Air-pounding wing beats and Popeye-like gurgles of Red Grouse broke a snow-muffled landscape. A single Snow Bunting harmony trembled through the abstract silence, a welcomed melody to our stifled cold-nose infused sniffs. The deep crunch of snow rumbled through our boots, and a highland wind pushed into us, creeping onto exposed skin, enlivening our lungs; reinforcing our absence of right to call the Mountains our kingdom.
A flurry of snow scattered through the air, cascaded by the fidgety feet of one who has rightly earned their alpine throne, along with few others; the Mountain Hare Lepus timidus.
Tightly tucked into high-rise forms, cocooned in heather with stony shelter, rock-like bundles of downy fur lay; eggshell white with flecks of taupe brown and charcoal grey. Unmoving, unwilling to sacrifice their hard-earned hearth in a frostbitten land.
Huge snow-shoe feet had led us this far, lightly-pressed imprints in frost-topped snow, now buried under a bundle of heat-conserving fur. Long ears, coal-tipped, lay pressed against the neck opposite an ethereal, one-eye watchful, dozing face. A taupe nose, toned with russet, twitched with wind led stories – olfactory tales of hill-dwelling creatures.
With each closing eye, we crept.
Ever-closer, ever respectful, toward those chestnut brown-eyes. Crawling, edging, laying.
Silent and still, with humble space between us and each Hare, to the soundtrack of only wing-beats and gurgles, we watched as their tranquil, brutally weather-exposed, lives unfolded; admiring their place, their rightful, long-earned place, in the Mountains.