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The Cusp Of Summer

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Cusp of summer scenes on the Isle of Scalpay, just off Harris, this afternoon.

The seasons here in Harris seem to work to their own calendar. The first of June is considered by many to be the first day of meteorological summer, but the solstice is still some weeks off.

Once upon a time, local crofters would have called the 12th day of May the start of summer, and they would plant all their potatoes, oats, and barley by then.

The community would then turn their attention to cutting peats in teams of a dozen or more men and women from the village, accompanied by their children, who could be a help or a hindrance.

The first wave of late spring common daisies.

May has always been a slow month for fishing for those who work at sea, so time is usually spent cleaning and repairing equipment, re-painting and maintaining their boats.

Years ago, June would be time to leave for the summer fishing on the east coast of Scotland, from Wick to Fraserburgh, while their wives and families were left to look after the crofts and livestock at home.

Today, the more sustainable, small-scale creel fishing industry keeps the fishing folk far closer to home as they catch their crab, lobster, and langoustines from our own Harris coastline.

The bobbing heads of bog cotton bursts.

In the natural world, spring somehow feels like it has yet to get into full swing, and it’s only recently the earth has sprung forth with green shoots of beech and lemon-scented ferns.

But the lambs are abounding, and it will soon be time for shearing to relieve the sheep of their winter wool. All around, the barbed wire of fallen fences is snagged with casts of white whisps.

And as if in anticipation, the bobbing fluffy heads of bog cotton are scattered across the marshy moors like so many scraps of freshly shorn fleece.

The bell-shaped head of the welsh poppy.

The first wildflowers have appeared, echoing the colour scheme of spring, as the humble daisy bursts through in earnest. Its simple petals are a sure sign of the coming season.

They’re the first of many waves of native flora appearing over the coming months and followed closely by a myriad of yellow blooms.

There are welsh poppies and silverweed, birds-foot trefoil and tormentil, each adding their splash of sunshine to the growing greenery of machair lands.

The Jubilee beacon lit atop the Clisham mountain. Image © Scouts Western Isles.

There are also pinks and purples at play, from the coastal sea thrift flowers to the invasive non-native rhododendron. The latter is less welcome, but they bring the buzz of bumblebees, including the rarer Carder and Great Yellow species, packed full as they are of nectar and pollen.

All this adds to the enjoyment of island life as we reconnect with our island in warmer weather, with blue skies in our eyes and sunshine on our faces.

The evenings grow longer, and as the Jubilee beacon was lit last night on the heights of the Clisham, the late and low sun on the horizon confirmed we are, at last, on the cusp of summer.

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