The beach is a good place to be in mid-winter; aside from being the only place where you can walk or even run for a mile without slipping, it’s warmer too. The Atlantic holds at a steady 11-or-so degrees at this time of year, a temperature which seems like a distant tropical memory relative to this month’s never-ending glacial event.
When 11 degree water meets 0 degree air, the result is a shimmering on the surface as the light passes through through dense cold air and less-dense warm air, causing some unusual refraction (ask your science teacher). The horizon seems to wobble and anything on it to appear as if it were slightly elevated.
As the winter continues to send us unwelcome news and hostile freezing winds, strange signals of life are turning up on the shore. On one such day last week, where a surface shimmer undercut Clare Island at the edges and the rocky islets off Connemara appeared to float, a wagtail picked vagrantly amongst the kelp. The wagtail is a mostly terrestrial bird and last year, redwings and fieldfares as well as other species of terrestrial birds were reported on western beaches in January in numbers. Not being able to get enough to eat on their frozen inland habitats the beach was their last-chance saloon after being hungrily driven to the edge of our island by the easterly winds.
Further down the beach, past the fortresses of slata mara or sea rods, which have built up, we found the strangest signal of life of all; a human one. After weeks, probably months and maybe more, a green wine bottle came to rest on the sand, its two scraps of paper inside waiting for their well-travelled, almost-forgotten words to be read on any other shore.
It’s only the second message-in-a-bottle we have found, and the first one travelled a considerably longer distance across the Atlantic to reach us (the first one, years ago, came from Quebec, Canada; this one, it turned out, came from Newport, Clew Bay).
The message in the bottle was mostly in French and illegible due to the last drops of wine still left in the bottle (and maybe the amount in the author too), but it did contain a short communication which will do as a simple but sincere Christmas message:
‘We’re on the beach, trying to enjoy life, very big smile tonight, and for you too – Greetings’.