Monday, July 28, 2008

Tom Turkey and the Crabs in the Sink

Tonight we have one of those rare and so all the more precious clear blue evenings. The sky is translucent tints of blue with a fringe of pink on the horizon; the sea is unabashed marine blue. The air is soft--just a hint of breeze to keep the midges away. On these evenings everyone gets outside. If they have to work in kitchens or hotel rooms, they linger over their breaks by the back door and smile back into the sky for as long as they can.

If they are lucky enough to work or play outside, they savour the sweet air, the long light, the gentle seas. And so rather than go in to town to see the opening of the Caithness art show, we are in the car heading west. The sun, in no hurry to set, is low in the sky, still fiercely bright as we roll over the hills and past the split stane--the traditional divider between Caithness and Sutherland. From open spaces of rolling green fields punctuated with rocks we pass into a rocky terrain punctuated with fields of sheep.

I have suggested we go to Portskerra and sit on the bench on the brae and watch the sea and the birds and the rocks below. I drive easily now over the familiar road. We pass our local, Halladale Inn, travel into the middle of a tiny village and without fretting, I turn off at the sign that says simply, Portskerra Harbour. It is another one of many candidates for understatement in signage here, but I have described the wonders of Portskerra in other posts, so I will say here that as we headed for the sea we saw many people out walking their dogs, talking with neighbours, or just lingering in their gardens.

As we neared the parking spot by the bench, instead of the quiet, we found several people enjoying the spot--two fishermen, three men and the young daughter of one of the men. I found a spot and nosed the Volvo out of the way of the boat slip and the other cars. In an instant we were in conversation with the fishermen and they had offered us their fresh-caught crabs. The best I could think to offer in return was a story. I told them the story of the man who boiled crabs for 24 hours and lamented that he still could not cut them with a knife. They listened intently--my accent is as hard for them to suss as theirs is for me--and laughed at the punch line, so I hope it was a fair trade.

The men with the young girl were playing the radio--Scottish dance music. Morris and I did a little dance step and they all looked and laughed. Morris swapped stories with one of the men; the little girl looked on, curious, smiling tentatively; and I watched the oyster catchers dancing on the waves breaking over the caramel coloured rocks below.

The people drifted off for dinner or other little knots of conversation and I settled into the bench to watch and listen. From the rocks below I heard the occasional bellow of a seal. The sea birds flew by, busy but with no urgency. Even the waves, which can be deadly in their fits of temper, were languid.

I wanted to linger for its own sake as well as the fact that I did not want to think about the next steps for the crabs in the bag in the boot of the car. It was a gift, so I felt obliged to honour it. Morris was eager to have them, so I wanted to be enthusiastic for his sake. Despite these best intentions, I remain the girl who cried when we coloured the tail feathers of the caricature Tom Turkey given to us schoolchildren before Thanksgiving. I lived for many years on dumplings and all the other trimmings of the turkey at the celebratory feast. I could not save Tom Turkey, but I could at least refrain from eating him.

Years and miles can change many things, but those crabs in the sink might as well have been Tom Turkey. My husband wisely did his best to keep me out of the kitchen and in the dark about the fate of those crabs. He has made me promise even now not to go into the kitchen.

As the sun slowly sets, the clear blue sky has been overtaken with a haar--the sea diffusing onto the land. It is akin to a fog but softer, more animate. Even the air through the bedroom window will have a sea-salty dampness until the early rising sun dispels it.


At 9:14 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...


At 9:37 PM, Blogger Gabriel Harley said...

I'll see the "evocative" and raise you an "enchanting."

Azure seas, pink-fringed skies, seals, and dances on the beach... such a long way from Indy's hammerlike July sun, where the shade of a monolithic concrete office tower brings only seconds of respite to we pilgrims of the asphalt desert.

Thanks for the escape.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Thank you both for kind comments. Thanks, Gabe, also for reminding me of sumnmer heat. It may not seem glamorous but I do miss it.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

ahhh, almost as lovely as a voyage there.... thank you for wafting me away for a time.

yes, the summer heat. I, too, have come to miss it.


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