Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Day Between Gales

Saturday my grandson managed to get back from Orkney after his rugby match in a very uncomfortable ferry crossing. The Pentland Firth was fretful then, but the sailors said worse was coming: a Force 12 was forecast for later that evening. Everyone was heading for shelter. The ferry would not run again until the weather eased. Here in the North, we tell the weather in many ways--the actual forecasts, the sky, the sea, the clouds, but one of the best indicators comes from the harbor watchers. At work yesterday, my colleague said, "My father watched the Faroese boat. It tried for an hour to get out of the harbor and then it gave up and came back. " I have watched in awe as the little Faroese boat has made its way out of harbor. Faroese, if your geography is a bit shaky, refers to a tiny set of tiny islands north and west of Scotland. In older times, tales were told of Selkies--seal-people, and they always came from the West. If the Faroese won't or can't sail, then it is bad weather.

Saturday night the house was rocked in the cradle of that wind. For 300 years the house has been here, so I thought it would make one more storm, but it was my first experience of a howling gale. Banshee winds with undertones of sawing at any loose edge--gables of houses, gutters, foolhardy cats, and, as we discovered later, stones and cliff edges. Sunday morning the weather was cold but indeterminate. We surveyed the debris of house parts strewn about the garden but sighed with relief that no serious damage was done. After breakfast, my husband suggested a drive along the coast to see the effects of the storm.

Drving past the dunes, we see that a giant's handful of sand has been picked up and deposited in one turning of the road. As a former Hoosier, I am familiar with the capriciousness of winds, but I am always intrigued by it. By the time we set out the tide was well out. Even so, the pent up energy of the waves sent them crashing up against the far shore. The foam from the waves climbed up the shore and exploded. Near Brim's Ness, a favorite surfing spot on calmer days, I watched a frantic wave surge onto a 150 foot cliff edge and climb nearly to its top. Nearby waterways that normally spill water over the edge into the sea below met with such force of wind that the water was pushed upright like a geyser.

We headed west and saw at Castletown beach how the waves had rearranged the rocks on the shore. The carefully laid out assemblage of sedimentary rocks was now scrambled as if a toddler bully had dismantled a Lego creation in a fit of pique. For the first time I saw the Merry Dancers of Mey---a marvel of symmetry and grace when the complex of tides meet. The smaller waves of the colliding forces form regular lines and bow and do si do as if in a country dance.

In a small harbor, three sets of men worked anxiously over the ropes that held their boats in place. The boats lay peacefully at rest on the bed of the now dry harbor with the tide full out, but it was an angry ocean and they clearly feared what it might do.

Down another little cove, "I think that boat might be Jimmy Simpson's," my husband says. I counted seven ropes on it seemingly from every possible angle. The boat lay poised, at ease, equidistant from all sides of the harbor. I know Jimmy Simpson. He has weathered many storms. He got here early and did what needed to be done and then went off probably for a nice Sunday brunch or to church. The younger men in the other harbor were still at it, fretting over their lines. With luck, both they and their boats will grow older.

By the time we stopped at a little bed and breakfast that was open for a meal, the wind was driving hail and frozen snow. One other woman was there. Three reservations had been canceled at the last minute the owner explained with as brave a face as he could manage. One of the cancelled reservations was due to their roof having been lost. We counted our blessings, speculated about the weather--would the promised gale arrive? Would it clear? The vagaries of the weather up here and its implications vie with cattle and sheep for the number one conversational topic. Sometimes they merge as in, sheep tend to lamb when the weather gets bad or cattle prices go up when the weather gets closer to grass. But today, away from the farm, the conversation focused on the immediate effects of the weather. We were still an hour away from home.

We called in at a friend's house on the way home. The wind was boisterous but not hurling anything at us. "I think we will not get a storm," Morris said cautiously. "It will be cold but not a storm." People came and went as always on a Sunday in Reg and Angela's house. We lingered until they sat down to eat. They had made a chicken thinking we might come by, as we often do, but today was just a temporary shelter on our way back home to wait out the weather.

As Morris predicted, Monday was cold but not a storm by the standards of storms up here. The wind became a rare northerly--a blast directly from the arctic, but relatively well behaved at a mere 49 miles per hour and only occasionally spitting out snow or hail. It snowed in Glasgow, which was a rare event. A group of exchange students from Malawi destined to come up here in a week or so were treated to their first sight of snow, so it was a welcome sight to them.

Labels: , ,


At 4:42 PM, Blogger The Curmudgeon said...

So today you do a post about winds and here's that blowhard from Chicago in the Comments already...

I hope you don't mind too much, but I gave you a "Thinking Blogger" award in my post this morning. It turns out to be more of a meme than an "award," but you may have some fun with it.

At 5:17 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Thank you, Cur. I am not exactly sure what that is but I'll try clicking my way through it. I am honored to be called a thinking blogger.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger scorrie said...

the beauty of sharon coming into my world from mid USA (Indy) is the totally different perpective she brings to the same things I look at // the old glass half full, glass half empty routine // we live in a land of gales sweeping in from the North Atlantic all the way from Iceland and the Artic Ocean // yet we also live in a land of comlete calm, azure seas and azure sky, visibilty for ever, air you breath in and do not want to ever let go again, holding it deep down, warmth on the wind, a land unspoiled //

At 9:14 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Scorrie, best description of a good day up here that I have ever read.


Post a Comment

<< Home