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April 2013, vol 9, no 1

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Colin Will

Barney's trip

Barney was unsettled. Tied by a leash to a rail in the lounge he walked one way then the other as the leash shortened and tangled round his neck. The rest of us were calm yet excited at our project about to start, at the school in Benbecula, the wood at Langais, and the art centre at Lochmaddy. For now, we watched shearwaters flapping and dipping over the wake’s foamy thrust. Passing between the Inner Hebrides islands as we did, we could judge their closeness by the sight of seabirds flying out of their nests to fish. Gulls of various kinds, gannets, and the auk family – puffins, tysties, razorbills, those fast flutterers.

Alec took Barney for walks round the ship, but he felt, more directly than we did, the shudder and throb of the ship’s engines, transmitted through the hull’s steel plates, and it confused him. The concept of a sea voyage doesn’t make sense to dogs. Car journeys they can get used to. They concentrate on what they can see and experience within the car, but the movement of objects and places outside the windows can upset them. What they know is what’s beneath their feet and under their noses. On this trip, the whiff of diesel exhaust, the smell of the sea, cooking from the galley, and the odour of many strange humans, including me, presented him with so many new sensations that it was hard for him to understand this metal world moving on top of the water.

I became very fond of him, that sweet, gentle dog, and in the days to come, I would take him for walks round the little island of Bailesheare and over the causeway to the main island of North Uist. He got used to me and I, never a dog owner, enjoyed these walks with him. I talked to him, not feeling odd or self-conscious. He was a being I could share discoveries with: the peewit swooping and circling over the machair, the marsh marigold brightening the ditch at the side of the road, the light on the sea and the white shell sand of the beach.

wake spreads on both sides
behind, a line of churned sea
look out, look back, move