Last Tuesday night, I heard the shalders call in flight well after dusk for the first time. Too well known avian voices that notably signal a return to warmer days and crystalline dusks… How many days to the Vernal Equinox? For months on end, my nearby playing field filled with silence. And as Mother Earth lives in cycles, hissing gales are gradually giving way to a more clement earthsong. Tis the time for familiar crooners, such as the curlews and oystercatchers, we, on the island, call shalders.
There is an air of impatience, as blackbirds begin to advertise their will to love on chimney stacks – sparrows quarrel around willows, and even robins play dare-devils out of their hide-away stone walls. And if we are still to get away from treacherous March (with its last spells of icicles) rose bushes have begun to display their first leaves. Already, a few daring migrants have made their way to the Island, such as a stonechat in the Westside yesterday… Wildflowers too begin to bud and display their colour, such as the Lesser Celendine and the Coltsfoot showing a bit early!
The daily trip home at the end of the day can now divert away from the main tarmac artery that links South to North. At last, longer days allows us to meander around much more timeless corners of the shared wild and civilised. A drive along the coast, meadows and still heavily waterclogged fields to catch a glimpse of a skylark still to sing. Life is creeping back around our shores. Already golden plovers’ and curlews’ calls fill the still crisp air. So enchanting.
The first sight of a black guillemot in full regalia always feels a priviledge.
This will to get out of darkness, witness a glowing sun after eight above a well loved offshore island is contagious.
March remains our month of rainbows, with its cortege of shine and hail, squallid showers & icicles. And as Imbolc now feels a distant memory, our dear great celestial star begins to dominate our world with less shame. It is wakening this hemisphere of Mother Earth with its flamboyant warmth, only to strenghen as we speak and cross the Vernal Equinox, when night and day cross swords to reach out parity. This dormant world needs to emerge and reveal its beauty! For Mother Earth has only one goal, life.
…A black hole or stravaig in a desert where time locks itself in, as bubbles inside surf, or footprints lost through tides and gales.
Many walks done and gone. I still remember the Vernal Equinox, as March gave way to light and warmth. When birds returned to the island, and jenny wrens perched on roses to sing their songs, joined by blackbirds at dawn and dusk. A song so powerful, explosive and whimsical, you need to turn back and listen.
And as May comes with its unbound clemence, and shiny bright, stars vanish in the blue of night, as Beltane gives way to summer.
Summer, summer, da Simmer Dim, as our sky turns an opera house. Our island sings in tussock grass, around the bays – above our heads. It is a time filed with bounty, as our summer guests fish and hunt. A time where life fills with colours, where chicks grow feathers outwith dark. Darkness unknown to so many of us and fledlings until Arcturus reappears in late July. Our Atlantic and sense of North glow back orange. We then reignite our candles. In this mystical universe, the very few urban dwellers welcome July with refracting light in the bay. They do not question the great clock – the astronomical delight as da mirkin wins back its way. mirkin, murky times lie ahead…
Some walk through time on land, at sea.
As August wanes in honey gold, our most westerly land beacon feels a poltergheist at sunset. Foula, foul, fugl Island, with its bewildering cliff tops, redefines ife, geometry. Light as we knew from Simmer Dim – our nightless nights – lose in power, intensity. Our path to hairst and the autumnal equinox becomes clearer.
It is when night unveils its kaleidoscope of gales and stars. And we look more carefully, auroral glows in between clouds. Our pace hastens as we go home to the fire back in our hearths. Too soon the tides will speak out loud, and auroras trapped inside clouds will signal a new phase across the season. Few gannets fly, fish in the bay. Rose flowers gave way to their own fuits. The overgrowth lost its lushness… A lower sun shines through few leaves from alders or strong willows. That sense of blue tarnished with grey has lost its way. Deep purple hills back to bracken, bare and so brown.
September stepped in as a thief. October followed in its grace. Each wake-up call from our bedside triggers the start of each sunrise. Each minute lost now and regained, days have shortened and yet, still bright. I hear Sawhain’s still a long shot… Our winged friends wander south and south. For us, dwellers of thre island, we need to prepare for dark times.
Now, the island can sleep in peace, with auroras, constellations, stars and comets – a twany moon there as a friend.
Victor Hugo had cried for her in his foreword… And it took a book (“Notre Dame de Paris“) to trigger major restoration works, as the elderly lady was notably suffering from severe erosion to time, history and the elements.
What happened last night felt totally surreal. Notre-Dame has survived so many ordeals – human assaults, the hands from time – and during those 850 years (or so), she saw a city grow and thrive.
Inside her so many memories. Her world famous bell – le bourdon – became associated with so many events (including the liberation of Paris in 1944) happy or sad… And against all odds, she has been standing in this Parisian sky.
Last night, my heart bled at the news, and this orange-grey cloud – flames from her heart, as the 19th century spire yielded to a raging fire that engulfed the forest – this nickname given to those 1300 oak trees that served as timber frame to support that huge slate roof.
Like millions of people around the world, I watched powerless, in disbelief, and heaved the following poem, as a tribute or way to cope with shock.
Ô Notre Dame, ta forêt brûle, ton coeur en flammes!
Une forêt de chênes de cent mètres de long, une forêt de chênes charpentée par des anges, une forêt de chênes anoblie par les âges;
toute une nuit orangée a dévoré ta flèche, ton coeur et ta charpente -
une forêt de chênes, maison pour un bossu et son Esméralda...
toute une nuit d'horreur, pluie battante d'ardoises retrouvées en poussière à l'issue d'un déluge -
une forêt de chênes au XXIe siècle toute réduite en cendres,
ton coeur, ce cher poumon, au plus proche des âmes.
Spring has multiplied signs throught that long and still ice-bladed month of March. If light has reached parity with darkness on the 20th day, and our migrating visitors called at night and settled back in our fields and meadows whilst others pursued their incredible journey north, the island still needs to wake to the promises of the season.
April, April… Life rekindles
March now behind us.
Tonight I heard eight puffin scouts have been located west of my favourite headland in our inshore waters. Earlier, friends reported the magical ascending song of a skylark as they wandered by abandoned crofts… Common Eider drakes already sit by their concubines… On inspection of the ground, daisies and bluebells have long braved snow, ice and thaws, re-icing and equinox gales. Even within the perimeter of my sanctuary, the grass has grown and would deserve a serious cut. Spring, voar, so precocious.
Light reappears on the 60th North Parallel.
I read somewhere that between the two solstices – and more precisely as we approached the Vernal Equinox – we were gaining up to two hours of light every month… Now, as April has entered in the great cosmic ballroom, my sunrises and sunsets are becoming more epic.
Strangely enough, fog has already been rolling on from our local hills. “Exotic” and “curious”, for fog remains an oddity before April… February and March both felt odd in places.
Yet April promises (or do I really take this for granted?) liberation from many claws – storms, gales, and other signatures from the icy months. And if I have yet to listen to my first skylark, I know it will not be long. The sky just needs to quieten a little more and our star to warm up those acres of storm-bent grass around our meadows… Wake, wake, wake, wake!
April is when you return to me.
As I am typing you are gradually falling asleep. Your case is packed. Your passport lies in a pocket of your handbag… Tomorrow, you too will begin your migration north – north by NE, as you will cross that stretch of your Irish Sea to find your way back in Glasgow before making your way to my North Sea from the mouth of a sheltered harbour. We can travel the world like swallows… or Storm Petrels. But to journey, we need a boat.
I may not wait for you from my favourite headland on Saturday, But I will gladly watch that great blue Viking efigee on the white hull we call da boat approach my favourite offshore island of Mousa at about 6.30 in the morning and drive parallel to you, as the bow kisses each wave from our sheltered waters. If we are lucky enough, Mother Sea will let you enter the Bressay Sound with grace.
It will be your first time. Selkies and seagulls will salute you on your passage. You are about to return to me as seabirds find their way across miles of oceanic deserts, da Roost to reconvene with my headlands, bays and meadows.
Now, my turn to find sleep from my northern latitude, as I will be by your side tomorrow, in voice and spirit. I have prepared home to welcome you on my northern island.
In anticipation to your arrival, I wrote a piece entitled North Voyager. It sounds and reads like a leitmotive… And yet it does epitomise that promise from Spring.
On the fourth day of the tenth month, I found a way to break my day, sit and obey my headteacher, as she encouraged us to celebrate #nationalpoetryday through the tannoy. To find, read or write a poem on such fine day.
My lunchtime turned so creative. My after-school behind splashed glass, here, at Mareel, to re-draft it and share with you.
And now, our star looks a beacon out of greyness, I have finished what I began.
This year’s National Poetry Day challenged the pen to the theme of change. Already, I contributed to my Federation of Writers (Scotland) by submitting a few lines to a massive collaborative poem which is to be read today, in Glasgow, I believe under the watchful eye and voice of former Makar Andy Jackson, the very man behind it all.
That peerie offshoot adds to the millions of poems written today to celebrate the spoken word.
So, Happy National Poetry Day 2018 fae da island in da far North, and enjoy Change. 🙂
The Federation of Writers (Scotland) is an organisation dedicated to making the written and spoken word available to the public of Scotland, with respect for diversity and recognition of additional support needs. Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) ’S e prìomh-amas Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) litreachas sgrìobhte is labhairte a chur mu choinneamh poball na h-Alba, a’ toirt spèis do dh’iomadachd agus feumannan-taice a bharrachd.