11 March 2018

I’m teaching three courses (creative writing, poetry and nature writing) at the University of Highlands and Islands this semester, in Inverness, so I spend two days a week there, which means I’m having some amazing landscape experiences. Driving home this Friday night was particularly spectacular.

The mountains were streaky with snowdrift patterns, striped with the striations of long ago ice-scrapes, each hollow white-filled and every smooth south-facing slope dark with exposed heather and rocks. The landscape was breac (a wonderful Gaelic word that means both speckled and trout), a camouflage pattern in which deer hid except where they revealed themselves on rare grass patches, brown against the blond desiccated herbage.

The days may stretch but the winter is longer, as they say. The March snow is delaying the early signs of spring: no primroses yet, not even honeysuckle buds venturing into optimistic leaf as they so often do at this time of year. Even in the snow there are flowers of course – on the gorse bushes, which only stop blooming when kissing’s not in season, as the adage goes. And in my view, a delayed spring is worth it for the light on this spectacular, marginal ice-land.

Along Loch Assynt the sunset shimmered and the white, looming presence of Beinn Reidh cast its shining reflection across the water. The island pine trees, which have looked to be dying on their feet for as long as I’ve known them, thirty years now, stood silhouetted against the silver and copper sky-glow, symbols of stark resilience at the edge.

Venus punctuated the blue space left by the sun, glinting like an intimate gift that can be plucked from above, defying the rational mind that knows it’s far, far away. As the sun had set, the sky had cleared, letting the meagre warmth escape, allowing the mountains and the land to sink back into contemplative cold.

Winter isn’t over yet and I can’t say I’m sorry.

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