Last week on the beach we met some visiting New Yorkers who were excited about seeing puffins on the boat trip they’d booked for the following day. Their dismay was palpable when we said that the puffins had already abandoned the Farnes for a life in the North Sea over the coming months; they really took some convincing that despite their desperate desire to see the puffin population, it simply would be impossible. By mid-September, having raised their jumplings and seen them off into the watery world they would thereafter call home, instinct had driven them up and away to an adventurous life at sea, away from land until their webbed feet touch our rocks again next spring. However much the visitors may have wanted – nay expected – to see our iconic seabirds, they were confronted by a simple fact of nature: the birds have their own agenda, and their own way of life. The winter months are their secret, when unseen and unwitnessed, they confront uncertainty – surely something they enjoy.
The sadness of saying goodbye to summer visitors like the puffins and the swallows, some of which are still diving about round the dunes and returning to the church porch where they were born, is balanced by the beauty of the quietness they leave behind; the mist rises and falls as the hours unfold, revealing further wonders of a world remade after the birds have been abounding. No less than eight young herons, tall and touching, practise identifying the pond life which will sustain them, temporarily drawing strength and confidence from a togetherness on the mere which will desert them once they mature. Safe for now from its human hunters in southern Europe, an ortolan bunting lands on Inner Farne; we pray it remains safe, though we will not see it again and will never be sure. Like daily life itself, we take it step by step, pondering on the preciousness of life, whether it be the junior frog I spotted climbing slowly across the fossils round our pond – welcome to a different environment young Pardiggle – or the beginning of my third year. Every dawn is different, every sea remarkable. Yesterday we had the first real rain since we can’t remember when. Thursday we hope our Scottish neighbours will want to stay with us. Those in danger far from home endure unimaginable pain. I lie at Kemo Sabe’s feet. Tomorrow is another day and I humbly give myself up to it.