Saturday, February 23, 2008


"Accidentals" is the term used in guide books to describe birds that have been known to show up in some place, usually blown in on a storm, but they are not regularly there. Recently a rare North American something or other showed up in a Scottish garden and was summarily dispatched by the housecat who had her own understanding of "accidental."

The wind has been blowing here. That is not remarkable. A still day is remarkable. I remember one still afternoon, but not an entire day. Usually only the direction or the ferocity of the wind is remarkable. The radio reported force ten winds at places with sea girt names like "Irishman's Bight."

When I ask "Where are those places? "my husband knows how to respond to what is not said but is really asked. He gives a short geographical limn and then he realizes that the actual answer is, "Yes, it's coming here."

By morning the wind is up, and the crests of the waves look like white horses galloping on a collision course with the rocky shore. Even I could tell that worse was coming. The next day the wind rocked the car in the driveway and hurled horizontal rain and then sleet. The wind grew so strong that not even the birds were flying higher than a wee hop or a determined short flight to safety. The gulls following a tractor at the plowing of a field lined up in a solemn row on the ground rather than soaring and hovering and diving along behind the tractor to feast on the worms that come to the top of the soil. I suspected that even the worms were keeping a low profile but I did not stop to check it out.

For three days now it has huffed and puffed out of the northwest with gale force intensity. When the wind blows as hard as it does now, the vital envelope of air around us is ripped so violently away that cold pervades your bones, your teeth, your very thoughts. Sheep snug so tightly up to the shelter of the long stone walls, dykes, in the fields that they look like polka dots on its surface. Any pedestrians move as quickly as possible from shelter to shelter.

When the doorbell rang in the middle of this, I thought that it was just one of the people working on the farm or the postie--who else would be out in this weather? A farmer in his good clothes stood at the back door and was asking my husband, "Do you know me?" In my old life, I would have been checking to see who was at the front door while his accomplice kept me busy at the back door; in my new life I say, "Och whoever you are, come in out of this weather. Coffee or tea?" It turns out we had not one but two accidentals--a farmer and an auctioneer from Orkney who had gone to Perth for the bull sales and now were stormbound. The ferry across the Pentland Firth was not running.

Orcadians--as people from the Orkney islands are called--are in my experience a very plucky lot. They have an accent that is higher pitched and kind of sing songy in its rhythm so it would be more difficult to appear fierce even if they chose to. Also, like Caithnessians, their unassuming appearance belies a wide knowledge and deep understanding of things that they choose to reveal selectively.

One of these two accidentals is from my husband's native island of Stronsay. My husband had visited him some years ago on Stronsay and so the storm provided a good excuse to return the visit. They share the same surname, but they have not discovered the common ancestor if there is one. No matter. They talked about farms and people and I pulled out my knitting and half listened and shared my one story of when I was on a boat on a stormy sea and the time passed cheerfully until they left to visit other family nearby.


At 4:46 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

So much wind, such strong wind, such a huge effect on one's life! Nature and the weather must make the residents in Caithness strong, plucky, philosophical, enduring, compassionate in a sense?

At 5:42 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Yes, I think that's a good description. Sometimes also kinda conservative and hard nosed.


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