Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Crest of a wave

December 15th, 2012

THE COUNTRYSIDE and wildlife lie at the heart of this column but regular readers will know that over the years I’ve adopted a broad interpretation of my brief. Pictures, poetry, books and songs have all contributed to my weekly outpourings.

The sea has had a special impact on my soul and not so long ago the Doyenne and I enjoyed a concert at Dundee’s Caird Hall which included the orchestral suite, Four Sea Interludes, from Benjamin Britten’s opera ‘Peter Grimes’. The opera tells the story of fisherman Peter Grimes who drowns himself following accusations that he has murdered his apprentice.

Britten grew up on the East Anglian coast, which shares the same exposure to the North Sea’s potent forces and the dangers faced by mariners, as Scotland’s north-east. The last Interlude, entitled ‘Storm’, sets the scene with growling brass depicting high winds and wild seas.

I was soon carried off into a world of my own, sailing under bare poles, the mainsail in tatters and the jibs carried away on the storm. Lashed to the wheel I fought the helm as the rudder kicked against the plunging seas. The rest of the crew had crept to the shelter of the poop deck.

Creaming rollers picked up the ship, frail and tiny in the immensity of the hissing foam and rattling spray. Waves roared and burst under our stern as we plunged madly over the gun-metal grey seas. Thunder-charged storm clouds blotted out the horizon and lightning exploded in pools of fire.

And then there was thunderous applause as the audience expressed its appreciation, not just of the music but of conductor Peter Oundjian and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s interpretation of it.

Imagination’s a grand thing!

Ancient trees have an air of permanence and establishment in their setting and surroundings. They’ve been there for more than two centuries before you were born and they’ll likely be there for another two centuries after you’re gone. So it comes as a bit of a shock when you find one blown down.

I took the dogs a walk we’ve neglected for a while where there are three old soldiers in a corner of a field, two venerable beech trees and an oak. It was this last one, its roots surely weakened with age, which had been savagely uprooted and laid low by Nature’s destructive force.
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I’d known the old veteran in all its seasons and got used to its silhouette; gaunt and gnarled in winter with branches like arthritis-twisted fingers and, come springtime, bursting with the vitality of another season’s healthy foliage.

It’s been a comfy tree to sit under, my back against its moss-covered bark like the crumpled skin of some primaeval elephant, sensing that its days are ebbing fast, has made its way to the legendary elephants’ graveyard to face its solitary release.

I hadn’t thought that recent winds have been destructive enough to cause such damage but no matter, it’s met its end now. If I owned that tree I’d be seeing if it could be sawn up and turned into tables or chairs – one for each member of the family so that its memory should live on.

On my travels these last couple of months I’ve noticed what a vigorous buzzard population we have locally, which at least indicates a healthy supply of the small mammals these birds live on. It was only when I saw a kestrel sitting in a bush by the roadside that I realised that I hadn’t seen one of these smaller birds of prey for weeks.

The two birds share much of the same prey species and I’m wondering if the bigger birds have chased off the smaller ones in the constant cycle of hunting for food; or maybe I’ve just not been in the right places at the right time.

Still on birds, I’d driven down to Dundee and turned right at the traffic lights into Claverhouse Road and I noticed a heron sitting on the top of one of the street lamps. Perhaps it’s a common sight for Claverhouse residents, after all there’s a Heron Rise beside the nearby Trottick Ponds.

I don’t know why it should have surprised me, but it did. But then you don’t get many street lamps in the country.

Written on Saturday, December 15th, 2012 at 10:29 am for Weekly.