An Orkney wind

Written by Alastair MacLeod

Gauging the strength of the wind becomes easy – a force nine tears at the dead skirt of the palm tree, and sends the fronds rapping on the windows overlooking the garden.

It upsets the tall ali baba pots and tips over the plastic garden chairs – empty crisp packets and polystyrene chip boxes swirl into the alleyway.

Strange objects appear – a wheel trim from a Vauxhall Astra lies on the lawn, a glove, caught on a bush – it’s as if dark rites have been performed at the height of the blast.

The washing, an experienced sailor, reefs itself, by wrapping round and round the line. One escaped towel, ripped free, lies crumpled on the grass.

In a big storm your clothes can be rinsed, dried and freshened in a way that makes washing powder adverts seem wimpish.

An unsecured window rattles as the wind scrabbles to enter. Any opening invites gusts that bang doors or creak them to and fro – your house becomes populated by very active, naughty ghosts.

If the wind is northerly you get salt spray on the windows. The first time this happened I wondered what this thin white icing-like covering was. I don’t know what prompted me to run my finger over it and taste it but I did – the strong tang of sea salt hit my senses with the new knowledge that the sea could reach its breath right inland. Our plants would have to be able to cope with this – some didn’t, chemically burned, they blackened and withered.

At night the rush of the wind round the house dominates everything – a constant whooshing, broken only by the clack of the unsecured front gate and the metallic rickling in the street of a coke can careering up and down. The clack of the gate summons you to make it fast. Once, when I couldn’t be bothered, the next day revealed a broken gate post hammered nearly out of the wall.

Snug in bed you might imagine you were on a sailing ship in a storm – sleep is difficult, you doze then wake to the whooshing. One year ago we hear the crack as the huge willow in the front garden goes, like a mainmast splitting and falling on deck.

Yet at early morning, with it still dark, I lie on my back awake, and suddenly out of the wind, hear the fluting calls of geese. Each year they cross right over our house on their way south, the higher pitch of the youngsters responding to the deeper pitch of the adults.

The Orkney autumn is not a slow reddening of leaf and berry – oh no, autumn here flexes its muscles and literally blows you away.

From his book A Lyrical Guide to the Orkney Weather, published by Loki Press

About the author

Alastair MacLeod

Alastair MacLeod committed his life to helping people and communities achieve their fullest potential, and particularly through his work with Orkney’s careers service and in leading successful community campaigns against environmental threats to the islands he loved. He started writing short stories in 2004, and reflective essays as well. His stories are available as ebooks on Amazon, and several have been translated into Italian, and also Spanish.