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Caithness is best place to ponder the mysteries of the universe


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Northern Drift by Monique Sliedrecht

Sketch by Monique of Freswick Bay in autumn, graphite on paper, 2023.
Sketch by Monique of Freswick Bay in autumn, graphite on paper, 2023.

Lately the sea has been wild. Gulls drift and cry over the sound of the crashing waves as I walk down to the shore which is strewn with seaweed and shells, coughed up by the swell.

The sea grass has been flattened by the tidal surges.

Foam nestles in the rocks and gets caught in the wracks, creating a mottled covering of something akin to shaving cream along the exposed coastline.

The beach has been significantly altered by the recent storms.

As the seasons change profoundly here in the north-east of Scotland, my thoughts turn to the tumult of the last few years. What a lot of change we have been through and what a lot we are still going through. It is easy to wonder if the world will ever be quite the same – whether it even should be.

The Greek philosopher, Hericlitus, said: "The only constant in life is change." What is today will not always be. Starting with this knowledge, we can prepare ourselves and strive perhaps to live more fully in each moment, knowing there will never be another quite like it.

"It is easy to forget the splendour of the every day, to fall into listless longing for something new." (Brainard Carey) But the universe is full of mystery. Days are full of surprises.

On a macro cosmic level, we only need to stand under the night sky to witness one of the greatest mysteries – the stars. And there is nowhere better to look at them than in Caithness.

The other day, astro scientist Carlos Frenk was being interviewed on the BBC. He spoke of the most sophisticated digital model of the early years of the universe. It still leaves many important questions, but we may be on the verge of one of the most significant shifts of understanding in the last 100 years, and some of the things we first thought about the universe may be incorrect.

The more we learn, the more we realise there is a lot we don’t know, and that creates a sense of the mystery, not only of the universe, but also of the people, nature, and society all around us.

In the microcosmic world, our own lives reveal little surprises. You only have to go out for a walk and open your eyes to notice a bird you haven’t seen before, or see the unique shape or colour of the leaves on a tree growing in your own garden. Every day we have the chance to witness a million little miracles.

We can all have occasions where we lose the joys of the everyday in the hope for some great happiness or to fulfil big longings we have. We wake up, go through the motions of work, home, socialising, sleep… press repeat… and we lose track of the special ‘small’ moments. Due to the daily hustle and bustle, we can easily miss the beauty and serendipity that surrounds us.

Going for a walk gives us enough time to enjoy and admire the beauty of the natural world. Nature, in a lot of ways, inspires us with its miracles. We only need to take time to notice. Sketching helps me do this.

Here in the northern hemisphere, autumn marks the transition from summer to winter. And while inevitable change can be hard, it can also be invigorating. Let’s take the moment to notice all that it offers and "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign [ourselves] to the influence of the earth." (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

Through wonder we develop care, through care we create change, both in ourselves and in the world around us.

I turn around and walk back after having quickly sketched the coastal sea view, feeling refreshed.

  • I will be taking a break from writing my monthly Northern Drift column. I want to thank those of you that make time to read it and for the occasional responses.
  • Monique Sliedrecht is an artist and blogger based at Freswick. If you want to follow her writing or sketches, go to her blog at www.moniquesliedrecht.com

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