seeing in the mist

It rained again today
as I was leading my American guests out of the field
where they were astonished to find themselves
alongside Angus Halfhorn standing for a tickle
– while we sat to wait for the curiosity of calves
to bring them closer.

Ironically, I am still hauling water from the tap in the barn
it needs done this evening when the demand for showers is greatest
the water that fell earlier is risng as mist
clinging to the trees like fleece,
forming drifts over the river
dividing the landscape
into seen
and unseenImage


Colour is the thing

Entering the fork of the bridge
a few feet from my sliding door
to the south facing deck
I check in mid stride
my breath briefly taken.
A small bird had chosen to land on the handrail
and disturbed by my sudden arrival
spreads its tail to halt its progress
and opens its wings to veer away.
Nothing so startling in this-
swallows buzz me daily.
Only this is completely, dazzlingly, vividly, abruptly and entirely
like a hole in space that is utterly



A tale of two sticks

Two hazel sticks are propped the corner by the door.
They are whistle-sticks.
The knob is from the base of a red-deer’s antler,
the coronet of horn where it joins the skull
to be shed and regrown each year,
and one spur, the lowest on the stem.
This point is cut square and the pith hollowed
with a half moon slot cut in the side,
to create a whistle that is ready to hand
on any hill walk with the Nog.

(These sticks
and many besides – more crafted, exotic
are made locally by Sandy Wilson.

Keeper turned maker

Keeper turned maker

Big Sandy kept the hill for thirty year,
sat down one day to lunch in the heather,
and could barely stand thereafter
so rampant the rheumatic attack coming on him of a sudden
as if old age had followed on the path
and jumped on his back where he stopped awhile.)

The first has a shorter point
where I had Sandy recut the slot after it broke
when thrown to turn a cow’s head.
A feeble whistle now                                                                                     it has the pensioner’s task now of extending my reach when herding

while the new stick is good for the hill.

So I tell the generations of stick
in my house.
Worn by my hand
over many rough miles.
They lend a patina of usage,
pungent of home

like old coats

and cut flowers.




Maggoty-headed, my plans

Hey there- remember me?

Hey there- remember me?

Alice has a cluster of flies below her left eye:
my plans for the day are shot.
It was always going to be complicated:
start with the quad run for water
order supplies including brine for the heat pump
(this means spending time in the office on the raised deck
the pile of paperwork may not diminish greatly
but I get a great view of the swallows swooping into their nests)
Weeding, of course-
O- and I fnd my grinder shelf
makes a good swift-box
just in case I can tempt yesterday’s visitors to make this their home.

It does, of course, mean I will have make a new grinder shelf.

But Alice has a cluster of bluebottles clinging to a spot below her left eye.
This takes over.
If she has a wound, even a small one, the flies will be in
and lay eggs.
Unchecked, she will hatch a brood of subcutaneous maggots:
a horrible and dangerous thing.
Open the gate, call them through, rattling the feed bag, lead them to the yard, close them in, prepare the dose gun against general summer parasites, dose them, let them though, isolate the patient-
-who has absolutely nothing wrong with her.
It is a chance to inspect my animals closely, pet them when permitted, gain a sense of their wellbeing-
including little George, who has survived despite an aversion to mother’s milk.
He has not grown much, his rear is caked in dung,
he wanders benignly about on rickety legs                                           -like an elderly academic-

but he follows the rest up to the yard-
still part of the story.



The swallows and martens are fluttering furious:
they have been joined by the aristocracy, the racing set,
a flash-harry ferrari driving hooligan whistling pair
of swifts.
I have never seen them here before:
twice the size and speed,
screaming as they chase wildly around the rooves
exhilarating as kids in a playground
or sleek oarsmen driven forward by deft sculls
over calm water.
They disturb the residents who harass them as they approach their mud homes,
bracketed to my walls
they require a nest:
even with midsummer past
they can still raise a brood fit for the long journey
away from leaf-fall.
If only they stay now-
and maybe long summers yet to come.


Fill her up, please

I plan how to instal my 20 photovoltaic panels recently arrived from Spain.
I visualise different options each day, balancing efficiency, cost, strength, appearance.
I see them attached to the south wall of the bunkhouse
ringing the roundhouse, set upon the sloping granite between the two.
The pictures grow clearer, like developing photographic prints:
the buildings are all-electric- generating my own power was always part of the plan.
I would like to have them working while the days are long,
though this, of course, is not the time of most need.
Winter cold sends my bill soaring and I will have less light to discount with.
The problem is storing the power:

there is no way of laying it down

like apples.


Today ended clear and warm,
The birches bordering the road wave their foliage
like pom-poms,
halfhiding the house
Saplings riot in the damp ground around the pond,
buds on the yellow flags are now outnumbered by faded blooms.
Bees work wildflowers among grass
made sparse by early season grazing,
laying up stores.
I gather this now                                                                                                    so as to descend later                                                                                                            to savour its cellared sweetness.


Three little birds outside my window

Three brown birds assemble on the lichen covered granite
small flecked brown with pale red legs-
siskins maybe – flock birds content in company,
new to the place, surveying the amenities-
mi casa, su casa, my friends.
They sit comfortably in a line, a foot apart,
inconspicous, undistinguished
until one lifts into the wind
before my window
spreading its tail revealing yellow
like a kite pulled vertical
using not losing the wind
for some purpose unknown to me
but demanding intent even machismo perhaps.
For a moment I glimpse a world
as large as a bird.



pleasure tour of duty

instead of guiding the Nog across the road into the enclosed woodland
where he can run safely on the way up to Sarah Justina’s monument,
I take a tour of my small farm.
This is for the amenity – sheer pleasure of grass and flower and tree-
and secretive wildlife:
also I reconnoitre targets in
long slender dockan stems surmounted by great bottlebrush seed heads,
thistles growing limbs with flowerheads like Hydra,
newly reinforced with subtle ragwort
preparing a second front
and there is something else that crosses between
appreciation and function.
I remind myself here
– a sense of the place-
what is now and what is latent.

I stand for a long time watching the calves, teasing out their qualities, their potential;
in the weaning paddock  aspen suckers set leaf among the thistles:
perhaps this year I should not top them
but fence off and weed by hand to allow the new woodland.
The Nog is pointing- steady while I approach, lean forward to identify the quivering black lining to a hare’s limpid eye.
When she breaks he follows briefly but is checked by a tap of my stick.
The long tail of a hen pheasant projects from a dockan clump
a pace further on
motionless within my reach and the dog’s predatory interrogation.
It can only mean she is sheltering eggs or chicks-
foolish oriental import, shotgun fodder,
lion-hearted mother.
I call the Nog,
thankfully negligent of her presence
on to the next pasture
and other prospects.


First fledged

2014-06-20 15.48.34

It is the eve of Midsummer
– the nights are hardly dark.
As I clean the bunkhouse my attention focussed on the task,
working to an economy that I have polished through practise
occupied with interior things
while the sucklers lie among the ox-eye daisies in long grass
keeping half an eye on their fat calves,
starlings gang on the tin roof
partridges rattle from concealing tussocks-
and a swallow alights on the sill of the stairside window
– sits there as I work, facing the glass,
its eyes following my movements to and fro with broom and vacuum.
There is something strange in this inactivity
when the damp shade below the birch limbs
hold promise of insects where other birds are working.
One of these joins the first on the ledge, proffers a beakful of insects
revealing itself as parent
and the other a fledgling fresh from the mud-daubed, featherlined nest.
I am jolted straight to summer’s end when old and young depart.
This bird has a summer to grow and strengthen,
the parents have time to raise another brood,
and I have projects to complete
before the leaves fall.



He was always long
Ruaridh of Ubhaidh (Ubhaidh being the gaelic spelling of Uvie and the name of my fold, my breed brand).
I mind him walking slowly along the farm road as a calf his long spine stretching gently with each stride.
And then again when my horse breeding aunts came
to stand in the field surrounded by the animals and Patty striding forward to stroke his neck
I booked him for the Spring show of the following year,
but before I could start preparing him a hurricane came and blew away half my roof
while Lynda and I cowered in the toilet.
A month after replacing my scattered shelter
I was parading Ruaridh in the ring.
He was quiet and responsive, long and leisurely
with a fine heavy head and even horns, padding steadily on fine wide hooves carrying his weight squarely on wideset legs,
but he had a skinny arse.
If I’d forced him to bring him on he might have bulked up
but the truth is
it was always going to take longer than usual to fill his oversized frame.
It was the first time I experienced failure in the ring- one bid took him to six hundred guineas
and that was it. I led him back to the pen quietly, doubtful of his future and my ability to hold him on the small farm.
And then Her Majesty approached –
heavily disguised as Docky Ormiston, manager of the Balmoral herd.
So she bought him-
Docky developed him
and today at The Royal Highland Show
the largest agricultural show in Scotland
he was judged Highland male champion.


His full brother, Angus Halfhorn,
remains with me on the farm.