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Breath of winter

1 September 2009

The morning of the 29th August, the anniversary of the ‘Leaving’ of St Kilda and I stand on the pier looking over a storm tossed bay, the wind from the NW, whipping down over Ruaival, beyond the hill summit there is an ominous darkness approaching from the direction of Boreray. It hangs over the hill like a shroud. The sea is a stealth grey, the contrasting white edges of waves crash onto the beach and the rocks beyond. The wind is picking up the spume and throwing it back at the sea in curtains.




Four gannets are hunting over the bay, hanging in the air before plunging vertically into the sea, their whiteness surreal against the grey. One dives close to the end of the jetty, banked over its wide wings showing their black tip insignia and its sulphur vivid head. Rising to the surface like a cork it shakes itself and launches into the wind. Watching them exocet across the water, they are magnificent birds, avian arrows, specialists in an air sea hunting ritual. Continuously they soar and dive, sometimes rising only a few feet from the water to spear back in at some half seen fish. ‘I wonder if the mackerel have arrived in the bay’ ?




A dark predatory shape rows through the air from the north east, its falcon like wings driving it low and purposeful across the water. A Great Skua targeting a rising Gannet, to pirate any catch the gannet may have made. The gannet rises fishless and the skua banks away, as if it never really had any intent of an airborne mugging and it has urgent business elsewhere.


The rain arrives from Ruaival in a torrent driven by the NW wind, I turn to the open door of the lobster pot store at the end of the pier, beaten there by the grey flutter of a lost racing pigeon. Driven ahead of the wind it crashes in desperation over my shoulder into the lobster pots of the interior. Perhaps remembering the safety of its home loft it sits looking at me from the top of a creel. We share the shelter as the storm passes, I know that he or she will never leave the island and I smell the cold breath of winter carried in the wind.


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