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.

Bright lights and family memories

March 19th, 2016

DSC03287BY ALL reports the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis – have been putting on some pretty spectacular displays since the turn of the year, not just in Scotland but far south in England too. It’s all been most frustrating for the Doyenne and me because by the time we’ve heard about it on News at 10 or read the Facebook messages, it’s been too late.

It’s not as though we’ve never seen them but they truly are one of nature’s special effects and such an ethereal, exciting experience. We made up for it, however, on Monday evening driving to Birnam where I was giving a talk to the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society.

As we left the house the western sky was filling with soft pinks, peaches and aqua-blues imperceptibly fusing one into another – merging, melding, dissolving, eclipsing, animated, unrestrained, constantly changing.

The colours intensified to a fiery strip of molten incandescence on the horizon and in a final climactic burst of colour it was as if some divine hand had reached for the dimmer switch. The restless sky grew calm – colour ebbing from the heavens and leaching into charcoal-grey clouds.

Then it was gone and there was a sense of awe and wonder at nature’s virtuosity.

Heavenly experience
After my talk a member of the audience told me about her own special heavenly experience. Driving home on a moonlight night shortly after a shower of rain she was confronted by a moonbow or lunar rainbow. These are really rather rare and occur during the full moon phase when the moon’s light is refracted through the moisture in the atmosphere.

The Doyenne is the only other person I know to have seen one and she drove all the way home to tell me about it instead of phoning straight away so that I could dash out in the car and see it for myself. So it’s one of nature’s wonders I’ve yet to experience.

If the numbers of molehills I’m seeing in some fields is anything to go by it’s a bonanza year for moles. I find it strange, however, that one field can be a battle zone of molehills indicating high mole activity, and the adjoining one is free of them. Moles need to eat their own bodyweight of worms each day, so is it the case that one field is crawling with the wriggly critters and the one next door isn’t?

Other than during their breeding season which is between February and May, moles are generally solitary animals, so part of the explanation may be large numbers of male moles seeking females. But being the subterranean, tunnelling animals they are, there are few opportunities to study them when I’m out with the dogs.

As an ecological aside, they say that moles cannot move backwards. Old style gardeners, demented by mole depredation on their treasured lawns, used to place two jars end to end in the mole runs in expectation of catching the pest whichever way he came. The wee gentleman in velvet ran into the jar and couldn’t reverse out.

It’s very satisfactory when something I’ve written about in this column stirs readers’ memories.

Bill Walker of Montrose phoned to tell me about a walking stick in his possession reputed to have been carved by John Taylor who made Ivan Laird’s fine stick which I wrote about three weeks ago.

But that wasn’t all. His brother David was able to follow up on my piece about dogs’ cemeteries with a story about the dog’s cemetery on Craigo Estate between Montrose and Marykirk. Craigo belongs to the Macpherson-Grant family of Ballindalloch in Speyside. I was surprised I didn’t know about the cemetery because, for 36 years, home for me was the former manse at Logie Pert, just a couple of miles away.

Stirring memories
I met the two brothers at the east lodge gates and we parked beside the old coach house. David who grew up on the estate and is still working there after 60 years, had no trouble leading us through the woods to the graveyard. Some of the gravestones are almost completely overgrown but David pointed out stones for Winsome and Mist, Hazel and Topsy. The latest grave is for Daisy, a Pekingese, which the Doyenne and I remember fondly.

Bill’s stick is carved with a barley-sugar twist down the shank and a silver collar is engraved Wm. Walker. The handle is a closed fist and the carving is so fine the finger nails can be clearly seen. Wm. Walker is known to have been born and lived in the Guthrie area of Angus which is how he likely would have come in contact with John Taylor.

Family history is lost through generational erosion, memories and names slip into oblivion and family heirlooms are discarded. But that stick is a link back to forebears who might otherwise be forgotten.

Behind the woodland graveyard recalling the family’s affection for its pets is an ice house, or ice well as David called it, a part of our domestic history. But that’s something to write about another week.

Written on Saturday, March 19th, 2016 at 11:22 pm for Weekly.