Moments of grace

There’s a curious sadness in unplanned leavings, when you remember all the things that you won’t be able to say goodbye to, because they only come round once a year and now you are going, before they will return. If only I’d known last year, you think, that this would be the last time I’d see the first oystercatcher in February, or the first marsh marigold in the bog, then I could have stood and fixed them in my memory, and told them how much I’ve appreciated them. For those signs that spring is coming, finally, after the long dark days of an Outer Hebridean winter, are the signs you value most of all. Each year the same irrational relief, pushing aside for another season the fear that maybe this time, there will be no return of the light.

In this harsh place, spring doesn’t announce itself with a clatter of bursting buds or the suddenness of a dawn chorus in garden trees. Spring creeps up on you subtly, little by little, day by day. The smallest brightening in the green of the grass down by the geo; the briefest cry of a passing skylark overhead. But I have grown to know these small signs, and to love them, and most beloved of all is the return of the breeding pair of lapwings who come to the headland each year in late May to hatch their young. I love those lapwings. I love their thick rounded wingtips, the frantic circling cries as strangers come close to the vicinity of their eggs. It has been bothering me that the lapwing would come this year and I wouldn’t be there to greet them, and then to rush back to the house to tell David ‘The lapwings are coming! The lapwings are coming!’ as if they were the vanguard of some fire-carrying army come to save us from all that is dark and full of sorrow.

And so it was to my immense joy that I saw a single lapwing circling the headland early yesterday morning. And I remembered that last year in March there had been a single scout too, maybe scoping out the territory for May’s longer stay. I stood and lifted my head to watch for as long as the lapwing flew, grateful for the simple but somehow necessary gift of it.

And then this morning, twenty or so whooper swans landed on the loch at the bottom of the croft, the first of the northwards-migrating flocks that will fill our days with pleasure and sound for the next couple of weeks. I am filled with gladness not to have missed them too, and am reminded of Ruth Padel’s beautiful poem on migration from The Mara Crossing , ‘Time to Fly’:

You go from pole to pole, you go because you can,
you sleep and mate on the wing.
You go because you need a place to shed your skin
in safety.


6 comments on “Moments of grace

  1. Your writing of this place is so full of love I feel sad you are leaving! But I lived my formative years in the Hebrides and recognise this pain. It’s nostalgia in the now. I still have it for Mull, but I live in South West Portugal!
    I wish you well in Ireland, where there will be things to love with as much passion, I’m sure, but it will never match!
    Best wishes on your transition

    • Veronica – Ireland was my first love and I hope will be my last, so the sadnesses of leaving here will soon be washed away in that river. This is a beautiful place and I’ll always remember parts of it with love, but the truth is it’s the other way around, and that’s part of the reason for leaving – nothing can match Ireland 🙂 Thanks for the kind thoughts!

  2. I am saying my farewells to this beautiful valley xxx bittersweet moments and fixing them in my minds eye xxxx blessings on your leave takings Sharon

  3. Beautiful and poignant, Sharon. The changing of the seasons is what makes me look back, to lament or celebrate what has happened in the past year. But it also makes me look forward, into the unknown. What will have happened by the next time that the frogs croak and mate in the pond, or by the next time that the starling fledglings arrive? Sometimes, the turning of the world seems inexorable. Hang on, I want to say, I haven’t finished with that yet.

    • Hard when there’s so much you need to be finished with, and yet so much you want to hang onto. The trick is in finding a way to take it all forward and especially those moments of grace … to see what they become with time and distance. (And before this is over, one of us will have a bug story for you … x)

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