Our elemental nature

Na Fir Chlis from warehouse site at Ardhasig, Isle of Harris 17.03.15

Terra, aqua, aer, ignis and aether, the five elements of antiquity from which the world was once thought to be made. Today, thanks to rigorous scientific method, we know there’s a little more to the universe than simply earth, air, fire and water but on occasion life gives us cause to return to these beautifully esoteric ideas, albeit briefly. Two such occasions blessed us this week. 

On Tuesday afternoon the sun, so long hidden from us over the winter months, made its presence known as it issued forth a flare wrought from a KP8 geomagnetic storm. Just hours later, a high tide of electrons washed upon our earthly shores as high above us the sky churned in seaweed ribbons of glorious green, pulverising the upper atmosphere like a heavenly particle collider. It was a ceilidh of quantum physics held in the blackhouse dark night, whirling atomic partners to the pibroch of the universe as the sky seemed to swell in reflection of the seas far below. Known in Gaelic as ‘Na Fir Chlis’ or ‘The Merry Dancers’, their name had never felt so well earned.

And then there was this morning’s once-in-a-generation solar eclipse, that rare moment in heavenly movements when our moon intercedes with the sun’s light, slowly carving an ever-growing crescent of darkness from its blinding discus. From our island’s position of around 58º North in latitude, we found ourselves grazing the path of totality as its shadow passed by other remote Atlantic outposts, from the Faroes to Svalbard. It proved an other-worldly experience as a premature dusk crept across the island, the birds falling silent and the colours of the land muting themselves as black-faced sheep flocks, scattered across croft and moor, ceased their grazing to settle down in slight confusion as a nightly darkness fell early. 

For us more upright creatures, on both occasions an odd combination of joy and humbleness prevailed, and along with it a renewed perspective on our place in the cosmic proceedings. As sun flares and moon alignments wowed us, we were reminded of our integral ties to the land, sea and sky. The rhythms of life, cyclical seasons and vagaries of weather all play a strong role in our feelings of connection to this remote place. A time to plant and sow crops as the ground warms, a season for cutting peats with colder days and longer nights in mind, the tides and times which decide when fishermen can make their catch, the constellations that once helped us sail safely back to shore, eternally predictable in their stellar progressions. And we reflect on the profound beauty of the place we call home and how fortunate we are to call it such. 

As the eclipse passes and the celestial fireworks fade, light and life returns to normality again. But we’ll take these wonderful events as good omens and in particular remember the merry dancers in the sky above Ardhasaig as auspicious revellers, celebrating the breaking of new ground at our main cask warehouse site earlier that very day. From these brief but special moments we find ourselves envigoured, reminded once again of the privilege our job at hand affords us here in this beautiful corner of the universe and by striving every day to embody the very nature of the Isle of Harris, we plan to create our own elemental spirit for many more auroras and eclipses to come.


Mike Donald


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