I cannot resist a peedie letter at this time of year because, in the old days, “hairst” would have been in full swing across the island.
Last night, in the mirking, we three travellers on the road could see the moon rising in the southern sky. “The Harvest Moon”, someone said. Well, it is indeed, as it will be full in a few days’ time and the equinox is not far away.
Tonight, I have just come in from a wonderful scene. The sky is clear from east to west, with only a few dark purple clouds seen against the luminous rose-coloured afterglow of the sunset.
The heat of the day, combined with the stillness of a windless night and a heavy dew, has resulted in great sweeps of mildew (a low-lying, cold, misty vapour) that, even as I write, slowly creeps across parts of the land. It creates an illusion of lakes of water, out of which the tops of houses are all that can be seen.
And the moon tonight is absolutely beautiful. She is only a little more than half full and not far above the southern landscape. There she floats a bright, glowing orange, a sight that takes precedence over all else.
Two years ago, I see from my diary, the last crop of oats to be grown on the island was just about to be cut by binder.
September 10, 2004, was the day. One week later the stooked sheaves were built into three peedie stacks and a little “diss”.
Yes, as I said last year, the moon will be sad just as I am. Not a stook or stack to remind us of those lightsome days and nights of old. What fun was often had, despite the less enjoyable days of flattened crop, broken binder sheets, sticks and stops, stooks blown hither and thither and windy, rainy days.
But we always remember the good times. They remain like little jewels of the memory that come stealing upon one to enjoy and talk about from time to time, especially when the old harvest moon comes wandering round again.
Since my last letter, North Ronaldsay has seldom been out of the headlines of one paper or another, with TV coverage adding to the publicity.
I have been lying low – a bit like “Brer Fox” but not with quite the same intent – waiting to see what might be the outcome of such great happenings – great happenings indeed, for to have won the Scottish entry in the BBC Restoration Village is a noteworthy achievement.
As readers of my letters will have surmised I am a man of old ways, old things.
How many folk have heard of William Morris (1834 -1896) artist, designer, poet; a craftsman extraordinary and defender of ancient monuments? He advocated conservation as opposed to restoration, but that is another story which I hope will be open to debate. For the moment I’m remembering again the relevant words of the old 1950s song:
Whatever will be, will be.
The future’s not ours to see,
Que Sera Sera.
In my last letter I was telling you about Mungo Park, whose account of his two African expeditions I had read.
This book I followed by reading Maggie Fergusson’s biography of George Mackay Brown, published earlier in the year.
It is, I think, a wonderful piece of research and writing. Anyhow, in the narrative, it mentions Robert Rendall’s poem Renewal.
When George was recovering from illness in hospital on one of the many occasions he had to seek medical attention, Robert came to visit in great excitement one day and he recited his newly composed poem to George. George thought it one of the best sonnets he had ever read.
I’m going to finish this short letter with this poem, but first I will have a look at the night and see how things have changed . . .
As it is well past the “heuld” (midnight), only one or two house lights are left to wink in the night but the bright, sweeping beam of the New Lighthouse never stops. As it lights up the land, moving from left to right, the mildew still lies like a ghostly veil across its path, briefly glowing as the beam moves along.
A few stars break up a sky now somewhat hazy and the moon has long since gone to bed.
The night is absolutely still but over the air comes a faint hush from the sea and I heard, once or twice, the lonely call of my favourite bird, the lapwing.
by Robert Rendall
Look how my autumn leaves from green to gold
Burn in their frosty fire. Tissue and vein
Shiver and curl to ash: no flowers remain
On withered stem, or from the patent mould
Draw breath and on life’s tree their fans unfold.
Twice has my summer’s pride waxed high;
The gentle influences of the rain,
The sun, the earth: and death comes, dank
But fast inscalloped in the undying root,
Constant beyond all change of sky or soil,
Lies fenced the mystery of the living shoot –
Green involutions of the mind. No toil
Attends their weaving. Ah, would they
Again from that inmost core, leaf, stem, flower,