Ruffling Some Feathers


I try to go for a walk every day. Even if days are short and
the weather is awful, a brisk circuit around the village counteracts that ‘cabin fever’ from winter days spent
mainly indoors.

One day it was foggy. Not just a light mist, but a proper, thick fog which enveloped the countryside, obliterating familiar landmarks and much of the road ahead. It wasn’t like this when I started out, but by the time I reached the top of the hill, I could see little more than a few metres in front of me. Fields, woods and hedgerows had all been obliterated. Having got this far, I thought I might as well continue, so I ventured on.

If I followed the lane I could hardly get lost in this white-out, could I? But my mind started to wander. A friend had been telling me about a novel she’s working on. It’s a Victorian tale, set in Yorkshire, where thick fog rolls in from the sea and strange creatures stalk the moors. So far, so gothic. My friend had immersed herself so much in the plot, that she can no longer write at night for fear of scaring herself! I shivered and buttoned my coat against the damp cloud which wrapped itself around me. My footsteps echoed on the tarmac, but otherwise the world was strangely quiet. No birds sang, no sheep bleated, no dog barked to break the silence. I quickened my pace; this was not a day for hanging around.

Then I saw it. At the furthest point I could make out, a dark shape moved across the road. It was an animal of some kind, but through the swirling mist I couldn’t tell what. It paused and seemed to turn and stare at me. I stopped and stared back. Was it a fox? A large cat, perhaps? Whatever it was, it clearly found me of little interest, and resumed its way, disappearing into the trees. It certainly didn’t have the lithe grace of a fox or a cat, more of a slow, but confident, strut. What in the world was it? I hurried on, hoping to see it again, but it was not to be.

Until the next day. The fog was long gone, and the fields rolled out beneath a pale blue sky. What a difference a day makes. I followed the same route, wondering if I would spot the mysterious creature again. I reached that same turn in the road but was disappointed. I waited for a bit, hoping it might turn up, after all it was the same time of day as yesterday’s walk and I’m not the only one who’s a creature of habit. Nothing. But then, I heard it; a raucous yowl from the rooftop of a nearby house. Perched on the ridge tiles, and watching me with disdain, was a peacock. This must have been the mysterious creature that had crossed my path.

He glared down at me, sharp eyes glinting. His plumed head looked ridiculously small against that long body and tail, which must have measured over two metres. The peacock ruffled his feathers, and even from this distance I could make out the metallic blue plumage on the neck and body, and the striking ‘eyes’ on the tail. To reach the vantage point of a roof, the pheasant needs the power of his grey flight feathers. The striking fringed feathers on top are known as coverts and can arch into a fan which reaches the ground on either side. There was little chance of such an elaborate display without a coterie of peahens around, and this chap seemed to be solo, whether a pet or an escapee turned feral. What a shame. A group of peacocks – whether you call them a ‘muster’, a ‘pride’ or, best of all, ‘an ostentation’, would certainly brighten a winter afternoon.