We worked with chainsaws on the blackthorn brier, and threw the densely tangled wood onto a pile that became a large bonfire late in the autumn afternoon. The garden was 2 acres enclosed by a high wall of red brick. Against the northern wall stood the remains of a Victorian glasshouse, its glazing pushed out by plants that had burst from within over years of abandonment.
Beyond the wall, the garden was surrounded by belts of fir trees, which gave further protection from the winds of the Perthshire hills, so that the bonfire filled the garden with smoke sweetened by sloe berries that popped on the burning branches. Rusted remains of agricultural equipment protruded from the needle-carpeted ground beneath the trees, and high above roosted hundreds of crows.
The crows' calls sounded over the chainsaws as we laboured, and their cries grew in intensity when we finally pulled our sweating hands from sour-smelling gloves as the light began to die. We withdrew to the caravan to eat, drink and to smoke. The men laughed into the night, and I did not tell them that, when I cupped my hands around my eyes and looked through the reflecting windows into the darkness, I could see a hundred crows or more gathered around the blackthorn bonfire, primary feathers overlapping as they held their wings outstretched to capture the heat of the slow-burning embers.