One evening last week, when the mist was drifting around in a state of indecision about whether to stay or go, I took a walk through the old grove, where the lane forms a tunnel of arching branches. Out of the corner of my eye, living shadows were flitting between the trees, but whenever I looked directly at them, they were gone. They were almost silent, making little flurries at the edge of my hearing. I crept into the undergrowth to investigate.
Small black forms, the size of my booted feet, were darting across the leaf litter from thicket to thicket. Dusk was drawing in and it was dark under the trees, so it was some minutes before I realised that I was looking at blackbirds carrying out their end-of-day back-and-forthing before settling onto their roosts for the night. Why do they do that, I wonder?
A flash of colour drew me towards the far edge of the grove. I would be easy pickings for a will o’ the wisp, I am sure. Bending under some low-hanging branches, I came face to face with this chap, who eyed me balefully through the gloom.
Immobile, we held each other’s gaze, and I was reminded of the story of the Cockatrice, half cockerel and half serpent, who can turn people to stone with a stare. Then suddenly, he broke the trance, releasing a full-blooded cock-a-doodle-do into the air. It was answered by three other cockerels, who shared his enclosure. That’s a lot of cockerels for one small flock of hens.
I retraced my steps toward our cottage, and the mist made up its mind to stay.
For the past few days, the landscape has been transformed by the freezing fog into a cut-glass model of itself. Before I moved to Scotland, I had never imagined that frost could be so pervasive, or so beautiful. It is difficult now not to think of the fog as a conscious entity, a sculptor who hides his works-in-progress beneath a curtain, then sweeps it away for the big reveal.
Then today, the sun flowed like honey over everything, and the frost was gone. Snowdrops have already begun thrusting their shoots above the ground, and I think they will flower in a day or two. I took a stroll up the lane to the burn that runs through the manor’s grounds, and followed the wooded footpath along its bank. Sometimes I see wild ducks paddling about in the burn, but not this time.
This time, I saw sheep on the manor’s back lawn. There were three of them, looking fatter, whiter and fluffier than the flocks living in the fields around our cottage. They were also friendlier, and when I greeted them, they came trotting over to see if I had anything for them. I didn’t, of course. I am a terrible neighbour, who always visits empty-handed.
Bunty’s grey cat Monkey had a nightmare recently. One moment she and Pochi were curled fast asleep on the office chair; the next, she was hissing like a fury, and attacking Pochi’s head with all her claws and teeth. Pochi woke up and ran off, and Monkey was left sitting there, looking spooked and confused. I snapped this picture a few minutes later, when the still half-asleep Pochi jumped back onto the chair to lick her sister better.