“All we have is sea and sky, land beneath
Feet,” Papa said, pipe puffing, net mending,
on Outer Hebrides. “Family, too,” he added,
Father’s reassurance, windswept islands,
Chilly summers, more days rain than sun.
Yes, long roads we have walked, uphill as
Down, wind, seabirds, life-story facing North
Atlantic. Evening breeze, Papa quiet shuttle-
Working, time-suspended moments, I, Willow,
Peered past storm-racked capes for incoming
Fishing boats, hard-tacking windy waves.
First alerting bells, walk-waving lantern lights,
Women, children descend rocky slopes, fish-
Laden boats pulled onto sloping shores.
Without salted herring, we were island poor,
Each with duties: gutting-knife girls, barrel
Packers, dependent on each other, Fishing
Families shared equally profits of the catch.
How old was this tradition? Some say old as
Celts, sea-trading routes to Europe beyond
British Isles. For now, our packed herring
Was shipped to Scottish mainland coast.
Nightfall, exhausted, brine-toughened sore
Hands, with barrels ready for shipping, long
Procession of lanterns, return winding trails
To stone cottages, hard work for sea-crofting
Families. Brief moments, I peered into setting
Sun. Papa correct, all we have is sky and sea,
Land beneath our feet, families, island life-
Blood. Without, Hebridean islands would be
Abandoned, except for wind-catching seabirds,
Chilly summers, more rain than sun.
Whilst this poem is historical fiction, see informative link about
Stornoway herring girls on Lewis Island. Thanks for reading.