Caught by the River

First Cast at the Loch of the Green Corrie

22nd October 2009

by Andrew Greig.

the third and final installment:

The Loch of the Green Corrie has a silence that is not silent. Lying there I can hear air drift through heather and over rock and water. Air and invisible streams are gathered and reflected back by the slopes that soar around us, as though we lie within a giant ear. It’s what used to happen when the needle came down on the record’s empty grooves: the sound of presence.
Its surroundings are without trees or shrubs, but there are tiny flowers hidden among the heather. Devoid of animal life, but we have seen many tiny frogs on the way here. No songbirds, but twice a hoodie crow has drifted over, offered a harsh kaak and was gone.
It is very still; the loch and the hills aren’t going anywhere. Yet the water still shifts up and down on the pebbles below, the coarse grass stirs, clouds re-form even as we assign shapes to them. Peter turns another page of Autumn of the Patriarch; Andy flicks at a bluebottle, props himself up on his elbow and stares at the loch as if he could will fish to rise.
This place is as stripped of decoration as a Free Presbyterian church.
Yet MacCaig and AK MacLeod, both devout atheists, had loved it beyond all other places. When Norman’s body could no longer make it up here, he attended faithfully in his mind. The light in his eyes, when on that last occasion I asked him what his favourite spot on Earth was, and he finally answered ‘I think it has to be the loch of the Green Corrie,’ shines on the water here.
I should have guessed the loch’s virtues would be subtle ones. MacCaig liked austerity, the classical over the flowery and romantic. The plainness of this place of water, stone and turf offers not so much sensory deprivation as amplification. Eyes, ears, body itself, have to tune to nuance, to the tiny splash of pink flower, the single distant croak. Perhaps that heightening is what MacCaig so valued here. It certainly wasn’t easy-to-catch fish.
Andy stirs. ‘Right, I’m going to the side Peter was on, where that big one rose.’
Peter grunts, marks his place with a blade of grass and puts Marquez aside for later.
Clearly we are going to be some time here.
Just for a change, I snip off the Blue Zulu – never believed in that fly anyway, why would a fish? – and tie on something grey and greenish as being in tune with our surroundings. I get up stiffly, flex my right shoulder to work off that stab under the shoulder blade, and go back to work again.
Fair enough, I think. If this was easy, it would mean less.
An involuntary cry from Peter. His rod is curved. Then another cry, the rod straightens. His shoulders drop.
‘Curses,’ he says.
‘Big one?’ Andy calls.
Peter shrugs.
‘What did it take?’
‘The Pennel.’
Andy quickly takes in his line and kneels over his fly box.
We fish hard, in silence, keeping an eye on each other. One of Norman MacAskill’s few offerings before I left Lochinver was how inventive MacCaig was with the barbs and insults when someone failed to land their fish through slowness or inattention.
‘Sometimes in Latin or Greek, which was not fair. Mind you, he lost a few fish himself. Then myself or AK would tell him off in the Gaelic.’
‘Did you talk a lot on these trips?’ I asked in the hope of more stories.
‘No, mostly we fished.’
I’m haunted by the knowledge that the three of them, MacCaig, MacAskill and AK, came here, as we three are here now, some thirty years later. They came, as we do, to be out in the hills, to fish, to be in each other’s company, mostly wordlessly. They would have been the age we are now. I can almost see their shades quicken in the stir of air over the grass, hear them in the chuckle of water by my foot. Time passes in cast and retrieve. Light on water, cloud reflection and sunlight broken on the water. The sense of where we are, where this is, is sinking in. We are absorbing it, though it feels as though the place is absorbing us.
The afternoon wears on. Mist crawls down over the shoulder of the hill and slithers over the grass to us. A breeze comes with it, and within minutes fingers go white. There have been no more rises. Peter’s nibble is as close as we’ve got.
With hats and fleeces, we take another tea-break, huddle out of the breeze and discuss it. We have covered the entire loch. Nothing is happening out there. We have attended and done our best. If necessary, we come back tomorrow.
‘One more hour?’ Andy says. ‘Let’s really go to it.’
We get stiffly to our feet, flex knees and fingers then pick up our rods and take our stances around the loch. Standing on little promontories of pleasure and fatigue, poised somewhere between faith and hope and doubt, we send our wavering lines out over the water.

“from Powerlines. adapted from a passage in Andrew Greig’s forthcoming book ‘At the Loch of the Green Corrie’ to be published by Quercus in Feb 2010”

‘Powerlines’ is on sale in the CBTR shop.