Hydra stark

Bats, cats and kittens and smoke in lines of sullen purple. They cross the sun setting sky. It’s getting darker now and the bounce of the waves and the noise of the wind are slowly quietening. The bats keep the mosquitos at bay and the cats hang around, less afraid and keener to settle. The kittens sing their mewling harmonies, the Fledermouse choir in full squeal and squeak. And Fledermouse’s little body is catching up with his enormous ears, and they appear diminished. Together, bats, cats and kittens and we watch the carbon creased sea at dusk and see it soft and buttery at dawn. In between, it’s fine crosshatching shifts and twists the stream and stirs the shadowed blues, indigos and blacks. Turquoised and bleached white under a sea taxi’s urgent churn.

The last two days have been days of low cloud and mist, the torpid air sliding steaming hot beneath it. It’s a concoction of rain, for rain. Rain on the water, water in the air. The sky lies heavy, overcast, lethargic and lazy. Damp and soft the air resting on indolent bodies draped on the rocks by an idling sea. We step carefully along the rocks, some nimble, some slow, careful and cautious not to fall. Even someone Paul said is agile as a bank safe makes it to the water. Big splash. We swim crazy far or float toes up or stare down into the deep, snorkelled and goggled to watch the many fish.

Above water the wind is shouty and jazzed, keen. On the shore we see the waves shatter and fray and we hear the sea’s many voices, cacaphonous as they slap at the rocks in some secret dance or unrecognised ritual. Wave shaped whispers or sudden splashy shouts on a rising wind. No sign yet of the goose feathers floating on rising crests. But they are coming soon as the air begins to chill and the winds grow resolute. The summer is drawing to its close and the sea’s changing shapes tells us this. It is time to go.

Hydra stasis

The sea is back to being full of serious boogywoogy. Under winds intent on taking us all some place else, we strive to stay in place. No change. The crashing music of the breezes and currents. The waves’ white topped feathers run in too many directions for rhythm. Indigo and agitation contrasts with the bone white and milk of the sea a few days ago. On one of those days we powerboated across the blue churned waves to small coves for swimming and around empty islands for peering into caves, timid to get too close and risk the rocks. The excitement of it, unceasing adrenalin all day long, left us hung over and swaying. In the evening after our long climb up the many slopes, steps and ragged paths, I had to hold onto the kitchen counter to keep my balance. The lilt and drift was still there in the morning after wild water dreams and exhaustion only slightly less taut.

Hydra is known for its many cats and a programme of neutering keeps the numbers in the port down. But here in Kamini there appears to be no such plan and we have frequent and regular visits from a small family: mother (not much more than a kitten herself), aunty (we reckon) and four tiny elastic kittens. They arrive whenever there’s a whisper of food scents, plaintive voices and tiny little pink mouths opening to show off white teeth like needles, lining their little pink jaws. One, Fledermouse (yes, mouse not maus), has ears larger than his mother’s and a coat of hillside shades, except the hillsides are the greys and drear of a cold climated place rather than the ambers and terracottas of this island. They’re all in similar garb, some stripey like tabbies and some grey and black blends, and all with spotty tummies and striped stockings on their dainty legs. The kittens steal food from each others’ mouths and their mother washes them violently to compensate for rejecting them when they try to feed. Sometimes they play fight, sometimes she brings them a mouse to share. They play writhing twisting games and fall to rest without realising it. Like us.

From atop the final steps we watch the sunsets, always so sudden here. There is no lingering, just a solid martial descent below scar strewn clouds towards shimmering distance. The sea melts into coppers and aubergine stripes soft and dragging. They melt across the sky slowly expanding into night. The sea we still hear now hushes to the land, bringing us all slowly to sleep.

Hydra static

We’re on the island of Hydra once again. We never go anywhere else when we come to Greece and yet each time our experience of this tiny island is different. This time it’s just us, no family, no friends, no one else joining us, no one to see off at the ferry. And this time learning Greek and to practise motoring about the island in a powerboat. We’ve got the licenses, so now’s the time to put the training into action. Not sure how it will go. Bump bump on the waves a given, but hopefully not bump bump splash. Man over board!

What else is new? Nothing and all of it. We’ve spotted a new buzz of beehives grazing the stipled hillside. They sit halfway up with slender terraces holding them in place in case they have cause to slide. In the early mornings across the amber dawns we hear an excessively keen cock crowing. He reminds us that we want to stay asleep a little longer. And once we manage to blur out his crows there is the tap tap tapping of a building project just below our studio. The project is a grey stone house with a tidy pair of Roman arches and a soon to be completed pitched roof. The workers tap in regular rhythms, each nail whacker managing different numbers of strikes with his hammer. They speak in broken English across several languages, but besides English we only recognise Albanian and Greek.

Throughout the day we are treated to the whine and squeaks of a lonely dog and its token toy. The Huskey dog has pointy ears that touch at their peaks and white rimmed eyes. The eyes and the tilted head implore us to entertain her every time we peer into the pen to check she’s got water. Her conversation, at first annoying, is repetitive enough to be somehow reassuring. We hear her above the wind and through the stillness of the air, the heat and the cool of nighttime.

And the sea. Under strong winds its glorious bounce and embrace were sometimes too tight. Now that the wind has dropped the sea’s languid rise and fall seduces, tempting us ever further from shore, to ever further depths. We swim along the shore searching for an octopus and her garden, or out to the safety buoys. Beyond the buoys the sea taxis surge rapid and reckless between the port and the many bays along the island’s eastern coast. They go beyond occasionally, following pleasure cruisers and rented yachts that rely on motor power instead of the wind. Perhaps these sailors are afraid of losing control of direction and speed. Next stop Cyprus?

We climb hundreds of steps and more steps every day to reach our little cubby hole set high above the sea. Our window frames our view of the sea and the roof of the dog’s house and through the window pass the echoes of the sea taxi engines and random voices in the night. They float along on the shh shh shh of a susurrous Saronic sea. It sounds softly slow, sensuous in the night. And we are together.