Our high-sky, Mediterranean-bright spell of dry weather has ended in a shimmer of pearly light and cool lavender breezes. The last few days have blown change in at our windows and doors and brought silver mists and gentle dampness woven through with cuckoo calls. After the dryness it has been refreshing. The ground is parched in places and there have been wildfires in some parts of the Highlands. Moisture is welcome but so far there has too little to make a difference to the fields.
For a few days dawn vapours rose into clouds and melded with sea waters though still the rain did not come. Now the winds have swung slowly and gently back to the west lifting once smooth waves into slow-rolling creases and crests and sending a salty tang to mingle with the incense of bog myrtle and gently showering . Clouds have fractured the bright May sunshine, clear skies have become burnished with silver, the piercing sun an alabaster light.
On the bog by the croft ‘hummocks’ and ‘lawns’ of Sphagnum moss have been bleached by desiccating sunlight though some patches have retained wetness and colour where their surfaces are protected by overhangs of heather. Now and again, from mist-full boggy hollows, grassy tussocks and clumps of heather, flies, moths and butterflies have risen in small clouds, flickering. And in the woodlands where trees are sprouting quickly and greenly, moisture, retained by hairy lichens and thick leaf mould, has made under-canopy spaces feel dense and heady.
In early May mistiness the dawn chorus seems louder than ever. As with light, perhaps sounds bounce from droplet to droplet magnifying voices. One bird has begun to out-sing even larks and song thrushes: the calm, smoothly measured two-note-calls of cuckoos spear through the frenetic hullabaloo of other voices and darting flight. Yet even they are chased, mobbed by feisty gangs of meadow pipits and other small birds. I watched as one cuckoo, sitting on a telegraph wire, was repeatedly ‘bombed’ by small birds trying to drive him from his perch; he simply shrugged his wings. Cuckoos will be here in our valley for a few weeks, ignoring the sea and higher hills and mountains in favour of crofts, gardens, patches of woodland, hedges and bogland.
I, however, cannot ignore the sea’s daily call and yesterday morning walked as usual over the fields towards the shore. The horizon had vanished and I watched the slow swirl of soundless currents sliding into mists. For a few minutes I felt suspended, as if in between worlds, with no gravity to keep me anchored. My face was cooled by moisture caught on eyelashes and cheeks, and tiny droplets clung, sparkling, to my cotton shirt. Then dog nudged my hand and we walked onwards, down the path to the beach.
On the sands ringed plovers ran back and forth following the waves as they sloshed in and out. Beyond them I watched three white darts crying raucously as they tumbled down to the sea and up again. Terns, I think, though they had not a stitch of black anywhere. Their wings were long, thin and sharp, as finely crafted as paper birds made by a master of Japanese origami. Further out to sea gannets were diving, powerful and streamlined like Concorde. Then I realised that another pair of birds were skimming over the low waves, one following the other then, curving over the rocky shore at one end of the beach, returned along the sands and out across the sea. They seemed to billow and twist around each other, ribbon dancing and weaving about an invisible maypole, repeating their short route again and again. I wondered if this was a courtship flight; it lasted for fifteen minutes or more and I wondered how they would have any energy left to mate.
Standing on the rocks was a lone turnstone, still in his winter coat, his head turning as he too watched the other birds. Then a whimbrel landed, and another; they called out their gentle melody and calmly settled wing feathers. They were hurried on by a noisily piping group of oystercatchers: brrrrrrrrreepapeepapeepapeepeepeep they sang, their red eyes, red legs and red beaks fierce against the blue sea and rusty rocks.
The water was forget-me-not blue and turquoise. Waves were sand-filled at their breaking edges and as they sluiced away lacy trails of salts and fine sediments formed in the water. Each wave left behind its own distinctive, rippling mark in the sands, rimmed with shell fragments. Because the tide was going out some of the waves grew tall but did not break; they merely collapsed in a pale and milky swash. As they rolled up and curled over they seemed to gather in birdsong with each great shush. I heard a distant cuckoo then, and felt certain a wave had scooped up its paired notes, perhaps as a gift for a selkie.
I returned to the cliff-top again in the evening. Sea and sky were blended together in blue silk and pale grey satin. The horizon slipped away just as it had earlier in the day but kept returning with smudges and smears of indigo islands.
I could see the Trotternish as a broad band of Prussian-blue painted on canvas. Water currents were moving gently left to right, south to north; the sea was a spill of oil paints mixing slowly, swirled about by an invisible brush.
Once again I heard a far-off cuckoo call and thought of their blue and pewter plumage shimmering like the sea. The moonstone and quicksilver waters whispered in reply: a selkie’s song of longing and desire.