There is a small, gentle, grassy slope that I love. It overlooks a horse-shoe shaped bay with steep cliffs that stumble down to the sea.
This was where, in the late 1970’s, I sat and watched my first Puffins. I had read about Puffins since I was a kid. I had seen them on TV and saw pictures of them in books. So often, your expectations never meet your hopes...but not with Puffins. They are the real deal. They are better in real life than you could possibly imagine.
This small, grassy slope lies at the back of the ‘throne’ on Great Saltee Island, Co. Wexford. When I first when out there on the trawler of the famous Willie Bates, it was the adventure of a lifetime. Walking up the 'royal mile', the sounds of the Kittiwakes on the cliffs and the growling calls of auks, hastened my step. Near the throne is a flat, grassy area…smooth as a snooker table. I have seen many great birds on that area over the years including a very eye-catching male Black-eared Wheatear.
Back in the 1970s, it wasn’t such rarities that preoccupied my mind…no, I had a lifetime’s date with Puffins. I headed to the cliffs and found my grassy slope. There below me were Puffins. Real-life Puffins. I was in heaven.
Each year since then, I do my best to make this pilgrimage to my grassy slope. I haven’t always succeeded but a few weeks ago, Hazel and I spent a day out on the Saltees. While other visitors to the island moved quickly along the cliffs and dashed up to the Gannet colony (itself worth the experience of a day trip to Great Saltee), we sat on my grassy slope.
The grass here is spongy…comfortable to sit on. It was a lovely warm day but without a glaring sun. The seabird colony was in full flow…the arguments and noisy quarrels among the Guillemots and Razorbills along with the ‘singing’ Kittiwakes created a cacophony of sound. The smell of guano filled our nostrils. The constant coming and going of seabirds made the cliffs look like a busy airport or a bustling street. Seabird colonies are magical places.
Above it all, quietly observing the hustle and bustle of the seabirds sat the Puffins and us. Relaxed and silent, together we watched the seabird mayhem below us. As we sat quietly, we found that we were joined by several Puffins. They had been further down the slope, but curiosity got the better of them and they strutted up to see who (what) we were.
Within ten minutes, we had Puffins sitting beside us at arms-length…too close for photography. In fact, in such moments, I put the camera down and live in the moment. No need to speak. No need to feel the need to do anything. No need to take pictures. Thoughts, worries and stresses of everyday life lifted from our shoulders. What was left was this total and utter magical feeling of being in the moment with Puffins.
Sitting there, it struck me that Puffins are observers on their world. They quietly observe the mayhem of the seabird colonies around them. They don't get involved...they just quietly observe. To experience mindfulness, Puffin-style, is a special thing.
We could all learn a lot from Puffins in this busy world we live in.