Jonathan: Blackbird singing in the dead of night … That’s from The Beatles ‘white album’. Have you ever heard a blackbird sing at night? It’s not the golden song of spring we all love so much, sung from rooftops or high boughs and heard on the wind and far afield. No, it’s more a quiet whistling, heard from amongt the wood-pile – I’ve had to stand perfectly still just to hear it. It’s as if the bird were practicing in private, or comforting itself in the dark and dreich of a storm, as we might ourselves whistle in the dark to keep our own fears at bay (as I did myself as a child!). It’s not just at night either, but at any time outside the nesting season. And today, as I paused in my digging to catch my breath, that is what I heard – barely discernible from the noisy jostling by the wind of the little thicket in the corner of the garden, close by my work. I held my breath, told my heart I would be obliged if also it would cease its noisy thumpings for a few moments at least, and looked out for that little bird. The sound ceased, and then a slight shifting in the arrangement of browns and greys, and behold, there she was – a beautiful female blackbird on the handle of my spade. She looked about at my excavations, dropped silently down and picked over a few grains of soil and sand, and then – away she flitted with a morsel of worm or some other delicacy. Her companion – for to my knowledge it is only the male that sings, whether the song of spring of summer or the winter whistling – remained unseen, but as I resumed my work, I felt sure he would also make a close inspection of my work as soon as I gave it up. And at that point it occurred to me that I really was getting more wet and muddy than even the urgency of this job justified.
Jonathan: It’s familiar as a Christmas Carol, but the season it describes – with ‘earth as hard iron, water like a stone’ – is more typical of mid to late January, and this year I’d even say it describes life in Uist. Not that I’ve seen Cherubims and Seraphims appearing in the sky – just snow clouds! The weather continues cold but calm, and that means no seaweed cast up on the shore; or rather no fresh seaweed, just an accumulation of rotting old stuff, which is little use for feeding the soil, much of the goodness having already leached out of it. Nonetheless, for a second time I’ve been to Smercleit Taobh a Deas to load up a trailer of the stuff: this morning I’ll be taking that load to the croft to put around the fruit bushes. There are bright spells during the days, and I’ve put these to use working on Tilly’s Fence – the new fence separating off our back garden here at An Gàrradh Mòr; collecting seaweed of course. At other times there’s been sawing firewood – every two or three days. But the main occupation for me right now is catching up on maintenance and decoration of our holiday let at Askernish – plenty to do there!
Jonathan: Early this morning Denise and enjoyed a romantic dawn on the beach at Smercleit Toabh a Deas (South Smerclete) – about a mile to the west, the very SW point of South Uist. The sun came up over Beinn Sciathan on Eriskay the countless islets and skerries of the Sound of Barra were thrown sharply into sillouhette. We left Tilly to tire herself out, rushing hither and thither in search of something smelly or to chase. We enjoyed the soft sea air, the call of the many sea birds, the tumble of the waves on the Atlantic shore …
… and pressed on regardless with gathering seaweed for our compost heap and mulching the soft fruit. Denise selected the seaweed and loaded the wheelbarrows, I took them up to the trailer and loaded that up. After half an hour the trailer was as full as it could take without risk of bursting a tyre, Tilly was called back (she came with a great lump of fresh fat, recently cut from a home-butchered beef or mutton carcase I suspect) and then back to the walled garden.
After a cup of fresh coffee and toast, we reversed the operation, with me emptying the trailer into barrows, Denise taking them to the compost heap.
This was the second trailer load – we did the same thing yesterday. That’s well over a tonne of weed taken together. We’ll make a similar trip each week – weather permitting and if enough weed has accumulated – right through to Easter. A fantastic way to enjoy the beauty of a Hebridean winter: Keep warm, keep fit, grow food!