Competing flags

Vegetation is taking over the pond.
Clear water continues enabling space for half a dozen mallard drakes to cruise up and down self-importantly
like Black Sea frigates,
though they have competition.
The flag irises that I planted in three spots
in my underpants
or rather…
while wading in bare feet
wearing my underpants-
are showing vibrant yellow blooms,
while their supporting greenery gently annexes open water.
The south side is sprouting narrow leaved faintly glaucous grasses,
and the eastern border is growing in toward the island.
The jungular lushness is slightly threatening – occupying half my mind with plans to dredge
as if today
it was not beautiful.




Finding a fit

I park tools in buckets while working, keeping them together roughly categorised:
ie. plumbing, electrics, drill bits.
In a random collection stored against no particular eventuality
I find a mortise guage,
used for marking, scoring wood prepared for the essential joinery connection:
the mortise (a square hole) and tenon (a square peg) joint.
It has held things together- buildings, doors and windows, chairs and tables- since the Romans occupied Britain
(and arguably long before, since a similar joint is responsible for the long- standing structural viability
of Stonehenge).
Most guages have adjustable points allowing for the tenon thickness appropriate to the item being joined, while Lear’s ‘joint stool’ might use 1/4″, a tithe barn truss might be 2″, an internal door 3/8″, external 5/8″.
I sometimes buy old tools for constructing traditional timber frames -or so I tell myself.
Truth is –
a tool like this is a delight to handle. It is handmade for a purpose- and tightly made, engineered even – when I employ it I shadow the previous user, the maker.Image
This one has an oval sectioned shaft piercing a stock of the same profile, located by a delicate hardwood wedge.
It has metal pins set into the shaft – spaced one inch -1″- 25.5mm- apart.
No more, no less.
I was reflecting on a marriage I know: far from ideal- but the partners have made up their minds to it.
This guage could not be used for the joint stool, for doors (unless fitted to cathedrals), for chairs, most tables- it is too big, unadaptable: crude therefore.
It has been made for one size of tenon- window/door frames maybe –
but it was made as delicate, as economical, precise as could be
and still perform the task,
the one task it exists to do.


Goodbye – stotty boys

The two boys have been together for some weeks now, grazing on the lush grass around the house.
Today is their last day on the farm- the place they were born:
they are content to belong here.
Due to move three miles to my neighbour’s pristine pastures-
they don’t come to my call.
Shaking a feed bag, ‘Come o-oon boys’
fails to lure them from the fence where they enjoy closeness with the suckling mothers
in Mrs Logan’s meadow.

So I unite them,
opening the gate to the main herd.
Holly comes out first off the blocks beating me to the crest of the hill,
black Abby and Angus Halfhorn follow close-
and, to my relief, the stotty boys.
These five are up to the yard first; I close the gate holding the rest back.
The trough cleared, the breeders are shed to rejoin their tardy companions.
With the boys secure in the yard, I can return the herd to the pasture
briefly vacated.
My German guests: Claus, Ruth, Alice & Fabian wander down to observe-
or so they think.
Fabian is sent to the yard to walk down behind,
when this fails, Alice is sworn in as bagrattler while I urge Angus down the road.
As the stragglers start on the return journey, Claus alerts me:
Abby, always urgent for feed, has barged through Alice’s defences
to bury her head in the bag.
Alice, unused to bovine importunity, bravely keeps hold of the bag,
until I relieve her, rolling the quad downhill,
the beasts following.
On the final slope the feed bag bumps out of the footwell
spilling nuts on the grass.
I swear as I take my hands from the bars to recover the bag,
the bike veers to the side
bumping over rocks
gaining speed.
I pull the bag onboard and transfer to the brake,
jumping down to gather the spilt concentrate
as the animals gather round.
If they find it -they will not follow down to the gate,
but the ground is clear now
and they are happy enough to compete for the remaining booty
as I spread it inside the fence where they will lodge ’til summer is gone.
Did I forget something?..

Oh yes – back up the road to load the boys-
and bid them goodbye.





The enemy camp at evening

The enemy camp at evening

The wet weather brings on growth

The grass is lengthening

fattening bellies and filling out young calves.

Later this summer it will be harvested

for winter fodder as gently fermenting silage.

Wildflowers lurk in the meadows

and open on the hillsides

perfuming slow moving air.

It also brings on weeds,

pernicious weeds:

thistles, nettles, ragwort

weeds notifiable to and by the authorities

that I am bound to control

as are my neighbours

(windblown seed is no respecter of boundaries).

The dockans are massing

great gatherings of broadleaved marauders

shading out the grass

depriving the animals

breaking up pasture.

They trumpet their invasion

of damp places rich in manured run off.

They whisper of managerial failure,

dereliction of duty.

They are the vandals at the gate

of my small city.

To arms my forces!

The seed is setting

le vent se leve;

I fell them in swathes.



Battle Joined

Battle Joined



I believe I can fly – briefly..

The Nog disturbs a yearling doe
behind the hill.
Being young she is scareder
than need be:
uneven on a racing traverse
she stumbles briefly
but clears the ground
in powerful arcs.
Her excitable pursuer is not so impressive.
The bracken has grown above knee high
uncurling from thin soil
like rock-bound ammonites
softening to green life.
Folded in fronds,
the Nog vaults the canopy
to track his vanishing quarry.
His long ears flap
as if to assist lift:
his pursuit vertical
as much as linear,
soon abandoned.
The prey species is master here.



we don’t use bikinis in Scotland


Water lies on the ground this morning
-and again this evening.
Summer rain –
lengthening the grass for harvesting late in the summer
filling puddles in roadways
glistening on fence rails
breeding new hatches of insects
for birds to feed on
filling ponds and aquifers
setting burns tumbling
and drains spilling onto hill roads
with blooms of algae.
This rain is regular,
not hard.
The air holds a mix of honey and must.
It’s just-
it rains.



Losing music

I came for the water late this morning
to find Cocky stretched in the dust by the digger.
As chickens go, he was lucky-
not to be predated as he became too feeble
to flustle (fly/bustle)
up to the life preserving height of the metal hurdle
to roost overnight.
He never made it into the shed trusses
the way his womenfolk do,
flustling from floor
to woodstack, to loft floor, to tie beam.

It's not chocolate,really!

It’s not chocolate,really!

The Marans were lotted together at Dingwall market,
I bought him with two soft white hens
who lay beautiful chocolate brown eggs.
They learned how to find refuge in the roof
from the chooks already on site.
Cocky followed suit but only made it halfway-
which was enough to protect him as it happens.
The day he gave up on joining his females
on a higher level,
I found him disconsolate and dishevelled
with the chickens huddled close around him
before one by one they flew upwards.
He was never fit, just old I think,
limping and uncertain.
Two days ago the chooks closed round him again,
yesterday he stood alone by the gate.
The farm is poorer
for the loss of his music.


Home on the hill

A fence cuts across the hill just south of the ridge.
The wire sags in places, the old wooden gate leans tiredly against weathered posts
held in place with blue nylon twine
knotted so that is is easier to straddle the line wire
than struggle with the decrepit sheep hurdle.
It is an important boundary,
not of ownership
but, like many others of its type in the Scottish Highlands,
of usage
by man (sometimes woman) and beast
The vegetation of the lower slopes reflects generations of sheep grazing,
the heather short,
declining to short grass and low flowers
before the roadside birches.
It is the domain of the pastoralist.

Above the fence heather grows unchecked
except by deer
ranging so widely that their impact is slight.
They are tempted across the fence at times,
to become marauders,
timid and easily startled back to their fastness
above the rickety line wire.
This is ‘the hill’,
home to the moorcock,
red grouse whose cackled warning
‘go back. go back’
warns of wilderness.
This is the domain of the hunter.

The Nog is one such.
Climbing the first slope
his interest is general,
trotting up the hill track
nosing casually among the long grasses,
turning to check below
on my laboured progress.
Beyond the fence
the pet turns dog,
ranging ceaselessly across the slope
taking my steady line as his reference
covering ten, twenty times the territory.
When he picks up the scent of a grouse,
he turns to stone
working nostrils gleaning the wind
muzzle targeted, quivering tail extended.

It's here, it's here- I know it!

It’s here, it’s here- I know it!

On the return descent
we drop into a gulley bedded with a broken down causeway
where the peat carts crossed.
Always at this point he dances wildly around me
barking and darting
punctuating a transition.



Passing time with poultry

You looking at me?

You looking at me?


Filling the water tanks requires time at the tap in the barn
among the company of chickens.
Here they spend their day
scratching in dirt,
dozing in cattle bedding
gossipping, flirting and fighting.
The flock has increased by one
or perhaps a fraction.
One of the Buff Sussex hens is followed
by a busy fluff ball
with two red legs and a loud cheep;
white not yellow reflecting its Maran paternity
with a pink blush of colour down its back.

I don’t rate its chances
chicks are Nature’s victims.
I saw one fed to a crocodile
in Bujumburra.

This is the location of their primary food source
my remaining store of cattle nuts.
I have a marauder:
Mrs Duck is sneaking around
as I stand a couple of feet away
waiting for the bowser to fill
she loses patience
mounts the bag brazenly
to burrow for feed.
She buries her head completely
in the fabric
lifting it to swallow
and scan me haughtily
as if daring me to object.