Northwords Now Issue 37

The FREE literary magazine of the North

On The Roadside Before Glen Strathfarrar

by Leonie Charlton

The birder’s hands touch and overlap like a moth’s wings. They hold utterly still for a second then open out, angled wide to take in this whole canopy of silver birch trees. Head bowed, a single finger points upwards, ‘wood warbler, there, can you hear it?’ Another finger points behind him, ‘a snatch of Robin…and that’s the wood warbler again, descending octave.’ My eyes follow the direction of his fingers, my ears are lost. ‘Dew dew,’ he mimics, ‘siskin’. I walk away, overcome by this whelm of song, this wealth of expertise.

The gean’s girth is massive. Wind and centuries have taken down branches, wounds leak resin like wells of iron-water. Reaching out from the trunk’s hulk fine branches dangle caterpillar-plump catkins by my face. There are leaves too, covered in the softest down, elegant as swans’ tongues. This ancient tree has an ancient companion. The goat willow holds myth in its clambering geometries, its branches balance lungwort and mosses. One limb coories in close to me, from it an alder seedling takes off pin-straight and perfect from a bangle of moss.

The willow gropes the circumference of a pond, excavates the dank damp earth, takes just enough to keep going, to ease into territories of patience. The willow’s and gean’s roots must be touching, right here below where my feet stay still between wood anemones and violets. I lean close to the trunk, breathe in the scent of it, and I swear it smells of sex. I place my hands over the dry warmth of the bark, move them slowly until they overlap at the thumb joint, soft as moth wings.