Algy found the rock too hard and cold to sit on for very long, so he moved over to a soft mound of seaweed and made himself more comfortable. The sun was sinking lower in the sky, and the tide was coming in, but Algy paid little attention. He was so engrossed in his reading that a passing heron who had stopped to converse with him took off again in a huff …


Algy found himself a rock that was not too prickly with barnacles, and buried his beak in his wee volume of “Poems of the Sea”. He was thinking of his special friend Stephanie, who was about to end her visit to Skye and the West Highlands and return to her home in Canada. For her sake he read out one of his favourite sea poems to an audience of shellfish and anemones in the rock pool in front of him. He hoped that Stephanie would hear his voice as she flew overhead, way back across the mighty ocean behind him. “Bon voyage et à bientôt!” he cried.

         The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep, 
            And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
            I heard the first wave of the rising tide
            Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
         A voice out of the silence of the deep,
            A sound mysteriously multiplied
            As of a cataract from the mountain’s side,
            Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
         So comes to us at times, from the unknown
            And inaccessible solitudes of being,
            The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
         And inspirations, that we deem our own,
            Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
            Of things beyond our reason or control.

Algy is reading The Sound of the Sea by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Algy knew that the equinoctial gales would reach the West Highlands very soon now, but for the moment it was relatively calm. So he decided to seize the day and spend some time on the beach while the weather was still fair. The chilly wind slicked back his hair and whistled through his feathers, but it was good to sit and watch the tide going out. Algy was fascinated by the way in which the clouds were reflected on the wet sand as the sea water washed away; he didn’t have to look upwards to see the sky!

The days were growing shorter and colder, and Algy knew that the long Highland autumn had begun. Soon the leaves would turn and fall, but for the moment they were still green. So Algy made himself comfortable on the tangled mass of clematis under his favourite tree, and remembered a poem by Robert Bridges, as he watched the sky darkening over:

          The evening darkens over
          After a day so bright
          The windcapt waves discover
          That wild will be the night.
          There’s sound of distant thunder.

          The latest sea-birds hover
          Along the cliff’s sheer height;
          As in the memory wander
          Last flutterings of delight,
          White wings lost on the white.

          There’s not a ship in sight;
          And as the sun goes under
          Thick clouds conspire to cover
          The moon that should rise yonder.
          Thou art alone, fond lover.

[Algy is quoting The Evening Darkens Over by the British Victorian poet Robert Bridges.]

The season was changing, and so was the weather. Suddenly it was very much colder, with a biting wind straight from the arctic north. But that wind brought back the sunsets which had been absent throughout the dull, wet, misty summer. So Algy fluffed up his feathers and perched in a young Scots Pine tree, to watch the fleeting phenomenon of the sunset lighting up the ridge, and revel in the return of colour to the sky.

It was hard to tell whether night was falling, or whether the dark clouds had simply become much more dense overhead. But the light was low enough for the deer to emerge stealthily from the woods and venture across the great mass of seaweed which was exposed on the shores of the loch at low tide.

Algy turned his back on the loch and looked discreetly in the opposite direction, as he knew that the deer hated to be watched. The scene reminded him very much of a poem; he could hear the deer “light-footed on the still open book of earth” behind him, and they did indeed seem to disappear as they blended in with the orange-coloured seaweed in the strange, dim, silvery light:

          By the stream, where the ground is soft
          and gives, under the slightest pressure—even  
          the fly would leave its footprint here  
          and the paw of the shrew the crescent  
          of its claws like the strokes of a chisel  
          in clay; where the lightest chill, lighter  
          than the least rumor of winter, sets the reeds  
          to a kind of speaking, and a single drop of rain  
          leaves a crater to catch the first silver  
          glint of sun when the clouds slide away  
          from each other like two tired lovers,  
          and the light returns, pale, though brightened  
          by the last chapter of late autumn:  
          copper, rusted oak, gold aspen, and the red
          pages of maple, the wind leafing through to the end  
          the annals of beech, the slim volumes  
          of birch, the elegant script of the ferns …

          for the birds, it is all
          notations for a coda, for the otter  
          an invitation to the river,
          and for the deer—a dream
          in which to disappear, light-footed  
          on the still open book of earth,  
          adding the marks of their passage,  
          adding it all in, waiting only
          for the first thick flurry of snowflakes  
          for cover, soft cover that carries  
          no title, no name.

[Algy is quoting the poem Ex Libris by the contemporary American poet Eleanor Wilner.]