My Cultural Landscape. Ann Vastano – musings from an artist in the Cairngorms National Park
It all began with a rabbit track; it draws you in you see…
Early memories of childhood independence were choosing to curiously and blithely follow another creature’s foil. Those shaded hollow ways, secret tunnels through undergrowth, labyrinths of bracken, paths shaded under dappled forest canopies, lines etched out of the landscape by many paws, hooves, trotters, pads, soles, and souls, all seeking out a common Path.
There was something alluring about those ready-made trails. Alice-like, curious, I was happiest meandering, eyes wide to all the colours, patterns and layers of our wonderland. How fortunate I have been to continue to grow in the luxury of wild open spaces, the wonder of nature flooding and fuelling this mind from its first consciousness. The only essential kit were a pair of wellington boots, a found stick to steady and draw back the secrets of our earthly habitat.
Today the rooks caw and flap between their many roosts in a nearby copse of lofty pines. The sheep have created this particular shallow grassy aisle, leaving droppings as well as well mown turf. As I return along this familiar route, I sadly observe the shards of corrugated iron strewn all around. This year’s winter storms have been particularly explosive, swathes of forest have been lost to the local landscape leaving stark gaps. As I approach the crumbling croft I can plainly see how badly the old roof of the dwelling has also succumbed to the wild, shrieking, boreas winds.
I first sketched this cottage perhaps 20 years ago now. ‘She,’ spoke to me like so many of these old highland ruins do, telling of folks who lived and breathed here, in tune with the seasons, intimately aligned with their land. Their lives quite literally depending on it. ‘She’ sits squat in an elevated position, looking watchful over a valley left in wake of a onetime glacial melt. The hazy blue Feshie hills beyond, topped with pretty doilies of snow.
The porch is now a ghostly memory, I was glad to have captured it in sketch books back in the 90’s. The roof has now all but collapsed, only rafters, like a great torn, gaping wooden ribcage remains. It makes for fascinating observational drawing – anatomy of a building. It had once been evidence of a rare hanging lum – but that has long since gone.
What is left of the red rust, corrugated iron roof, rattles, and whines in the wind, clinging on by its long-ago fired iron nails.
Skilfully built with a locally quarried schist and whinstone, the main walls look mostly strong, but one end has ruptured, and the rubble of the stones look at home with patches of scree already strewn across the hillside.