I catch a whiff of spring in the air but what I see, hear and smell belies the change in season. It is cold and leads of snow remain on the distant Black Cuillin which serves as a reminder that winter is not done yet. An immediate observation is that the sheep are not on the rocky outcrop, because the shepherdess is no longer feeding them. They are now foraging further afield as the grass begins to grow again. Although there are some hints of spring – brighter skies and evidence of the sun trying to break through, the colours of the landscape remain winter. The scene is predominantly burnt umber, sienna, and a little ochre. Dead remnants of brown fern mingle with yellow moss and sedge.
Around the trunk of the silver birch remain clumps of wiry wool left by the sheep seeking shelter on cold winter nights.
Lichen clutches to the bark too.
I notice that the sky, while still grey now has gradations rather than being lifeless and plain in colour. I am not sure whether it is me willing the tiny shoots of the birch into life or if they are really there. I struggle to see as the tree is much taller than me!
I sense a pause of the change in the seasons. While there are hints of warmer weather to come, there is a reticence in the air. Perhaps borne by previous exuberant growth hampered by the return of winter in late March. The birds are singing but cautiously and quietly. The single-track road that passes below the tree is quiet too. The odd local, or winter thrill seeker drives carefully over the winter-damaged surface on their fifteen-mile journey to Elgol. The smells of winter hang in the air – of melted snow and the dampness of the water that I hear running beneath my feet. The word that comes to mind is “anticipation” and while there are signs that the seasons are turning, there is also a clear caution on the part of nature that is not prepared to burst into life and accept that the harsh winter of the northwest Scotland is at an end just yet.
I am disturbed by some tourists who clamber up to the silver birch invading my space and my spot. The moment is broken, and my connection with the tree is gone – I feel compromised and compelled to leave. But not before I find that they too are appreciative of the small things in nature, the underdogs, those things that others might not give a second look.