Packing up the car with our Hebridean Woolshed goodies, ready to stock up our shelves at the craftshop at Kildonan – where we have a small display. The craftshop is open from Easter until late Autumn. Meeting up with other craft-producers we may not have seen since last year ; the deluge of creativity and colour, plenty and promise : all these together make it a season of gladness!
Easter in Uist is a time for comings and goings.
Families coming together, with the younger generations coming ‘home’ from across the UK and abroad to visit the old folks back in Uist. Going to church : there’s plenty of that, regardless of denomination – and the Outer Hebrides certainly has plenty of denominations to choose from! There’s the coming of Spring of course, and with it the coming of green grass, lambs-a-plenty, goslings, calves, and that’s just some of the croft animals – before we get on to the innumerable wild species! There’s goings too: as we’ve recently seen with Windy’s twin brother, the path between birth and death may for some be short and pitiful.
Of the ten eggs in Mrs Jackson’s nest, only three hatched, and so she and Mr Jackson set off with them, keen to show them off like any proud parents. And twice as protective! “You can look if you wish to ; but if you so much as even think of touching” But by Good Friday they were down to just two goslings. Gulls cruise effortlessly, watching for their chance – a moment’s forgetfulness, the briefest looking away – and down they swoop. Mr & Mrs J may not even have seen or heard it happen.
These days, neither Denise or I would count ourselves as religious. Not now. Even before we came to the Outer Hebrides, we already had, between us, almost a hundred years of experience across three Christian denominations. If asked now, Denise would probably say she’s agnostic. For me, that would be too certain a word! For both of us, church services, rituals of any kind, hymn-singing, formal prayer – have become as dry and empty of meaning as the pages of a book left to smoulder away overnight on a bed of embers (though we appreciate the power those same things work in others). Yet, the fundamental values of Christian life are still key to how we live our lives – in fact their meaning and value are probably more keenly felt now than back in the days when they were part of the creed we recited with others. For myself, well, I’m often surprised to find how bible verses still spring to mind, according to the circumstances.
He told them this parable. “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carries it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends, his family and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ …
Luke 15:3-7, World English Bible
Denise and I spent almost all of Easter Sunday searching for just one missing lamb. On my way to the croft, I stopped at Haun to check for any of our sheep that might be there: I was alarmed at finding ewes without their lambs, and other lambs without their mums, all bleating and baa-ing and running frantically hither and thither in search of their loved ones. More of the same on the other side of the old harbour … and again at the croft steading. Spooked and scattered – but by what?
Back to Haun to call the sheep “Trobhaibh! Trobhaibh!” – to follow me the half mile or so back to the croft, gathering up as many others that could be persuaded along the way. That would be no small task even with dogs, and it would have been a minor miracle had I succeed with nothing more than a strong melodious voice and a bucket of sheep nuts. But whilst the sheep can be relied on (well, reasonably expected might be more accurate) to co-operate, their lambs have no idea of what that’s all about, and have failed to notice (sleeping, or busy playing with other lambs) their mums disappearing into the distance. Result? Chaos!
It took most of the morning to get everyone in the right place – or almost everyone. As the bleating and baa-ing subsided, I was left with one ewe-with-lamb who’d not gone off with the others, but baa-ing for all she was worth, and another lamb unaccounted for : and as the ewe in question was Queenie, and I knew for certain she’d had twins, her other lamb was, provisionally, missing.
Queenie had not been in Haun – she’d been one of the last to join the trail heading back to the croft, so if she’d inadvertently left the lamb snoozing somewhere, it must be somewhere close by. But it wasn’t.
After another hour repeatedly walking to and fro, counting ewes and lambs, and re-counting, then counting yet again, I still could not account for Queenie’s lost lamb. I searched high, I searched low, I searched ditches a lamb could drown in, cliffs a lamb could fall down, fences a lamb could get caught in. I searched expecting to hear the bleat of a lamb, to find a live lamb. I searched for a dead lamb, or even just the hint of where a lamb might have been attacked and killed. All I found was a remarkable number of piles of Eriskay Pony-poo that looked just like a wee black lamb in various poses of life or death.
I was back at Haun, standing forlorn, tired and numb, fighting with myself over whether to simply accept that the lamb had been snatched entire by an eagle or other large raptor – quite possibly the huge sea-eagles (white-tailed eagles) that nest in the south of Eriskay. It certainly happened last year at least once – and the year before, too. (Just a week or so ago, further up the Bun a Mhullin road, our friend Belle had actually seen with her own eyes an eagle lift a lamb off the ground : though thankfully that eagle dropped its prey). So, at what point does hope give way to despair? At what point should we give up hope?
As I stood, tears flowing for the lost lamb, a car came suddenly into view, lurching around a large rock outcrop and then gathering speed, the driver insistently tooting the horn and sending our sheep – many standing on the road with their lambs – scattering left and right. Sheep being what they are, some ran ahead of the car, and in fear and panic didn’t think to break off to one side or the other. But the driver took no heed, driving the sheep on, the front of the vehicle just a few feet from the terrified ewes, their lambs scattering, and bleating in blind panic. On pressed the driver, regardless – accelarating up the hill towards Rudha Ban … bagging pole-position in the church car park, for Easter Sunday communion – and with that, for all I know, a priority boarding pass to be handed in at the pearly gates!
Which just goes to show why it was probably for the best that I gave up on church-going: I’d always thought that what mattered most was to love God with all your heart and all your soul ; and, ‘like unto the first’, to love your neighbour as yourself. Which I would have thought includes acting considerately towards your neighbour’s sheep. (To my mind sheep and all living things are neighbours in their own right.) It’s sad, isn’t it, to discover how wrong one can be about things! How did that parable finish?
“I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”
Now, where was I? Oh yes …
Denise was expecting me home for lunch ; but, as soon as we’d eaten and I’d fed Windy, Denise and I headed back to Eriskay together, where we spent an hour and more searching and counting, and then counting and searching. Result? One of Queenie’s twin ram lambs was indeed missing without trace, presumed killed and taken by a large raptor. Other explanations are of course possible – but they are even sadder. At least we have the satisfaction of knowing we’re doing our bit towards the preserving of increasingly rare wildlife – though I would’t say that’s something that makes us sing with gladness this Easter!
Still, between us, we attended to one of the last ewes to lamb, Denise taking photos whilst I castrated the wee boy and tagged both of the twins. Their mother didn’t seem to concerned at these procedures, suspecting that their might be something more interesting in that bag I carried around with me.
Today – Easter Monday – has been sunny, still and … well, as the wind has dropped it’s not felt quite as cold as it has done over the past week or more. Despite the odds being greatly in their favour, the sheep had failed to come up with any new and onerous demands on my time (though it did take three careful counts to arrive – with a resonable degree of confidence – that no more lambs had gone missing overnight), and keen to get a break from sheepy business, I set off up the croft to Field 4 / High Field to resume work on the new fencing.
What with bad weather and then other demands on my time, I’ve spent no more than a couple of mornings on fencing work since late last Autumn, so I was certainly glad to get the familar tools back in my hands, and will be even gladder to make fresh progress.
For today, though, I limited my ambitions to getting materials and tools to where they would be needed, and completing the wiring and tensioning of a length of 50m between a steel straining post and the new steel pedestrian gate.
Ah yes, that was what I’d managed to get done during the winter – that gate. I’m glad to find what a good job I’d made of it! How did that happen?