Imogen and the wrens

Abigail, Barney, Clodagh, Desmond, Eva, Frank, Gertrude, Henry. The big storms that have crossed and smothered the UK and Ireland this winter season so far have been testing and deeply troubling especially for those affected by the severe flooding. For us in Wester Ross the storms have brought unprecedented amounts of rainfall and yo-yoing temperatures that have confused every living thing, me included. The mountains snows have come and gone many times since the first light sprinklings way back last September and each time an Arctic wind has brought ice and frost it has been followed quickly by warmth, melting and flood.

In between the nationwide tempests we have also had other intense weather events which have brought severe gales, thundersnow, lightning, hail and flash flooding. This type of weather is expected here but the frequency and sheer fierceness of it all has provoked much grumbling and considerable consternation about how and why things are changing. The landscape and nature have responded with great drama, in every sense of the word.

The latest storm to play havoc was Imogen and strangely, while the south was sorely thumped and bruised by her, our weather remained relatively calm with almost no wind at all. On the two days that severe storm force winds and violent seas lashed Cornwall our early mornings were cold but bright. A procession of small but intense showers have trundled in from the north: Imogen’s trailing shoelaces. The brightly cold and cheek-tingling air has been a welcome respite from the relentless rain and wind, in spite of the intermittent gritty hail or sharp snowfall, and wildlife has responded with song and busyness. In the occasional, tantalisingly warm, yellow rays of sunshine some insects took to the wing while in the hedges a cacophony of voices, desperate to outdo each other, rose up and up, and was carried out in festive choruses across the croft fields.

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The ditches have been as busy as the London underground as starlings, thrushes and blackbirds have fussed and fought over the emergence of potential meals. In the waterlogged and muddy fields hordes of geese have splattered and splashed, cropping as much as possible from the tiny islands of herbs and grass between the puddles. The stirrings of spring are becoming increasingly evident in a feathered tide of music and dance.

This morning, at the coast, clouds again seeped south across the Hebrides and concertinaed slowly over the Trotternish of Skye. Cold but almost imperceptible breezes played over the sea and the surface waters responded by reflecting the skies in motionless molten silver and tin plate, or by churning quietly in pale celadon, cream and rose. Away from the exuberant activity on the croft a strange quietness had descended here. Along the shore this strange quietness was accompanied by enormous, slow-tumbling waves. They grew and grew until, almost exhausted with the growing, they sighed deeply and threw themselves down in a mess of froth and foam and spread across the sands in lace and frills of purest white.

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It was as though the sea contained the remnants of Imogen’s power and energy, and its only escape was here at the margins of the once storm-tormented sea as the high tide began its turning. For a short while, mirroring the motions of the tumbling and spiralling waves, clouds rolled and churned in unexpected colours, in peaches, pinks and ochre, and then in indigo and grey. It was brief but startling in its strangeness, as if for a few short moments the world had inverted, the sea had changed places with the sky, and in so doing learned something of the dying storm’s dark secrets.

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This magic reversal soon vanished but their conversation continued within the ribbons of rainbows joining sky and sea together.

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The tide turned and gradually the strange pink billows withdrew leaving a high, clear turquoise dome and rising columns of pure white, while the distant islands gradually stained the horizon in purple, mauve and powder-blue.

We turned to retrace our steps back across the beach and along the rocky shore, stopping often to gaze up as the mounting clouds. Our eyes and ears were suddenly drawn down to earthly voices hidden amongst the boulders and cobbles which shone brightly as the tidal foams drained away between them. There, tiny russet brown bodies were dashing about over and under the stones, peeping and piping, pseeping and singing. Wrens! How bold and bright they were as they rushed about hunting for food fragments left behind by the enormous waves or driven out from under the rocks by the high tides.

We walked on, our eyes looking up again to the heavens and we saw Imogen’s final gift to the north: a Kelpie, of diamond white cloud, leaping over the Old Man of Storr and galloping north over the Trotternish.

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About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
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