The North Sea. The one that just hates being contained. The big shoulders of a few countries make sure of that, and there she will ever be, until she manages to reclaim what was always rightfully hers. I would be just as bad tempered if I was in her position.
From here where I sit, she is like an artist’s palette. A giant bowl of salt, of brack, ice-melt and spring water stirred into a wild frenzy after rainfall. Other oceans, rivers, springs and icemelt push their way into her confined space with an arrogant confidence, poking at her edges like teenage boys at a high school disco. On the other side of this sheet of glass, gannets cant on the wind, one I cannot feel, one without shape or direction, my only guide the tinsel clouds backlit by the sun and scooting across the sky like ghosts. The gannets circle, rise and dive, hitting the surface with an explosion of white water. Half submerged rocks tip their faces skyward, seaweed-draped, kelpie hair, held down by the fist of gravity until the next tide moves it on once more. Perhaps it will land on the beach for us to squish with jelly shoes, or maybe float far out to sea caught in a riptide, destined for a different shore. Ice white spume froths around these rocks, spiralling out salty echoes before falling back into the green. Undersea pulses hex the waters into dark shadows that think me of monster hands grabbing.
Gulls crowd a spit of rock, a jagged tooth, in the distance. They look like jewels. One shag stands sentry on the very end, wings out, sea-facing. None of these know we are here, high up on the cliff watching the wind taunt the water willow and the dying grasses, a ghostly white, beautiful in dying. I watch the long curve of a wave lick around the sandy bay, top frothing like the first pint pulled from a new barrel. I see this wave grab at stones and shells only to abandon them somewhere else, over and over again. Across the poppling water, the distant outlands are clear, the striations on their flanks an arm’s length away. I can almost count them, for such is the quality of light in Autumn as the sun’s arc becomes more almond than orange. Tree lines, a peppering of cottages, dazzle fronted in the sunshine, a mast or two to aid communication, a ship hugging the far shore. Terns weave a sky web and I wish for dolphins. Many birds in one place mean fish and fish mean dolphins, but none appear. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there, of course.
I come back into the warm fug of the bustling cafe, swirling with smells of coffee and sweet cakes, of people and perfume, of life and of decay. Folk with children, grannies, books and binoculars. So many and diverse lives colliding in this clifftop bubble, joining and separating, choosing tables, organising toddlers, arguing, discussing business, arranging dates, planning dinner. Some leave, more arrive, a tidal ebb and flow of a fragile and vulnerable people. We are no different to the world out there, the wild one beyond that glass. We are just noisier about living our lives, more needy, less independent and, foolishly, less aware that we need each other at all.
I turn back to the window and the tangle and twist of gathered humans falls away. I feel the pull and push of the wind, hear the crash of waves and all I want to do is strap on my wings, walk to the edge of the ghost grasses at the edge of the cliff and fly off into the silence.
Back in the lovely farm cottage, I watch the lapwings. I love lapwings. Never seen one on the island. We cut and clear, prune and haul the clippings to a bonfire. I always find myself in the punch of the smoke, yellow, white, cloying me into a cough as my eyes sting and water. To be fair there is no prevailing wind, or there might me way up there, but not down here where hills and rocky outcrops circle like players in a game of rounders. The wind is discombobulated. Up we walk to the house and back down to the bonfire, feeding the hungry beast with sap-full leaves and old branches pulled from the crowd of other old branches from other overgrown shrubs. And, it is done, but not the fire. This fire will smoulder for hours yet, unlike me. I am done. I shower, change, hear the children come back from the beach, their high pitched voices laden with tiredness and hunger. Supper soon, then bed and silence ,bar the noisome thoughts in many heads on many pillows. Outside, the darkling sky lays a soft blanket over the day. The cows settle, the lapwings hide, the geese chortle a while, then quiet.
And I have two more days to gather colourful memories before my journey home.