At dawn, stillness wrapped in emeralds and anthracite, the airs a glassy curtain, heavy on the shoulder, cold on the skin. Across the field and through steep dell, tracks lead to a meadow and a herd of sika deer.
The stag sees me first, stands still, antlers up like a crown catching the first of light. His court of ladies assembles, proud and lean, onyx eyes trained on me. As I slink away, a silhouette emerges further up the hill. A solitary youngster. Just as sunlight blinks from across the horizon, it’s pulled away into clouds now shedding their burden of snow.
As I climb the ridge, the buck stands still against the woods beyond, snowflakes flurrying around him as if his own spots are dancing from his hide. We remain like that for minutes, the quiet holding us in a cocoon, until he relaxes and starts to dig in the soil for grass. Because I’m still, watching him with calm, deep breaths, syncing into the moment and the oak tree beside me, the pheasants start prancing and mincing carelessly past; dandyish Georgian revellers in their Sunday best, painted with gemstone dabs against the charcoal bark of oak and lime.
On the waters, further down the valley, the mute swans part the icy liquid of their lake, bright against the dark backdrop of hills, snow falling heavier now. Only much later, as the sun wanes again, having stroked field and moor with copper touch, frost sets in, drawing the soil into an icy grip and the owls’ call echoes across the valley. We meet at the forest’s edge, his small dark eyes in moving head locating my stand before commencing on a feast of vole on her silver birch branch.