Sumburgh Head is a maelstrom of birds on the pommel of Shetland. Cliffs, echoing with their songs, dive to the surging waves beneath me. The rest of the island chain cuts the sea to the north, like shards from some mythic hero-god’s sword. I turn away from the circling Shags, Kittiwakes, and Fulmars and look south into the gemstone ocean. In the moments it takes the blindness to recede: the cacophony is torn by the wind and flung across the water; the northern sun’s heat vies with cool sea winds; and a perfume of iron, sulphur, cold air, and cut grass climbs skyward. My sight returns pixel by pixel to reveal an island cutting through the mist on the horizon.
Fri∂arey was the Norse name for Fair Isle, a term that means “sheep island.” Who knows if that was meant as a cruel jest or simple observation? If we are at all, we aren’t far removed from the violence economy. Have we traded plundering and burning and looting for sightseeing and shopping and drinking? A cynic might equate these actions, the latter batch being an insidiously refined and shrouded version of the former. There is hypnosis in the sparkling water. Once you’ve seen Fair Isle through the mist, it’s hard to look away.