Undeterred by cool winds and showers and tales of heat and sun in the far south, we have been trying to find our summer! And over the last few days, real summer, with Mediterranean warmth, has visited the Highlands.
Much of June and July has been bright and blowsy, mostly cool with odd days of eye watering lightness and shimmering white nights interspersed with grey billowing rains washing unkempt fields and full of wind and noise. A short, desperate kind of summer too, caught in between a very late spring and signs of an autumn not too far away. Growth, blossoming, flowering, seed setting and the rearing of young has all been dimmed by the lack of warmth so that the quicksilver romantic ‘simmer dim’ and long languorous turquoise days have, this year, been intermittent. And now, when summer’s endings are in sight across the country, activities curtailed or delayed by cool dampenings seem to be happening in a great rush and push across the croft, in the woods and on the hills.
For over the last few days, temperatures have soared and rather than the iridescence and flickering of early summer, we have enjoyed a honeyed, golden and balmy hiatus, rich and stickily thick. August would normally be a quiet time for birdsong, but here throats, tired from singing in courtship or in battle with the winds, have opened again in delighted chorus and rousing hymn. A strange summer delight; even the song thrush has joined in.
The croft fields are at last ablaze with wild flowers: red, pink and white clover, purple self heal and vetch, blue and pink scabious, marsh lobelia and field gentian, pale pink loosestrife and hemp nettle, white chamomile, mayweed, yarrow, plantains and sneezewort, a multitude of grasses, sedges and rushes, the peachy pink flowers of sorrel, the livid violets of knapweed and thistle. And greens, uncountable greens.
And darting hither and thither, insects with wings of white, blue, yellow and orange; spotted, banded, translucent, fragile, opalescent; birds, pale breasted, colourfully capped or brightly feathered, cheerfully chattering and singing as they skip from seed head to seed head. It is as if all the doings of a ‘proper’ summer must be done in these few, heady days.
I know that autumn is lurking nearby, for the heather has suddenly bloomed, but for now I want to luxuriate in this golden and rose pink bath of warmth and especially in the scented gift of these calm evenings which, in late August, come in hazy purple, crimson, vermilion, coral, peach, copper and rose. Too many colours to name, yet together in the evening they turn the flowers and fields into a rich, gold tipped russet cloak, scented and rustling quietly as I walk down to the sea.
And I especially love the sudden firing of turquoise light which, like an unexpected glaze on pottery taken freshly from the kiln, glows ardently when the sun has fully dipped below the westering sea. For a brief spell it outshines the other colours until it too dissipates.
But such jewelled riches are pricey. There is a payment to be had. In these warm, still evenings the insect buzzing becomes a desperate frenzy of biting, piercing and blood seeking as midges and mosquitoes swarm about ditches and bog pools and rise to greet the unwary and unprotected. I don’t blame them. ‘Summer’ has been very cool and wildly windy and has curtailed their usual, midgy doings by many weeks, so why not make the most of these balmy few days. (I’m scratching as I write.) And as they dance in seeking, searching swirls and spirals their tiny wings reflect the dying sun so that they too become a part of this royal tapestry, like the finest filigree or stitching on the richest and most delicate shroud of summer. I turn my back to the setting sun and these exquisite, gossamer wings appear to climb higher until it seems that all the mountains are covered in tiny, gold and silver stars, as if galaxies untold and uncounted have visited to bathe us all in the mystery and magic of the universe and scatter stardust all about the land.
As the light dips still further other fliers emerge from the grasses and flowers now wholly painted in gold and red. Tiny moths take to the air and their white wings are suddenly transformed, daubed with colours, and the air fractures, and all around me insects are cascading and billowing like a Manhattan tickertape parade.
I turn back home and walk along the stony track, leaning occasionally over the fence to brush my hands through the bog myrtle, its leaves still warm from the day’s heat and blushing blood red in the last light of the day. The midge clouds part and disappear as I crush a few leaves to release more of their gorgeous oily essence. Do they not like the scent as much as I?
Perhaps too much richness is one evening is more than their tiny selves can bear.