Thursday, 10 March 2011

A Yesterday Of Long Ago

There is an aura of spiritual belonging and a pervasive sense of history that hangs thick in the air on the Isle of Mull. There are places on the island that haunt the very fibre of mankind and send shivers of the unknown down the length of your spine. Loch Ba, located in a glacial trench in the centre of the island and Mull’s second largest freshwater body, is one such place: a state of petrified stillness which evokes those arcane déjà vu moments of rekindled thoughts that you’ve been there before, even when you haven’t.

The Oak woodlands that tattoo the northern shore of the loch are eerily decrepit, having been wizened and worn out by the winds of time and the poor quality of soil in which they are rooted. These stands of dead and decaying timber, however, possess a certain beauty of their own, a sort of arboreal architecture. Each tree is unique, their contorted and displaced branches twisting back upon themselves, like an old man bent and struggling against the wind. Ghost-like of character, the bare bones of these once proud trees remain to haunt a hillside that has been privy to turbulent changes in a yesterday of long ago.

Dead branches litter the woodland floor like the cast antlers of the Red Deer that roam this aboriginal landscape. Bark lies strewn on the grass, a reminder of the life that once flowed in these corky skeletons. The tough, outer layer of a tree’s ‘skin’ is made up of dead cells, which form a protective barrier against the worst of weather and attack from fungi and animals keen to exploit it’s sugar-rich sap. The multiple inner layers of bark are where the tree’s engine room is, pumping essential water, sugars and minerals from the roots to the leaves during the growing season.

As remote and desolate as it seems today, the Loch Ba trench of river, mountain and moor was previously a site of much igneous creation and destruction, dating back to the time of the Mull Volcano 60 million years ago. Weather and the impact of glacial erosion have cut the island’s massif down to a more manageable size for today’s hillwalkers! It is a hostile environment, where only the fittest survive from one year to the next. Like Red Deer, domestic breeds of sheep, like Scottish Blackface, and Highland Cattle are among the hardiest of animals and capable of seeing out the worst of the Isle of Mull’s climate. However, the Winter months take their toll on the sick and injured, whose carcasses often provide food for the island’s scavenging White-tailed and Golden Eagles, Buzzards, Ravens and Hooded Crows.

March is a time when Spring often pops it’s head around the corner to say ‘hello’, here on the Isle of Mull. Our capricious weather usually means that it soon retracts it’s head fairly quickly, however! The waterlogged ditches and puddles that threatened to wet our feet on our walk were suddenly brim full of activity, as Common Frogs came out of their Winter hibernation to seek traditional wetlands in which to lay their masses of gelatinous spawn. The jelly both protects and keeps warm the developing embryo until the tadpoles emerge to run the gauntlet of Spring drought and bird’s beaks. That some do survive to continue this perennial saga is a miracle in itself!

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