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.
I am water, not the rock – I am able to flow instead of being eroded.
Powerful affirmation in a world that never teaches us to fall, but our ability to rise again and adapt, mend our bruises and scars, with time and sheer resilience, remains a strength in many of us. Life takes us to amazing places, a thought I very recently shared with a close friend – sometimes, totally unexpected, with their areas of “shimmering” and “dark” areas… The fear of the unknown, the dark lands with its own pitfalls and question marks – paths littered with both flowers and pot holes, sometimes deep. Irrespective of all this, we make our own choices, and, when trusting our own decisions, select the path ahead. Because we dare to take a risk and our eagerness to see the light will act as a magnet. We, journey folk through our lives, will use our boots and hearts well. To adapt in a world in perpetual motion, with its own sudden twists and turns, sometimes out of our own jurisdiction, is key to survival, living. We can at times lose track of the compass – our own sense of direction – however, it is our own ability to steer our own boat and free that sail – be resourceful, innovative in our own sense of self and trustfulness.
At different stages in our lives, we shall reach crossroads; a change of wind that may define a change of current. That’s when our compass tell us of change to come. We are living in extraordinary times, with others taking all kinds of decisions on our behalf. Again, our survival senses that need to re-assess our current position and, with wisdom and trust in the water, will help us find and write a course in life that will take us away from a maelstrom that can feel dangerous or too dark to our taste. This journey may feel treacherous, it is however necessary to find ourselves in calmer waters, because we simply need it.
And yet, I need headlands, and lighthouses.
In the kingdom named Animalia, we are, by definition, land mammals. This may make many of you smile… But is it a fact. And I am with a passionate sense of place, solid, with a beacon that reminds my being and spirit where “home” is. Because we make it where it is. Home, that concept – feeling more than a place when one comes to think of it – can be reached, eventually. For nearly two decades, I have experienced the joy of such feeling, and rooting up like thrift, or sea rocket, by the edge of the water. A poet friend once confessed to me how “fortunate” I was to reach such el dorado, feeling of home, for she was still searching for it. Being born in one place on Earth does not necessarily defines it automatically as home. Far from it, as we have neither chose it in the first nor do we have necessarily have to simply “get on with it” and die where were once born. Some of us will feel a pull from a far away land… Yes we turn back into what our ancestors were, nomadic in our minds and hearts. We were made sedentary by politics imposed by some elite in pursuit no other than materialistic, or sheer wish to control us – where we are, what we do, what is expected of us as contributors to their world (not ours).
I believe in bettering myself whilst contributing to the community in which I have settled. Important as it will define my sense of assimilation within such community, hence, feeling home. I am the water, not the rock, and adapting to where I anchor my mind and heart feels paramount. Enriching the self whilst enriching others with a different culture. A two-way process in a multi-cultural world, or island. My own island where I live has been subjected to this throughout history, as it is bathing in both a sea and an ocean. Nomads in search of their own treasure island mingling, blending with natives to contribute to the fabric of a much more open society. A blessing and a powerful feeling.
My own beacon still shines very bright on top of that headland. However, I have reached others that feel equally powerful in their luminosity, hence defining and accepting in my head the notions of hame, Heim, home in an effort to avoid losing either partial or complete track of the compass. From the moment I chose to leap out and make my life an adventure, as encouraged by my grandmother (who always believed in me) I have begun to believe much more deeply this is a wonderful privilege to be able to have more than one beacon. I have felt and found myself in a couple of treacherous types of maelstrom in the past half decade, but, with the love of support of what I consider my kinsfolk, soul family, as well as all those who deeply embrace me as a human being, have helped me to flow again as I naturally do it.
Here, where the North Atlantic & North Sea surround us, man feels so humble to each storm.
We are land mammals, adventurous, dare-devil to each wave. From the moment we dared to cross submerged land points to see and seek new territories, we had to yield to the moods of the waterworld.
And every time we step onto the deck of a watercraft, we have to make-do with the sea.
There are unsung heroes everywhere. Men & women whose bravery defies the eye and elements.
A visit to your local RNLI, or Lifeboat Station, awakes senses and reminds you of your home world.
Yesterday, a few hours spent with Brucie, John & two young recruits fully clad in yellow and red rekindled both my sense of place and respect for life, the sea and their courage.
The vast majority of a lifeboat crew are volunteers who gives their time to save lives. They have a job, a family outside such duty. Our generosity keeps stations going. Their relentless efforts & perseverance in most treacherous conditions often feels remote to so many of us…
15 young Shetlanders, learners of Norwegian, learnt about the meaning of ancient democracy, Viking style.
For this, they were invited to visit a sailing exhibition on board a boat I associate with summer, friendship as well as a powerful lifeline with my own ancestors.
This ship is called M/S NYBAKK .
On a 2-day visit to my side of the North Sea, this floating museum reached the last leg of an epic journey through both North & Irish Sea & Atlantic, even sailing across the Caledonian Canal (from SW to NE) to reach out to the Northern Isles.
At each stage of the voyage, NYBAKK anchored in ancient & deeply rooted democratic sites. Some are called “things”, others, “dings” or “tings”, depending where you stand on the old Viking map.
Now, last month, on 17 May 2014, Norway celebrated her 200th Anniversary as a democracy. It is also known as Constitution Day, and since the Northern Isles were once part of the Viking realm (for much longer than it has been Scottish), such Day is celebrated on this side of the North Sea. It makes complete sense, as this corner or edge of the kingdom remains above all Scandinavian.
The islands indeed belong to a network of ancient parliament sites, which, in the eyes of NYBAKK, had to be mapped and celebrated. For this, Foundation Leader, Per Kåre Nybakk, contacted Shetland Amenity Trust and offered to sail through those ancient sea trails from the North Atlantic with a formidable exhibition.
Over the course of today, Wednesday 25 June, NYBAKK was involved with various events, including a civic reception at Lerwick’s Town Hall, a visit to Scalloway & Tingaholm, Shetland’s most famous ting, or Field of Parliament and special presentations at Scalloway Museum.
Among the speakers, Per Kåre Nybakk delivered a powerful message of friendship he carefully included in his speech. Placing high values on our shared cultural heritage, the importance of such network as well as friendship between us all. Needless to say education is high on his agenda.
Today, young Shetlanders learnt about such project, history, shared heritage and bonds from both sides of the North Sea. Our northern isles are very special.
Today, we celebrated a fantastic human adventure as epic as the Norse Sagas.
Walk around Lerwick past midnight on a fine “simmerdim” night – or azure in colour, and marvel at the first astronomical light.
It is barely 01 something in the morning.
That array of magical pale pink-orange begins to glow against Bressay’s skyline.
And as I leave the harbour, revellers disappear in between taxis…
Driving southbound to my 60N latitude, that daring sky blushes further. Azure & orange taint my eastern horizon.
It is both delicate and magical.
No wonder why our breeding birds makes most of such light to rear their chicks. Light is paramount to find food…
How I love this Shetlan word, voar.
My favourite time of year, that lapse of time in between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice, when the Earth swings & sings along.
With April start the greatest shows on earth – brighter colours brought by a sun, a racing game with the sunrise, meadows & fields teeming with life – a morning sky filled with birdsong… The return of old avian friends – meadow pipit, northern wheatear or skylark that come to ennoble tussock grass. Better than toys, television…
Dawn & dusk belong to blackbirds, perched on roof tops or chimney stacks. Relentless maestros in gardens, together with wrens & sparrows. Or “exotic” visitors, like a brambling or a hawfinch…
In nearby fields, the stage belongs to crooning curlews & shalders (oystercatchers) with snipes drumming for spring and love.
Our first razorbills & common guillemots back on cliff ledges & stacks to rekindle life around heads.
Rooks are nesting in canopies (yes, we have a few trees in Shetland!) – rain geese (red-throated divers) & sea ducks wander at will around our wicks (square shaped bays), voes (long narrow water inlets) or lochans…
Yellow dominates at our feet – marigold, primrose, celandine…
Now you know the meaning of “voar”, that Shetlan word that defines spring.
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