Dailiness delights me. Dailiness is the way we shape our lives and cultures with little acts that we carry out on a daily basis so that they become a practice, either by design or by necessity. Sometimes a roadside shrine that we pass regularly can urge us to devotion more surely than an occasional visit to the cathedral. The cathedrals of life are the feasts,the roadside shrines are the nourishing meals that provide our daily sustenance.
We visit places, and the places we visit reflect the people who live out their daily lives in those places. Many of us wonder what our lives would be like if we, too, were to live there. What might we wear? How and what might we cook? What would we learn and how would we pray? The questions are as endless as the cultural clues that colour our imaginings.
People have lived in these islands for millennia, cooking, raising families, building themselves shelters, worshipping, and burying their dead. We search for their clues so that we might reconstruct their lives in our stories. We know that four thousand years ago, people erected huge stones for reasons that are obscured by the mists of time, but the results of their efforts intrigue and inspire us today.
The little island crannogs that sit in the lochs around the Isle of Lewis were accessed by short causeways. Easily defended, they were topped with small structures that provided some of the earliest homes, some two thousand years ago. While hiking out for a picnic lunch can be a lovely springtime adventure, I can’t imagine how miserable the winters must have been.
Two thousand years on, people had moved out of the lochs and were using local stone to construct clever high structures in strategic places to keep them safe from both the harsh weather and marauding invaders. These stone brochs are remarkably like older nuraghi built on Sardinia down in the Mediterranean, another island culture.
Another thousand years on, settlers began constructing blackhouses, structures whose design were based on Norse longhouses. These blackhouses were much squatter than the brochs, with beds and cupboards built into the walls, and thatched roofs that were kept pest-free by the smoke from peat fires built in the center of the living space. Animals were kept in adjacent rooms for convenience and safety.
These blackhouses changed little over the centuries, and were only phased out early in the 20th century when more modern stone and timber houses began to appear. Even today, there are still a few blackhouses around for visitors to explore and enjoy. I can well imagine myself in one of these!
I always chuckle when we visit the 1960’s house at Arnol, across the street from it’s older cousin, the blackhouse. This isn’t far different from the childhood homes I remember from my California childhood. I’m vintage!
While I can imagine myself living here, possibly crofting, creating a life for myself and my family, I suspect that much of what I do as art, hobby, or craft, might weight heavy when done from duty and necessity. Nevertheless, I like knowing that my knitting, cooking, and even my writing are building on the traditions of ancestors long gone. I wonder, too, what I might leave for the generations yet to come.
These are the threads that weave the fabric of our souls.