Sometimes there is a blank page inserted in novels before a new and prominent section starts. These past 15 months have been this page in my story. I needed this time for reflection, this space for exploration, before I could move to the next chapter. Now, with only 1 day before my flight home, I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips. It’s a bit surreal, to be honest. Friends and family continue to ask me if I’m ready. I think I am as ready as I can be. I gave myself 6 weeks on Iona to prepare for ‘the return.’
In truth, I have spent the last 6 weeks doing very little, but I have also spent the last 6 weeks doing enormously profound things. I have been sketching and painting and journaling and walking. I have ambled down Iona’s only road every other day to the village in order to buy the essentials for my island life (veggies and hobnobs). I have baked and I have cooked and I have brewed cups and cups and cups of tea. I have sat for hours on the sofa in the hostel living room staring out at the ocean. I have watched the landscape transform amidst constantly shifting clouds and sun, and I have marvelled at this endless theatre of color and light and shadow. I have read some radical life-changing books, and I have allowed myself to rest and relax and try to process the past year and a half. I have thought a lot about what I want my life to look like when I return to Portland. Even more importantly, I have thought a lot about the kind of person I want to be as I live this life.
When I first was the Artist in Residence at the hostel last February, I became enchanted with Iona. You can read more about that starting here. I came away with a body of work of about 25 paintings that had been created in just under four weeks. During my stay, I was encouraged by some of the locals to use this art for a second book. I loved the idea of returning and carried this idea with me when I headed off to Spain to exhibit my work in Santiago de Compostela. As the months passed, I realised that I did, indeed, need to return to Iona. At the beginning of July, I emailed John to let him know I wanted to head back to the island. I decided to give myself a bit longer this second time. I knew I would use these weeks not only to sketch and paint, but to prepare my heart and my mind for heading home.
Consequently, in late October, I found myself nestled amongst a hostel full of creatives from all over the world. The community John has fostered on this wee island in the inner Hebrides is quite unique; I would even venture to say it’s magical. These past 6 weeks I have been surrounded by beautiful, inspirational women who shared their art and their lives with me. We talked about fledgling projects and our hardest challenges, past and present. We peered into the future, sharing tentative hopes buoyed by encouraging words and kindness. Within this community, I started to flesh out the idea of a second book, but I still had no idea what the underlying story would be. The text in my book about the Camino de Santiago had been pulled directly from my journals and pieced together with a small amount of additional writing. I knew this book would be different, but I wasn’t sure where to start. There are a myriad of books written about the history of Iona and its famous Abbey, and I had no intention or desire to delve into something that had already been covered so thoroughly. I basically had a collection of drawings but no narrative. So I prayed for guidance.
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you probably have noticed that I use a main painting to tell a story. I start with an image that speaks to me, and then I build from there, weaving my words around the metaphor of my painting. Traditional illustration tends to work the other way around, with art that is created to enhance the written word, but I always like start with the visual piece first. As I thought about my writing process, I realized that the imagery I had been painting on Iona could tell the story of my journey this year; not just where I had gone and what I had seen, but what had transformed and changed in me along the way.
This painting above is of a piece of the ancient Nunnery on the island. The wall I decided to draw is set sharply against the blue of the sky, with crumbling rock creating a vivid contrast to the stark angles jutting heavenward. I like these ruins a lot, perhaps even more than the abbey. They feel more approachable somehow. The ladies at the hostel would laugh and joke that we were all from the nunnery; all of us single, cloistered together on this holy isle. The outside surface of this building looks smooth and flat, but from my viewpoint one could see the vast amounts of rock that were used to construct each wall. It is hard to believe that when such varied stones are placed just so, they can be used to build a magnificent structure.
I hope that my stories will be like these stones; I think that I can use each one, stacking them just so, to create a narrative that will share my journey during this time of travel. We’ll see how things progress when I get back to Portland, but I am setting a goal to have the book finished by the spring of next year. It is a bit ambitious, I’ll admit. I have quite a lot of stone stacking to do.
Friday was my final day on Iona and although my mind was swimming with the excitement of heading home, I wanted to be wholly present. I wanted to breathe in the richness of the island one last time. The weather was unseasonably warm and so I decided to do the very best thing to ensure I would remember the fullness of the afternoon. I headed out to sketch on the beach.
Afterwards, I wrote the following in my journal:
Eucharisteo. The silver sea. Rose tinted hills in the far distance. The ache of my back as I perch on this rock. Waves gently settling onto white sand at the water’s edge. Clouds, great sculptures, wild and puffy stacks of cotton over Mull softening as they move out over the Atlantic. Mild air and virtually no wind. A November day spilling over with grace. My heart is full of gratitude. Iona, thank you for rest and respite before I return. Thank you for holding me.
So, it’s time to turn the page. As I hold the paper in my hand, feeling its weight, edges crisp and sharp on my fingertips, I hope that you’ll come with me. This next section is unwritten… I’ll need company along the way.
Kari Gale is a illustrator/writer from Portland, Oregon specialising in food and travel. She has spent the past 15 months living, walking, painting and writing in Portugal, Spain, France and the UK . She has documented the entire journey in her journal with pen/ink and watercolour and has shared her experiences and art on her blog. She published her first book ‘The Art of Walking: An Illustrated Journey on the Camino de Santiago‘ in June of 2015, and has spent the past 6 months exhibiting her work in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. You can find out more about Kari and her work on her website at karigale.com.