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.
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.
When you are passionate about something, you voice it.
It is exactly what I penned – a poem – inspired by a History lesson yesterday- a reminder of how folk can be treated, and wondered why a great democracy like the US is still treating some of her people the very same way it did in the 1830s… Canada has led the way with her First Nations. Then, in 2009, President B. Obama made an apology via a Bill. A step forward, even though footsteps got lost inside politics… As history obeys circles.
Featured Image: Cherokee Indians are forced from their homelands during the 1830’s. (Credit: Alamy)
America was built this way…
Native folk pushed by aliens in the name of money…
Trail of Tears
Rounded at gun point to force you…
Walk through the path of
home, land to grow cotton and
what they felt
pushed you away from
your ancestral ground, where
the one who
made you walk across meadows, mountains and snow that
others’ nations, on the other
gigantic river, where
Red Cloud and
For every four, one of you
Marvellous moments of lightness, privileged times among paired swans, preening and sharing love in grace at last light… Statuesque haigries (herons) around our bays, the joy to reconvene with our beautiful Earth. I observe them from the distance, with that humble feeling, so intimate the moment. The light is soft, nearly sunset. The air is charged with tenderness and love in that autumnal sense of rawness…
Intimate. So privileged, I feel.
This north end corner of Spiggie Loch gradually welcomes them back, as the Arctic winter dictates. They will flock in and preen, share a few weeds with a few ducks – gather on the shore for bathing and arrange their feathers, and roost by twos… A bit of love inside a world so few can taste.
Our school flag shines inside a gale, as we are about to abandon the Old AHS for brand new walls at Clickimin….
This morning, one single thought dawned on me: our final day with our pupils at our familiar street address, Lovers’ Loan.
I share a common blend of feelings, like so many of us – torn with leaving a great headland and the Old Institute Sir Arthur Anderson had built in the name of education (1862) and shifting into a state of the art 21st century building.
To mark such move, I penned a piece now with the New Shetlander for a future issue.
I never thought I would be back with eight pupils and a member of staff, leading them all to twelve days of Norwegian experience in families and school.
It took just under a month (from our new term in Shetland) to land back at Flesland, and wander back in my now familiar Bryggen i Bergen, Vågen, via Bybanen – Bergen’s Light Railway that links BGO to the great sentrum – only this time for a pioneering trip to 62N.
I love school exchanges. I still reminisce that in Germany three years ago, led by my colleague and friend Peter Haviland. This one, however, had a couple of twists: back to familiar territory, and, unique in its nature, for it encompassed four Shetland schools with that in Måløy, Sogne og Fjordane, on the island of Vågsøy. It felt such a great honour to be vetted with both such leadership responsibilities and setting a precedent by both the Association – under the helm of Graham Nicolson and Per Kåre Nybakk – and my school. Three years earlier, I was asked to find host families for a small party of young Norwegians by friend and Shetland-Måløy Twinning Association… This time, I would return with a small group I affectionately christened “the Shetland Gang”. That first term at my High School in Lerwick would prove both hectic, challenging and exciting!
The trip proved to be epic! A two-day trek that would require two boats (Shetland-Arberdeen and Bergen-Måløy) and an aeroplane (ABZ-BGO). And what a saga!
Back in the mythical land, back in what I have always called heim since I first stepped onto Norwegian soil… Where I feel home on this other side of the North Sea.
Back in Måløy, Anita’s homeground… The one who opened the door to it all – NYBAKK, more than a boat, a clan, now my Norwegian family. My first visit there would prove the stepping stone to this year’s voyage and exchange. The great Norskie jigsaw is shaping up with flair and grace.
The ride would prove long and tiring for us all, as we arrived long after dusk on 14 September and engulfed ourselves inside the ferry terminal. Arve was there, with such a huge smile! Our host families, ready to welcome those young Shettis, as the school’s Rektor (Headmaster) Kåre Bakke nicknamed us all, for a good night sleep before our very first day at his establishment. Happy but exhausted.
Some stories to write and share! A brand new taste of Norwegian life began for all. And each of us – pupil & staff – experienced our own along the way. For my part, I was reunited with Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik at Gate 6. And my temporary Norwegian home life was rekindled with unbound joy. Immersed in norsk (with flings of English to relieve my brain!) inside their home, with family and friends, would help me improve my humble knowledge of Nynorsk, and local dialect. Challenged by so many voices, including that of a friendly story teller on the first Friday night at Kraftstasjonen Restaurant! What a night! Anne Mabel and Arve ensured I would have a memorable time, and that they managed effortlessly. I really felt home; helped out Jarl Eirik with homework, felt an integral part of the clan, especially once Sam (their dog) accepted me fully… Hmmm. I knew that leaving them would mean tears in my heart, and it did. They ensured I would explore this wonderful island called Vågsøy.
heim (home) with a view
to each sunrise, new adventure!
skog trening (forest hiking) with Anne-Mabel, Jarl Eirik and Arve for fun!
The Educational Experience
Up at 0630 every morning – each school day began at 0830 and finished at 1410. The Norwegian system encompasses different ethics, which would either make smile or terrorise any British teacher! Some differences – from the day structure to the more informal working relationship – we all tasted for five full days. Our Shetland Gang was challenged every day, and undertook a blend of private study, assembling and delivering their Shetland presentation (as requested by the Association) which they delivered on nearly 10 different occasions to a myriad of class groups – as well as start preparing their own for Shetland, and they even cooked for their Norwegian counterparts & Rektor. Colleague and friend Tanya Myhre would keep us smiling every morning. The In-School programme shaped up for such pioneering experience, and, every single member of staff made us welcome and fully supported. My Deputy Leader would also prove invaluable on a daily basis. What an eye opener!
But we did more than this.
Whereas Tuesday was spent visiting four different local businesses around Måløy, the final Saturday would be felt as the ultimate prize: sightseeing in and around Geiranger , where we also celebrated one of our pupil’s 14th birthday. I believe he will never forget.
trekking through the mountains
Geiranger at water level
stepping out at snow level on the roof of Western Norway
Per Kåre Nybakk and Kåre Bakke worked hand in hand all all levels, and employed a gang of host drivers for such unforgettable experience. I cannot thank them and everyone enough for enabling this entire trip.
An experience our young Shettis and us, team, would never forget.
Some extraordinary stories to tell about their Norskie life chapters, as well as to share with their families & friends back home. Our journey back to our islands’ shore proved as epic as the inbound adventure, as we had to overnight in Aberdeen because of flight and boat timings… But we made it, and now we are resettling into our Shetland lives, we are barely beginning to share our tales.
Thank you, Graham, Per Kåre, Valerie, Mandy, Peter and Lewie, for all your support along the way – Marina, for accompanying such pioneering trip, Tanya, Kåre and everyone at the Vågsøy ungdomskule for all help and friendliness, Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik, for having me at home – as well as all our host families and friends. But foremost, to you all, dear Shetland Gang. You were awesome 🙂
On the topic of migration, hirundines – the embodiment of summer – and swallows in particular have always captivated my heart. I remember them nesting under the roof in rue de la Libération in Gisors as a child; and their return every year throughout life – wherever I have settled – remains magical.
Today I watch them return on the island, so far away from my grandmother’s home, and every time they rekindle that moment of discovery as a child… They fly from West Africa to reach us. Their journey feels incredible – travellers without papers across our northern hemisphere. They come to create the next generation – they have two homes, they are the product of two worlds, and they embody with so much grace many of us, humans, who have been blessed with more than one home…
A powerful allegory.
Here, to celebrate those amazing avian wanderers, a string of micropoetry, first written in French, then, translated in mirror.
des anges habillés bleu et noir,
avec dans leurs yeux, du courage;
l’iris riveté au soleil, avides d’amour hors des nuages, sous
les génoises, elles font un voeu.
they, angels clad in black & blue,
with courage in their eyes;
iris riveted to the sun, avid to love in cloudless skies, under
a roof they make a wish.
elles traversent déserts, champs et mers,
se confient aux cours d’eau, les chansons de la terre
pour retrouver enfin une once du berceau.
they fly across deserts, meadows and seas;
confide to waterways, the many earthly songs, to
find at last an ounce from home.
Je les entends venir enfin,
leurs longues plumes dans mon ciel,
s’arrêter sur un fil de fer, entre iris et mur de pierres,
un rebord de gouttière,
la latitude de leurs ancêtres.
At last I hear them come,
their long feathers inside my sky,
to perch on a wire, in between iris and stone walls,
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.