July 1

Coast

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Arriving late on the clifftop I was guided along by a ghostly apparition. An uncommonly pale Barn Owl quartered the campions that blessed the dry, sun bleached headland. Umbellifer blooms buzzed with lazy bees and skylarks thronged overhead, their mellifluous songs massaged by the sea breeze.

I followed the heady scent of seabird to the edgelands, already feeling the pangs of grief knowing that my time here had begun and so must soon end. Exactly why it gripped me like a long awaited homecoming I do not know, but some part of me welcomed another part of me back into this embrace of sea pink, puffin and porpoise.

I sat long into the night, midge bitten, prickle jabbed and consumed by the power of what lay before me. Life on the edge. I stayed long enough for the otherworldly chatter of the seabird colony to claim me, to become the songline of my being and promise never to let me go. Not fully. I spoke words of libation, gifted the place the sweetest words I could find and made my way back to Big Black Van to rest until the sun whispered of his plans to rise again.

Dreaming deep seas throughout the dark hours I woke to a rosy dawn and tracked my way back to the tops. The sky seethed. Kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, fulmar, little gulls, herring gulls and gannets followed ancient unseen trails between cliff edge and the North Sea, foraging and welcoming the new day with a symphony written in a tongue that surely must grip all who hear it. The call of the Piper, drawing an audience to the edges of life.

Slowly, I made my way across the tops, careful to keep an eye on the headland which seemed to shapeshift in the changing light.

I sorely wanted to be greeted by puffin, the clownish character who evokes such a sense of melancholy, sadness even, and usually evades my searches. Again, as the sun broke free of the horizon and wandered skywards I was given only the briefest of glimpses. I let go of my hunt and decided to focus on the life that was willing to share this space with me. Primarily gannets.

There was a place on the clifftop that dipped into a fold of green sward well away from the path and I rested there a while, so close to three pairs of gannets that I could hear the swish of their wings as they got on with their day. Over a few hours, as the sun rose to an arms length above the ocean, I too became a cliff dweller and sank into a world of spume, salt, spray and sea breezes. I began to think gannet thought-lines and see through the eyes of the bumble bee that busied itself on the clifftop blossoms.

As I stood to leave I espied two black bundles hurtling at top speed towards me and was amazed as they materialised into puffins that alighted not two strides from me. There was just time for a felt conversation between us before they tucked their crazy beaks under their wings and had a snooze. I decided to join them.

For parts of three long days I remained an edge dweller, wandering the craggy tops, peering down into the turbulent waters and falling that bit more in love with the being that is Coast. We got to know each others ways and shared secrets, some of which I brought back as words and images, and others dug deeper into my being than I have language for.

As the sun began his journey down on my final few hours I returned to the grassy cleft and sat by a lone gannet. We gazed out together, watching the play of golden shimmers on the back of a dolphin, awed by the hues that fired the sky and pondering on the heart-aching beauty of the place. Here, these beings, insect, bird, plant and mammal showed the way to live on the edge. To grow, to play, to be curious and to create moments of magic with our lives.

As the kindly arms of darkness enveloped us, gannet and I, I made my way back to my other life. Or I thought I did. But now, as I watch my filmic memoir I realise a part of me is still there, on the cliff edge, seeing through the blue sky sea eyes of that beautiful, loving bird.


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