Coun­try di­ary

Ai­gas, High­lands

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters - Mark Cocker

For more than 90 min­utes we’d sat un­til cold air qui­eted the wood and the day thinned into the long shad­ows of the trees. By 10.30pm we were cen­tred in an arc of ar­ti­fi­cial lamp glow. There was just the sound of a last robin across the loch, its spindly song an ana­logue for the van­ish­ing day.

The silent the­atri­cal­ity of the mo­ment was thus com­plete when the crea­ture strolled into our vi­sion with­out the mer­est hint of drama. Its step was sprightly, its ac­cep­tance of the lamp in­stan­ta­neous.

It brought a touch of night in its sharp black muz­zle and in the big silent dark-stockinged feet – and every now and then it paused from eat­ing to stare hard at its own route through the trees, re­as­sur­ing it­self of soli­tude – but oth­er­wise we were all at ease with the mu­tual en­counter. For 10 min­utes there were no sounds but the crunch of nut and the click of cam­era.

This is the cold killer widely ac­cused of wip­ing out the chicken coop in one night. This is the sure-footed preda­tor who can race through the canopy to snatch a squir­rel in full flight from a top­most twig. This is the in­vader well able to steal shadow-like into an oc­cu­pied house and den in the at­tic.

Yet the things I no­ticed most were the dew­drops beaded on its lux­u­ri­ant fur, the pink­ness of the pointed tongue, the rel­ish with which those car­nas­sials ground up nuts. It could so eas­ily have been some­one’s pet.

It snuf­fled un­der our gaze for each fi­nal morsel, it tricked along a birch beam to slurp at drib­bles of honey. Its route back to ground was as care­less and as­sured as the as­cent, and there was one ex­tra­or­di­nary mo­ment when its hind claws clipped it to a branch and down it dan­gled as if in a har­ness of loose fur, as if it had mo­men­tar­ily for­got­ten those rear legs bound above its head, as if grav­ity were just an­other play­thing.

It ex­tracted a last dew­drop of sweet­ness. Then with­out sound, with­out more ado, it van­ished and we were alone with the silent thrill of a pine marten.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: CLIFFORD HARPER

Twitter: @gdncoun­try­di­ary

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