Category Archives: wildlife

survival

July.

Tis already time to return… Cross back oceans, straits, continents. Here is a piece I offer you in high summer from my boreal latitude. It is entitled “Survival” as inspired by Red-Necked Phalaropes, Oystercatchers and all those great avian migrants in search of warmth, food, survival.

juv Tern, Shetland, 5 July 2020. En route to a journey clocked at some 12,500 miles…

Survival

Two storks above the Sahara, in

search of food beyond

gold sand;

the price of life, or

survival to

reach their home south of

sly dunes,

the Sea of Sand;

free from

boreal equinox,

they have to trek back to

the sun, where

grass stalks grow so bountiful, where

birdsong beat ice, icicles,

night and unknown –

heaven so

bright,

ephemeral, as

winged nomads strive to

survive…

But

when I look at

our own kind, the one that

cage or kill them all,

lose drifting nets,

trap to get

gold,

I

say

we lost

sense of it all;

our right to live as visitors is

not worthy of Mother

Earth.

Life or survival,

gift or curse,

now

bow to greeting albatross.

© NH 2020.

Red-Necked Phalarope, 5 July 2020.

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Summer Song

I am

the blackbird perched out loud,

serenading to wind and

fog;

I am the voice

between branches,

whisper from the breeze

evening skjump *

I am the crooner of hillsides,

the long billed one in

solstice grass…

I am

the invisible song,

the one that slashes through

silence – finds meaningfulness on

fence posts, offers feathers to

drum and Earth to advertise

love and presence in

hope to be heard by the sky.

And watch your spirit

chirp and thrive, as

time tick-tocks to

Earth’s cycle;

sparkling

sparrow in stereo,

the one that chirps out of nowhere…

I am daylight beyond belief,

the one that clads night

azure blue –

grey or

plain white according to

wandering fog.

I am what they call da Simmer Dim.

© NH 2020.

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Da May Snaa

Da May snaa juist does’na exist,

da flukra,

juist a bairn’s daydream,

peerie man’s imagination –

a moorie caavie i’da bowl, laek beremael gröl… Far tae

white fur

da Simmer Dim;

far tae cauld fur

da Mayflooer,

da kattiklu or

da blugga.

© Nat Hall 2020

Snow in May… Not a daydream.

The May Snow

The May snow just does not exist,

The gentle fall of fat snowflakes, just

a child’s daydream,

little boy’s imagination –

a blizzard in a bowl, like

porridge oats, far too

white for

a summer’s night;

far too cold for

our primroses,

bird’s foot trefoil…

marigold.

© Nat Hall 2020

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From My Window

From my window,

I imagine les frères Lumière,

wish, dream of sound,

wrens, lavericks, whaaps an shalders, as

beaks open, muted by glass that

separates us from

their verve,

time to

bill-read and celebrate deprived of

notes, arpeggios, songs…

From my window,

salt smudges clouds, blue,

The Old Manse,

sunsets,

seasons – each shaft of light creates pictures always defined by

criptic skies,

limelight from sun,

my human eyes, stunned cameras in

Shetlandscope caged in a frame

rectangular.

From my window,

life secluded in a fisheye, where

herring gulls turn barn owls, and

corbies re-write their shadows,

corvids, alive, play in

our sky…

CO-VID confined us behind glass, like

a Chaplin on celluloid.

© Nat Hall 2020

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Unst

Unst is my summer/autumn “pilgrimage”.

Filled with magical wildness, Vikingness and wildlife, it is the said island RLS chose as – in terms of outline – his treasure island for the purpose of his famous novel…

An island fit for exploration and adventures that will unveil so many treasures…

And speaking of treasures, two nights ago, I found a treasure in which a poem was sleeping in a pocket-size moleskin I once took with me to this top of my northerly archipelago (well as north as “inhabited” can go!) – the edge of my world.

In this precious notebook, I travelled back to those late July days where a friend and I returned to a favourite beach – Eastings, Sandwick, Unst – Uyesound, Baltasound, Skaw, Norwick, Hermaness and its nearby Boat Station… Magic places I never tire of. That summer was that in 2017.

AUDIO VERSION available https://soundcloud.com/nordicblackbird/unst-wir-treasure-island-by/s-bTquKktEyE8

Sandwick Beach, Unst

This poem is entitled

Unst, Wir Treasure Island

1. Sandwick Beach

Inside your hood, you hide and smile –

eyes riveted to horizon, that gang of tirricks above surf,

that perfect beach lost inside blue,

home to sanderlings and solans,

the Moon’s best friend, whatever tide.

Note:

Tirrick: Arctic (or common Tern); Solan: Gannet

Dratsie (otter) at Sandwick Beach, 27/7/17

2. Dratsie

Out of the sea an otter runs,

fur filled with dreams,

walks out on sand.

Boat Station, off Hermaness

3. Island Life

Bonxie, Loch of Cliff – female Dunters, Hermaness, Boat Station – meadow pipit chick on roadside – Tysties and Rock Pipits, Boat Station – Solans off Boat Heaven, Haroldswick… Dratsie fishing in the bay with its head popping up – two Swallows, Saxavord Resort – Pied Wagtail, 2 Raingjus at Norwick…

Note:

Bonxie: Great Skua, Dunters: Common Eiders, Tystie: Guillemot, Raingjus: Red-Throated Diver.

Norwick Beach

4. Norwick Shalls

You walked back ta da Noost wi shalls,

a braally treasure i’da haands;

da sheenie kind,

better dan silver, gold an aa.

And from da Shetland Dialect:

You walked back to the top of the beach with shells,

A fine treasure in your hands;

the shining kind,

better than silver, gold and all.

Any’s shalls 🙂

5. Skaw

A’da end o’da boannie road dat takks dee awye fae da sea,

follow da steinshakkers,

da lone clood an da wind-

da ocean bed, raw serpentine

Dere is a meadow a’da end,

a bed o eyebright an a stream –

Eden shaped up couleur croissant.

Any at da Lang Hoose (Harodswick, Viking Unst Project)

6. Da Lang Hoose

Inside da laang hoose wir entered, an fun fowr chairs chiselled by haands oot’ o pine trees…

As if spirits invited wis fur a laang yarn or juist fur mead.

Dere wis nae fire i’da hearth, bit wir felt hame, sae wir sat doon.

Inside da Laang Hoose, Haroldswick.

And from the Shetland Dialect:

6. The Long House

Inside the long house we entered and found four chairs chiselled by hands out of pine trees…

As if spirits invited us for a long chat or just for mead.

There was no fire in the hearth, but we sat down.

Da hearth 🙂

© Nat Hall 2020 (revisited from regional verse initially penned 27-29 July 2017).

For you, Any, intrepid adventurer, with love.

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Cacophonous

Cirrus clouds above our land

In this world silenced by a terrorist disease, skylarks still sing above an early April hissing gale.

In this part of the main island, where Sandness looks lost inside haze, tussock grass yields, yet those birds we call laverick have returned as lairds o’da braes – elevated above da tun an da scattald (human dwellings and open fields where grazing’s shared among crofters…).

Deserted world except for birds…

They will defy the harshest gust, ignore that brutal tongue from gales to sing to blueness and the sun.

To each passing of cirrus clouds, they do not know the world’s locked down, as they ascend among ravens, oblivious to material us.

They have returned in their hundreds to the daresay of each hillside.

On this Monday lost in April, this sky has turned cacophonous, as hillsides home song of skylarks, that dare to ignore gusts from gales…

And us, below, slaved to silence.

© Nat Hall 2020

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contagious

Earth dweller on stone wall

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!

On our way to Aith Meadows

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.

Sunrise over Mousa

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.

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So

What happens between equinoxes remains a mystery.

…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.

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renouveau

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.
Eider drake and its concubine reunited at Aith Voe.
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.
Turnstones by the edge of water…
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.
Peculiar episodes of fog we, islanders, usually experience from mid-April…
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.

The magic of walking to my favourite headland.
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.
Happy common seal in the surf. Selkie life…
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.
North Voyager

There is a time when you will see edge of
my land,
          the rounded head shaped by
                                that kiss of Atlantic and
cold North Sea; where
solans glide above Spring's crests,
follow the furrow from
                                  the ship,
blue man on white,
head-dressed to defy every tide and
                                 moder dy...
No castle perched, but 
a lighthouse that defines hamewir tun an 
                                      hearth;
and if you stand out on
the deck, that gentle breeze fae 60N will
whisper words in northern tongue,
roll every "r" in every breath,
                            sea spray, spindrift -
touch you with salt glued on its lips.
Now,
you're parallel to my world, birds and 
                                             sandstone -
maalies join solans in the wind,
              Mousa appears left to your eyes,
   inshore waters will guide you to
da Horse's Heid, as Bressay grows 
closer to heart, and
        mine will beat as fast as dyne,
now you're safe in the Bressay Sound.

Only minutes and a pressgang separate us.

                                         Welcome to 
                      my northern island.

 
© Nat Hall 2019 

Dialect word glossary:

solans: Gannets
moder dy: the underlying of the swell used by ancient firshermen as a guide.
hame: home
wir tun: our toonship (human settlements)
Spindrift: sea spray, balls of salt created by gales
maalies: Fulmar Petrels
da Horse's Heid: [place name] the Knab (headland in S Lerwick)
dyne: yours

Solan (Gannet)

Bon voyage!

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swallows

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Les hirondelles

1.

Furtives,

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.

1.

Furtive,

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.

2.

Intrépides,

elles traversent déserts, champs et mers,

se confient aux cours d’eau, les chansons de la terre

pour retrouver enfin une once du berceau.

2.

Intrepid,

they fly across deserts, meadows and seas;

confide to waterways, the many earthly songs, to

find at last an ounce from home.

3.

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.

3.

At last I hear them come,

their long feathers inside my sky,

to perch on a wire, in between iris and stone walls,

the edge of a gutter –

their ancestors’ latitude.

 

 

 

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