Thursday, 7 January 2010


Cottarton is mythological --- something we knew when we settled here, reinforced one morning when looking out on our driveway I found a large hare --- at least three feet tall. The rainbows we see don’t belong to this world. Neither do the gales that sweep past. And, yes, there’s the snow. You may have heard that the entire UK, as the tabloids say, is in “the grip of ice and snow”. But in our glen the snow, as with the hares rainbows and wind, acquires mythological dimensions. Icicles hanging from our eaves keep growing --- the record’s about eight feet, including the icicle that grew from the ground up. As in Narnia, it’s winter for as long as we seem to remember, and no end in sight of breaking the evil spell. The other night I passed snow giants, beings of snow reaching ten feet, walking with an indifferent nonchalance across the fields.

Viewed from space, the UK looks like the moon, or curst by a nasty spell which has relocated the missing polar icecap here. Try making out anything but snow and ice.

Closer to home, we haven’t seen a postman since Christmas, which is good, as we have a respite from our deluge of bills. The rubbish hasn’t been picked up either. Once a day a snow plough passed down the road, clearing the snow, but there’s no salt or grit. The county is low on grit and reserves it for major roads, once every two days.

Walking to our car, parked permanently at the end of our dirt road, we pass sheep that are making the best of the snow. Every day Robert or Mark Hamilton dump a load of turnips in the feeder for the sheep. You wonder where other animals shop for food. The deer shop at Cottarton.

They first appeared a couple of months ago after a nearby forest was clearcut, leaving the roe deer to forage elsewhere. Then, we still had cabbages, brussel sprouts, kale, Savoy, broccoli. No more. After three visits we were left with nothing but stumps. The locals suggested I buy a shotgun and a lantern, and sit out all night long, drinking whisky and waiting for the buggers to show up. A deer fence --- seven feet high is a permanent solution, but beyond our budget. I’m going to try an electric fence. However, in today’s snow it would be a foot under.

How about releasing some wolves into my field? Now, we’re really talking mythology. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear the wolves howling at night? Hear them calling the pack together for a hunt. Watch them gather? They’d have plenty of food, all the deer they ever wanted, and if they ran short of venison, well, they could help themselves to a sheep or two. It might not make for the best neighbours, and that would be a wee problem.

Have you ever looked at a wolf close-up? I was privileged to, at the St. Francis Sanctuary in Magnolia, Texas. They study you, understand you, can welcome you or dismiss you with a glance. These are no just a breed of dogs, but are highly intelligent.

The wolf used to run here, long ago when the land was heavily forested, a thousand years ago perhaps, or farther back. Exterminating the wolf, and clearing the forest for agriculture and farming went hand in hand. Once the wolf was gone deer multiplied. Without the wolf to control their numbers, they had no predator other than us. Unfortunately the deer eat small trees and bushes, my berry bushes and my veg, meaning that forest cannot re-establish itself easily, and I end up tearing out my hair.

Maybe we need the re-establish our ancient relationship with the wolf.

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