Today Sheila and I gave our walking boots their first dirtying of the Spring. No doubt about it. Up in the Forest of Achray, above Aberfoyle, it was fresh, at times chilly, at other times balmy when the sun shone and we stood in the shelter of the pines. And it was Spring. Walked for a few hours and took time to work the stiffness and reluctance out of our legs, and by the end of the walk beginning to feel my body moving with some kind of rhythm and ease.
Recent weeks of rain means there's still a lot of mud, wet vegetation, but also streams running off the hills and the water crystal clear. Robins, chaffinch, greenfinch, several varieties of tit including blue, great and coal, pheasants shadow boxing amongst the brown withered ferns, and one of my favourite sights, multitudinous varieties of lichen in every variation of green and grey. I love the delicate filigree of these remarkable plants, and wonder at their capacity to cling to rock, bark and anything else that gives a life-hold by staying still long enough for it to grow. One of the most remarkable things about lichen is its capacity to capture the nutrients it needs from the atmosphere, having a 95% capacity to capture and fix nitrogen within its own life system.
One of my favourite prose writers is the Victorian art critic John Ruskin. In one of his descriptive passages he draws a word picture of mosses and lichens, that is amongst the most beautifully observed and expressed passages of natural history writing I have ever read:
No words that I know of will say what mosses and lichens are. None are delicate enough, none rich enough. How is one to tell of the rounded bosses of furred and beaming green- the starred divisions of rubied bloom, fine filmed, as if the Rock Spirits could spin porphyry as we do glass - the traceries of intricate silver, and fringes of amber, lustrous, aborescent, burnished through every fibre into fitful brightness and glossy traverses of silken change, yet all subdued and pensive, and framed for simplest, sweetest offices of grace...
Yet as in one sense the humblest, in nother they are the most honoured of the earth children. Unfading as motionless, the worm frets them not, and the autumn wastes not. Strong in lowliness, they neither blanch in heat nor pine in frost. To them, slow fingered, constant hearted, is entrusted the weaving of the dark eternal tapestries of the hills; to them, slow-pencilled, iris dyed, the tender framing of their endless imagery. Sharing the stillness of the unimpassioned rock, they share also its endurance; and while the winds of departing spring scatter the white hawthorn blossom like drifted snow, and summer dims on the parched meadow the drooping of the cowslip god - far above, among the mountains, the silver lichen-spots rest, starlike on the stone; and the gathering orange stain upon the edge of yonder western peak reflects the sunsets of a thousand years.
Beautiful. A prose poem, a psalm to the beauty of the world, written by one of the great Victorians. That's why I love Victiorian writers; they knew how to use words to render worlds afresh and anew. And isn't that moss and lichen covered dyke a glorious festival of moorland colours - I took a few minutes simply to enjoy it