Beached Whale

abstract of water rushing over a rock that looks like a skull

She made a mistake, and died from it, sinking into the spongy, bubbling sand on the Atlantic shore of Colonsay. Careless, injured or impaired, old or tired, she came inshore too far and lost the tide, hemmed in between dune and sandbank and outcropping rocks.

This has happened before. In the old Baptist church, now a museum, visitors can see the hell-sized jaws of last century’s cetacean casualty — cut up for dog-meat and rendered for lamp-oil in the days before motorised ferry and mains electricity.

But this finwhale, a mile or more from the road, returns more slowly to its elements. Along the wide, windswept bay of rippled sandbars and crumbling duneland, where the stark beauty of sea and sky thrills you even while the ice-cold wavelets shock and the shell-ground sand abrades you, the massive carcass lies half-buried. Under the high tide the fish pull at it; above the low tide the seabirds crowd in, spotting it white with guano, gradually exposing first its baleen plates, later its bones.

From the landward side you could almost mistake it for a longer, smoother line of seaweeded rock, until you move downwind. It smells rancid, but not like rotten meat: waxy, tallowish, like old candles.

©2018 by Fiona Jones

Fiona lives in Scotland and has visited the islands of Skye, Lewis, Harris, Uist, Mull, Iona, Tiree and Colonsay.

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