For more than 90 minutes we’d sat until cold air quieted the wood and the day thinned into the long shadows of the trees. By 10.30pm we were centred in an arc of artificial lamp glow. There was just the sound of a last robin across the loch, its spindly song an analogue for the vanishing day.
The silent theatricality of the moment was thus complete when the creature strolled into our vision without the merest hint of drama. Its step was sprightly, its acceptance of the lamp instantaneous. It brought a touch of night in its sharp black muzzle and in the big silent dark-stockinged feet – and every now and then it paused from eating to stare hard at its own route through the trees, reassuring itself of solitude – but otherwise we were all at ease with the mutual encounter. For 10 minutes there were no sounds but the crunch of nut and the click of camera.
This is the cold killer widely accused of wiping out the chicken coop in one night. This is the sure-footed predator who can race through the canopy to snatch a squirrel in full flight from a topmost twig. This is the invader well able to steal shadow-like into an occupied house and den in the attic. Yet the things I noticed most were the dewdrops beaded on its luxuriant fur, the pinkness of the pointed tongue, the relish with which those carnassials ground up nuts. It could so easily have been someone’s pet.
It snuffled under our gaze for each final morsel, it tricked along a birch beam to slurp at dribbles of honey. Its route back to ground was as careless and assured as the ascent, and there was one extraordinary moment when its hind claws clipped it to a branch and down it dangled as if in a harness of loose fur, as if it had momentarily forgotten those rear legs bound above its head, as if gravity were just another plaything. It extracted a last dewdrop of sweetness. Then without sound, without more ado, it vanished and we were alone with the silent thrill of a pine marten.