On the Western Edge is an account of the ecological pilgrimage I am undertaking in my yacht Coral. It began with the lament from Thomas Berry – geologian and earth scholar – that we modern humans are only talking to ourselves, that we have broken the great conversation with the Earth of which we are a part. I set out on my first sailing pilgrimage in 2011, intent on exploring what it means to re-establish a “great conversation” with the sea and the coast. My book, Spindrift: A wilderness pilgrimage at sea, is an account of this first voyage from the south coast of England, across the Celtic Sea to Ireland, round the Blasket Islands and Skellig Rocks and back home.
As I wrote in Spindrift, on long solo sailing voyages one is disoriented from the everyday, taken for granted world, social constructions of reality fall away, allowing a more naked sense of what it is to be a human being:
“At such moments it is as if a crack in the cosmic egg opens and for a tiny moment I experience a different world that is nevertheless the same world. It is a world that is not fixed in form, but forever changing: no longer divided into separate things, but one dancing whole. These tiny moments are so easy to overlook, to see as insignificant. They are not overwhelming transformations of consciousness. But they are profoundly important in calling forth a different conversation with the world.”
This is why pilgrimages into the wild world are one response to the ecological crisis of our times. They are not, of course, a sufficient response, for we also urgently need a whole range of political, financial, technological and cultural initiatives that would change society as we know it. I think they are nevertheless a necessary response. Opening oneself to the wild world and describing what one finds with love and passion is, in this view, a political and spiritual act.
In the summer of 2013 I set out again, taking Coral right round the west coast of Ireland and across to Scotland – last year’s blog entries tell something of this journey. This summer I set out again from Dunstaffnage Marina near Oban, where Coral overwintered ashore. I was originally intending to sail round the north of Scotland and return via the Caledonian Canal through the Great Glen. But after some challenging experiences last year I have decided to be more modest. So I chose to wander about the west coast and the islands, following where wind, weather and my own inclinations took me. My voyage took me round the west coast of Mull, up to the Small Isles, to Skye, the north west Highland coast, across to Stornaway and back via the Shiant Islands.
But the question remained the same. How do we western humans develop an emotional and spiritual experience, as well as an intellectual understanding, that we are entirely part of and dependent on the natural world?
Spindrift: A wilderness pilgrimage at sea is published in 2014 by Vala Publishing Cooperative www.valapublishers.coop/spindrift
A short video of my travels can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOmXFMNrYGE