I stand on the deck in anticipation, enjoying the motion of the boat and of the swell, my eyes fixed on the island at the horizon. The island is a cake, slathered with icing with a host of drifting, dancing satellite motes, winking white in the sun.

I am travelling to Grassholm, some ten miles off the west coast of Wales...Grassholm - one of Britain's few remaining true primordial wonders. Its unwordliness spans these last fifteen years of my memory in all its clarity. I am there again. I am there in my mind.

As we approach, the frosting resolves itself into guano, a generous crust built over... how many years? How many Aeons? When did they first come here? Those glittering motes swarm and become defined. These are Gannets. Sula bassana. Perhaps twenty-two thousand pairs - but this is just objective information, labels, quantification. It does not convey the true impact, the wonder inherent in this design, an Escher reality - three dimensional, and breathtaking on every level of detail.

They glide, apparently nonchalantly, apparently oblivious to our presence or simply uncaring. The power, the angular dimensions suggest a predator - and that is true, but a predator of ocean life and no direct threat to us. The reverse is true. I sigh on this reflection. What is their place in our universe? Surely they share our world for a purpose? I am silencedd by that ancient obligation - to guard and tend the garden of the earth.

In truth the gannets are not nonchalant in the least, they are intent. They are as intent as their hard gaze, as the horn dagger bill. Now their entire being is focussed one the demands of nesting, of rearing, of tending the next generation. They are as intense as the power of their sheer presence before me- the hard bright whiteness of their feathers and the mastery of control in ocean winds - plural intensity that bewilders the senses.

The sense of hearing is equally held in thrall. There is a symphony of sound impressions. I hear wails of newborn babies and cries of wolves and a weird cadence, a Wagnerian rhythm suffusing all of this. There is a constant ululation, rising and falling simultaneously and everywhere, filling the entire sphere of experience. I also smell, involuntarily, the freshest guano in the sun. The laden air assails my olfactory nerves so relentlessly that the effect soon dulls itself. It is relentless as the birds and the ocean and life itself.

For an age, it seems, I gaze and behold, and then I leave, priveleged, silent, awed. Then I return to the almost accepted humdrum world of cars and roads and semi-detached housing while the birds live on as they did, so many years ago - and many years before that, and even today, thousands of miles from me - and hopefully, for many summer tomorrows. They live on and settle in their enameled nests with their nicotene coloured necks as if they spend their evenings smoking cigars at one another. They brood and preen and cry their own cries and feel at home.

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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