Diffuse, pale light glimmers and shifts with the fog above Skinburness saltmarsh. Two crows call harshly and fly swiftly towards a broad-winged shape, a buzzard, who slants his wings and flaps away, fading and disappearing into the whiteness.
Along the track at the marsh’s edge, the gorse and hawthorn are draped with webs, made visible by the fog’s damp breath, and the sedges’ feathery heads are bent with the weight of the water.
The tide is out. The bowls and scoops of the marsh’s creeks are filled instead with water that is as indistinct as a gas, fine droplets swirling, hiding the detail, hiding the colours, so that birds are dark silhouettes against the shine of the mud. A heron straightens anxiously, then loses his nerve and, neck raised, leaps into the air and flaps off heavily, ‘craak‘-ing his irritation. Curlews call, unseen, and oyster-catchers, their finery muted, lift off and circle.
Marsh asters cower scruffily at the end of their flowering, their pale-blue petals and white seed heads bruised and dishevelled.
The approach of autumn has coloured the samphire red.
The saltmarsh keeps growing: outwards, making the latest sheep fence irrelevant; upwards, swallowing the fence posts. Its story accretes in layers like the thick pages of an ancient book.
The tide has turned – the moon and sun and the tide-tables have agreed upon this. But water still flows out from the creeks, carrying froth and bubbles seawards, implying the tide too is still on the ebb. But – watch the margins – the outflowing water is rising, lifted upwards by the dense, incoming sea: pebbles on the shore are being submerged, quickly. The bubbles are suddenly indecisive – which way to go? They circle, bunching together, their surfaces brown with sediment.
And suddenly the fog disappears, like the backdrop to a stage play suddenly swung up into the flies. Water and sky are shades of blue and silver; the bubbles glitter. And now the incoming tide is dominant, spinning the circling bubbles out into orbit on its surface, then nudging them individually back upstream.
Quietly, efficiently, the sea fills the creeks, hides the mud, embraces the feet of the scurrying waders. Tiny bubbles of air pop from the burrows of the mudshrimps, and a gull tiptoes along the edge, staring downwards, snatching as the mudshrimps emerge.