Coronavirus and the Beacon

Monday, at six-thirty am was fair in Orkney, bright blue sky overhead and the flowering currents beginning to blossom – a foolhardy plant to come so early in spring.

By the time my eldest two children had caught their bus and my youngest was walked to school the sky was changing. A short drive to the Balfour Hospital for a routine cosmetic orthodontist appointment for my middle son brought to revolving doors plastered with notices of new advice. Open for less than a year the place is spacious and spotless. Hands in pockets we arrive at the dental outpatients. The orthodontist, Mikhel is a friend from church whose children cross paths regularly with my own. He noted that the morning was very busy, especially with all the extra hand washing.

Soon we were on our way back through country lanes to school. There are no hedges, everything is wide open, sea circles the land like a prowling tiger. Later, I find out that the school leavers show is cancelled and was performed for the school only. My son, didn’t seem to mind, but then he had only minor role.

The rest of my morning is spent in deliberate, personal isolation. After a quick check on an ordinance survey map on-line I head to Rose Ness, a nub of land protruding into the entrance of Scapa Flow the great naval safe haven.

The wind is formidable now, twenty, gusting to thirty-five knots, enough to push me forward as I stand on a mound of a buried neolithic structure. The summit of the small brae drops away to land that becomes steep sea cliffs. I have already crossed bog and feather, watery pools that are peaty and clear. There are stoat eradication traps, all empty. A line of downy feathers indicates the animals are somewhere near.

I walk further on to the beacon, a mysterious monument two stories high with a cross on top. I shelter in its lea for a moment then step back out into the blast. The heat from walking quickly dissipates, but I make it to a small lighthouse before I turn homeward.

Isolation has renewed me, filled me with fresh images and sensations.

On my return I drop in at a friend’s talk about an idea I have for a poetry and music event in the summer to raise money for charity. I find she is self-isolating. I sit at the other end of a long table and we still talk, but I do not stay for coffee.

Later at home, no longer isolated, exposed to media, infected by statistics and the drama for the changing situation, the inoculation from my walk turns out to be only short term.

Today seems a very long way from the beacon, yet it is still exactly where it was overlooking the cliffs. The sea foams and spills and the wind comes and comes again.

19th March, 2020

Gabrielle Barnby