When I finished studying, after six years of sitting on my behind, I decided I wanted to do something with my body instead of my mind. I also wanted to be on an island, where I knew certain kinds of activity (e.g. going on the internet) would be limited.
I chose Fair Isle, off the north coast of Scotland, stranded and lonely between the Shetlands and the Orkneys. The island is tiny, measuring only a mile wide and three miles long. The nearest landmass is a good 25 miles away – that’s a two hour boat ride or a once-a-day plane trip, both heavily weather dependent. From the highest peak on the island, Ward Hill, the southern point of the Shetlands can only be sighted on the clearest days. For these reasons, Fair Isle is often referred to as the most remote inhabited island in the UK.
Yet despite – and in fact because of – its smallness, its remoteness, Fair Isle boasts one of the strongest island communities I have encountered. Which makes it all the more profound and sad when one member of that community passes away. On an island where such a person can be teacher, choir conductor, editor of the local paper, resident poet and musician, as well as taking on a whole host of other roles I’m surely unaware of, the loss of someone who can bring life and joy to on so many levels is devastating. I am writing about Lise Sinclair, who passed away last week, in her early forties.
I only knew Lise for two months, but in that time she made an incredible impression. Others have offered more personal tributes based on longer and more intimate acquaintance with her, and it is clear that she was widely loved and regarded. For me, Lise was the energy behind the choir that I joined when I lived there. She tolerated my poor attempt at improvisatory fiddle playing with her family and friends. I listened to her sing on numerous occasions, her gorgeous low voice bringing an astounding character to both traditional and songs of her own she performed. I was more than a little admiring of her beauty – long hair, tall figure and kind eyes. I followed her work after I left the island and felt that in an important way, her music and her writing had become part of the identity of the island that I fell in love with. So I can only urge you to listen to her songs now.