Friday, 28 January 2022

Buttered mushrooms in the Highlands

DOWN to the marsh at dusk to find two roe deer, bright ginger in their summer

DOWN to the marsh at dusk to find two roe deer, bright ginger in their summer coats, grazing in the hay meadow.

The buck raises his head to watch us, his tiny antlers just higher than his ears.

Even at mid-morning a doe strolls through the “garden”, nipping off choice wild lupins, buttercups and the tips of rose shoots.

Later, as I draw the curtains to retire, the doe leads her twin fawns across to a sheltered corner under a pine tree. At dawn a red squirrel uses the stone wall as a highway from our pines to the shelter belt of larch, pine and birch which protects the village from the prevailing westerly winds.

Piles of shredded cones beneath the trees betray their presence as they seek out the seeds within.

For the last 15 years a herd of red deer has also established a territory in the strath, close to the marsh, defying the adage that they migrate to higher ground in summer to escape the flies. They have learned they are safer in the nature reserve and on the farmer’s meadows than on the shooting moors and the hinds graze with their calves wherever the cattle are not grazing. No sign of the stags.

The hills are not yet purple with the common heather (erica vulgaris) but under the pines and birches are clumps of fading, pale pink cross-leaved heather (erica tetralix) and fresh, bright bell heather (erica cinerea).

In damper woods, chanterelle mushrooms poke through the moss and wood sorrel, exactly the yellow of fallen birch leaves, nibbled by slugs and squirrels and lightly sautéed in butter by us.

It is a warm, damp summer, rich in midges and mushrooms, boletus to eat and fly agaric to shun.

White tufts of cotton grass rise above the sphagnum moss and dull green bog myrtle.

From time to time the wind sweeps away a single seed glume with its fragile cluster of hairs. Two of the white blobs in the club rush, those shiny reeds with a cluster of glumes near the top of the spike, are not cotton grass but webs woven into a white parcel of the same size, enclosing a black spider and its prey to nourish the spiderlets when they hatch.

On the brae where sheep grazed recently are alpine gentian, white bistort, pale pink orchids and ochre bog asphodel by the stream.

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