I’ve been here all my days, he says
And from the lines on his face, the white of his hair
The tiny tremble of his leather strong hands
We can scarcely imagine how many years that might be
He tells us about the fishing fleet that sailed from here
How he started out on his father’s boat
Then sailed with brothers
Before one died and the other moved away
Until he was the only one left still sailing
Strong enough even now to put his hands in the cold waters
And see what he can pull out
He smiles when he tell us all this
As though to say he will be sailing here a few years yet
As though to say it will take something more than old age,
It will take something more profound than death
To move him away from this place
We could live for a hundred years and never have what he has
Our roots run shallow and thin
And the only footprints we leave sink softly into wet sand
Gone swiftly on the next wave
White sands as soft as satin
Bloodwarm and enveloping,
Stretched out and untouched
But for our feet and the slow, hesitant caress of
An evening tide that tumbles up and scampers away
In tiny waves, shy and apologetic
Singing like wind chimes, sighing like pan-pipes.
These are turquoise seas of fairy tales
Deep, deep waters as clear as our minds.
We sit quiet and still under tall sand dunes while
High overhead the cries of seabirds echo lazily.
This place must seem like summer every day of the year
No matter how dark the clouds are
No matter how grey
No matter how many clothes, how many layers
How many hats and coats
No matter how many pairs of gloves we have to wear.
A west wind blows firm today
Mile long rolling waves break on sea-stacks
To collapse under sand-dunes.
Surf blows up through rocky cliffs
Cut to the shape of an eye
Catching the light like champagne tears
There are gannet, there are fulmer
There are tern and shag
There is the most raggedy sheep you ever did see
Facing into the wind that blows on and on
Long strings of wool and black plastic whipped
Horizontal from barbed wire fences
We hunker down behind a lighthouse wall
For a few moments respite
When we stand again a squall is upon us
Black clouds circle in on all sides
Waves crash ever louder below
Boots sink deep into sodden machar
And more rain comes down
The air is drowned in water
The whole world is water
We are standing up straight on dry land
Our heads fathoms-deep under the waves
Ragged and ridged like the faces of old men
Worn and cracked, piebald patched
Watching from the hillside
Over still lochs and dark waters
Over empty crofts and quiet harbours
A fixed stare set immovable to the sky
A silent shout out of defiance
This is not an easy place to be, they say.
This place does not want us to be here, they say.
But it will take more years than these to wear us down.
Older than the wind, older than the waves
Older than the land, older than the rain.
Older than God.