The grey geese are back – not in any great numbers yet, but I hear their “cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air”.
Regular readers know how I look out for their return each autumn and how excited I get when their straggled chevrons beat down the Howe of Strathmore heading, as likely as not, for Montrose Basin. For me they are the elemental spirits of nature, the authentic voice of winter.
It’s mostly greylag and pink foot geese. They have spent the summer at their breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland and Spitsbergen. Their young are fledged and now grazing is getting scarce.
About this time each year they sniff the chill winter winds from the north and know it is time to answer the irresistible call to fly south. Following immemorial flight lines they fly more than a thousand miles over leaden, lumpy seas to escape the Arctic winter for our more benign climate. Their destination is not just these parts but down as far as Norfolk and across to Ireland.
Their last sight of land will have been by the light of the midnight sun, and they won’t see land again until they pass over our northern coast. Denys Watkins-Pitchford, one-time art master at Rugby School, who became a prolific writer on the countryside under the pen-name BB, wrote: “I do not think that any man who has a spark of imagination within him can fail to be moved by the almost unearthly music of a large skein of wild geese upon the wing.”
They talk of goose fever and it’s part of my love affair with the wild geese – the hounds of heaven, someone called them, and it’s easy to understand why when you hear their yelping calls blown in on the wind. I rush to get a good view of them whenever I hear their “cryin’ voices”.
Life in the countryside revolves round the four seasons. Each one affects a countryside writer like myself and I adjust my walking patterns to the daily weather and the physical conditions on the ground.
With the harvest progressing Inka and I are enjoying new walks in the stubble fields. There’s a great variety of walks locally but a change is as good as a holiday, even for a dog. He can run free over the stubbles and we revisit woodlands we haven’t walked in since spring. Some fields will be left fallow for the winter but most will soon be ploughed in readiness for sowing winter barley and winter wheat.
A great deal is said about the benefits of nature for our health. Most of the time I take nature for granted and don’t give it a first, let alone a second, thought. It’s there on my doorstep and always has been and even now, living as we do on the edge of a village, I can open the door and step out into the countryside. Woods are a short walk away, the hills of the Angus glens a short drive, as is the coast and the sea and the shore. Everywhere is sky and light and having a dog who must be walked takes me out into this magical environment every day.
Nature has been a great constant in my life – dependable and generous. As season follows season I know that buds on the trees herald lighter evenings and more time spent outdoors. I take it all for granted and, if I’m honest, I’ve never properly expressed my appreciation of the rewards it has brought me.
Daytime or night I’m at ease with nature. I remember a remark that some people get stressed when they run out of pavement, so they don’t so much as venture into the countryside to look and to listen and to try to understand nature.
Nature has taught me so much – about herself, if indeed she is a ‘she’, and about myself. Having lived most of my life in the country, when I started writing this column I reckoned I was pretty country-wise and could rattle off the weekly articles in no time. How wrong I was. I’m sure my early efforts were a source of entertainment to gamekeepers and farmers much more knowledgeable than me until I realised how essential it is to check facts before blindly committing them to paper.
And nature is mine. I have the most glorious landscape to draw inspiration from – the land, the sea, mountains, rivers, lochs, the skies at daytime and the sky at night. The colours and the sounds and everything that lives on and under our wonderful world – more and more I think what a lucky chap I am.
Out in the countryside with Inka and nature for company I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.
Nature’s blessings are my blessings, our blessings – and they are free.