Caught out by chilly weather

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Well, last week continued to be a case of “summer in the sun and winter in the shade”.

Out of the wind and when the sun has shone there has been a certain warmth, but then the heavy grey clouds would come over and a would snowstorm blow through. My walks have been blighted by it and I have been caught out a few times, left soaked, cold and bedraggled when the sun came out again. Some creatures though, seem oblivious to it.

I was somewhere between Kildrummy and Strathdon - not exactly sure where, as is often the case with me! - when I spotted two hares at the edge of a rough grazing field. They were feeding quite companionably together and although I waited for a while, there was no sign of any “antics”. Moving on, the sun was shining and although the wind was bitterly cold it was pleasant enough. The next field contained five hares and the atmosphere here was decidedly tense. Although they too were cropping the new growth on the grass, there were a few incidents of one hare getting just a bit too close to another and a small skirmish ensued. I just love hares and to see them together like this was fabulous. When they ran, I was reminded of my son’s description of them as “hot rod hares - all the power is in the jacked up rear”. When the were moving away from me the backs of their ears were startlingly white in the sun, with black tips, the ears themselves constantly swiveling to catch any unusual sound. At one stage a male pheasant flew low over them into the field and they all immediately flattened and froze, ears lying down along their backs and chins on the ground. Very quickly they realized it was a false alarm and went back to munching. Three other pheasants fed alongside them.

While I was watching them a blizzard blew in and I almost couldn’t see them for the snow and hail. They however, seemed unperturbed by this sudden change and just carried on as they had been. They do have thick, dense coats and I have seen hares lying in rough grass with snow almost totally covering them, looking for all the world like a snow covered molehill.

Much further on, I was to see yet another hare sitting on the edge of a field of rapeseed, but it spotted me very quickly and sped off into the crop - all that was visible was the tip of its ears and occasionally the top of its back as it ran along the rows.

On the 13th of April I saw my first swallow on a similarly changeable day, just outside Inverurie on the Rothienorman road. The poor thing must have wondered if it had got its timing wrong - “Where is everyone and what’s this white stuff”. I know that one swallow does not make a summer, but I will settle for it making it Spring. Talking of which, the chiff chaffs are calling in the scrubby areas around me already, one of our resident blackbirds in the garden is carrying worms into the top of the ivy on the wall and I watched gannets fishing off Cullen in between the snow showers. Unpredictable weather or not, it is Spring.

Walking through the sun-sprinkled beech woods near where I live, underfoot were swathes of dog’s mercury which is already clothing the floor of the woodland in deep green. As my feet crushed it, whiffs of the fetid smell came up to greet me. Dog’s mercury is a poisonous plant and dogs, particularly, for some unknown reason terriers, I have heard are prone to eating it, causing severe sickness. That is not why it is called dog’s mercury - the dog in this case means false or of lesser value, referring to its likeness to another plant but lacking the pleasing properties i.e. scent or medicinal properties, like dog rose or dog violet. Dog’s mercury is also is very invasive. Where I was walking, about half a mile or so of the length of the wood and its full width was carpeted by it.

Following the river, crossing (of course) an open area when the worst of the snow came on, I reached another stretch of wood where there was no dog’s mercury, but an altogether more pleasant plant to clothe the soil. Bluebell leaves were shooting up everywhere, glossy straps of green, and a few in sheltered spots some already had flowers. I could not resist and knelt down to inhale their strong perfume. Walking through a wood full of bluebells in full bloom is one of the most intoxicating walks you can take, particularly on a still warm day, when the scent hangs so thick in the air that you feel that you could take a handful of it home with you.

I am looking forward to re-visiting this wood in a few weeks time when it will be a sea of blue waves of blossom, washing through the trunks of the trees.

Right in the middle of a patch of bluebell leaves was a polystyrene carton of the type used to package fast foods. I wondered how on earth it had reached somewhere so far from roads or tracks. It was like a blot on a beautiful painting and my annoyance at its presence made me lift it, crush it until it fitted in my pocket and carry it home.

Walking back through yet another snow shower, head down into the stinging hail, I sincerely wished that one swallow did indeed make a summer or that I had the thick coat of a hare to insulate me.