Oh it’s grey, grey, colourless bleak on the beach in these dying hours of the year. The waves, the sky, the land – even the little birds feeding down at the tide’s edge disappear in the dirty half-light. Monochrome. Cheerless.
And then they rise up and you’re mesmerized and smiling. They flash quicksilver white, swarming sky-high in a throng of thousands, diving and twisting, catching light you didn’t know was there. There’s a rush of wings and they’re bearing down, funneling a wind as they flock over and around, and suddenly silence. And then another synchronized spiral of wings and they disappear to lifeless cloud.
Happy, mercurial little knots, you have made magic in a grey day.
The river paths are a bit neglected these days; wooden bridges hang by a thread, fallen trees need to be scaled and the bracken and heather have started to encroach. But I’m drawn to that sense of decay, the knowledge that they’re slowly being reclaimed by nature.
There are no barriers, no signs, no people; just generations of history and memories.
I’ve traded superfast Wi-Fi and a reliable phone signal for a log fire, candles and a cottage door that opens onto a Highland beach.
On my first night here I fell asleep convinced that through the bed, the floor, the foundations and the sand I could feel the vibration of the waves on the shore just a hundred yards away. On a wild day I will certainly hear them smashing against the pier.
I know the tide times now; I know when to walk so the rock pools and seaweed will be uncovered. My mind and body are becoming attuned to signals that are natural rather than electronic. No bleeps.
It’s getting dark early at night and it’s quiet; I hear nothing through the thick old walls of this fisherman’s cottage so for the first time in months I slept beyond 6.30am today. And 7.30.
At 8.30 I woke slowly to tranquility I haven’t experienced for years. Is this the return of a natural body clock that isn’t disrupted by the reflex rush to check gmail, Facebook or Whatsapp before breakfast? For the next few months there will be no wakening up to read the BBC news or regular bloggers over a cup of tea. No more crumbs of toast in the keyboard.
For two days now I’ve been writing without distractions and I’m sitting tonight down by the hearth with candles burning. No music. No radio. Just the crackle of the logs and the smell of wood.
It’s what I wanted, but going cold turkey and withdrawing to a life without instant access to knowledge, friends, research and trivia is confirming just how many waking hours I’m wasting by clicking and mindlessly browsing. Random notions to price international flights I’ll never catch have to be dismissed. But will that mean I read more or write better? I guess I’ll find out.
It’s still too early for a full hibernation so in the morning I’ll walk to the library to send emails and this update and by the time you read it I’ll have returned to Internet exile. Temporarily.
But if I no longer inhabit a virtual world do friends and readers still exist? If I can’t see you, can you still see me?
I’m just wondering.
The autumn migration is under way; the geese are back and filling the skies above me, wave after wave of dark wavering skeins, honking and hooting as they search out and settle in to their winter quarters around the Cromarty and Moray Firths
I’ve been on Nairn beach every morning and evening this week, powering along the sand as my new dogsitting customer, Harley-the-Golden-Retriever pounds through the waves; crazy-happy, beautiful dog
And I’m not alone in stopping to admire the synchronized flight.
“Save your energy for flying!” One woman called out as the sky grew dark and the decibel level intensified above our heads.
They sound excited to have arrived after their journeys from the Arctic Circle, Scandinavia, Greenland and Canada and use their vantage point to scope out the roosts and fields – where they’re not always welcome.
They pass over, still bickering and swerving, swapping places to avoid fatigue among the flock. Here it’s mainly Greylags but there are Pink-Foot, White-Fronted Geese and Barnacles – over 700,000 of them migrating to Scotland every autumn. Last year at this time I was wandering among flocks of Canada Geese on the shores of Lake Ontario, the water sparkling in the autumn sunshine. Great memories.
Whatever the species, they represent the most exciting time of year. October has always been the month of new beginnings; leaving home, starting university, beginning new jobs, embarking on big travel and adventures.
It’s the month when anything might happen.
Sparkling Lake Ontario
Denmark was smørrebrød, bikes, bacon-wrapped dates, Carlsberg, chocolate-covered liquorice, green fields, grand architecture. And great people.
Our camino memories came flooding back; the laughter, pain, churches, pilgrims, bedbugs and blisters – enhanced, perhaps, by the Spanish vino tinto on the table and a dram of Benromach, the malt from my “home” distillery in Moray.
No matter where in the world you are, everyone is prepared to try whisky at least once and this one evokes memories.
I grew up near Speyside and when I was little I’d sit on my father’s knee as he drove a tractor and trailer the five miles from our farm to Benromach distillery to collect draff, the distillery by-product that’s used for cattle feed. And as we waited for the trailer to be loaded a half glass of clear liquid would be poured out by the distillery manager for Dad.
Back in those days a bottle would last a year in our house but Dad drank this full-strength alcohol neat every time. And then back on the tractor and on his knee, driving at 20 mph up the road to home, he would be so happy! It took another ten years before I equated that merriment with the liquid that looked like water.
Benromach closed down for a few decades but has re-entered the market with whisky that’s distinctive amongst the other Speyside malts. That’s why I always take it as a present on international adventures.
Well no, if I’m honest, it’s all about the memories; it’s link to the best of times in a blissful childhood.