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