Snowdrops are appearing again. In clumps under the trees in the park where I walk most days with the dog. In the front garden of the house next to the wee studio where I go to paint at art class every week. I even saw some purple crocuses the other day, and there are daffodil leaves appearing in our back garden.
Finally, it seems, the days are lengthening, the sun strengthening and even making a few more appearances. It's been a long winter, but the birds are now making a real racket as I walk in the woods and a pair of bullfinches has visited our garden on more than one occasion. In the past, they have been pecking seeds out of old seed-heads on a plant whose name I should know, but do not. The other day, though, the male was progressing methodically across the grass, picking up food every step of the way. A pair of fat woodpigeons are regularly to be seen perched on our old rowan tree, and a gang of town pigeons have commandeered the roof ridge of our neighbour's house. They preen and bow, make foray flights round the tall pine trees and back again, and try to alight on the flimsy bird feeders hung from the gean trees below. I could watch them all day.
Last weekend I discovered that it's not easy to take photographs with gloves on. The air was chilly, as one would expect at the start of February in the Scottish Highlands. The pale turquoise soft wool gloves I received as a Christmas present nearly worked, though I struggled to take the lens cap on and off. Still, some photographs were taken; more "source material", as I have come to call it, for my boat paintings. And also some photos which I think work well just as they are - like the ones above. They are bits of a boat which has been lying on top of the harbour in Gairloch in Wester Ross for quite a while now. It's a great subject - I've taken pictures of it before. I love the peeling paint, where layers have come off to show what lies underneath; the corroded metal, like verdigris - perhaps it is.
Before Christmas, at a little fair where I was showing some of my recent work, an American lady asked me why I was painting boats. I hadn't really thought about this; I like them, the shape of the them, the colours. But it is more than that. I only started to discover the answer when I told them that I used to sail. And now I have thought about it some more and these memories have come to me.
I used to sail a lot when I was young. I sailed at school, in the sailing club; in a dinghy, on Linlithgow Loch, on summer evenings. And then we sailed as a family, a wee blue wooden dinghy to start with, then a slightly bigger boat, a cruiser with an inboard engine and bunk beds, a gas stove for making toast and tea and heating soup. We sailed on the Firth of Forth during term time and then on the west coast of Scotland during the summer holidays The boats were towed north and then south. Long days were spent trekking the trailer down the shore, waiting for the tide to come in, floating the boat off and then mooring her safely in the bay. I was never so keen on sailing in the cruiser. There wasn't the immediacy, the closeness to the water, that one felt in a dinghy. The sound of the water lapping at the bow, the feel of the rudder in my hand, the tautness of the sheets, held against the wind. Watching the luff of the sail for any flapping, indicating that you were sailing too close to the wind. Or the homemade woolen telltales tied to the stays, showing exactly where the wind was coming from. All these memories, there in the back of my head; there whenever I paint another boat. There is more about this in there - more for another day.