Cycling back from the machair and there it was, unmistakable. We both stopped at the same instance, heads turning in the direction that the sound had come from, and we turned back with no hesitation. Our first corncrake of the year.
I'd been told about others, but there hadn't been any calling while I was in the locale. Except once, a distant echo of a corncrake call, my heart beat faster and my ears ached with the listening, but there was no more.
This time, however, we stood at the edge of the road, bikes on the verge and I felt the memories rush in. Like with a sudden, unexpected smell, sounds can also evoke strong memories. In an instant the weight of previous corncrake moments sat heavily upon my shoulders. The feeling of dusk, heavy air and of being trapped in a sound that echoes around and about you and through your very bones. For the corncrakes call is something utterly unforgettable: one of those sounds that becomes a part of who you are.
Corncrake memories for me abound. There's the time I was on Barra and a sea-fog poured over the hills of Heaval down towards Castlebay. The air was heavy and still and yet on the fog came, an ominous otherworldly arrival. Another took place in Paible, on North Uist, as I stood in a dreamlike corncrake soundscape while I watched shooting stars above. Feeling more connected to everything but reality.
Corncraking is an activity that takes us surveyors to the otherworld. Surveying between midnight and 3am means we're in a world that we normally sleep through. Some nights it doesn't get dark and the magic is on working through the night, seeing the sun disappear somewhere north of the west, and reappear without pause somewhere north of the east. These are the nights that I come home more energised than I left: the nights I want to walk, and keep on walking. The nights where the dizziness of hearing corncrake after corncrake after corncrake is tempered only by hearing the oystercatchers and the snipe and the peewit. Other nights have a heavy cloud that encourages drowsiness and it's those nights I most worry. About concentration, about making it home, about the night ghosts.
But all this, all these memories: the feeling of limbs heavy with tiredness, of heartache due to lack of sleep, of those wondrous moments that just take your breath away. All those memories flooded my senses in the same instance that I stood and listened to that one corncrake call.