Winter in the Outer Hebrides. When it’s rough, it’s very, very rough. Violent. Fearsome! But when it’s not, it’s soft. Surprisingly soft.
It’s about the air – moisture-laden air. (We are, after all, talking small islands girt about by the Atlantic.) If the air is moving, then the moisture makes us feel it all the more. The humidity. From the north, the air is cold but dry, and it doesn’t even feel as cold as it truly is. But from almost any other direction – but especially from the south-west, the air is mild and very wet (and that’s even when it isn’t raining) – and that means sticky in summer and wearying in winter.
But when the air isn’t on the move, it’s the same moisture that makes the air soft. But don’t take my word for it : arrive here on the ferry, and take in deep-filled lungfuls of air, and you’ll know it for yourself. Sweet, and oh so soft.
Then there’s the sunshine. The further from the equator, the closer is the arc of the sun to the horizon. Latitude. The rays from a low-sailing sun pass through more of Earth’s atmosphere, where particles of moisture and dust scatter the photons and attenuate the power and alter the colour-balance of the light. Here in the Outer Hebrides, the light has a blue-ish cast, and is gentle on the skin. Soft!
We’re just back from Navarra, Spain. Our first night was spent snow-bound on a motorway slip-road! It snows, especially in mountainous northern Spain. But there the cold doesn’t feel so cold – because there’s little wind. Wind turbines are a-plenty, but unlike in Uist they’re less likely to be stationary because the wind is too strong, more likely because there’s no wind at all!) Lacking the force of the wind, rain – or even melting snow – doesn’t chill as it does in the Outer Hebrides, because the air is dry. Dry enough to make our head aches if we don’t drink water enough – a little, often. And when the sun comes out – as it did often during our January-long stay, it’s strong enough that, after our bodies are warmed through, we start to feel uncomfortable. A bit of shade would be good!
So today, in Uist, we’ve revelled in softness. Mild – perhaps about 6 or 7 degrees Celsius, and almost perfectly still. Soft.
So, today, Denise and I set about digging out the ‘mature’ compost heap (material collected in 2016). Growing plots in most need of nourishment were at the diagonally opposite corner of the garden – about eighty metres away by wheell-barrow-slalom course : that’s a lot of work for two folks about one sixtieth older than they were last year, so we only managed half the job today. That’s probably about four or five tonnes between us. The forecast for tomorrow looks to be even softer than today, so I’m sure we’ll manage the rest then : so we’ve left all the barrows and tools ready to continue. And the barrow-run will be shorter, too.
It’s a lot of physical work, and to be honest we do tend to find excuses to put it off, but truth is that it’s a job that we find extremely satisfying. The cats love it too: we only do this work on delightful soft winter days – like today, and after weeks of wind and rain, they like nothing more than to be out in the garden with us for company. The garden birds keep us company too, darting in and out of the compost bins, snatching some of the thousands of worms that thrive in the warmth and plenty of the undisturbed compost. Tomorrow we must try to capture a photo of a Robin!
Returning from the checking and feeding the sheep up on the common grazings, I was about to climb over the hill fence when I noticed this spider repairing its web, and returning to its central point. Spun between the wires of the fence – and across a gap where one wire was broken, the web was unusually large. And very effective – constantly catching small creatures caught on the wind blowing through the fence. The spider was feasting on midges, flies, small beetles. But the extra-large web, constantly buffeted by the wind and damaged by the insects it trapped, needed constant repair. No wonder that spiders provide the metaphors for persistence, as in the story of Robert the Bruce.