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11 Jan 2024

Field Notes: Fruitful visit

Quinag Conservation Officer Kat Martin gains more than holly berries from a winter foraging trip.

Quinag holly 1
I’ve popped out to Quinag to gather some berries for a project I’m hoping to get up and running in the near future. We may be in the throes of a new calendar year, with December’s festivities a distant memory, but holly still bears many of last year’s sunshine-ripened fruits.

A stolen hour, a break from the screen, and a traverse uphill through frost-firm deer grass and ice-hardened sphagnum moss. I feel a shift as I crunch towards my fruit-ladened friend.

Time is so much different to a tree who sits in one spot looking out on the same, yet changing, landscape for decades beyond an age us humans will ever know. This particular holly is one of the remaining elders amongst a stretch of trees residing along what is known as the holly grove (doire cuilinn in Gaelic).

It's tempting to reach straight for my phone to snap some shots, a symptom of today's technological times. I force myself to sit and catch myself before I reach out for my lunch. The urge to “do” is a well-established habit, I’m ashamed to notice.

I feel a gentle, intermittent breeze stroking my hair, smarting my cheeks with cold-kisses, and enabling holly to whisper to me. A squeak of bark against bark, a gentle rasp of firm waxy leaves stroking against one another. I allow stillness to settle, allow it under my skin, into my muscles and bones. And I breathe deep the crisp air.

A brief pause before the doing. How many times I forget this. And yet how vital it is. Even tucked away up here in the Highlands, it feels like the relentless pace of human doing has infiltrated.

I am thankful to stoic holly for the reminder. There's no harm that can come from being still. I notice a trickling of water from a nearby burn. How had I missed what my ears now register as persistent babbling before this moment?

Some indeterminable time later, the doing is done (with a few more pauses and a visit to other holly friends) and I return - not only with a bag full of bright red berries, but a reset and gratitude for the intervention from a wise elder.

  • Find out more about our work to preserve fragile habitats at Quinag.

Quinag holly 2

Purple mosses - David Lintern

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