A crofter's cottage made of stone,
its roof of grasses tied down with rope,
a heap of peat stacked neatly nearby,
A boat upended becomes the roof of a storage shed;
a few sheep in the field overlooking a gray sea,
empty fields marked by stones.
We step inside this small two-room cottage
to find darkness leavened by tiny windows bringing light
to whitewashed walls of stone.
In the fireplace, peat smokes and burns,
banked for a slow fire, soot marks above the fireplace
where a fiddle hangs next to the gun, its powder horn nearby.
I see hard work here:
this family had a grinder for making flour,
a pestle for pounding grains into food
no stove, food cooked at the hearth
in heavy iron kettles,
bread rising atop the wooden lids,
the bed a wooden box to the side of the central room,
with doors to close those inside, a patched quilt,
squares uneven to keep them warm,
no precise pattern, found fabrics not needed elsewhere,
the chair for Grandsir
almost a coffin
with box like sides
to keep the draft away,
the churn nearby,
a basket of knitting,
another of raw wool
to spin into thread.
Hands were never still in this house,
even the men sat of an evening making rope,
their hands twisting and knotting,
traps for fish, halters for horses,
baskets for carrying,
repairing the tools used every day,
for in these old ways,
they could survive the cold times,
the hungry times.
We took these pictures at the Crofters' Museum near Lerwick, northern Scotland. I know from reading about the Clearances that these crofters were displaced by sheep during the Industrial Revolution. Everywhere you still can see empty fields marked by stone fences and the remnants of abandoned stone cottages, a sad history of struggle, survival, and loss, part of the story I wrote about in my book, Standing Stones.