Progress

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Suddenly it has gone quiet. The storms we have lived with for the past few months have deserted us and for a short spell there is calm. The rainwater-soaked ground will gradually dry and even where the sea encroached on the land the residue of salt will eventually be flushed away. Residents along Carradale’s Shore Road can now sleep peacefully at night knowing that there still will be a road in the morning.

Within our house we make small steps along the ‘improvement’ road, gradually ticking things from the list we hold in our heads. When the wind blows hard we notice how it passes through the house as well as around it so I am blocking up all those hard-to-reach places with cuddly-warm insulation material. This involves me crawling into some of the less easy to get to corners, balancing on my knees across wooden joists with a head torch and face mask encumbering me, whilst pushing thick pieces of fibreglass material around the numerous obstacles; pipes, wires and old mouse droppings. I emerge into daylight from time to time for fresh air and to remove another layer of clothing, for it is warm work. Beads of sweat are soon dribbling across the lenses of my glasses, adding to my misery, but I tell myself the effort is worthwhile; as each gap is closed a draught ceases, one less passage for a cold wind to follow, one small step towards a warmer house.

The least accessible part of roof space is the coombe, a triangular area lying outwith our upper floor rooms and tapering internally where the roof overhangs at both front and back. We have access doors which allow us in to use this space for storage but at the front of the house the coombe is narrow, barely enough space for me to wriggle my body through, and since the builders left some forty years ago very few humans have chosen to go in there. Access is gained by crawling from a small cupboard at either end of the house, one of which entrances I created myself by cutting a small doorway in a bedroom wall. There are plenty of reasons why nobody would want to visit this space, not least of which is that once inside, the space does not permit the average human body to turn around so the only way out is in reverse, wriggling across the joists feet first whilst trying not to poke a hole through the ceiling below. Cursing and swearing I finally emerge having closed off a few more draughts and insulated the bare ceilings from above. Job done.

Harvey

By way of light relief, we borrow ‘Harvey’ for a week, giving his owners a short break. By using a factor of seven to express his dog age in human terms, it occurs to us that we have a 98-year old animal living with us, but this does little to describe his physical condition or his capabilities. In his head he is still a puppy, the spirit still being as willing as ever to go for long walks through the forest. But then there are times when the weaknesses of his body are evident and he exhibits some of the same muscular creakiness that we do. He is no trouble for us though, well mannered and gentle he is content to sit at our feet and doze for much of the time.

Then whilst taking him for a walk one morning along the forest track I notice that the landscape here is beginning to change, man-made earth ramps appearing on the hillside, suggesting that access is being made so that the trees we have grown so used to can be felled. At first this is quite distressing to me for I have grown comfortable amongst these trees. I have walked by them and got to know their smells and their sounds. I have used their shade in the summer and their shelter in the winter. I have explored them for mushrooms and toadstools, watched deer disappear into their cover and gazed upward through their branches at the sound of a raptor’s eerie cry. I feel a sense of ownership for this environment, as it is now, with stands of tall conifers creating deep darkness below. It comes as something of a shock to think that all this will change suddenly when the trees are felled. I must recognise, of course, they are a crop, planted there for one purpose only, to be cut down once they have reached a certain size. This whole landscape is not a natural one, it is farmland and there must inevitably be a cycle of growth and harvesting, albeit that this takes place over forty years instead of four seasons.

When trees are taken out the debris left behind is not pretty and for many years the landscape will be scarred with brush and dying stumps. Eventually, however, whether or not new saplings are planted, nature will take over again, moss will creep over the stumps, the brush will rot down and life once starved of light will sprout forth everywhere, a greening-over process that is itself interesting to watch.

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