We came with the right attitude, and the right kind of energy. But it’s hard to let go of the familiarby Cal Flyn / December 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
When we arrived in Orkney the coast was alive with seabirds. But with the approach of winter, our cliffs fell silent. I couldn’t help but mourn the disappearance of the puffins and the razorbills and all the rest; the coast seemed bereft.
For a few days, I felt a flicker of doubt. This far-northern landscape, with its long smooth arcs of land, uncluttered by trees, felt strange to me. And so, in a different way, did my new village—as I introduced myself over and over, tried to match names to faces, fell out of old routines and into new ones. It can be difficult to start afresh somewhere new. We came with the right attitude, and the right kind of energy. But it’s hard to let go of the familiar.
A few weeks ago, just as the weather was closing in on us, the birds returned. Different birds, this time: pink-footed geese dropped in on their way south from Greenland—great straggling skeins of them, weaving and interweaving, plaiting together and apart, backlit in a watercolour sky. They’ll overwinter here in the UK, as they do every year.
When I went riding with some new friends we stumbled into one of their gathering places in a sheltered valley, and the thundering approach of the horses sent the geese into the air, a parting of the waves as two sheets of gabbling, cacophonous life rose up on either side. They took to the air, wheeled in a single sweeping turn, then wobbled back down into the fields to graze.
Then last week, a happy surprise. As I bustled home from the stables, I found the path blocked by a huddle of women wearing binoculars. When I followed their gaze I found a dozen waxwings—beautiful, rosy-chested birds with vogueish quiffs and dramatic black make-up—cider-drunk and feasting on fallen apples. The birds were over from Norway and in search of the haws, hips and rowan berries that hang ripe in the trees like lanterns.
The waters around our archipelago too have seen a seasonal shift in population. As summer drew to a close the basking sharks—those gentle, dim-witted sea monsters—left the shallows for the open water. But in…