Long before blinking at the first glows of early morning light, he was already attuned to the sounds of the burgeoning island dawn. Blackbirds, robins, dunnocks and song thrushes had gathered as though re-forming an experienced choir for another perfect performance of their a cappella rendition of the new day’s anthem.
If there was a serenade of welcome in heaven it couldn’t sound any better, and once it had snaked its way under the duvet and perked up his ears, his other senses were shortly one by one checking their invitations to the party.
No sooner had he sniffed the brewing coffee wafting through from the kitchen hob did he reach across into the still warm but empty side of the bed next to him and realise that, once again, she had slipped out first and started preparing their breakfast essentials.
It was heating up enough already for her to have flung open the camper van’s door and let the sea breezes bring the first mouth-watering flecks of salt to his lips, reminding his subconscious where they were, and what natural delights lay in store once his drowsiness was beaten on points by curiosity in the regular battle of sunrise. This was their routine on these temperate summer days: early to bed, early to rise, and then sleepily – he still rubbing it from his eyes – wandering barefoot through the machair down onto the sand, coffee cups in hand, pastries hastily stuffed into a little backpack.
It wasn’t an official campsite, this back-lane roadside pull-off onto the grass that had been their home for the past few days; a latest stop-off on their Hebridean odyssey. No-one was going to mind. Indeed, that was the beauty of it, there was barely anyone passing by to mind. The birds in the bushes fringing the sands and those overhead on their way to or from the sea were their most frequent companions.
Sweatshirt hastily thrown on, he wandered after her through the dunes at the edge of the sands and marvelled at the sight that lay before them, even though they’d only stopped doing so as night fell a few hours before. The beach was backlit by the amber from the east, the Atlantic gently rolling in as if it too couldn’t yet quite muster a full ocean roar.
Sitting and sipping on the sands, the piping of the oystercatchers between them and the shore was broken by the splosh of a seal rolling from his dawn perch on some rocks for a morning swim, his head bobbing back up for a friendly hello. They’d spent time on this beach a decade before, playing cricket with the kids as part of a day-long picnic and exploration of the vast golden expanse and the huge skies that dwarfed it. Returning had been the dream during his illness, and now they were living it – and loving the rejuvenating calm it gave them. No if onlys now, every new day could, and would, be like this.