Ancient Beasts on Old Ground

Today the boys came home..

horned and hairy they have spent the summer pastured for tourists at Newtonmore’s Folk Park, celebrating bygone Highland ways..

They wander free now over the farm,

gazing quizzically

at guests – my visitors – who stare back, nonplussed

at these animals stating a claim equal to theirs.


Looking for a hardstanding to feed them on,

I remember the cobbles beneath the greened floor of the ruined cottages.

With their heads down to the dark-grain nuts,

they mimic the beasts long gone

from that same place..

just as we mimic our kind

on this old land.


Girls Moving On

What a day!!.
Market day though..so always big stress.
Will they load okay?
Will I make it up the road safely?
Most important..
Will they sell, or will I have to bring them back?
Will they be treated well?
Alice of Earn.jpg

Baby Alice, now grown

So up after a sleepless night..
and instead of feeding the cattle in the pasture
I open the gate and rattle the feedbag
and they all stream through and gallop up the road…
..er..not quite all.
The babies are left watching their mums rumps
sashay up the hill.

..a mother now!

When encouraged to use the opening,
the calves gallop off round the field
like ponies in a circus..
and I take the quad after them..
like a crack-fuelled cowpoke!!
Finally reunited..mothers and daughters follow up to the yard
where they find the feast prepared
but with a canny distinction..
Herding cattle is about
Thinking Cow.
I had  placed a trough in the outer yard
and another in the inner where I load from.
I am selling the two Alices
with their heifer calves:
they are both young
so they are quite a saleable package…
or ‘unit’ as the auctioneer describes them in the ring..
but more of that later..

..and the last to come in…was little Alice (with..er..even littler Alice)

The Alices are low down the herd order
not permitted first dibs at the trough by the big girls:
so they would look around for an alternative source of food.
and find the second trough placed where I needed them to be…
fingers crossed..
and it worked!!
They are now in the holding pen
with the ramp lowered to the trailer
and I just have to encourage them into a
deadended aluminum box!
.. the babies dodge the adult’s hooves
in this confined space
mothers try to deal with a persistent irritant
like a horsefly- that is..me!
 So patiently, patiently..tapping the side of their head
to turn them
or their rear
to send them forward,
and finally
(Catalonian film-maker temporarily turned Highland stockman)
yanks on the ringed rope holding the loading gate open,
allowing me to jam it against Alice’s rear to force her up the ramp
and lift and lock the tailgate.
..and off up the road to market
(trying to ignore the fact that my indicator lights don’t seem to be working
This market is not a Show and Sell..
where you see the loving care of the breeders
on display in the flouncing majesty of prime animals.
This is
a cattle market!
with animals dislocated
from herd and pasture
to be penned on concrete
uneasy and frightened.
Many of these will head to good new homes,
some to the abattoir..
they just don’t know.
(but I feel as if they do sometimes).
The old bulls
so splendid
so strong..
alongside weaned calves, bullocks,
cast cows and breeders.
All with their characters,
..and its time..
My girls are going through the ring!
I wait for the auctioneer to lean down
covering the microphone
‘What’s the very lowest price you would let them go for’..
allowing him pick bids off the wall
to arrive at a token value ..
and shift them on
..but he doesn’t..
describing both pairs as ‘nice units’..
and the bidding moves up in 50s
20s ..
and up..
til I’ve passed my last resort,
passed my default
to arrive at, if not my zenith,
at least, a nice upland pasture
..and that’s where they go, my girls,
to the same buyer..
time for home..

Wanderers home

I finally succumbed to the Nog
interfering with my attempts to instal balusters
guarding the stair..
and took him up the hill.
DSCN1975 one man and his dog - Roy at his Vision Quest site with Noggin
I’d been listening to a report
on endangered birds:
dotterel –seen but not often,
pied flycatcher –not a clue
curlew..still quite common thankfully
albatross..er…still waiting.
Standing by Sarah Justina’s viewpoint
in a cold breeze spotted with raindrops
I thought of how much wild birds contributed
to life observed
and therefore
life lived:
the mallard that waddle comically about the yard in pairs
the ravens that announce themselves with a single rasping croak
the partridge that ticks like an angry clock from pasture concealment
..what’s that little bird twisting through the cold hill breeze??
dark with a flash of white at the rump..
ahh..a martin.
A martin?
It’s a housemartin.
The martins are back!!!!!!!!
O –praise be..
it’s not that they bring summer any closer
like some painted panel wheeled across the scene;
it’s just that I will have their company for the next five months
chatting and quarrelling around the eaves
building and feeding
swooping and gliding
rising and falling
riding the airs
blowing past open windows.
..until they gather again.
Summer's End
Welcome friends.

Goodbye to Glamour

Let us celebrate
The glamour girls..
Flora ..
topgirl always on the lookout for extras
Open Sesame

I know it’ll open if I keep rubbing it!

Holly..independent, moving like a dancer: baby Claira..sweet- natured and inquisitive

Finally, big and easy and affectionate..the star of the show:


Eleanor at large

..have all left home!!
.. they came to the gate
heads up for the next event –
something familiar –
and then we reverse the wagon up to the holding pen
lower the ramp (a steep 30 degree slope)
We close the girls into the holding pen
gradually reducing the space,
pushing them toward the gaping box wagon
portal to their future life.
They have never been in  this situation
never transported,
never left the farm
and suddenly they start behaving untypically
jabbing and clashing with their horns…
barging each other and the metal barriers
seeking an opening..
anything but the yawning rectangle
at the top of the steep steel ramp.
..and these are my sweet girls!!
So I go in the pen with them, and
one by one
slip a rope halter over their heads
to coax them into the box,
with Graeme, the buyer, leaning on their rears,
little Claira first,
then Holly, Eleanor
and, finally, older and recalcitrant,
skew-horned Flora.
..once inside they quieten, taking stock..
Graeme closes the gate
with me inside,
breathing the atmospheric apprehension,
as I gently untie and remove the rope from their heads,
while they jostle to identify the confines of this new world,
trusting from my presence that something at the core is steady.
…and something of my care rubs off on their sweating flanks
like a clear gelatinous film
a tiny extrusion from my emotional life that they carry with them
as the old float rattles off down the road.
They will be together..
but no longer a part of my day..
every day..
They have been a delight –
the Glamour Girls –

executive release

IMAG1967Took the Nog up the hill
on an afternoon of stiff wind and sunshine
with snow dusting the tops.
Halfway up towards the ridge dividing the upland pasture (the outbye)
from the heather moorland,
I took a call..
from the bunkhouse guests
arrived yesterday from London
who were gallantly trying to rescue a deer trapped in the wire.
I came up to them ten minutes later..
and organised them to lift and release the frightened animal
a red deer calf that had attempted an absurdly overambitous leap
over the deer fence surrounding the old pine wood
Bad Feannaig – the perch of the Hooded Crow..
I felt it was a curious inversion of roles
as I lined them up on either side of the wee beast
to lift
without putting added stress on the torso
that had been suspended in the wire
from the night before.
As if we were performing some executive team working exercise
designed to optimise our management skills..
All I know is…
if there is something to be done
there will be no rescue
if I fail
We released the trembling calf –
it staggered off briefly with its leg stretched uselessly behind it..
so we departed talking of rifles and winter’s attrition..
but when I returned the same way
it was gone.

Vole Lords

SphinxNogThe Nog dietary supplement
must be Field Voles!!..
and they are everywhere ..bless em!!
Today I had a Close Encounter..
of the Vole kind.
In the workshop putting together the big oak posts to prop the house beams..
and one little fellow pooters along the wall.
A little while later
he’s joined by a second…and I realise
they’re not mice at all..
sleek and shy and capable of flattening themselves to the thickness of card..
cos these guys are distinctly chubby!..with short tails.
next thing,
I see one fat mouse chasing another..
but not with real intent it seems-
more like tory peers up to high jinks
after a long evening on the portwine..
(with trouser debagging as a possible outcome)…
so anyway
his lordships chase each other round the walls
in a laborious kind of way..
and then the leader makes a break (slooooowly!!) for open ground
which takes him right past where I’m standing.
At this point, milord pursuant gets a bit disoriented at the vast open spaces
and, missing a left turn,
bumps up against my boot!..
apologises, naturally,
and scuttles slowly off in the direction of the first.
I think I really have to tell the Nog to stick to mountain hares..
these guys really don’t make it as challenging quarry!

Baby Forgetting

I know you will forget

little one

how you needed me to turn the teat

towards your mouth

for you to suck.

As you knew what to do

but not how

I steered you under your mother

while she moaned

in protest and relief.


Your divided loyalties

will heal, baby thing

though now you bleat

and rise when I approach,

open the gate

and lure your mother

across the yard

skipping away from her lunges

until I can trick her

into the holding pen.


You will no longer accept

my cradling arms

as I lift and carry you

to the side of the handling crate

where your mother stamps

and shakes

until I nudge you forward

with an arm round your rear

and a hand guiding your head

blind on to one teat

and another.


I will stay with you

pressed to my chest

my head on your mother’s

matted flank

until you are done,

you scrap,

lose body cracking tension

from your muscles

withdraw groggily

from withered flaps

to digest trembling.


My knees are cold,

little heifer,

from kneeling in frozen muck

the muscles in my arm ache

with holding you into

this noisome hollow

my back just tweaked

but your tail wags

contentedly along

the arm I’ve wrapped

round your arse

and your red curls

smell like peatsmoke.


The walk


A walk is no walk unless it’s uphill

I console myself

panting up the slope behind the farm.

The big snow of a month past

has vanished from the fields

but lies here yet

and has seen sporadic supplements

the last few nights.

But I am unprepared for the plateau

where the snow is hard

blown deep against the rocks

but clearing from the tips of heather stems

to reveal a kind a tweedy fabric.

The sun is bright

– an icy westerly freezes my brain-

but the air lurks in my nostrils

like a chilled dry white wine

with memoried fragrances

that do not exist

in this frozen waste

where the snow glisters with countless crystals,

ice gleams with surface melt

scoops and curls and tendrils of deeper snow

remind me how winter shows the purer forms.

On the north side

drifts freeze hard

creating causeways

for the easiest walking

over feet deep snowhard path

Rocks hold coatings of wind-drift.


I meet my father’s ghost here

above the dry loch

that resembles a glacier

creeping downhill to Newtonmore.

For a moment I seek a second shadow.

Seeing the clouds appear

I turn home early,

wanting to make the return in sunshine.

Gulleys on the south side

run like silver fire

trapped air and water collude in moving

beneath melting ice,

a hare runs towards a ridge

white and white.

Perhaps I turned back too soon?

the sun is shining still,

and I am smiling

punching time on paradise.


What a world that holds the like!