To fly, just keep flinging yourself at the ground and missing.
— Douglas Adams, paraphrased
Meanwhile, farther inland – away from the North Atlantic’s stony afterbirth – two voices of a wildcat that is no bigger than a housecat were heard, calling to one another across the Highland hills:
…[H]ow’s this for a word portrait, as drawn by David Stephen:
“Behold the Scottish tiger – Felis Sylvestris Grampia! See him padding high across a wild scree in the slanting morning light, big-fisted, wide-eared, long of limb and tusk, with ringed club-tail, and you’ve seen one of the lords of life: a cateran of fire and brimstone, implacably savage, reputedly untameable…
“You’ll hear the treason whispered that there’s no such animal. For shame. English red squirrels we have; even English ways. And Swedish capercaillies. And Japanese deer. And Norman, ex-Spanish rabbits. Our grey squirrel is an American. But the wildcat is our own – and real. Hark to the wild pibroch of him, as he stalks through the gloom of the corrie when the moon is riding high. This is the devil’s black laughter: hiss and crackle, scream and sob. The wildcat’s skelloch is of the lonely places, of mountain and high forest. Beside him the caterwauling alley cat is a cartoon clown.”
I haven’t met a wildcat out in the wild for about ten years now, when I met two within the space of a few months, one in a quiet backwater of Glen Dochart in broad daylight, the other in the dark at Balquhidder. The Glen Dochart one was a blur on a single-track back road as I cycled towards Killin. There were pieces of rabbit on the road and a splash of blood. I watched cat and rabbit corpse thread a path uphill through bracken and rocks. A hundred yards up the hill the cat stopped, dropped the rabbit, turned to stare back down at me, looked around in every direction, resettled the rabbit into its jaws and disappeared into the hillside. I waited and waited, and eventually saw it again much higher and much further west, and as far as I could see the rabbit was missing.
At Balquhidder, I was out for a late evening walk down to the River Balvaig on a night of deep winter and a million stars. I had been walking for about ten minutes when I heard the eeriest sound of the Highland night, not the hiss or the crackle or scream of a wildcat, but what David Stephen called the sob.
“Mau,” it said, and the voice was deep and throaty and velvety. I shivered inside my warmest jacket. Then from much further to my right, a second voice:
I simply stood dead still. If they had my scent, and quite possibly the sight of me too (for their night eyes are as good as yours and mine in sunlight), the best I could do was not give them sound or movement to work with.
There were two more monosyllabic exchanges, then silence. I stood until I was too cold for my own comfort, and decided I could do no more. But I was back there in the early morning . . .
“When Summer lies upon the world,
and in a noon of gold
Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves
the dreams of trees unfold… ”
— J. R. R. Tolkien
I came across a video of this performance on a Victor Borge collection from the local library. I had remembered him as a wonderful clown on TV during my childhood. Now in my sixties, I recognized that only someone who has lived life open as much as possible to the world’s pains and pleasures could play like this.
People say a lot of things about Detroit, but it is not a bad town – a Danish pianist did this there one night.
To reach a port, we must set sail – Sail, not lie at anchor. Sail, not drift.
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt, April 14, 1938, Fireside Chat
h/t to Earth Science Picture of the Day at http://epod.usra.edu/