I went for a jog today – a renewed effort to get fitter and thinner. My usual route takes me along a path by the shore of the loch, and every time it reminds me to be grateful to live where I do.
Today was yon cloudy-but-bright way: the sun was trying really hard to push through, and I could feel its heat as I set off from home.
Soon, though, I was into the woods. The oaks are in full leaf now, and the path is shaded. I ran through green air, sharp with the scent of damp moss and high bracken. Sometimes I plunged through the smell of honeysuckle, sweet and thick.
For a while the woods were silent apart from a couple of crows grumbling in the treetops, but then I heard cattle bellowing. They were so loud I half expected to run into them at the first turn of the track, but then, in the field above the woods, I saw them through the oaks. Like a great bulky daisy chain they were moving through the gateway from the whin park into the limehill: one leading the way, and the rest complaining at being left behind.
I love that fields have names. Ancient names, passed down through the folk who have made their living from them. The reasons for some names are obvious, but others – who was Maggie? The field called Maggie’s Park is a lasting memorial, but I don’t know if anybody now knows who she was.
I went through the last gate before the shore, and dropped my pace to a slow walk. The path comes into the open here, and I like to be unobtrusive in case there’s good wildlife to be seen. The air was much warmer here than under the trees, and it was almost-but-not-quite sunny. A brisk breeze blew onto the shore, cooling the sweat on me. I smelled meadowsweet, and warm grass. Insects worked their way across the flowerheads, not caring about me as I walked by.
Not too old yet to climb, I hopped over the wooden fence and sat down on a flat exposed rock among the short turf. The water of the loch broke against the bank about three feet away. I faced into the wind and waited.
At first there was nothing, and then I saw three or four swallows working low above the water. I could hardly see them against the wrinkled grey – so close! What do they do if they misjudge it, and the top of a wave catches a wingtip? So far out – surely an accidental dip in the loch is death. And yet there they were, fearless.
A tern flew past me, so close that I could see his black head was closer to brown. He, too, was working the water, but wasn’t having much luck. Probably the waves were too big for him to see the tiny fish he was after. He veered away and I lost him. Three crows, in traditional straight line formation, flew across the water towards the oak wood. They reminded me of an old gangster movie: three hoods off to do a bit of shady business.
My attention concentrated closer in. The rock under me was warm, and the sun had really almost made it through the cloud. There was no sound but the slap of the waves and the gentle rush of the wind. I could smell white clover, and pineapple mayweed, and drying cowshit… these were the sounds and smells of my childhood summers on my island home. Scent is a powerfully nostalgic tool. The only difference was the water now was fresh, not salt. I sat there through forty years and back again, and then I realised that I’d seen no sign of life for a while. The swallows were gone. No crows, no terns, no small birds chirping in the hawthorn thicket behind me.
And then I saw the osprey.
It flew over me from the landward side, saw me, didn’t care. At first I thought it was a buzzard, but when it paused to hover above the water I realised my mistake. It hovered, flew: hovered, flew: hovered, flew. Every time getting a little bit lower. It was working into the wind, and on a trajectory which would take it diagonally past me.
I held my breath. My nose was running, but I didn’t want to move. Closer and closer he came, until finally we both heard a jingle, and a man with a dog approached on the path.
The osprey turned, flapped unhurriedly, and disappeared over the trees.
I wiped my nose.
A few minutes later, the swallows and the terns returned.
And I jogged home with a big smile on my face.