Caught by the River


16th August 2022

An extract from Amanda Thomson’s ‘Belonging: Natural histories of place, identity and home’, which is our August Book of the Month.

nicht-hawk  a large white moth, which flies about hedges in summer evenings; a person who ranges about at night

Any place at night is another landscape entirely. Eyes strain and the tips of trees sometimes come into focus, sometimes not. A birch tree shapeshifts. Shadows rove. In Abernethy, at night, the forest comes alive with other species. Badgers and pine martens range, stags rut, tawny owls quarter and call, and moths – poplar hawkmoths, pine beauties, November moths – go mostly unnoticed and unseen, unless drawn to the light. For two nights one year we had a Rannoch sprawler – a red-listed giant of a moth, in moth terms – head-butt repeatedly against the windows of the living room.

In the summer, the light lingers into the late hours, and on a clear night, out of the trees, you can walk without a torch. In the head of the dim, the midsummer twilight between sunset and sunrise, the sky retains a lighter promise, a hope.

In these long gloamings, this twilight, woodcock rode overhead, and we’ve seen a pair of roe deer ring-dance in the field. Hares have come through the fence and sat in our garden eating the vetch and chomping down the yarrow like it was spaghetti.

Every summer I’m surprised again at the long hours of light that stretch beyond 10 p.m. Even after the sun sets there’s more than a glimmer of light to the north, and a song thrush starts singing just after 3 a.m. It’s always been this way, and I must have been able to see over to the Campsies at this time of year and night when I was young, but we were probably watching TV with the curtains closed, and either I just didn’t pay attention or I’ve forgotten if I did. I wonder if I notice it more now because of how we often sit and watch over the field for hares or deer. And when we look at the clock, it’s nearly eleven, or that I don’t sleep as well as I used to, so notice the light coming in at the scraigh o’ day.

In winter the place changes again. Night lasts for nearly eighteen hours around the winter solstice, and on some nights the moon sweeps round and through the bedroom Velux, shining like a spotlight; a slow panning and then it climbs way higher than the winter sun ever does, waking us up. On moonless nights stars seem like a Vija Celmins woodcut, and on insomniac nights I see Orion sitting outside the bedroom window, and sometimes I’m still awake to watch it set. When the alarm goes off it still feels like midnight.


‘Belonging’ is out now, published by Canongate.

Read Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s review here.