It is quite sociable starting the stud wall defining my new joinery workshop. Holly and Alice, last year’s babies, feed in the penned section retained for farm operations. I can’t resist giving Holly a comb as I did when showing her at Oban mart last October. She is content to indulge me, accepting the attention with dignified hauteur; but not unschooled Alice, who attempts a vertical take-off when I scratch at her dossan, the long hair hanging in front of her eyes, distinctive of the Highland breed. I am secretly pleased though that she shows curiosity, wanting to share little Holly’s experience: it will help in bringing her on.
The yard is full of life as food is available in a time of scarcity. The chooks backheel scraps from the house, bakery failures from the coffee-shop, pickings from the cattle: grass seeds, insects and concentrates ie winter supplements of dark grains and minerals made up as pellets or ‘nuts’.
This landscape would be so much the poorer without the service to wildlife provided by cattle tending.
I look over the yard mid afternoon to count 6 chooks, 5 pheasants, a pair of mallard and assorted small birds sauntering about. Speaking of which,the beadle puts in an appearance, the authoritative redbreast. While working inside the barn I am frequently visited by small birds: dunnets, a female blackbird and on one occasion a male chaffinch darts in with a distinctive skelter of white wing flashes. He perches on top of the hay bale and surveys for food, aware of me – and quite unperturbed. I talk to him as I would to more familiar company – and speak of the devil! – a small indignant flame flares in the loft, directly behind the interloper – my robin is evidently disleased.
I down tools before dark , and it being a fine evening, take a tour of my small kingdom greeting the people namely the cattle who don’t receive much attention at this, a functional time of the year. Billy gets a tickle, I smile at Abby and her boy playing peekaboo in the branches of a birch felled by the recent gales, chew the fat with Angus Hafhorn, Demi Og and Alice gathered peacefully at the round feeder.
I walk through the hunter’s moment. The period, still twilit, when the day gives over to night. The wind drops, birds are at roost, footsteps sound loud as hearing becomes acute, seeing oblique-
I like this dance to the old tunes, with old partners, on the grassy floors.