The moon upon the wide sea

Placidly looks down,

Smiling with her mild face,

Though the ocean frown.

Clouds may dim her brightness,

But soon they pass away,

And she shines out, unaltered,

O’er the little waves at play.

So ‘mid the storm or sunshine,

Wherever she may go,

Led on by her hidden power

The wild see must plow.


As the tranquil evening moon

Looks on that restless sea,

So a mother’s gentle face,

Little child, is watching thee.

Then banish every tempest,

Chase all your clouds away,

That smoothly and brightly

Your quiet heart may play.

Let cheerful looks and actions

Like shining ripples flow,

Following the mother’s voice,

Singing as they go.


The Mother Moon   Louisa May Alcott


I sat in the carpark, the rivulets of rain trickling down the windscreen, the starburst lights of other cars punctuating the darkness. I lay my head back on the restraint and closed my eyes.

“Is this it? Is this what it feels like to know someone you love is leaving?”

I had stood in that same car park 21 years ago as my father walked me out the hospital, his slippers scraping on the tarmac, his hands awkwardly in his pockets, a rather fixed smile on his face.

“Ok Dad, see you tomorrow.., I love you” I had said falteringly. I had never said those words to him before.

“Och yes, Spooky Do, yes yes, see you later” he said cheerfully as he touched my shoulder, turning away and keeping that noncommittal smile.  I watched him walk back into the hospital, back to his ward, back to his bed and it seemed like someone else.

I remember crying in the car once I had sat down and he was out of sight. I knew I was losing dad and he knew he was going and there was nothing we could do about it. Mesothelioma they told us in grave tones, eyes looking downward “So sorry”.

I never heard my father say he loved me, he did not need to, I knew. He was awkward with his emotions, though he was a very gentle man, creative and artistic and knew what love was. Not physically demonstrative but laid his love and protection out like a wool blanket to cover me whenever I needed it. I followed him in nature in the early days, not quite knowing how to deal with my emotions and hid them, a lot. Maybe that is why I had such a vivid and roaming imagination, I went into my own world with ease, to avoid dealing with reality.

We lost him in the May, four months after diagnosis, a rapid decline and a grateful, relatively peaceful early end to what would have been a living hell. I did not cope, I was numb, it was a period in my life I could not deal with. A young mother of two little boys and a tiny baby and I did not have the strength to cope so I did not deal with it but instead put it in a box, closed the lid and buried it.  I decided I  would open it one day and deal with it later, like chests in the attic containing treasured things that are taking up space and need cleared out, one day.

And here I was again, twenty years later back in Oban and that elegant, sociable, red lipstick wearing Art school girl was lying in a high dependency ward and I thought I may be losing her.

Stravaigin was safely tied up in her berth, E30, ropes off, washed and stored, dinghy deflated and under wraps, bikes assembled and locked against the electricity meter. Life after the storm of Malta, had settled into a delightful routine of late awakening, tea in bed while we chatted. Breakfast of fresh yogurt, fruit and local honey with homemade granola sat in the sun in the cockpit and a plan made for the day. A cycle to the local outdoor market to buy fruit and vegetables, or a ride along to the next town for a coffee and Arancini. Afternoons watching the captain playing beach volleyball (my busted thumbs making my taking part a far too painful option), or a run along the seafront and workout on the outdoor gym and dinner in the saloon of spinach and ricotta cannelloni or pasta with fresh tomato sauce. I loved cooking with all the delicious and fresh produce of the area . Movie nights of snuggled Hygge, seats down, blankets out, lights off and snacks at the ready. Hedonistic days indeed as we approached the winter, the daylight shortened and the temperatures dropping though still warm enough to wear t shirts and linen  trousers in the day but jumpers and jacket now at night.

We hired a car for three weeks to use our “down time” and set off for a two week road trip to  Bay of Naples as our furthest northern destination and no other plans other than that.

We loaded up the Google maps and searched for any of the green areas as our criterion then decided to head for the heart of them, however we decided to start our trip in Sicily and booked a very cheap Airbnb in Randazzo, a tiny unheard of mountain village on the slopes of Mt Etna for two nights. We set off, far too may bags loaded in the back of our Fiat Punto, our floating home being checked in on by our friendly Somerset ex-trawlerman neighbour.

“Don’t worry now, she’ll be awlright, you ‘ave a good time now won’t you and you can tell us awl abouwt it when you’re baack” he drawled as he performed the pointless but constant act of hauling up his shorts over a belly that was rounder than the globe they had sailed round over the years.

It was great driving off, felt strange being in a car and the speed they travel at compared to the sedate pace of the sail boat. J liked being behind the wheel, to start with. It soon became apparent he would either have to drive in the gutter and wave motorists past like an 80 yr old or get in the fast lane and join them! The Italian drivers were something else, an Andretti in each one. My Sicilian ex-students gave us a few tips:

“Traffic lights are only suggestions”

“Italian word for indicators is arrows and we are not American Indians so we don’t use them!”

And he was right, never saw one being used in two weeks of driving, apart from hazards when they pull over to check their Facebook messages. I learnt to relax, slightly, but was chief navigator, trying to echo the Sat Nav’s instructions. We arrived in one piece at your first home in Randazzo, couldn’t quite believe it had taken us into the very heart of a stone built medieval town, single laned cobbled streets and announced we had reached our destination outside a huge Gothic wooden door. I knocked on the door with the huge brass claw hanging there and there was a shout to come in. I clanked open the door revealing a stone courtyard, wooden fire logs piled high spilling out across the flagstones and stone steps in a large curve leading upstairs and there on the stair I could only describe as a lunatic! A lady about four feet tall, dressed in tattered dress, cotton apron, broom in one hand, hair that literally stood on end the texture of Brillo and wild staring eyes fixed on me, the broom held to her chest like a shield.

Just as I was about to beat a hasty retreat, a young trendy Italian guy danced down the stairs from another side, hurriedly shooing her way, she glided up the stone stair case, her eyes still fixed on me.

“ Ah welcome Missas Ormaston, Pleez come in.”

It turned out to be a fabulous flat hidden inside like an oasis and we had two great days there, including a visit to Mt Etna. We had researched walks to do the night before and drove up high on the slopes, parked up and spent three hours walking on tiny trails, winding their ways among lava fields, huge banks of lava, old woodlands and literally crawling on hands and knees to peer over the edge of a crater down into the basin of an eruption 10 years ago. Skeletons of trees stood naked and alarmed in the middle of black ash, gravel and brand new rock. I was fascinated and enthralled. I touched the sharp edged rocks and ran my hand over the smooth weird boulders that felt warm. It was such a contrast to see the white snow lying in the hollows of jet black slopes and new streams finding their way down a new landscape. We had been given a tip by the car hire guy to go to Refugio Cittili, he had scrawled the name on the back of our hire agreement so we plugged it into the sat nav and discovered it was only 15 min drive away. We arrived at mountain café and small car park where we sat and munched on bread and cheese waiting for it to go dark. We were not sure what we were waiting for as there appeared to be nothing happening but slowly more people arrived, tour buses with brightly coloured guides and bundled up tourists clambered out the buses and adjusting their head torches before marching purposefully up into the woods and we watched as the line of their lights snaked slowly upwards towards the snow line. I sat back and ate another biscuit feeling slightly miffed that we could not go further having no torches or maps .

“Oh look!” I leapt forward” Its doing it!”

We switched off the reading light and peered up towards the skyline where a faint red glow was building. We moved into the warmth of the mountain hut and watched along with a handful of others as the red glow became more pronounced and a reddish orange river was visible making its way slowly down the steep slopes. The lava occasionally shot straight up forming a shower with sparks like fireworks in the dark skies. It was mesmerising, we watched it silently for hours with the other people, all strangers but all in mutual awe of this natural spectacle. Of course it had been there all along, just not visible until darkness but we were so grateful to see it and drove back feeling very satisfied and especially as a geographer I felt privileged to see the forces of nature first hand and I felt quite humbled.

The two days in Randazzo were fun, a dinner spent with a group of Sicilian children at a birthday party, a delicious coffee and croissant breakfast in a workmen’s café, an old man serving the wrinkles on his face hinting at a story that should be told. Mornings woken by thunder and lightning threatening to flood the bedroom with electric light as the wind blew open the window and rain pelted onto the floor by our my bed. Wanders around the old town hand in hand, exploring the churches and monuments to the fallen in the war, a strange feeling that it was the other side this time and a feeling of guilt. The last night we walked down the steep stairs to the old nunnery converted to a restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous rustic meal of local foods and wine made from the grapes that grow on the fertile slopes of the mountain that dominates this area and it was very good.

We bid our farewells to Randazzo and headed to Messina where we had tickets booked for the ferry across to the mainland. Leaving our island home and heading over to Italy, I leant on the rails and watched the seas swish by and I fixed my eyes on a small boat, sails up and making its way slowly along the coast.

Maybe that will be Stravaigin in a few months time when we make our return journey westward and home?

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