Siskins in Salen

What looked from the other side of the room like mist is a fine rain that needs another name than drizzle. This is something else. Call it smether. The lodge is still warm from storage heater excess. Out there is not weather for tripods and filming. It’s a subtle soaker. There’s little wind and it feels set. Now I understand the drips falling from the edges of the building. This was not historical water from the earlier rain, but of the now smether. The dark stained wood of these internal pine walls does not brighten the day. Even with the meagre lights switched on it’s twilight in here. I try not to wake Kino with my early morning sneezing. Looking out to the patch of path in front of the van I can see that it’s now a shimmering surface that reveals heavier rainfall I think. Yes, the rain is now heavy. The binoculars almost confirmed it, although the distant shimmer was a more accurate reflection of the reality.

I have not missed the early morning dry walk. There never was one. This is the forecast rain, likely simmering and seething all night long, water release from a weather system that was pointed out on the lodge’s ancient TV last night, all across Scotland, just after the Two Ronnies in their dismal outdated repeat highlights, dying or dead, saucy and dull, clever and clodding, painfully middle aged and Anglo Saxon male. I remember this being dad’s must-watch programme with no nostalgia. I could no more believe I was watching this on BBC One in September 2020 than that journey up and over to Glencoe yesterday.

The patio door just blew open creating a sticking sound that was shocking and startling. Out there the smether is now streaming with weight and deserves another name, it’s leaning, burn-filling, it’s a filler and a belter, a streamer, powerful and majestic, taking control of the early morning. You’ll need your waterproofs, your wetsuit, to let your eyes close as the drops hit them. The gentle cove of Loch Sunart is a little churned up with whiter wave crests out in the bay, not enough to turn the wee boat over but a challenge. 

Closing the patio door creates an uncomfortable separation from the weather. The breeze from outside is gone and there’s a double layer of glass from here to there. I’ll put something in the way of the door to stop the shocking sound that happened just now, the oven glove from the kitchen area. This is not really a patio, it’s an exterior viewing platform, glassed in and water-facing, the most interesting feature of what we now think was built from a kit, the Stanway Lodge Kit of 1985. The assembler chose traditional door handles in brass and they were always stiff to the touch. The kitchen window looks out onto the neighbour’s two-tone corrugated shed roof with a faulty leaking gutter that also shimmers with a subtle movement. I feel an urge to fix their gutter and then it goes, in favour of enjoying the trickles of water that are released inappropriately, with embarrassment and the surety of gravity. The rain may fall at an angle from the wind but the stream from their failing gutter is always straight down. The other two large windows look out onto the viewing platform and its three windows, a double layer of double-glazing, no hope for poor light on a Sunday morning at 08.30. It’s dark in here. This is how it is.

The hills on the other side of the loch almost merge into the water, only a slight tonal shift is made more obvious by the line of the far bank. This is not Greece but it could be Skyros or Aegina on a later autumn day. It does rain in Greece. We’d be there by now if that had been our decision, battling through the invisible enemy in France and Italy to take the long ferry and begin the drive across the mainland to Kymi and warm familiar beach days on Magazia and Molos. This is the unfamiliar. This was our decision, even to cancel Orkney when they had a spike a few weeks ago. This will be Skye and the Outer Hebrides. And then we’ll see. This is Salen, depleted, forgotten and exquisite, the unwelcoming jetty shop and the welcoming bar/hotel, the freshly strimmed paths down to the beach opposite, the German bread and apple cake on sale at the bed and breakfast up the road, the yarn and craft store closed, the towering white house built into the far cliff and authentically local, still in the family, keep your hands off you incomers with your fancy ways and deep pockets. This is Salen, Acharachle. Already the land on the far side of the loch has disappeared, no demarcation, one surface now from water to sky, swimming in wet mist, you would be.

The burn that runs down beside the fence is now flooding onto the recently cut grass, keep it tidy for the next bunch of airbnb guests, three day minimum booking. Is that the assembler’s fence or the neignbour’s? Either way it’s getting a soaking that would challenge any thin timber layer. Is this how floods begin with a sudden onrush of water from the hills, volumes incrementally increasing? The birds are still at the feeders undeterred. They are in the wet and of the wet, the air and the sun. Food is food. Peanuts from distant lands are easier pickings than scattered hedgerow berries, it’s obvious. And it’s the siskins again. How can I be speaking of siskins when it was a word I didn’t know I knew until yesterday afternoon, and it’s a bird I’ve not seen for decades, when identification is never enough? A sudden gust shakes their tree and does not hint at a change in the weather. The rain intensifies. It’s now a sheeter. Our white van stands impervious, hopefully sealed tight from this deluge. If not for the lodge we’d be inside there dealing with wet floors, muesli and tea, making a fist of it since there is only fist. It looks strangely beautiful in its now rain-cleaned white surface coating, with subtle blue and grey striped livery. This is not a camper van called Navigator or Avantgarde, it’s a delivery van that cleverly conceals its dual function. 

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