Yes, you read that correctly. It is November 6th, and to me, the year is slowly heading towards its conclusion. Long gone are the light nights and bright days of summer. Only yesterday did I look out to the southwest at twenty past four in the afternoon, and did I see the sun? No, it had set a couple of minutes before. The tourists have all headed home, with the exception of the odd customary winter visitor, here to experience the ferocity of the Atlantic winter storms. It has been dark for nearly four hours by the time the ferry comes in, at 8.20pm. If I see it coming in, as the curtains are drawn after nightfall. In summer, it comes in at 12.45 am, and it isn't even fully dark. Not now. When it leaves at 7 am, it is still dark. I walked past the slaughterhouse earlier this week, and caught the smell of beasts, newly discharged into its interior - to emerge onto our dinnerplates at some stage. The lambs that were gambolling on the machairlands in April and May, perhaps? Not a thought worth entertaining for too long. The verdant green, to use that dreadful duplication, has been taken off the moorlands and replaced by the dull browns, yellows and black of winter. Autumn, now firmly in charge, has been thoroughly wet, and any thought of venturing into the moors have to be dispelled. Snow, although not in the forecast, is a growing possibility. As is hail. During my first winter here, five years ago, I grew accustomed to the sound of the wind buffeting the house and hail (or rain) clattering against the windows. So much so, that in fact I could not sleep if there was no wind or hail. But I had a very restful winter in 2004/5. My abiding image of my first winter is that of a flock of sheep, crossing a snow-covered road late at night, seen in the yellow glow of the streetlights - when I was staying in an outlying area. Another memory is that of the hurricane in January 2005 which battered these islands with winds of up to 134 mph, taking five lives with it.
It is now November 2009, and in just over a week's time, on the 16th, I will be at the 5th anniversary of my stay in Lewis. Much has changed for me in that time, some of it for better, some of it for worse. In 8 weeks time, the first decade of this century will be over, as we head into 2010. The pace of change in these islands is slower than elsewhere, but change does happen.