Late August is the time when the visitors start to go away, as though the chill in the air pushes them homeward, incapable of withstanding the wind unlike the rest of us, to whom the sand and sea are left. It doesn’t take much for the beach to empty, even in the midst of the sunniest of summer days: a sudden shower of rain, the sky clouded over – anything other than sustained good weather frightens off all but the hardiest of holiday-makers and they, to give them credit, will hang on in there come the most miserable of days, flying their kites, building their castles and surfing the waves.
But come late-August, after the Scots have returned to school, there’s a perceptible downturn in traffic and this coincides with the migrant birds leaving us as well. The puffins have long gone, off to the North Atlantic in the frightful swell of which they will bob about without sight or shelter of land until they return to us next April. And though we saw the sand martins near Monks House this morning, still darting after insects around and about the dunes they’ve made their homes for the last few months, the silence outside the window beside which Kemo Sabe and I write suggests that our dear, sweet house martins, having raised three broods with so much wonderful chatter and chortling, may – without so much as a bye-your-leave – have nipped off while we weren’t looking.
We cannot escape the sadness engendered by these changing, troubling times, with their uncertain journeys of thousands of miles, embarked upon by tiny creatures whose experience of life is restricted to a miraculous muddy shelter or a fragile, feathered nest. We wonder if, by any chance, we will ever see any of them again, even without knowing it, and ponder on how we have been of use to each other, providing fellowship, bed and board to those we don’t know but nevertheless, and in spite of ourselves, protect.
Yesterday, as we trundled along the shore, we looked up to see our first geese – just the three of them – blazing a trail across a steely sky, to their feeding grounds. There were four of us boys, for young Nicholas is now accompanying us on our morning runs, experiencing for himself the sights and sounds of our magnificent Northumbrian shoreline. He listens and is full of wonder, too; the miracles are entirely new to him, little lad who is not yet one year old. Where have they gone? Where have they been? Like the souls of the faithful departed, in a sense they are always with us; one great communion of nature, moving ever onwards in the cycle of life.