Outside the kitchen window, an alarm call alerts me to an unexpected presence. Glancing out, the movement catches my eye. It seems I have a new neighbour. Russet brown against white snow. A weasel pops out of a hole formed between snow and wall. A hastily run out and then back in again. Then again. Head pokes out first, trembling. A quick dart to the side, out of sight, under the snow. Then a return, running low, grey mouse in mouth. It shimmers up the snow bank, and then down under the oil tank. At least under there it will be dry, and sheltered from the worst of the elements.
Outside is cold, a monochrome world. Grey skies laden with more snow above. The community has rallied round, paths are being cleared, roads kept open. The bird feeders have almost descended to ground level, the bush in which they hang is so weighted down by the snow. Getting to the feeders requires an athletic feat, plunging thigh deep in snow. Still the birds come, desperate for food in this freezing land.
The ice is back, thickly coating the streets with frozen snow. I venture out briefly to dust off the wall where the blackbird perches, scattering some birdseed for her. The sparrows are fluffed up like little balls of fleece. The robin watches me warily from his perch on the log pile. The chaffinch shrieks his objection from the rowan tree. This is my place, he seems to say. Retreating back inside, I stand at the kitchen window, hot tea in hand, and watch the birds descend.
The loch is frozen, with only a few patches clear for the wildfowl clustered together. From here it looks as though you can walk out to the crannog, although to do would result in an icy bath. Last nights dusting of snow has created a frosted effect, like sprinkles on a cup-cake. I tap it gently with my pole and listen. The sound rings out through the stillness, echoing like fairy chimes, raising a raucous response from the ducks.
Up the hill today ‘the rock of the oak trees’. A steep winding path heads upwards. Patches of snow and ice lay in the open spaces. Elsewhere, the lea of the hill gives shelter from the worst of the ice wind. The winter sunlight shines down, filtered through the bare branches. Last year’s leaves bury the path, a slippery trap for the unwary. Slowly I pick my way along, until the view opens out. The snow dusted foothills loom across the rooftops in the valley. Up above, a bird of prey circles, searching for movement below.
The snow came again last night. Waking, I sense the hush outside, sound absorbed by the white coating. The morning blue light reflects from the ground. I head out to clear the car. The grass is covered with bird prints, from pigeons who hang about under the feeders, to the blackbird that hops along. A rustle comes from the ivy-covered wall, and out pops the robin to say hello.
I climb the hill, puffing as I go. Sticking carefully to the edges of the path, where the grass provides some grip beneath the ice and snow. Up to the seat, where the mountains are on display. Pink tinged in the early sun. Then climbing further, past the old curling pond, ice so thick my pole can’t penetrate it. Up to the old trackway, under the trees, where patches of snow have faded to frozen mud, and the stream trickles by as I walk. In the conifers, a bird shouts an alarm call as I pass, and high up on the hill another bird sings out in reply.
Last nights dusting of snow lies over the ice, disguising it. Only the passing of people show what lies beneath. We stick carefully to the grassy edges, picking our way along. Golden afternoon light drapes over the trees, creating a shadowland beneath. Twig and shade merge, and shapes seem to twist and change. A faint rustle betrays the presence of blackbird, guddling in the frozen leaves for its dinner. Above a bluetit perches, singing an alarm at our presence, silhouetted against the pale blue of oncoming dusk.
An escape to the seaside today. A hospital visit combined with a walk on the promenade. The tide is full in, and the wind whipping the waves, so that they come rolling in with a crash and a thud, sea-spray reaching up and over. The icy rain grips my breath, and freezes my nose. On the embankment, a flock of dunlins dances in and out of the incoming tide, seeking sustenance, puffed up against the cold. I huddle further into my coat as I stride along, trying to outpace the worst of the weather. I pause and turn to face the incoming tide, arms outstretched, balanced on the wind. Aware of the power pent-up within. Closing my eyes, I stretch hearing and sensation until I am only aware of the boom of the tide, the lash of the wind, and the creeling of the gulls overhead. Time passes, until with a final nod to the tide, I must move on.
The bird-feeders are empty again, and the water bowl frozen. Outside is ice. The temperature is still below zero. Even a trip to collect the feeders need hat, scarf, gloves. I scurry out and back in again, startling a bluetit, which erupts from the honeysuckle with a startled peep. Fill the feeders, then brace myself for the gasp of cold air. The feeders are back up. I try to break the ice on the bowl. No success today. It is frozen solid as a rock. Heading back inside, I catch the flutter of wings behind me. The birds are already flocking to the feeder.