I awoke on the last morning of the year to a cloak of tepid December air and the hope that today I might find wisdom. The high breezes of the night before had scampered off, leaving the headland in quiet broken only by effervescent mutterings of the surf. I could hear them curling though the open window next to my bed. A gentle puff of air caressed my face. With it came the saline tang of seawater, undergirded by iodine and fish.
The hearth was barely warm. A fire of modest proportions I had lit the prior evening. Not much required between the unusually warm weather and the two fingers of single malt I had allotted myself for the night. Warmth, indeed.
My pens and notebook lay upon the table where I left them. In the white gold sunlight, silent and patient. Sitting up enabled me to see the scratchings on the pages, redactive testament to the autumnal fallowness of my mind. Sighing, scratching my head, I rolled out of bed before inertia could drag me back down. I closed the notebook as I made my way to the toilet.
I realized I should be hungry. Winter light has a vampiric beauty at times. Days leading to the solstice draining the very iron from the blood in my veins. This last day of the year, my belly is neither hot nor cold. It just is. Melancholy grips me at the memory of hunger, the lost clarity of ravenousness. In such a state of mind, eating had an air of penance about it.
But eat I would. I reminded myself that a full belly is not the sole arbiter of happiness, but goes a long way towards comfort. Three rashers of bacon and the last egg in the larder gave me a breakfast of Cartesian precision. Swallowing the last morsel made certain I would be heading to town soon, a journey of mixed emotions. I needed food, not company.
Not today. Not this morning. Standing on the porch sipping the last of the cold tea and fidgeting with the lighter in my pocket, the waves convinced me a long walk was in order. I struck off southward along the strand.
Under a cerulean sky thready with horse mane clouds I walked for what seemed miles. The sea lay subdued, languid iron-green breakers diffusing themselves along the olive-tinged strand. Odd, this hushed tone on the day. Manannán himself perhaps felt the tendrils of winter, muffling his voice here by the sea.
The quiet filled me with wonder and unease. The sea out here by the headland was normally restless, quite vocal. I think it, like me, awoke at the end of the year holding its breath, husbanding its energy. Was Manannán there? I paused to look out past a line of rocks. There was motion, I thought. Not sea gods but seals. Or selkies.
I drew a deep breath and started on. The sun rose in its slow degrees. A few minutes of arc later and I arrived at the mouth of a stream. It slithered over peat and rock to diffuse itself into tide pools before the sea. The tide was ebbing. The rocks a few yards away beckoned. Festooned with seaweed and samphire, encrusted with salt above the tide line, I often used the rocks as an impromptu seiza, my meditation bench on those days when I fancied myself a Buddhist monk. Climbing up, I sat. Sun inched its way up the bowl of the sky. I absent-mindedly pulled the lighter from my jacket pocket, flicking it open and shut with unconscious rhythm. I dissolved into the sea.
The waves. Unctuous flow of gelid green water. I float on my back underwater looking up at a quavering spot of light that I took to be the sun. Kelp wrapped my limbs in buttery bands. I did not feel I was drowning. I slept under the gaze of fishes and a pair of stern looking eyes watching me from a distance. Their refulgent opalescence lit me with a nimbus of pale green.
Minutes? Hours? When I awoke no idea what had passed, although the sun had moved little, it seemed. Thirst and hunger gnawed my belly. It may have been the ache in my legs what woke me up. I stretched and yawned. Manannán faded from my head. I stood up to return home. Stepping off the rocks, I splashed my way through a shallow pool. The pool breathed.
I stopped, not wanting to tread further. Water heaved and swirled at my feet. The billowing water resolved itself into a large fish which I took to be a salmon if my amateur ichthyological skills were of any value. It was trapped in the pool. I was agape. I considered carrying the hapless fish back to the sea. My belly made its hunger known again.
The last day of the year, and I stared down at the fish, wondering what to do. The wind had picked up. In it, my ears heard what may have been the hiss of sand. But my heart heard the ghost of Fionn Mac Cumhal, urging me to take the salmon, and eat. I gave in to the imperative, wrapping the fish in fronds of kelp. It struggled briefly but clearly was not much longer for the world. I started towards home.
The wisdom Fionn gained from his Salmon of Knowledge may not be mine to have in the coming days of the new year, but I sure hoped it so. It is the last day of this one, and if I would not be wise at least I would not be hungry. So said the sea.