Friday, 22 July 2011

The Road

If you live by the sea, this is something with which you will be very familiar. I refer to the tides, high and low, of which even the animals are aware. Murdo explained to his friends that it was caused by the pull of the moon and the sun on the waters of the earth's oceans. He mentioned 'gravity', but now the explanation was getting right complicated, flying right over our heads, even for the tallest among us. Recently, they noticed that the low tides down at the traigh at Dalmore, were getting very low indeed and that the sea was very far out. It was now possible to walk across to the Gearraidh where the sea would normally be, and a day or two later, the sea was out beyond Rudha an Trilleachain, and all the geodhain and stacan(creeks and stacks) were now totally accessible, where normally they were below the sea, and battered by powerful waves. Murdo said something about the sun, the moon and our earth being in line with each other, and it was this that caused these very low tides. A tide like this was called a "Road", and we were never sure that this name was used anywhere else. Fancy reckoned that it was a perfectly good name, as the withdrawal of the sea gave you a road, where there hadn't been one before. Fair enough ! Soho ventured that you could only get a Road where the traigh's sandy beach sloped gently out to sea. Soho was recently visiting friends near the Big Sands at Uig, and she said she saw a large lorry full of peats motoring across the sandy bay there, which only a few hours earlier had been covered by the incoming waves.
When you looked out from where the traigh normally lies, it gave you an eerie feeling that the sea had disappeared, and it might return no more. Rupie looked to Murdo for reassurance, who told them all that the sea would come back again. He remembered reading about such things in a National Geographic magazine, which a visitor had left with him.
"Would it be possible to walk all around the coast to Garenin, where the sea used to be ?", asked Fancy. "I'm not sure about that, but it might be possible. But we will stay here on Traigh Dhalamor, and see what happens", replied Murdo.
In the next few days, there was a lot of activity on the traigh. Stowlia stayed close to 'An 'Houdie, who was laying his "loidhne bheag" (small line) across the dry sandy beach, attached to those of Seoras and Shonnie. That amounted to a lot of 'hyooks' all baited with herring, and the idea was to catch small flounders that bury themselves in the sand, when the tide returns.
" So the tide comes in after all. We thought that the seas stayed away out there for days," said Fred, looking at Seoras, having heard he was a bit of a sage.
Seoras told him that the tides still operated, but to a lesser extent; the low tide was very low, and the high tide was not as high as usual, only coming into the traigh part way. That's where the fishing lines were set.
"Do you see how simply Seoras explained the tides. That's the mark of the sage," said Soho.
But for the women of the village and the children, an important reason for being down at the traigh was to harvest 'siolan', which they could not do at other times. Siolan are known also as sand-eels or whitebait, which, when disturbed, can use their long pointed noses to disappear beneath the sand. Siolan are the fish you see arranged so neatly along the colourful beak of the puffin. Equipped with a corran (sickle) and a tin pail, we see the people pulling the corran through the wet sand. When the blade comes into contact with a sand-eel ( It is in fact a fish), you search down with an open hand to catch the silver siolan. You can fill buckets and pails with these fish, and if they are full, then it's into the pockets of your overalls. They make very tasty fish soup.
Stowlia, Fancy and Fred joined in this fish free-for-all, but not with any great success. Fred however, being a terrier, could dig furiously, and did score a few times, casually flicking the fish towards his feline friends, now in raptures of delight with their hero, the "Wee Glesca' Man." Nevertheless, their excitement was palpable as they watched their human friends fill one pail after another with those beautiful silver fish. Seoras remembered that when he was a young man in Dalmore, there would be people with their horse and cart far out on the traigh, collecting seaweed which would later be used as fertiliser. We collected the red dulse (duileasg) and limpets ( bairneach ), while others harvested great quantities of mussels ( claba-dubha ), favoured in Shawbost and points North.
All the Dalmore cats and dogs got into the spirit of thing, racing about on the new-found sands, splashing about in the long sea pools, abandoned by the tide. To see Vicky, our immaculate blue cream Persian cat, splashing Soho and Filax, with the deft use of her back-spogs, was a delight to behold. The animals might be wet and covered in sand, but they were truly happy.
Up on the machair grass beside the allt, some of the women had a large peat fire going. They had a large iron pot, into which all the ingredients for the fish soup were placed - the siolan of course, onion, water and a little milk and butter.
This was an outdoor kitchen, and the fish soup ( we called it 'souse') just kept coming ! How I remember the taste of that soup.
When the small lines were lifted later the following day, there was a good catch of small sole (leabagain), and a few other species of fish. The catch was of course divided equally among Seoras, Shonnie and 'An 'Houdie. There was no boat share, and this must be one of the few occasions where this happens.
The Road eventually ran its course, and before the sea returned to normal levels, it had given of its many bounties. And with that, life in Dalmore was to return to normality. One evening in Taigh 'Houdie, when all had partaken of another fish feast, Murdo said that he was minded of a lovely story about another Road, but not on the sea. There must have been a dozen animals looking up at Murdo in eager anticipation of this tale, as he had what people called "blas" in his story telling ( literally 'taste' - a tasty tale ).
Murdo: "This is a true story which involved my father, Shoudie, when he was a young man living in Garenin. He was sitting down by the "cladach" ( shore ), with two of his friends, Tormod Anna and Long ( Glass's brother ), doing nothing in particular, but enjoying it just the same. They saw this man, a stranger from his garb, approaching them from the direction of the Gleann. He must have been at Borriston or Laimishadair, and they quickly had him down as one of these commercial travellers one sees from time to time. The man addressed them in English, and asked them where the main road was, to Stornoway presumably.
Shoudie :   Shaking his head from side to side, shouted " Naw-thing, Naw-thing", and the man understood.
Tormod Anna :  Asked a favour " A dhuine uasail, a' bheil siucar iad ?" ( Sir, have you got a sweetie ?) Bless him !
Long : " The Rathad Mor is up-a-bitty, up-a-bitty. It's coming up again." Gesturing with his hand, Long showed the traveller how he could connect with the main road at Carloway.
The man thanked the three Garenin lads, who returned to take their ease."
The assembled company loved Murdo's story, as always, and they too returned to take their ease. Not much has changed, then.