Muckle Flugga

Fulmars nesting in the Hermaness Nature Reserve along the path to the cliffs overlooking the abandoned lighthouse on the rock outcropping known as Muckle Flugga (meaning Big Rock) in Unst, Shetland, UK.
My favorite coffee mug, purchased at the Hermaness Nature Reserve gift shop.
Closeup of the clumsily repaired handle of my favorite mug.

The northernmost point in the United Kingdom is a tiny rock outcropping only ever inhabited by the keeper of a now abandoned lighthouse adjacent to Unst, the northernmost of the Shetland islands. Walking up into those cliffs really does feel like climbing to the top of the world.

When I sit at my desk every day, Zooming, teaching, writing, reading student papers and answering emails, living and working inside a pandemic-created snow globe, this mug is usually on my desk keeping me primed with caffeine and daydreams. Every time I lift this mug, I take another step on the path to Muckle Flugga, and step away from the 13-inch screen through which I live so much of my life these days.

Muckle Flugga is a story of persistence. Two men would live there for a year at a time. Supplies would be delivered by fishing boat and access to the lighthouse was gained by climbing a series of iron steps and handholds drilled into the rock. Imagine what it took to build a secure and working lighthouse large enough for two men to live in.

My Muckle Flugga mug reminds me of stamina and endurance, and that there are places of wild beauty in the world. I have seen a few of these places, and hope to see more of them.

Yesterday I had a sense of foreboding about my mug. I handled it very gingerly, always aware of its fragility. It is an ordinary mug, but it’s an ordinary mug from the wild and mysterious Shetland islands. There is nothing ordinary about that. So despite, or maybe because of all of that worry and caution, I accidentally smashed the handle with a serving spoon. It is back together now, but clearly altered. I can feel the repaired breaks in my hand. I can’t really call it kintsugi, because superglue is definitely not molten gold. So it doesn’t look like it was intentionally repaired to show its scars; it looks like it cannot help but wear its mess on the outside. A lot of us are walking around like that these days.

The journeys become part of us, and so do the losses. When I broke my mug I didn’t get angry at myself. I spoke quietly and forgivingly to myself, and I immediately set about repairing the damage imperfectly. The break is now part of its story. The story is always in the cracks.

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1 Comment

  1. skyemcleod

     /  October 7, 2021

    “It cannot help but wear its mess on the outside” – I can identify with that description!

    Heather McLeod, PhD (she/her/hers) Professor, Memorial University Winner of the President’s Award for Outstanding Teaching (Faculty)

    We acknowledge that the lands on which Memorial University’s campuses are situated are in the traditional territories of diverse Indigenous groups, and we acknowledge with respect the histories and cultures of the Beothuk, Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit of this province. We encourage everyone to reflect on these lands from where you are located and the Indigenous peoples for whom these lands are traditional territory.



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