This morning's dawn at my first wildcat site was not at all like yesterday's. It was light even as I left the Grant Arms at quarter past three, a full fat moon shining from an all-clear sky. As I reached the valley red hinds clattered into the pines and mountain hares bolted ahead of my car.
It was cold though, as I walked beside the river, colder even than last night by the loch. Common gulls yelped overhead, displeased at my presence at night's end along their cold river. A female goosander flew from the stony shallows and the valley was full of the wistful talk of curlews.
There was plenty here for a cat to eat. With the curlews in the river's grassy meadows were lapwings, mistle thrushes, oystercatchers and - to my delight - a pair of blackcocks so possessed by their testosteroned tussle that a cat could have walked right up to them. Needless to say the cat did not.
Yet dawn in this valley was of ancient beauty, the gilt light pouring past the scant clouds in the east to touch the trunks of pines and warm the stones along the braided river after an arctic-seeming night.
Last year in September I spent two weeks in northwest British Columbia, watching wolves and both bears on just such rivers, materialising from just such cloaking woods of needletrees, and crossing just such grassy river meadows. This precious place where my wildcat is, but today is not, has that same unearthly wildness (unearthly meaning - the irony - just what our earth should be). A place where bear and wolf belong and where it is possible to imagine seeing a cat.
Unable to withstand any longer the cold along the river, I took my icy bones onto the moor above and watched a buzzard and two crows bring a young golden eagle to the ground with their harrying. The wildcat I shall not see, but the looking has brought me to know its wild, here in the Scottish Highlands. And for this, in the painful cold and the dawn light, I am grateful.