paddle to do so, but working with the wee stand-in Ixus has swiftly become like having to eat a dry cracker when you really need a full meal. There are now print demands coming in from as far away as Norway & Spain. Well, although Ricoh recently replaced the GRD & the GX100 with the release of the GRD II & GX200, increasing RAW writing capabilities & adding some mega-pixies, it seems a pointless exercise of purchase & replacement, in light of the GX300 rumoured to be arriving in November 2009. They should have gone for a superior sensor in the 200, but Ricoh are almost constricted by giants, market flooding the consumer compact arena.

Lumix DMC-LX3

What is the point of these endless numerous mid range boxes & their strange boasts? There is no point in having an obscene amount of mega-pixies if the CCD & optical range are both out of balance with the cameras ability to process the information it receives - it's a total myth that more mega-pixies create better shots in that respect. Why manufacturers add unusable 3200 ISO ability in attempt to market consumer units is also laughable. The Ricoh GRD & GX series avoid such whimsical glitter & are, to my mind, superior niche items, especially in the field of black & white production, & especially within the low ISO range. I've opted for the Lumix DMC-LX3 this time round, which still retains full manual creative control over post-processing, f-stops, aperture etc & sports a 1/1.63-inch CCD shotgun to 60mm optics at f/2.0 & f/2.8 respectively. It should give the GX200 a serious run for its money. My dreams of maybe one day even holding a Leica M8 will have to remain in the realm of dreams.

Woodland light by Wouter Brandsma - © 2008.
One of my favourite examples of low ISO light & contrast play with the Ricoh.

So often, compacts below the high end semi-pro range build lazy photographers, where everything is pre arranged, analysed & evaluated for them. The flip-side is that the more adventurous, are left fighting an automated & infuriating array of presets. I much prefer a box that can be fully manually overridden, putting the camera back in the hands of individual perception, rather than the box continually arguing with you about how it knows best. Just as using a G-style paddle will introduce you to it's intricacies & characteristics, free technique allows each shot to become a honed process of relationship communicated between the individual, the equipment & the panorama/subject ahead. If you shoot like you're using film in an old Rollieflex, you develop technique & an intuitive response to lighting conditions. Underexpose to retain white light, overexpose to retain shadow information. Lay down in the street, climb a lampost. Roll with a traffic cone on yer heid.
Most of all play. Become a subset force majeure.
Couple such explorative results with some minor adjustment & editing in applications such as Lightroom, SP Developer Studio or S.Efex Pro in the Digital Darkroom as I call it, & you can realize some wonderful results.
Seriously, with your technique down, who needs to shoot outside of the ISO 64 -180 range?

Riding the crazy train through Lith Sgeir & Más Sgeir - f3.8, 1/133 sec, ISO 64, +0.3 EV

Above is a cropped pan of the kayaking channel through Lith Sgeir & Mas Sgeir toward leeward shelter. 4m-6m breaking swell & a wee bit stormy. It was another obligatory, skin-of-the-teeth moment in the slim black knife all told. Black gloved, sealed into a tuiliq with a lanolin greased face, continual immersion is not an issue. Getting dumped into downhill racer troughs where submerged boulders groan & having enough power to outrun the insane rip & backwash in a gathering force 9, is.

I had the advantage of a helper on the cliff to set the camera running multiple shots per second on a tripod bolted to the floor with pitons. Before attempting the crazy train I had set the camera ISO, aperture & target frame etc, & all that was left was for my button pusher to set it rolling as I rounded the channel, & stand back. The rest was a case of processing, balancing & knitting the image pan at home once I had thawed out. Normally I would leave the camera on repeat shots myself & play in the pelagic fireworks alone; but there's no short way into Lith Sgeir in such seas.

≈•Cast yourself against this black thing. Thrown raving at the sky•≈

posted by •≈ Sgian Dubh at 15:47:00 | 5 Retorts
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
...Are better than other games.

A discarded empty plastic bottle on the wind blown beach is collie heaven. Every Sunday windy walk we take across the deserted sands, Seobhag fìorghlan na h-ealtainn will chase down & herd as many as he can. His now, almost instinctive air scenting search skills, his need for puzzle solving & occupation, often make for a bizarre spectical of acrobatics & circus antics when the plastic bottles start flying. A game he came up with himself after I refused to walk through the village with him carrying his crazy pink football. :o)

I've come to the conclusion that the dug deserves his own post, without the mention of a kayak.

When he was the size of my hand, I would carry him into the high Cuillin, & bivvying for the night he would sleep in a woolly sock under my chin. Of course now he is all grown up, its his mountain. A low growl will alert me to another presence on the white out ridges in the dead of night long before they appear. Should I release him, he will coral them toward the howff & a fidgety warmth. He will also see this as a food bolstering opportunity. Payment where payment is due - is how I deal with it.
When I set off along remote parts & partial circ-navs of Skye in the k*y*k, he will run the cliff tops & shores alongside until we camp, grabbing crab snacks at will. I will occasionally see a big pair of pointy ears peering over the edge, checking our progress. Should I spend the day rolling in the surf, he will leap the breakers & join me. Bampot & unfailing companion that he is. There was a near unfortunate incident of this at Rubha Hunish,. We have since had words & it's best forgotten - but lesson learned.

When he had a rear 4 point split & infected incisor removed & was unable to stand being blootered on opiates, I spent 27hrs in the downy with him, to make sure he knew he was safe. Even then he tried to go to work. He has returned the gesture ten fold. I have since weaned him off a diet of stones, hence the plastic bottle fetish.

The roof of his mouth is black, his markings impeccable, which basically means he gets laid more than I do. Something is very wrong here...

His search success rate recently hit 94% & he barks in Gaelic. Both his eyes are the colour of a peat burn after autumn rain. They were blue. He has a soft scar on his nose, about an inch long, which he got by running head first into a rock. He got this by looking at me instead of where he was going. We got round that.
He has an unhealthy obsession with slugs, but likes helicopters. He has carried a raw egg from Glen Brittle across the Cuillin to Sligachan without breaking it.. He lost the top of his right ear, by continually taunting a Wookie, in his formative years. He has stolen many pies. I once lost him as a pup, searched the house & eventually found him, covered in ash & asleep in the fire grate, which was as warm as an Aga after the night fire. He often practises Kungfu in his sleep. Maybe because his main adversaries are the bad crows, who hang out at the shinty pitch.
He's only ever shown his teeth to one guy with serious intent - but then you should never get into a bar fight with a pelagic ghillie you can't handle. Especially one who has a Skye collie asleep at his feet. The fella ended up outside on Doni's taxi roof with the collie circling. He was arrested for damage to the taxi & affray, the collie got a sausage off the Sergeant. I could go on, but I'll keep it short - Hippo, Birdy, Two Ewes.

All that said, If he goes out playing wi Molly Mac all day & comes home wearing blue eyeshadow & tinsel again, I'll nail the basta.
posted by •≈ Sgian Dubh at 14:20:00 | 3 Retorts
Friday, 5 December 2008
Midway between Skye & Harris, 7am

Now we are free, you & me - Lisa Gerrard

It's that silent time, every tiny sound seemingly amplified & as you head out of the shadowed & claustrophobic waters of Loch Dunvegan, the Uists appear in distant mist as if a reincarnation of Tír na nÓg. Saying goodbye to dark kelp saturated waters & clanking listless ships of spinnaker & rigging you break ahead of the Galtrigill headland & arc over for Grimsay & Lochmaddy, rhythmic strokes on a millpond sea enjoying the slingshot of open expanse. Like a child out of the school gates, your pace picks up, your ability for play, remembers what it is to be unfettered - your enthusiasm overflows.

Midway you stop for a blether with Lachy, pot-hauling, working dawn creels under fading red & green navigation lights & look back at the tabletops & climb onto the wheelhouse roof for a panorama shot of heaven on earth. Waving an arm in the air, as a gesture of goodbye you continue, & indeed, Lachy in his fashion, gestures back. You look back to see him silhouetted & drifting & gain a porpoise escort; & slipping silver bug eyes down over the tuiliq you roll face to face with your graceful escort, inside a dance of mutual marine ballet. The moon is ghost like over your shoulder, the cold seas releasing steam each time you surface, the sun vying for it's place in the morning breath. Leviathan above leviathan & leviathan below.

You're the skipper of your own destiny. You cut & weave through Cannish, & now it's up to Bernaray, an outside drag the long way round. Some entertaining swell & a hard cut for Taransay... A clan of Skuas take low level flying into new boundaries across your bow & you count each landmark ...Scolpaig ...Spuir... Copaigh... Braigh Mor... West Loch Roag... all scattered with remote reeks of white unpopulated sands & soaring high black edges. You feel as though you command legions, your mount, a slim black knife as loyal as any collie that looked to you for the next instruction. The clear dawn skies are filling with storm as you reach the haven inland stretches of sea loch & the seas are starting to awaken, the winds stir from slumber, but you do not fear, or doubt, moreover you wish you were caught midway in the raw fight, but by now your woolly feet are pointed at a fire hearth & your hands are wrapped around a bucket of hot sustenance, your knife buried point down in a log.
There is a drip on your nose & steam in your breath as you close your eyes & drift into the sound of squalling rain beating down on the window like thrown rice grains. You're huddled in for the night with lined & creased faces of heros you trust. Faces that never make the news, nor care for it.. Somebody puts on Davy Spillane & the Atlantic Bridge & the night becomes a foregone jolly. A single jumping light in the dark & the wild.

The great non-event of Christmas will be here soon & I'll be in a bothy somewhere, or on a high ridge away from the chimneys & lights, solitary & in extradition from the gifted huddled & warm. Rolling into a fold, skin leaking dram, kayak flung across an empty reek of shore. Being surplus to requirement carries a stench decades old, but that's the world, the familiar odour & without adieu, you keep on keeping on, dragging your tail in the sea, because if you stopped, you'd be pointless, expended.

We reluctant Gladiators, we forward Minch Hunters - is there a better solo journey on earth, than when half the world is asleep, fidgeting in its angst?

What a year we have seen, the deaths of loved ones & friends, new births, storms & peace & war afar. One of my highlights was not to do with kayaking in any land that wraps the sea around its edges like a blanket, but to fill an ordinary shoe box with gold, red & coloured leaves of all sizes, dry them & tie it all with rough string, for my wee Dundonian pal MayLee. She left these shores long ago to train, successfully, as a rescue diver in Turkey. She swam through a sea of shit get there, & I'm so very proud of her. I put a simple note on the box saying Throw Me - xx. I did this simply because I didn't want her to miss out on Autumn & from my heart, wanted her to have one of her own.
One scented with the Highland woodlands.

Not all gifts are gold, but born of understanding your companions. In such a house, geography is an aside & should we forget such trust, we are become dust - emptied out & wretched vessels. Should we forget to write as bards & warriors, we are mere recital. For now, I will remain a lone Minch hunter. These satellites of friends in constant orbit, can never deter the search for everything that has already found me.
One day, I will be gone from this living world & miss it in its entirety, but like the man said ...not yet.

Not yet.

The landfall sands between Cnip & Bhaltos

Anol shalom Miss Mulholland...anol shalomť

posted by •≈ Sgian Dubh at 15:45:00 | 1 Retorts