Footprints and Kelp

     I’m struck by the alien forms and colours in the rock pools. I look into them, feeling like the eyeballs in the sky, and enjoy the way the seaweed looks as though it is hovering in clear resin. There are creatures in there, as alien as the forms through which they swim: small busy shrimps; shy crabs; wet snails stuck to the rock, some of whom move with a crooked swagger  as though they find the act of carrying their dark shells troublesome. 

      I notice one netted dog whelk is sitting cheerfully on top of a common limpet, drilling its way ruthlessly into the other’s shell to break the seal and access the flesh within. I shudder. Life at its most basic, most raw, still manages to inflict a horrible amount of quiet suffering. I wonder how much a limpet suffers. Does it know it’s a limpet? does it feel like a limpet? and what would that feel like? to be a small, firm, jelly like creature, stuck to a rock in the sun, the wind, stuck there as the sea encroaches once more over the rocks, washed by breakers and then sitting bleakly in rock pools awaiting a turn in the tides. I wonder if it is really true that limpets always return to their favourite rock to rub and eat gently away at the stone. I wonder at how they would recognise their rock? Somewhere there are answers to these questions that would make me feel foolish for even asking.

      In another pool a large section of kelp has come to rest. It is rippled down either side, a weirdly cupped and noduled ball at one end. It looks like contemporary metalwork, or plastic sculpture. It lies there oblivious to its weird beauty. It has been broken, thrown up from the sea floor and stranded in this pool in the rock. I have an unreasonable urge to lick it, to feel it’s weird vegetable ripples against my tongue, its saltiness. It looks like it would taste good somehow. I imagine the gelatinous stew it would create if I cooked it.

     The colours are striking, bright orange against a deep green backdrop of seaweed. There is purple here and  pink from the strange underwater lichens that coat the rocks. A lovely deep brown, almost black. Earth, Olive, Seaweed, Pumpkin, Ivy. I make a mental note. I wonder how I could incorporate these strange wiggles and curves into a woven piece and still make the wearer feel pretty, I feel sure that I could and in my mind I put the neck piece on, all orange ripples and curves. You’d have to have confidence to wear it. 

      Behind me I hear squeals as the girls try not to fall into the slippery pools. We move away from the weeds and strange creatures and walk further along the pebbly beach. The weather is nicer now, the clouds have parted and the sun is coming out. I sit down and my two scruffy daughters come and sit next to me. Not so small anymore, not so young but still wearing that random assortment of rescued clothes they have always worn to the beach. They could be in pyjamas for all they care, no one can see them here. It makes a delicious contrast to their self consciousness around their friends. In their company every item of clothing screams identity. Here they can wear whatever they like. 

      They push the pebbles with their boots and I pick one up. I throw it carefully into a rocky pool, one that hasn’t any life in it, one that splashes up as the pebble hits the water. Ha! I shout and throw another one. Gradually it turns into a game. If you hit water you are allowed to shriek loudly, if you hit a stone you have to remain quiet. It becomes quite raucous and I giggle at the destruction we could be doing compared to my quiet observations earlier. I reassure myself that the pools are just rocks and water, that we have left the kelp, the shrimp, the crabs further up the beach, but as chipped rocks fly across the sand and the impact of stones missing water makes louder and louder cracking noises, I decide it’s time to go. 

      We laugh at the silly game we’ve been enjoying and for a few moments we are us again, the three of us tramping along a beach, something which is becoming more and more rare - the three of us increasingly becoming individuals trying to understand one another. I run back to take a photograph of the kelp before following the crunching, scrunching wellies as they make their way back up the beach.

      There are seabirds whirling above our heads and every now and then the kee kee of an oyster catcher. I wonder how much longer I will even feel like the adult in their company. I wonder if being an artist alongside two young women finding their way in the world will soon feel uncomfortable, if maybe what they will need is a proper grown up, one who feels in charge, feels the responsibility of setting an example, of showing them the right path. My path is behind me, an indention in the grass, footprints being washed away by the sea as I walk. I’m happy to explore and to make it up as I go along, to wait for the next show, to hide my purse until something sells, to spend hours lost in my thoughts while I ignore the washing machine and the empty clothes line in the wind. 

      I think of their lives so far, the adventures of fair isle, the rambling walks, the youngest swimming in the sea like a fish, terrifying me. Their paths will reveal themselves in time and maybe, just maybe, when I look back and see only one set of footprints it will be because, unbeknownst to me, they are following me, treading carefully in the safety of my own steps in the sand after all.

Kathryn was with the Gremlins


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