Island Life

“It’s horizontal rain again,” said Sarah in a flat voice devoid of her characteristic good humour. I was writing up my notes from my day in the field and was annoyed by her interruption. However, she‘d broke my concentration, so I looked out the window of our hideous, seventies built cube of a bungalow and saw that, not unusually, a strong north wind was blowing the heavy rain over the endless white-foamed, choppy sea. I admitted it was a bit bleak.

“A bit bleak,” she replied. “You’ve got a real gift for understatement.”

I sighed and leaned back in the wooden chair I’d made during my short-lived, but intense love affair with carpentry.

“Come on, love. Loads of people dream of a having a sea view from their living room window.”

“Yeah, but most people would wake up screaming if their dream dropped them in a housing estate in the middle of the North Sea.” I heard despair in her voice rather than the gleeful animation that once characterised our verbal sparring.

We hadn’t moved to the Shetland islands by choice. The cuts in the forestry service on the mainland were deep, and it was Shetland or no job.

Then, we could still joke together.

“So,” she’d said. “We need to branch out, or be axed.”

“Yes dear,” I’d replied. “It appears we are being uprooted.”

Sarah took great pleasure in telling her friends that her husband, the tree surgeon, was relocating to the notoriously treeless Shetland islands. We’d never been that far north, and it was easy to laugh from the comfort of our beautiful old cottage in the tame landscape of the Trossachs.

A year later, Sarah had lost her laughter, and I would have done almost anything to get it back. I use the word almost as when I look back it’s clear I should have taken her back home, but I was obsessed by my project to reforest the island. In my childhood, I had fallen prey to many short-lived preoccupations such as perfecting a 180 heel flip on my skateboard or building a CB radio from components sourced in obscure electronic magazines. My worried parents would nag me to spend time on school work, hang out with friends, and even begged me to watch TV. However, when I focussed on a project, I would survive on just a few hours of sleep each night.

My folks were delighted when I married Sarah, and they believed I had, at last, grown out of my odd, obsessive behaviour. However, I knew Sarah was my simply my latest, and greatest obsession. I hadn’t changed at all.

Perhaps, if we’d stayed in the Trossachs, then everything would have been fine. I could have passed my strange projects off as hobbies, and Sarah’s friends and family would easily have compensated for my periods of inattention.

Unfortunately, we moved to the barren landscape of the Shetlands. My job was to experiment with growing different species to coax a forest from the inhospitable soil that could withstand the salt-infused and wind battered atmosphere. Of course, I became obsessed, how could I not?

Now, while trees will never thrive on this Island, I have my forest, and the recipe has been successfully replicated in various corners of the island. Shetland has trees once again, but it means little to me. Sarah couldn’t cope with the emptiness of the endless sea surrounding the featureless terrain. She could see no beauty In the acres of flat boggy moorland, and no one could appreciate the concrete ugliness of the village in which we lived. She took her own life, and since then my mind is full of thoughts of what should have been. That’s my obsession now.

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