One Day in the Crannog
During the Easter break we went to The Crannog Centre at Kenmore. A crannog is an iron age loch dwelling, something like a freezing version of a water bunglaow you might get in the Maldives. We had a very interesting tour of the reconstructed building and then got to try our hands at wood turning, grinding grain, making fire and spinning wool. My daughters took to grinding grain very enthusiastically and I thought is was cute that all these years ago they would have had a responsible job in a crannog community, despite being so tiny.
Then a few days ago there was a prompt on ShortYarns suggesting “Find the last photo taken from your phone. Write a fictional story based on a similar moment. ”
So, here’s my fictional exploration of my life in the iron age…
I pulled the woollen cloak more tightly around my shoulders. Now we are at the lochside, we are more exposed to the wind. We have returned from the farm and are laden with barley and today, even some wheat.
Ahead of us is the crannog, with its pointed roof and a wooden bridge that Cale and Decan had made in the days gone by. Now we are the inheritors of their work.
Always with care, we make our way across the hazel bridge into the darkness of the crannog.
I release the weight of the grain from my back and the basket lands in front of Tiane and Kenna, my little daughters. Straight away they set about their work, picking handfuls of the grain onto the grindstone and rolling the rock over them to split the kernels, then sifting the flour from the husks. They are skilled workers, never catching their fingers or wasting grain. They laugh and talk as they work, imagining far off places where they are a mother and an aunt and they have children of their own to grind the grain. The seventeen of us who live here appreciate their work.
Above them on a raised platform lies Cale – the oldest among us. He has lived well and lived long and I have known no other to have lived to such an age. His hands built this crannog, along with his father. He shaped the stakes that are driven into the loch bed. He fashioned each branch to make the walls. He thatched the roof above our heads.
“You’re back”, he calls.
“Yes, we have everything we need, Cale,” I say.
I hear him turn over and begin to make his way down. I worry what would happen, were he ever to slip and injure himself. He takes his place by the hearth in the centre of the crannog and sets about his work.
My sister-in-law is here, at the loom, while her sons are teasing out wool and spinning yarn for her.
The other men are all away at their work. I am pleased to see there are plenty of logs ready for the fire. They must have been to the woods this morning while I was at the farm.
Taex is my man and we have two daughters, Tiane and Kenna, and a son, Caledon.
While his sisters work the grain, Caledon usually takes care of the goats. He feeds them and milks them and when they sleep, he works some milk to butter. He sleeps above the animals and boasts about their warmth on the nights when the loch is buffetted by fierce and frozen winds.
Today, one of his cousins is minding the goats. Caledon has gone out with his father and his uncle in the dugout, trading further down the loch.
You may think is strange that we live in a house on stilts over a loch that, though icy to touch, never freezes. It is too deep to freeze. You may think that we should stay on the farm and work the land and take to the loch only when pushed. But we are people of the water. The water is safety for us. If the families in the hill forts descended to raid us, we would pull in the hazel bridge and be safe for a while and together at least. They cannot take to the loch. It is death to them.
But this, these days, is a peaceful valley. The people in the hill forts might feel high and mighty. They may have a commanding view, but they do not command the loch.
Over time, over time … this crannog will soften and melt away, into the depths of the loch. The peaked thatch, the animal fur and the hazel walls will collapse in upon themselves. The frozen silt of the loch bed will preserve Cale and Decan’s handiwork as is vanishes into the blackness beneath us.
By then we will have gone. Maybe my children’s children will have lived here, trading and farming, milling and weaving. Maybe the land will call them from the loch, and my world will be swallowed up.
But, whether above or below the water, every piece of this crannog will always exist. It may rot, it may float away, it may appear to be a little island on a loch, but it will never disappear.
I turn around to see Cale, his ancient, expert arm whipping the bow, spinning the stick to make the embers. They glow, he blows, gentle as gentle, with a knowledge as deep as the loch, of just how gentle, just how hard to blow. The tiny flame appears, as he knew it would and he sets a fire in the hearth to warm us.
Somewhere Taex is out on the loch. Who can say what treasures they will bring tonight?
I can imagine Caledon’s bright eyes as he climbs up from the dugout clutching some prize he has won through trading some of his butter or wool.
And now I turn to my task. I make the bread.