|05/01/2012||Filled under Carradale, Scotland|
A sparrowhawk appears suddenly in our back garden, a sneak attack around our bird feeders which are coveted by its prey, plump chaffinches, blue/great/coal tits and tasty looking blackbirds. The hawk’s strategy is to fly low and fast over the rooftop or around the side of the house so that its approach is hidden… until the very last moment. Perhaps the washing lines strung across the garden from three poles are hunting obstacles, but given this bird’s manoeuvrability in flight they are clearly not a deterrent. Seeing such an animal in our tiny garden and so close to the house, seems amazing and we can hardly contain our excitement. I am standing by the rear window talking on the phone, puzzling the caller with my yelp of delight then my silence as I battle with competing demands – should I try to get a photo or summon Kate so she too can see – then the hawk is gone, away to try his luck elsewhere. Several days later I am again on the phone when I witness a successful attack and the hawk flies off with a dunnock taken from the ground beneath our kitchen window.
Just before Christmas we took a wild walk through forest tracks to the north of Carradale, past Christmas trees decorated with long streamers of dead grass blown there by the wind, when a golden eagle swooped low over our heads, its white markings above and below the broad wings identifying it as a juvenile, something we would never have guessed from its size alone. We both stood awestruck as it disappeared behind some trees, our heads rotating wildly in case it should reappear, but our presence no doubt alerted any nearby prey and the first glimpse was all we got.
The new year has arrived and another visitor, less welcome than the flying raptors, has come to our notice. Late in the evening we hear scuffling noises in the ‘coombe’, a word used here to describe the space inside the house but outside our bedroom walls where the roof slope overhangs the ground floor. This requires investigation so in the morning I don protective boiler suit and dust mask then crawl along the rafters to the spot where we think the noise emanates. There is nothing to see, of course, other than some shredded carpet underlay (our mistake in storing it there) and a few small parcels that DNA analysis might identify as animal droppings. Even without this slim evidence it seems very likely that a wee beastie would want to seek the warmth of our home for shelter and since it would be impossible to make the house completely secure from all species of small mammal, we cease to worry and get on with our lives.
We soon learn that the first days of a new year are an important time here in Scotland. This is a time for visiting friends and neighbours and not a time when we can expect to be alone for long. Suddenly our lives have evolved into a social whirl as invitations pour in and our house in turn fills with visitors. We first met David, Liz and their charming daughter, Sophia, when Cirrus Cat was berthed in Cornwall in 2010 so we were delighted to have them arrive unexpectedly for a visit. Sophia has now grown from a delightful baby into an energetic and indefatigable three-year old to whom every experience is new and exciting. Bedtime stories read by friendly older people, sleeping in a strange bed for one night then waking up in morning semi-darkness in a house where the lights won’t turn on and a kettle of water is being heated on the coal stove because the storm outside has brought another power cut, all this may be a far cry from her normal everyday existence but she is endlessly adaptable and seems to take it in her stride.
The early morning is particularly wild, wind gusts shrieking around the house, rain blasting against the windows and the electricity failed just as I had finished in the (electric) shower, rather conveniently so I thought. We apologise to our guests for the absence of promised hot showers as our stove is now the only source of heat, its flat top only enabling Kate to cook porridge for breakfast and to boil water for hot drinks. By the time our guests leave us there is still no power and unlike the brief 4-hour power failure in last week’s storm, this one lasts all day and through the following night. In the morning we still have no electricity but we know that many of our neighbours in the village will be worse off than us as they rely totally on it for heating and cooking. Reduced to a more primitive lifestyle than we usually enjoy we begin to consider what lies before us. The telephone is silent, mobile phone signals are absent and we find ourselves more out of touch with the world than if we were sailing offshore on Cirrus. There is no television nor radio, no hot water other than what we can heat by the kettleful and as darkness descends on Carradale for a second night, no streetlights illuminate the world outside. Although the storm has abated, every so often there is a squall which brings wind and a shower of rain or hail but in between these the sky is clear and there are stars and a sliver of moon in the sky, our only source of light. It is the inability to communicate that means most to us and our thoughts become ever more fanciful. What if civilisation has collapsed and world order broken down? How would we know? Here we are isolated from the world without any way of finding out what is happening ‘out there’. Whilst we may be able to keep ourselves warm, for the moment, our food supply is limited, more limited still once the freezer thaws out and food stored in it goes bad. Our survival might soon depend upon our ability to hunt and kill animals or to gather shellfish from the shore. Although there is nothing remotely edible visible from our windows, we know there are deer in the forest. But how does one bring down a deer with only a hand axe and a screwdriver as weapons?
The next morning it is stormy and wet again so, still without electricity, we go foraging for food, in the car, to the shops in Campbeltown. The blackout in Carradale is localised, it seems. In Campbeltown there is electricity, lights, warmth in the shops and smiling faces. Civilisation as we know it still exists; world order is intact.