Years ago, my mother had a moonstone ring. A pale blue, perfectly smooth, oval stone set simply in old gold. No fancy swirls or filigree, just a thick band to grasp a finger and a sturdy setting to claim the stone and prevent it from returning to the moon. Of all her jewellery, this was my favourite. It was a man’s ring, un-marked, powerful, though an accompanying note from a well-known gold specialist confirmed that it was very, very old, predating most hallmarking systems. More than anything else in her little box of treasures, this was the item I loved to handle. I’d slip it on my thumb and revel in the warmth of the gold, and the cold of the moonstone. I could feel its magic, I was sure. A pure, icy blue gemstone and deep, glowing gold; as if the sun had trapped the moon, imprisoning her pale magic in fire. I fancied it belonged to a Roman general who, having come to win the hand of a princess of Britannia, was given the ring by her father, a King, when peace was brokered, and war ended. Whether or not it was Roman or medieval I will never know, but I remember my little story to this day, for I wrote it down, aged 8. The ring was stolen. One day when all the family were out it disappeared alongside other things with stories to tell. And I cried for it; I wondered who had taken it, thinking no one could possibly love it as much as I.
This evening, along the shore, I was reminded of my moonstone ring, and of the magic wrought by the sun in capturing the cold light and songs of the moon, and I wondered again, with childish fantasy, the story of the ring.
We have been enjoying warm and sunny days, with gentle breezes, cool enough to deter the hardiest midge, but warm enough to render thick, fleecy jumpers unnecessary. At last the croft fields are full of wildflowers, nodding grasses and sedges, buzzing bees and uncountable other insects with shiny wings and burnished bodies, and of course, birdsong. Activity is frenetic, the sounds of life almost deafening. It hardly slows in daylight hours, which are very long, and only dims in the few short hours when the sun slews downwards below the horizon.
In the last hours of brightness, as the temperature drops on windless evenings, something strange happens. The air is filled with scent; not the warm, headiness of sun-brushed bog myrtle, clover, camomile, thyme and oak leaf, but a vibrant, sharp, almost resinous smell, rather like a new mown lawn, but more than that. It is so strongly redolent of sugar and lemons that it takes the breath away. It’s as if the green mantle is quickly finishing off the day’s work of photosynthesising, respiring, growing, with a sudden burst of sap up and down stems and through leaves making the most of the last glorious, reddening rays of sunlight. And as the light continues to fade, the scent is intensified, and it is lovely to walk across the croft fields on down to the shore, breathing deeply and sighing with pleasure as you go.
And yesterday evening, as I did so, the rising sappy scents were intensified and not brushed away by wind. Too cool for many midges, it was a soul uplifting potter. Large grey, lichen covered and thrift tufted boulders had turned to copper and bronze, machair to gleaming gold, but the sea, ah the sea, was smoothed and polished: like the moonstone of my childhood. In such light, the land and all its creatures raise eyes, hearts, stem and leaf to the sun and his panoply of triumphant military reds, oranges and pinks, but the sea, on this evening, the sea called to the moon even in her absence, as if yearning for her pale, blue, mercurial, singing light. The ocean had become my moonstone.
So I remembered my ring last night, as I looked out across the shimmer of sea, and I remembered my mother, who sang songs of love and loss, as mothers do.
And just as I felt a rising of sad rememberings, a gentle whistling call travelled across the little storm beach with its piled-high stones and through the rocky jumble where the Abhainn Dearg, our Red River, meets the sea, and its sound came to me, like laughter. An otter, skipping through the waters, rising, diving, arching his back to delve deep, came chirruping by. His whiskery chatter was for the fish who jumped out of his way (or were thrown about in pleasure); skilfully, he gathered his evening meal. Floating on his back, languorous and relaxed, he devoured the fish swiftly and then delved for another. Again and again he dived and every time he went down, in his moment of disappearance, the molten moonstone surface closed over his back and tail, smoothly and silently, only to tear open again as he re-emerged. He swam and floated for a long time in the liquid lunar paleness, a creature of the moon and magic then. Until, at last, he disappeared from sight.
And so I stepped up across the rocks, to retrace my steps and return to solid, earthy, golden things, to dipping, diving swallows and sand martins, to moths rising and fluttering and bats beginning their night’s work. By the time I had returned home, the sky had turned from peaches and cream to pale turquoise, clouds frilled by deep vermillion and copper.
The heavens, in jealous imitation of an otterful, moonstone sea, I think.