I was recently doing some research, looking at the island of Stronsay, in Orkney, when I noticed something interesting.
Using the internet for research is full of peril, fraught with misinformation and potential downfall, but it has become my principal default method, assuming I follow careful protocols…
This is a perfect example of said care. I wanted to look at a map of Stronsay, look at the outline, then the Ordnance Survey map, then a satellite image. For this I used Bing maps, as I find the satellite images to be a bit more up-to-date than others of the same area. Below I shall present these, each captured as a screenshot, in reverse order.
So there we go. A disappearing island full of monks… This does sound a little like a Famous Five story, or perhaps something from the X-Files, or the Twilight Zone?
Amy Liptrot, author of The Outrun (a book I shall be discussing here in the future), has written about digital nomads and ghosts, here. In The Outrun she talks of the Holm of Papay, and the south-east corner, itself cut off, disappearing from Google Maps. The above screenshot is another prime example of a digital ghost, and I cannot help but wonder why Papa Stronsay has disappeared on this map. Is it a powerful monkish prayer, answered by the small gods of the internet? Or perhaps a more ancient magic? Something hiding the island, like the mystical home of the Finfolk, Hildaland.
Everything is circles, within circles, encircled by still others. Connections hidden everywhere. I write this piece, linking screenshots taken recently when I was still in the far north of Scotland, researching a place in Orkney, itself a central character in Amy’s book — in which she discusses vanishing islands on the internet. The book itself is published by Canongate — a district here in Edinburgh, a place where I sit as I complete this post, a stone’s throw from the road bearing the same name. Circles. Hidden things, subtle connections. Our world is built upon these things — yet so many walk with their eyes closed, they do not look, they do not research as they should.
Yesterday we sat in George Square, and a children’s choir from England came and sat beside our table, all gathered, heads collectively bowed over their individual smartphones. This choir was from the town where I was born. And my sister, Lydia, knew one of the people looking after the children.
Circles. Smaller, larger. Connections, hidden, obvious, tenuous and wonderful. I feel that, as the world lurches and staggers, we could all do with little reminders of how we are really all one species. And that should be all that matters.