Monday, 22 December 2014

This Log is Reserved

This may look like a scummy high tide line, but for some of us it's the tide we've been waiting all year for - wood! Finally - after a 12 month hiatus - driftwood has returned to the beach. And we've been making merry with it. Some trunks too big for us to haul in, so we had to take the chainsaw out on to the saltmarsh to quarter one in situ to barrow it back to the house. Still it was ridiculously heavy - with calorific fuel and seawater. So smooth it must have been out there for weeks if not months... And it'll take months to dry out.

Our excitement was uncontainable as we spent both mornings, post high water, over the Solstice weekend spotting, chaining and carrying wood back home. So too for others. Towards the lighthouse and abbey were stacks of wood dotted along the seawall. And on one return trip, with two long branches balanced on either shoulder, I met Bob, whose chainsaw was one size up from ours which meant he was able to claim the humongous tree that lay, stripped of all bark, on the skear.

We grinned wildly at each other, bounty swaying in the 25mph of wind, acknowledging the dearth of wood all year. I asked if he'd heard of the biomass station further north that rumour claimed was snaffling all the driftwood - encouraging organised gangs to see the juicy wood as cash, turning another part of nature into a commodity. No, he hadn't. Besides, the north coast of Walney is littered with the stuff - it's just accessing it that's the problem...

Then he asked if the stacks at our feet were mine. No, but possibly Mary's, I said. They looked the kind of size she could carry, when she was down walking her dog. She was neat like that. I often find washed up buckets full of plastic tied down with rope on the skear that she'd collected and would slowly bring back to the bin at the car park. Well then, said Bob, we'd best leave them for her.

His chain had come loose so he'd had to leave the rest of the log until tomorrow, and if someone else got to it meanwhile, good luck to them. Then he dropped the long spindly branch he'd been holding and told me to add that to our pile.

I like this attitude of there being plenty for all. After all right now it does feel like that. Enough to be able to honour people's 'reserved' tag. I'm writing this at the point of another high tide, watching more branches wash in, biding my time for the water to recede so I can head out again, itching to get out there now, even though the water's too high and trying to accept that someone might get there before me, but from what I can see, nobody could carry all of that in one armload...

Monday, 8 December 2014

Skear

The skear is what we call the promontory where the lighthouse sits, the bank formed by the two rivers, Lune and Cocker, flowing into or out of the bay.

It is a name I accepted on my first hearing. I liked its sound and use it almost daily - to describe where I've seen birds, a particular colour of water, amount of seaweed... It has a Norse feel to the word. Then, while researching old maps relating to the Time and Tide project with a librarian, he mentioned Hall End Skear. I asked what he meant by skear. A causal island, formed by tides, he said without hesitation. There are three just off Morecambe in the bay. Although with the channel movements not all are visible now.

I felt knocked back. Our skear is not a skear. It is a spit of land that always remains attached. However, despite this information, I can't change what I call this section of the bay. It has a lovely harsh searing sound to it. A cut, a long slicing that could also be used to describe birds in flight: a skear of swans, perhaps.

As it's not in my Oxford dictionary, I googled skear. No mention of the tidal island, although between the images of cars, parties and heartbeats, there are images of coast. And, more interestingly, some old maps appear. When I look again, these are only of Morecambe Bay, and one in Cambodia.

So I'm now using a word that does not describe what I want it to, that does not seem to have the lineage I believed it had, that is so local it seems to have a random surfeit of meanings to everyone else - scroll down and you'll see a picture of Obama swearing!

But by continuing to use it I may embed this meaning further. You now know it, if you didn't before. Skear. Make of it what you will.

UPDATE
I received the following info through a work email: "It seems to me quite possible that the word comes from the Norwegian 'skjær', meaning small rocky coastal islets. The Shetland 'skerries' come from the same root.