I want to be with those who know
secret things or else alone – Rainer Maria Rilke
The full moon tide reveals the hidden places of the island. Earth, moon and sun are in alignment, creating a ‘spring tide’, which is much lower than usual. But this isn’t spring. We are at the end of summer and this feels like the first autumn day of the year. Rocks loom out of the sea where there are usually none, forming lagoons from the reefs. The kelp forests, habitually invisible below the waves, peep above the surface like glossy ringlets. The fragment of wreck that barely pierces the water on an ordinary day, flaunts itself from amidst the rocks. Birds that are usually too far away to be noticed scuttle close on the sand. But it isn’t only the low tide that makes this day different. It is the pallor of mist that cloaks the air. The intense glassy calm of the water. The humidity of the air at times, combined with the chill that means we can see our breath for the first time since early spring. And that dull but luminous light that gives clarity to the colours and an unearthly feeling to the surroundings.
At times like these, the rock pools give up their secrets. Inscrutable, yet concealing their mysteries in full view. Have the patience and the understanding to look and they reveal unexpected delights. Limpets rise up from the home scars they have worn into the rock, like chitinous toadstools, defending themselves against starfish attack with the edge of their shells. And barnacles, those most pedestrian and common inhabitants of the shore, release delicate, gossamer fans that pirouette gently in the water.
The first story I wrote set on this island was named ‘Secrets’. The island teems with them: hidden caves beneath the tide line, shreds of wrecks lost on its shores, traces of monks and sailors buried beneath the land. Some of its history is visible, like the lighthouse that dominates the landscape, but it is the rich, hidden history that is endless fodder for stories. The second tale I wrote about this island is the novel I won’t let go, despite my struggles to revise it. This is my favourite place in the world and its secrets are a source of inspiration.
Inland, the soil is exploding with mushrooms. Fungi are also hidden wonders, closer to animal than vegetable, a kingdom on their own. What we see are simply the fruits of the fungi, an organism that can stretch for miles, spreading its tendrils underground, unseen in the dark. The high humidity has been good for the fruiting of the fungi, but the delicate balance is easily disturbed and mushrooms that were there in scores yesterday, have vanished today.
The most fruitful inspiration often comes when hidden things are revealed or imagined. The obvious tale is sometimes less interesting than the back story. But the hidden isn’t always exposed easily and it may only be discernible for the briefest of moments. To catch it, we need to be watchful, to question what lies beneath the surface, and to wait for that serendipitous moment when the conditions are right for all to be revealed.