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.
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.
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,
I write because I have things to say. When I don’t, I listen to the world – the wind, the ocean, birds and auroras – and I look up to the stars. The one who stops looking at them forgets. The one who keeps looking at the stars will find his/her footprints in he snow. I live on an extraordinary island that feeds my spirit and imagination. Come and discover my journey, as I have lived my life with a compass in my head.
Yesterday, I congragated with friends and fellow writers from the Westside as well as the Waas community to say agoodbye to one of us. I loved the way his son spoke of my friend, and the way Janet somewhat managed to conceal some of her grief. The service was very poignant. I, among so many of us, will miss the good doctor who animated our monthly friday nights in Weisdale, as well as the many facets of everyone who was connected to his life. But he lives in our hearts, and his writings testify the life journey of a very brave, adventurous, life and children loving man. Rest in peace, Robin.
September, change of light.
Weeks fly like lit gun powder; fridays tear down the pages of our almanacs like a develish, untamed child too eager to rid of school days. And the sky follows suite. Little have I noticed sunsets and sunrises shifted on the the great cosmic clock… That daylight had begun to shrink. The island now unveils those autumnal hues. A more difuse light now clads everything on the island. The sky awaken and talks again. Whereas swans are starting to flock at Spiggie, others are thinking to go… Northern wheatears, pied wagetails and meadow pipits, together with a few swallows still grace our fence posts, road verges and fields… Though they too will depart from our shores and let others replace them for the darker months ahead.
September, trade of wings.
That juvenile northern wheatear will home itself south of my eyes for a few months, should it survive that great epic maiden flight south. I feel somewhat eager to reconvene with our winter visitors, whilst already marvelling at eclipse or winter plumage from some of our local avian friends. Guillemots certainly are noticeable from Gutters’ Gaet or Bressay Sound. And if observation feels rather limited during weekdays, the odd visit to harbours, lochs, fields, voes and wicks (bays) rekindles that pleasure.
And as nothing remains the same, September will vanish in flames, and let October take over. With the tenth month, I too will trade land and migrate for precious time to the other side side of he North Sea, as I will reconvene with friends and fjords. That second collection of verse demands so, as my heart does.
With October, the more prominent return of darkness… And the almanac will obey the laws of the universe.
My very first thought as I discovered Wednesday from mid-morning:
Do we need to set alight replica viking longships to stop rain? …Let’s carry on, ’cause it’s working!
The day after the great bonfire in Lerwick gave us all hope to stretch our legs in style, as a much calmer day overrode a miserable Tuesday (and the final Wednesday of January allows us that in the first place!) .
Needless to say I would not stay put inside home, as the island was calling me out for an afternoon in the wild.
And it began with a great northern diver off Rerwick Beach, where a colony of common seals littered a good part of white sand.
From the roadside, they look like slugs…
A family of whooper swans graced the dullness of Spiggie Loch in low light.
And moorhens whizzed in between pools…
On the North Sea side of the island, teals & waders foraged at will on what the bay offered to them. Every wild gale feels generous, as rollers bring forest of kelp to be picked on from the edge of our known world.
Loose on a Wednesday afternoon, with the magic of the island.
That wonderful window of freedom felt a privilege, as well as penicillin to winter.
Magic moment so beneficial to the soul – a sample of winter wildlife on my Nordic doorstep. 🙂
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.