Thursday, December 18, 2008

Shipping Forecast

At first the shipping forecast put me to sleep because I heard it at 5am and because it mystified me. I thought about the character who comes back to his childhood home on the coast in Nova Scotia and becomes a reporter for the local paper. I need to figure out what the words mean. The literal and the metaphoric.

Gradually the mystery began to take shape. First, comes the wind--never far from our minds up here. The direction and the speed. Then visibility, including any obvious precipitation, and a barometric reading. An icon for those who go down to the sea in ships.

And the list goes right around the coast--it starts with names that I have not yet been able to register, but I join in on the chorus of "and Outer Hebrides". Every time I hear it I wonder why it is you never hear about the Inner Hebrides. Another mystery to explore.

Now that I know they are names, I have started trying to follow them around the coast. Some day--it may take several days, which will be fine, I want to go around the coast and see and tip my hat to all those names that have graced my dream time. Some I know are just lighthouses now run remotely by computer, but I can tip my hat to German Bight and maybe just maybe there is a plaque that says how it got its name or a wee museum cobbled together by the kind of person who wants us to remember some part of history--theirs and ours.

When I first came to Scotland as a tourist I was on a ferry between islands in the Orkneys. I met a young man going from Westray (I think) to Roussay to do some work on heavy equipment. I asked him if things were very different from island to island. It was my curiosity overflowing and meant as a conversational opener. He was silent for so long that I thought perhaps I had broken a conversational rule or he had not heard me. In time he replied, "Oh, island life is island life, isn't it?" It was one of those exchanges where I was meant to nod and shrug and thus bring the conversation to an amicable end, and so I did but at the same time I was left baffled. I had no idea what island life was like. I am sure he would have been as baffled as I was if I had said as casually, "Oh, life on the prairie is life on the prairie."

And if this young man and I had had more conversational time we could have built together an understanding of a metaphoric island in which we all live. Like the shipping forecast, the ferry ride went by too quickly for that.

The revelation from today's early morning listen of the shipping forecast was the sudden but gentle and thorough awareness that I live on an island. Now those of you more tuned in to geography or the practical things of this world than I am--which would include almost everyone--would think that four years is a very long time to come to this conclusion. One look at a map would be enough for most people.

I have seen two episodes of the BBC coast program, which has taken me via television around the coast. I have sat on a committee to help create a coastal walk here in my own neighborhood. But until I have walked the coastal walk and tipped my hat to the lighthouses and read the plaques and seen the museums in all the abandoned lighthouse stations, my brain will still be shaped by the prairie oceans of my childhood. Sometimes as I fall back to sleep with the sound of the forecast in my head, I merge the images of Strathy Point lighthouse and the wind through the tall grass of the long flat lands of my childhood.

I am looking forward to a New Year with my book club. Of the dozens of books suggested for our selection, I opted to put my dibs in on only two--one about the shipping forecast--I don't know if it is fiction or non-fiction, I'll look forward to reading it and seeing what someone else makes of the forecast. And another one by a local author--set on and around Cromarty--one of the names I recognize from the shipping forecast.


At 2:31 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

One of the pleasures of reading the Orkneyinga Saga and Morris's [first] book is seeing and hearing in my mind (sort of) the names of the people and the places.

Speaking of places, I just visited the Maeshowe site and you can actually see images today--I'm happy about that. It's somewhat cloudy so I don't expect a dramatic square of sunlight, but I like seeing images instead of black. Lucky tourists are in the chamber now.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Today the weather is calm--after the storm--and we have had some sun, so I'm looking forward to checking out the web cam.

I could see a time when we went walking round the coast together checking out some of these places. Also I have a fisherman friend with a very practical bent (his wife is a poet) so maybe I can have him talk to me about the shipping forecast from a practical perspective.


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