Pigeons bursting from their roosting places
Country Sights and Sounds
FIRST light was cold, the air filled with frozen fog, minute particles of ice that crisped the lungs. I had intended an early morning woodland walk, but by the time I made it past the lake I was hungry. So rather than complete what would have been a long circuit, I turned back on myself and made a beeline for the frying pan. Working in these conditions demands good food and plenty of fat in the diet.
After breakfast I emerged into a different world. The sunward side of everything was now ice free, though the rime still stuck to every shadow. Throwing a double handful of peanuts into the leaf litter for the finches to find, I caught the first tentative notes of a song thrush. Then it was spring song, proper song to lift the spirits. No more that purely territorial, defensive trill that we have put up with through the winter, but a full blown throatful of elegance.
Across the bog a pair of mistle thrushes did their best, rattling shrill cries and chasing from thorn to ash top and on. A trio of jays made their way along the tree line, shrieking alternate love charms and challenges among themselves. They came into view through the beeches and we watched them falling out. It was hard to tell male from female; for one thing both sexes are pretty much alike, and for another, there seemed no order to their argument. Two would fall on one, then one upon another while the third stood by. They would sort themselves out over the course of the day.
I had to go then, to attend to more mundane matters. Though the day was nearly done by the time I reached my home again, I still had my morning walk to finish. Thinking of hungry deer, I turned a different corner, followed the trail of a fox through a thorny thicket and on toward the sinking sun. The deer don’t like to eat frozen grass, nor do they like to be on pasture during the daytime. Last night’s frost and the promise of more to come should have brought them out to feed a little earlier.
There were signs of them everywhere; finely pointed footprints, deer hair on barbed wire, and fresh droppings tapering off to another section of the wood. I followed the clues, walking quickly and quietly. Half a mile later the sun was tipping the horizon. Then, between one glance and another, it was gone, pulling starry darkness behind it.
I pressed on, determined to find where the deer were feeding. If I found them tonight it would be so much quicker to return to the right place tomorrow. Down the hill I went, and through a pine wood I had never seen before. As these trees are planted in rows there is no danger of getting lost; nor is there any danger from the things living there.
A hundred yards away a vixen called, an inhuman sound that carried through the trees as a half-echo. She called again, closer to hand, then once more a good distance away, a nightmare scream to chill the blood of those who do not know the woods. But I grew up with foxes all around and wished she would come strolling towards me.
I lost the deer track in the gloaming but carried on down the hill. Pigeons burst from their roosting places in the canopy on clattering wings. A wood mouse scampered away from my heavy footfall. An owl sounded in the distance, ‘tu-whick!’, then fell silent.
I came out of the trees to find a world of velvet in yet one more beautiful corner of Lough Carra. There seems no end to the magic of this wonderful lake. It is timeless, ageless, and hardly known by any but a privileged few.
The woods were dark now, and as I moved through the trees a few flakes of snow fell lightly. I hadn’t found the deer, but here was a rare and quiet peace.