The Straight line Rambler's Blog

Jon Schueler May and June 2016

In Flick’s Rhueart Gallery we presently have an exhibition by the American Abstract Expressionist Jon Schueler, I never thought in my wildest dreams that such a thing could happen but there it is! Part of the worldwide program of exhibitions and events to celebrate the centenary of his birth; it is a strong, subtle and beautiful show.

Jon was taught by Clifford Still who introduced him to Turner, and by Mark Rothko; Jon’s use of paint is similar in manner to Rothko’s but employed to very different ends. Raised in Wisconsin Jon experienced the enormous skies and felt great excitement in the tumultuous storms and the power of nature that he saw over Lake Michigan. A degree in English and a career as a writer and journalist was cut short by the Second World War during which Jon was a navigator in a B17 bomber, (the one’s with a Plexiglas nose), in which he describes being suspended in the sky. He saw some terrible things of course and those, along with the loss of his mother at six months troubled him deeply. He was stationed in Molesworth England where he met Bunty Challis who talked to him about Scotland and the rugged west coast. These memories remained and in the winter of 57-58 he painted in Mallaig, returning again for five years from 70-75 and then frequently visiting after.

I was interviewed by Jon Miller for Lochbroom FM, you can listen to the 18 minute interview here.

Reasons to be cheerful. Early February 2016

Yesterday after weeks of storm force winds and lashing rain we had a rare day of calm, Flick and I took advantage of the lull to replenish the firewood stores. Emerging into the gloaming from the log shed after one last wheel barrow load I chanced to glance up at the hill and there silhouetted against the western sky were two large birds. A longer look told me that the smaller of the two was a buzzard and the larger a sea eagle. Although there didn’t appear to be any discord between them the buzzard flew away soon enough but the eagle circled above my head four or five times. With hardly a wing flap, just catching the wind rising off the gable of the hill it was truly magnificent and a wonderful end to a great day.

If you enjoy music check out Snarky Puppy on YouTube, many thanks to Sam for that top tip!

John Ruskin and Brantwood House January 2016

Flick and I went down to the Lake District just before Christmas to visit family. The South lakes haven’t had quite the deluge that the unfortunate folk further North have suffered but it was still pretty wet. After a rather dreich walk up Coniston one morning we decided to visit Brantwood House, the home of John Ruskin from 1872 until his death in 1900. As a student at the Ruskin school of drawing in Oxford I had learned a little about his championing of Turner and the Pre Raphaelites and seen his wonderful pencil and water colour studies of Nature; I was however unprepared for the breadth of his thinking that was outlined in the short film shown to visitors on their arrival. It seems that he was quite the visionary, championing a minimum wage, social housing, health care and a free trade area throughout Europe, sound familiar?! Apparently both Trotsky and the founding Fathers of the Labour Party read his philosophical writings. Beyond this he railed against the atmospheric pollution caused by those “Dark Satanic Mills” that drove the great nineteenth century Industrial revolution belching out coal smoke across the continent. He observed the smog clouding and shortening the days and took precise measurements of rainfall, plants and lichens at Brantwood fearing for the potential destruction of Natural systems. He studied Geology and collected many specimens of rocks and fossils. Much of his lifetime’s extraordinary work and legacy is on display at Brantwood House which still occupies a beautiful site above Coniston water.

Notes from a West Coast Garden August 2015

This summer has been one of the wettest and coldest that Flick and I can remember in the thirty eight years that we have lived here; as a consequence gardening, ever a challenge on the North West of Scotland has thrown us some unusual problems. The first that we noticed was the brassica flowering in early July, we wondered if we had sown poor seed that had reverted to a more primitive form, but our neighbour had the same problem with different seed; it seems the plants felt that they had missed summer, gone through the winter and felt it was time to reproduce. The Spring broccoli is out now as are autumn asparagus and autumn raspberries, the autumn raspberries ahead of the summer fruiting canes. We have apples on the trees but now the trees are flowering again for a second time this year.

Successes outside have been broad beans and peas and the globe artichokes resemble a small jungle, currents have done well and the strawberries although slow to ripen are firm and sweet; courgettes and climbing beans are flourishing in the poly tunnel. Trees everywhere have benefitted from the rain and cooler conditions and the orchids, asphodels and other wild flowers are abundant on the hill.

I light my studio wood burner each morning as if it were winter and wonder if this year is a random blip or a symptom of global weirding as my North American cousins call it, I do hope that it’s the former!

Easter Sunday 2015

Cul Mor in the middle of Drumrunie Forest was busy yesterday, while a strange temperature inversion left mist hanging most of the day in Loch Broom further north the air was clear and the skies were sunny. Parking at the Knockan crag we climbed the stalking path to about 400 meters and then headed off roughly south west towards Lochan Dearg a’Chuil Mhoir, (dark lochan of Cul Mhor and dark it was!) Following a contour route we reached the beallach between Creag nan Calman and An Laogh at lunch time, as we neared it I could sense the acceleration in the wind. The Dark Lochan sits at the lip of a wee valley that runs from South West to North East and clearly funnels the wind in a big way. Looking around for a convenient seat we both spotted a slab of Torridonian sandstone at a convenient height with a great aspect of Stac Polaidh, we also noticed that it was unusually coloured. Closer inspection revealed that it had been the top piece of one of the many stacked and shelved formations that commonly occur where Torridonian sandstone has been weathered and cut along its sedimentary layers; and it sat at the top of a small cliff. This piece was approximately 2 meters long, 1 meter wide and 30-40 cm thick, the unusual colouring was because we were looking at what had until recently been the underside of this shelf of rock, the slab of rock, whose weight I can only guess at, had recently been flipped over by the wind!

September 19th 2013

We’ve been lashed with the first big gales of autumn this week and the migratory birds are on the move. Great skeins of greylag geese are flying south west down Loch Broom, seamlessly breaking apart to switch leaders and then reform, honking away all the time. It’s a big migration and the loch is clearly a landmark, in the spring when they were all heading north I watched from the top of the hill as a group of fifteen or more peeled off from the main flock with much calling, they headed north west towards Coigach, not long afterwards the main flock hung a right at the end of the loch; soon they were all reunited, my breakaway group must have done the trip before, they cut off the corner! We have a growing group that over winter in Rhue, they started as a pair about twelve years ago and have now grown to an extended family if eighteen. The swallows too are massing on the phone wires and they will soon fly south. There’s a line of trees along the road above Jack’s croft where the midges gather in the relative shelter from sun and wind through the summer, in the mornings when I return from my walk I am awe struck by the high speed antics of the swallows as they feed here; in the evening I often see bats in the same place feeding too. Flick tells me that this is an example of convergent evolution, two separate species exploiting the same niche at different times.

At the bottom of this page I’ve put a link to a photo album of Jess and Pip, our two Northern Innuit dogs that accompany all our walks.

August 26th 2013

We went up North to climb CranStackie yesterday with hopes of views into the Northern buttresses of Foinhaven but turned back at the lip of the north western corrie as the mist was down. However our trip was not wasted as we saw and heard two golden eagles calling fairly constantly while hunting below Beinn Spionnaidh. I had thought that they were pretty quiet in flight but not these two who we were able to watch for fifteen minutes quartering the glen. Some research when we got back home suggested that they were an adult with a juvenile probably being shown the ropes. In the afternoon the sun was shining to the NW and we discovered a delightful walk from Keoldale alongside the Kyle of Tongue around to Eilean Dubh and Balnakeil, note to self to return a little earlier next year as the flowers on the Machair were reminiscent of the Outer Isles; as it was we saw a blue carpet of Scabiosa and Hare bells, the heather is in full bloom now and the air full of scent.

August 6th 2013

Well I really must try and do this more than once a year....The first windy blustery day for some time chased the dogs and myself up the Rhue hill last week, at the top we met the ravens who have a long standing tag game with the dogs. They land on a rock in easy chasing distance only to fly off at the last moment, the girls fall for it every time and it's always appeared to be good craic for both sides; the ravens also like to hover above the dogs and mob them from behind as the girls only spot them at the last minute. The strong wind gave the birds turbo chargers and they were tearing through the air tumbling, turning over on a wing beat and moving with extraordinary agility and rapidity. Cawing and screaming all the while their passes suddenly took on a more determined and ominous nature and for the first time I realised that this was no mere game. The girls and I grouped close and descended the hill with our attention equally on the sky and the rough ground below our feet, as we lost height the ravens lost traction from the wind and interest in the "chase". All was well until we reached the hut circle and one lone raven returned calling deeply and aggressively while dive bombing the girls. Now Flick has taught me how to speak raven and while not in her league I have a few words, so I spoke to this fellow and he spoke back, gradually the pitch of my call rose higher up the scale and so did his, it would seem that a higher note is less aggressive than a low one. After a brief exchange he called off the dives, flew round our heads a couple of times and with an amiable caw flew off. The next morning we were greeted on the hill top not by two but six ravens.......

August 29th 2012

For three days in April together with 25 Ullapudlians we sailed on a tall ship schooner the Wylde Swan, to St. Kilda beyond the Hebrides; the sun shone and the wind set fair, it was a fabulous voyage. The Islands were continuously inhabited for 4000 years and only evacuated in 1930 after Tetanus Infantum had wiped out three generations and the twentieth century had caught up with what was essentially a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. The at one time 400 inhabitants survived by harvesting sea birds from the 1000 foot high cliffs which they air dried and stored in cliets, remarkably many of these structures would still be usable today, there are 1034 scattered around the main island and the islanders' architectural legacy is immense. Some crops were also grown and they raised Soay sheep, these are so close to "original" sheep as to be the subject of an ongoing study.

Not suprisingly the island held a sadness even in bright sunshine, its a place I have long wanted to visit and the photos now run as my screen saver; I plan to make paintings about this trip over the next winter.

Wylde Swan web site

photos of St. Kilda

photos of the Dogs