I like to travel.
Not everyone does, I guess but, much as I love my island home, even from an early age I wanted to see a bit of the world.
I still do although, perhaps not surprisingly, my adventures so far have also led me to re-discover just how much “home” means to me and led me into artistic creativity and an enjoyable, unexpected career of choice.
Also know as the Western Isles, Lewis is the most northerly island in the Outer Hebrides archipelago, just north west of Scotland and constantly being battered by the wind and waves coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
Google “The Outer Hebrides”, and you will be greeted by stunning photos of empty, silver-sands beaches, skies so wide the camera can barely hold them, and dramatic landscape colours that may strike you as looking unreal.
Luskentyre, Isle of Lewis
You will come across blogs by visitors describing how magical it all feels, and how friendly people are. And it’s true.
Where else could you forget your phone in a taxi on a Saturday night, and get it back the following day?
But the beaches are empty for a reason.
Most of the time, this far north, they feel freezing in the almost constant winds and frequent rains. And while you can enjoy blue skies and sunshine on occasion, the predominantly dull, drizzly, wet and stormy weather tends to dampen the spirit as well as our extensive peat bogs.
A sudden change of weather at Luskentyre cut our walk short.
Long summer days can be highly enjoyable - even longer winter nights have the potential to become more endlessly depressing.
There is freedom to be had in the wide open spaces and the relative lack of crime, but life can also be too quiet, too monotone, too much “same old same old”.
Then, more than a touch of melancholy is apt to seep into hearts and souls.
As I sit here writing my first blog, my Airbnb guest has not arrived, because the ferry has been cancelled due to high winds and seas.
And, tomorrow, my friend will depart the island sooner that needed in order to avoid the next storm which is forecast already.
Yet another unwelcome power cut is probably not far away…
Perhaps the predisposition to seeing more dark than light simply reflects the way we can feel about the two sides of our lives anywhere, but, safe to say, in my teens I dreamed of the big world and of one day leaving home.
At the age of nineteen I took off.
I was about to spend months exploring Australia, as well as working there for a time. It would be my first time living away from the supervision of an adult.
There were visits to America, Bali, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The Grand Canyon
I saved up for shorter holidays in Europe, visiting Barcelona, Dublin, Malta, Paris, Prague and Venice. And in 2019, after I had gained experience in my field of study, I got the chance of a job in Norway, followed by several months living and working in the South of France.
So was I ever homesick?
Well, I’ve heard it said that “… a Lewis man would feel homesick in heaven…”, but it was not quite like that for me, though some telling moments and insights brought me to a new understanding of what “home” means to me.
In Australia, at one point, I found myself in the middle of the desert, working a less than glamorous service industry job. Living in basic, hot and sticky motel room accommodation, and covered in ant bites, if not worse, was definitely a challenge.
Somewhere in the Australian outback
I remember becoming incredibly excited when, one day on-line, I found and purchased a custom made leather diary which allowed you to burn whatever shape you wanted onto the cover.
I chose the outline of the Isle of Lewis, finished with a small heart printed above my home.
The postage from the United States to the middle of Australia cost more than the item itself, but nothing could put a price on “home”!
I NEEDED this book!
And, for the rest of my travels, I always felt less lost when I was reminded that the Isle of Lewis was and always would be where it is.
Some years later, in the South of France, I found myself sitting in the most beautiful place, with the lovely feel of a light summer dress on my skin, pleasantly warm, surrounded by red blooming flowers and the sound of cicadas chirping, wanting to paint.
... I didn’t know what to paint.
I felt like painting homesickness and melancholy, but not in a sad way.
I was happy to be here, happy to have been everywhere I had been, but I wanted to paint that feeling.
I wanted to paint “home”.
It was at that moment I recalled my long forgotten journal from all those years ago and the feeling it had brought.
I knew then what I needed, what I wanted to paint, and the delicate inks of watercolour made the perfect choice to match the beauty of the Hebrides.
There has been real joy in this – a “coming home” of a different kind – because the thought that my maps could mean such a lot to people anywhere, and for many different reasons, really is a dream come true.
So what is home to me?
In his 2013 TED talk, novelist Pico Lyer stated: “Movement is a fantastic privilege, allowing us to do so much that our grandparents could only dream of … but movement only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to”.
This really resonated with me, because what has ever kept me calm when facing the unknown is the knowledge that I will always have my home base in the Isle of Lewis.
No matter where I end up, if I want to leave, I will be able to get on a flight back to the safety of my island in a matter of hours (weather permitting).
How lucky I am!
Not everyone has this privilege. Some may never even have been able to get on a plane. I live in a country that paid for my education and never lets me worry about my health, I will always be taken care of.
Lyer added: “Home does not happen to be the place you are born, is it the place in which you become yourself.” - and that's true, it is precisely because of family, friends, my country and the safety of the Hebrides that I have been able to step out into the big wide world and take on all my adventures so far.
I once read the definition of home as being “…the abiding place of the affections. It’s not a building or a room, but a place where your love dwells.” - what a perfect summary of home.
The Isle of Lewis, my home
Nice, France - my home for now.