So here we are in Autumn.

For some reason that I’ve never queried or thought to explain, I feel duty bound to capitalise the first letters of the seasons. Perhaps this is because they are a more tangible thing than merely a human construct of time, like hours, minutes and seconds. Seasons preceded our existence as a species by a goodly margin, so I reckon they deserve a bit of our respect.

Autumn, it is probably the poor relation of the season family. It has stiff competition from the verdant vitality of Spring, the fecund lushness of Summer and the crisp beauty of Winter, so it opts instead for a gentle decrepitude tinged with fruitfulness. Which is never going to look great as the tag line on a billboard-sized poster.

I bet you’re thinking “Leaves! Why don’t you mention the leaves?” It’s a valid point, all that colour produced when chlorophyll clocks off for the year, leaving the xanthophylls, carotenoids and anthocyanins to temporarily rule the roost. But here in Orkney, although there are some trees, the average equinoctial gale ensures that, in terms of leaves, Autumn last about 24 hours.

However, I do like Autumn and the changes it brings to our wildlife. As the migratory species of birds which have spent the Spring and Summer with us head south, a steady stream of arrivals and departures check in and out through Orkney as more northerly breeding birds stop over to rest and feed. Then our Winter visitors arrive, Scandinavian thrushes, geese from Greenland, ducks, waders and, if we’re really lucky, some Waxwings.

A few years ago, a fellow blogger introduced me to a word, ‘zugunruhe‘, which describes the anxious behaviour in migrating animals during the migration period. Apparently, even resident species exhibit some low-level form of zugunruhe. This got me thinking. I’ve heard plenty of folk say that they don’t like Autumn, so perhaps they are responding to some subtle uneasiness buried deep within our DNA. After all, humans have only been ‘settled’ for a few thousand years.

So, please try to love Autumn a little more. It’s ok to feel uneasy as you pack away the beachwear for another year. Saying goodbye to a Barn Swallow means that you can say hello to a Fieldfare. And, if you eat seasonally, this is the time for bramble and apple pie or crumble. Pass the custard!




An unknown unknown

To be honest, there is not a shared political ideology between Donald Rumsfeld and myself. Nor with D.H. Lawrence, come to that. But I do have some sympathy with the former’s ‘unknown unknowns’ speech. Though he was much derided and satirised at the time, it all made perfect sense to me, in a pedantic sort of way.

It is probably best to think of this common ground as an infinitesimal intersection of our respective circles. More figure-of-eight than Venn diagram.

So, what didn’t I know that I didn’t know, prompting the above title? It’s a long list, but I’m probably the last person to be asking, eh?

However, earlier today, I found myself in a corridor at a customer’s establishment, passing the time by looking at the pictures on the walls, whilst waiting for an invoice to be processed.

My gentle progress along the corridor, from beautiful image to beautiful image, was halted abruptly when I arrived at a copy of the Blaeu map of Orkney and Shetland from 1654. ‘Halted abruptly’? Let’s just say that I appreciate maps a bit more than art. Scanning the 17th Century place names, my eyes settled upon two words near the bottom of the Orkney page and… the world stopped turning.

Invoices were forgotten, senses began shutting down one by one, until all that was left was sight and those two words.

So the thing which I didn’t know that I didn’t know was…

I needed a new blog site.

I awoke from this reverie when the customer, from just behind me, said “Do you like maps then?” and I realised that, on autopilot, I had taken out my phone and was photographing part of the map.


And so ‘Contrarie tydes’ was born.