Ea­gles are far from the only in­hab­i­tants of the glen – and for Jim, a mag­nif­i­cent fox re­calls a late friend

The Scots Magazine - - Focus On… Orkney -

IWAS sup­posed to be look­ing for golden ea­gles. That’s why I go to the glen in the first place. That’s why I have al­ways gone there, sev­eral times a year and for nearer 40 years than 30 now.

But one of the added ben­e­fits of go­ing back to the same place again and again to watch the same thing with a view to writ­ing it down, is that you can­not help com­ing across the other na­tives, the ea­gles’ neigh­bours and fel­low trav­ellers. No land­scape in which na­ture holds sway is ever the same two days in a row.

The Amer­i­can writer and nat­u­ral­ist John Bur­rows (1837-1921) wrote it bet­ter than any­one: “To learn some­thing new, take the path that you took yes­ter­day.”

That’s pretty much what I was do­ing. There is a for­est track up through the trees on the lower slopes, then an in­ter­mit­tent path more or less fol­low­ing the burn, and which more or less peters out at the foot of the glen’s rough and tum­ble head­wall.

It’s sim­ple enough to cross the burn high up where it leaps two or three lit­tle wa­ter­falls, and fash­ion a route up to the wa­ter­shed, where a vast tract of cen­tral High­lands sprawls all across the north­ern hori­zon.

So that was my plan, to walk up through the glen, up the head­wall to the wa­ter­shed where I would sit still for a cou­ple of hours and see what “some­thing new” I might learn. I as­sumed it would be some­thing new about golden ea­gles – it usu­ally is – but this time, it would be about one of the neigh­bours.

I was about 10 min­utes up the for­est track when a dog fox soft-shoed out of the spruces, looked both ways as if he was check­ing for traf­fic, and in the course of the look­ing he saw me, and I was about 100 yards back down the track as far as he was con­cerned, and al­though I was mov­ing, I was more or less tree­coloured in my cloth­ing, and I wasn’t mak­ing any noise. And be­cause the light wind was in my face, I didn’t smell of any­thing as far as he was con­cerned. The wind at my back, My scent and sound, Blown be­fore me, And Na­ture a locked door.

The wind in my face, My scent and sound, A shred­ded wake, And Na­ture an open gate.

I wrote that 14 years ago for a book that hon­oured the mem­ory of one of the finest nat­u­ral­ists and na­ture pho­tog­ra­phers Scot­land ever pro­duced, Don Mac­caskill. Don and his wife Brid­get were a fix­ture in this mag­a­zine for many years. After Don died in 2000, Brid­get set about com­pil­ing a book from his thou­sands of colour slides. She asked me to con­trib­ute some po­etry. The book was called The Wind In My Face, wrote a poem with the same ti­tle.

It was Don who in­tro­duced me to the ea­gle glen. He and Brid­get had worked with the glen’s ea­gles for years. Don had been head forester for the Forestry Com­mis­sion’s Strathyre For­est, and this was part of his fief­dom. He was, it should be said, a highly un­usual chief forester, and his pas­sion for wildlife fre­quently brought him to into con­flict with his su­pe­ri­ors. Not the least of the rea­sons was be­cause he loved foxes.

And now a fox was look­ing at me from 100 yards up the track to the ea­gle glen and the wind was in my face and I sent an ap­pre­cia­tive thought out into the cool moun­tain air for the Mac­caskills, for their work 

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