Islands in the Mist

4:15 am

The islands are ghosts, shrouded in a cool, damp mist. The darkness is thick and muffles all sound, as if the world were wrapped in a wet woollen blanket.


We are awake early to check the cows. Five of them are heavily pregnant and two could calve any day now. As we reach their field, the layer of sea mist is so thick that even with our torch we struggle to spot them. Their sweet pungent smell is the first giveaway of their presence as we almost fall over one who lays on the damp ground, eyes blinking sleepily in the beam of light. They are great smoke-breathing beasts with spiderweb dew clinging to the rough coat on their backs.

No calves here yet so we return to the farmhouse for breakfast.


The mist makes me think of the Minnehaha that ran aground on Scilly Rock, just off Bryher, in 1910. It was April 18th so it would have been a simaler night to this.


I am writing a short story based on that night, here is a snippet.


I hear a whistle. Shrill and loud it calls. A desperate sound of warning and fear. It cuts through the voices of men and women enjoying a party, their glasses raised, their cheeks warm and flushed.

The realisation of impending tragedy cause my heart to race, blood to pulse and adrenaline fuels bodies into action.


"To the gigs" men shout.


The heavy wooden door of the cottage is flung back hard against the granite wall. The heat of bodies escapes in a suck of steam out into the damp, black air.

Men run to the gig shed at the beach, mother and I run back to our cottage to stoke the fire. Embers stirred back into rage and fresh columns of soot-grey smoke seep into the misty skies.

Water is put to boil, blankets are shaken from boxes and candles sparked back into light. The Island, that moments ago had been set alone and still within its ocean, now pulses to the beat of rescue and salvage. Nothing wakes the souls of islanders like a wreck.


The fire is burning well and I am desperate to watch the rescue. I leave mother and run down the sandy track to the shore.


The men are hauling the rowboat across the sand, their deep wooden bows slicing into the icy sea. Wearing thick leather boots they clamber aboard, oars are lifted high and set to pin.


"Row, row hard!"


Oar and pin grind, creak and clunk, slice water, make swell, cut air.


Hugging my shawl around my shoulders, I watch the boats fade, their flickering lanterns dim through the damp mist. The rhythmic sounds of wood and water gradually slide away into the darkness. I hold my breath and wait.


6:00am


The light has arrived in a wash of pale, chalky white, the mist still wrapping itself around us. In the horses field there are snowy white circles where they have rolled and rubbed their old winter coats on the ground. It reminds me of tiny frost pockets or snow angels. The birds will enjoy gathering it for lining their nests.


Through the mist I can hear the voices of 100 unseen birds, harmonious in a chaotic, orchestral way. To the west the sea sounds like the flow of a river, gushing over rapids, there must be a swell far out. It's nearly high tide but as yet invisable until you are a few feet from its edge.

9:00am




We've dug some new potatoes, like little pearls of treasure hidden in the sandy soil. We've picked veggies and checked and fed all the animals and finally it feels as if the day is awakening.

From the mystical morning of mist, the sun now glows a white-hot orb. Blurred like a Turner masterpiece, it's heat slowly burns the dampness away. The horizon of Tresco is still half hidden but the chalky white becomes blue and a soft summer haze begins to filter the sky.


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