2 September 2014
The sea sussurated with colour as the whitebait came ashore in their hundreds and thousands. Apparently this is an unusual phenomenon, yet another twist of nature in response to the extremely violent storms of last winter. Changes to currents have carried these fry into shore and around the shoreline there have been reported strandings. Just two days ago I watched while the Bay erupted in front of me. Just a few metres offshore a massive school of mackerel made the water boil just below the surface as they came in to feed on am essentially helpless prey caught between hungry mouths and certain death at the shoreline. Then, as if it never were, the sea became calm again, the mackerel dispersed or gone deeper below the surface. This time, the gulls barely had time to register the event, but at the moment it’s not unusual to see a successful catch marred by fighting and crying as offspring seeming larger than the parents attempt to grab food straight from the mouth of the provider. This part of the Bay, too, is a favourite for cormorants and gannets, so the fishing must be rich (and yet how often we watch the mackerel fishermen cast endlessly without result).
It’s been an odd year in which nature has failed to grasp the proper meaning of the calendar triggered instead by some unseen force which has moved the seasons into the wrong place. This is not a casual displacement of a few days, but a year which has been consistently off by a month. Summer arrived in May. A few summer days in May are not so unusual, but this year the sun blazed warm and merry as temperatures climbed and late spring winds became zephyrs. There was sufficient rain to germinate crops, but only just. June and early July continued with a sybaritic indulgence hard to resist. Here, westerly and southerly, we had the best of it with comfortable, comforting temperatures for basking rather than the less temperate east. This, of course, is a working time, difficult to escape the indoors, so that the ability to revel in this summer of warmth was all too limited.
By the beginning of July the fields already looked dry, brown, burned out. Harvesting began early: some of the first cuttings were happening as early as late May, and by early July the combines were out in force relieving the fields of their burden and turning the landscape into a sharp light brown stubble. And by mid-July we were waking up to bright dewy mornings that felt like autumn incipient: a taste, a hint, that arrives usually in the middle of August. These tastings were brief, as the sun rises more quickly in July than in August, obliterating that unexpected chill in the air. Even at mid-morning however, when the wind stirred there was a gentle but persistent threat within it. The ennui of late August was already by early July bruising plants and flowers and turning them brown and dried-out, crinkly, Oak leaves began to hint at their ultimate demise with the slightest, faintest edges of brown in the summer green.
In late July schools broke up and here weather patterns seemed more normal. Rain and cloud arrived almost as if in conspiratorial synchronicity with the closing of the school gates, and the last six weeks has been dominated by cloud and rain with the sun deigning occasional appearance, as if worn out from earlier exertions.