WELCOME to our regular feature showcasing the talents of the nation’s best writers. This week, an extract from Jane Smith’s Wild Island
On my way back from the sea cliffs I have to stop the car and just listen. The centre of Colonsay, only a mile from the windswept coast, is a rich mixture of woodland, meadows and rough grazing land. A mid-May evening is a time of perfection here. Hanging out of the car window, I hear corncrakes rasping in the rushy field edges, a blackbird carolling in the oak tree above, willow warblers, whitethroats, a song thrush with its repetitive phrases, the scratchy song of a sedge warbler, and the distant wooden-fluting of a cuckoo. In the meadow a grasshopper warbler reels out its namesake’s whirr without pausing to draw breath. The fresh, new leaves flutter and glow, as they are backlit by the evening sun. Above the trees, swallows swoop, and below, there is the azure shimmer of bluebells. A background hum reveals the presence of countless bees, pollinating the willow catkins and the air is full of the pale scent of wild garlic. It is as if the turning of the earth has brought all these participants together at this moment, to create magic.
Which of course is what has happened. Corncrakes from the Congo, swallows from Senegal, blackcaps, garden warblers and redstarts from sub-Saharan Africa, have all returned here to breed in the long Scottish summer days. The sun’s heat coaxes forth fresh foliage, caterpillars hatch out to feast on the leaves, and so a banquet is provided for the birds. They sing to find a mate and lay claim to a patch of bramble or treetop. Their songs have developed over time to be heard within the chorus, fine-tuned to a pitch and volume that will not conflict with others. How many thousands of years of evolution has it taken to arrive at this moment? It is intoxicating in its simplicity and complexity.
• Jane Smith is an Emmy-winning filmmaker who visited Oronsay over a four year period. Wild Island, which she both wrote and illustrated, is published by Polygon, £20.