Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Goodbye terns, hello wind

The first of August and it feels like autumn has come already. The terns are up and away, winging from here in northwest Scotland all the way to the Antarctic. Every year their departure seems a profound signal of the change of season. After squealing and wheeling around the skerries since April, they leave a sudden hush on the loch. It makes space for other, quieter birds to pass through: black-throated divers, herons, curlews and sandpipers all fill the void. But nothing can really replace the wild white cluster of terns, tossed up from the island like crumbs shaken from a tea cloth, swirling and shoaling, then sprinting up to the dogleg at the mouth of the loch, cornering en masse like cyclists on a race-track and dashing the straight back to the skerry.

As if to mark the terns' leaving, a strong westerly wind has got up. It has been a summer of calms, light northerly breezes and dry easterlies. While the rest of the UK was engulfed in flooding, up here it has been unnaturally arid, so much so the wee stream on the croft, known inappropriately as 'the river', dried up. I have been hauling watering cans to my garden. This is not normal. Now it seems to be getting back to something more familiar: wet bracken and a fresh breeze from the west. It makes me smile. I love the soft ions the wind brings in from the sea and it's the croft's main source of power. I sit here in the studio, and I can hear the generator shush-shush-shushing as it blurs, spinning electricity into the battery bank. A miracle. But not so much of a miracle as the terns, finding their way from here to Antarctica and back every year. That's magic.

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