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Guardians of the Gloaming

Lit interior
There is a time a site becomes a space:
something to do with hung doors,
working electrics, flushing toilets-
the whole greater than the sum-
and I’m almost there.
Looking into the lit interior
I can see the time when this studio
will welcome new guests to the farm.

Almost the studio
So its a day like those I used to enjoy,
at the bench,
head down
focussed
all day.

So it’s 7
before I’m done,
the light is fading under grey cloud,
but the wind is warm,
from the south.Grey but warm
The Nog and I head out in the gloaming,
the changeover time,
when senses sharpen.
A woodcocks lifts from the bracken
with a single muffled clap of wings.
A dozen hind stand watching our approach,
low-down the hill:
perhaps drawn by the groans and roars
of the rutting stag across the river.

This road is old,
and ageing as the light fades:
there is a watchtower here,
set on the prominence of a morraine,
surveying those approaching
a people’s domain.
Watchtower
I turn below the bank
and start to climb
after the hinds.

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You must hang a door before you can close it

I seem to be the only moving thing:
even the sun seems constant.
The breeze enters my worksite steadily
and perfumed:
not with the brackish loaded odours of autumn
but with springlike lightness.

While the cattle recline,
relishing warmth, shade and light airs
like outdoor opera fans in deckchairs,
I caulk, and paint,
filling cracks, finishing
By day’s end I want a statement,
not the incremental erosion of the mountainous task
that has burdened me all summer,
but a statement of achievement.
So I hang the door,
and knocking off,
close it.
Closed door

To find the cattle handing the evening
a standing ovation
as the grassland catches fire
in low red sunlight,

Curtain call
and the big stag roars
as the Nog and I
take to the hill
before dark.

Looking back

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‘- damn you,Angus
get away from that bloody fence!’
His dad, Billy, used to recognise his name when I yelled;
he was even capable of looking sheepish
(for a one tonne highland bull)
Angus Halfhorn is shameless,
moving between fenceposts.,
inserting his great head and lunging for some impossible titbit
at the furthest end of his reach.
I can watch the posts teeter and the wires sag
no longer,
I charge down on the quad to hustle the giant vandal away from the damage,
false hope-
now that he has learned the trick, he will delight in the exercise,
so that I might spend all next spring making good.

My afternoon ignores the polarities of containment
to focus on the hunter’s older priorities.
I am stalking – not by sight but by sound.
The mischief-making wind has departed
his empty sack over his shoulder
in search of replenishment out west
where the tides make landffall.
I follow in a quietness that makes my ears ring,
ideal for questing the presence of stags,
male red deer in rut,
roaring their might to the hills
and their rivals.

No sound – but a group of light coloured hinds in the bottom of the valley and with them one stag,
a big one more than able to hold high the weight of horn that proclaims his fitness to breed. He is deep chested with a dark mantle covering his shoulders, like a mink on a boxer.
There are two smaller stags making their way down the burn further up-
still no sound.
Catching him in the glass of the telescope I see him lift his head, laying his antlers along his back- and then – delayed but clear – I hear his voice.

NNneeeeerrrrghgh. AANNnuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaa

The duration of the sound tells the world how long his presence will remain to dominate these hills: the volume tells of the distances owned by the spreading shadow of sound.

This is an overlord fit to the hills,
not foutering with fences,
I must tell Angus.

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Exercises of power

Angus at large
‘- damn you,Angus
get away from that bloody fence!’
His dad, Billy, used to recognise his name when I yelled;
he was even capable of looking sheepish
(for a one tonne highland bull)
Angus Halfhorn is shameless,
moving between fenceposts.,
inserting his great head and lunging for some impossible titbit
at the furthest end of his reach.
I can watch the posts teeter and the wires sag
no longer,
I charge down on the quad to hustle the giant vandal away from the damage,
false hope-
now that he has learned the trick, he will delight in the exercise,
so that I might spend all next spring making good.

My afternoon ignores the polarities of containment
to focus on the hunter’s older priorities.
I am stalking – not by sight but by sound.
The mischief-making wind has departed
his empty sack over his shoulder
in search of replenishment out west
where the tides make landfall.IMAG0780

following westward
I follow in a quietness that makes my ears ring,
ideal for questing the presence of stags,
male red deer in rut,
roaring their might to the hills
and their rivals.

No sound – but a group of light coloured hinds in the bottom of the valley and with them one stag,
a big one more than able to hold high the weight of horn that proclaims his fitness to breed. He is deep chested with a dark mantle covering his shoulders, like a mink on a boxer.
There are two smaller stags making their way down the burn further up-
still no sound.
Catching him in the glass of the telescope I see him lift his head, laying his antlers along his back- and then – delayed but clear – I hear his voice.

NNneeeeerrrrghgh. AANNnuuuuuuuaaaaaaaaa

The duration of the call tells the world how long his presence will remain to dominate these hills: the volume tells of the distances owned by the spreading shadow of sound.

This is an overlord fit to the hills,
not foutering with fences,
I must tell Angus.

A bit sheepish?

A bit sheepish?

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Dancing with Mr Wind

I worked alone today,

Nature theatre

even the cattle stayed shy,
the dog ran away,
the chickens sprinted into the barn
necks outstretched with the effort.

I had a jealous companion:
just the wind.
This is a mischievous male,
young in the season.
He’s been dancing on my deck,
rattling at my door,
whistling around my house
for a couple of days now.

Wont declare himself though:
gusting at night enough
to blow loose feed bags
to catch on fence wire.
He teases the birch branches
to test the yellowing leaves
for their constancy to timber.
Swelling and growling now
to make my roof sheets lurch
and clatter like fullfed fledglings
groaning for flight.

Corner of Sky

And this evening when I walk out,
he sits on the tumbledown dyke
sighing quietly
as if at something remembered.
Yet forty minutes later
greets me off the hill,
with a yearling’s ebullience
that hustles the cattle into
the shelter of the rocks,
where they watch uncertainly
for more of his tribe.

Twin guardians

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Gathering round

Freedom to roam

I like the cattle round the house.
They look at me like citizens
rather than supplicants:
They gather at my home
on its upthrust of bedrock
as if for companionable gossip
at the back door.Wakey wakey
Calum, my neighbour, as a kid,
used to have to enter the crofthouse door
under the bellies of the housecows
gathered where his mother used to feed them
much as she feed her own children.
In fact the horse used to stretch her
neck through the window to eat from the table.
Morag grazes a few feet from my workplace,Workmates
oblivious to the sound of power tools:
lazily affronted when I address her
she tolerates my importuning.
Demi-Og’s wee boy, a friendly adventurer
is now making puny assaults
on Floras broad arse.
The idyll must end – it’s time
to wean this year’s calves.
Separate mothers from babies
and boys from girls.
The farm will ring with lamentation:
old Morag knows this as she studies me
balefully.

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Not everyone can be champion

My little lad grown big

My little lad grown big

This is the time to watch the babies.
I don’t know them yet.
The older animals and I have been rubbing along for years,
got to know each other;
got used to each other at least-
hard to like old white Morag
the only cow who growls
but she has produced many good calves
without trouble. She still shakes her horns at me
for form’s sake, but without venom.Morag and the miracle
Her boy is too young to tell his quality
along with Flora’s little girl;
(and let’s discount George-Droopy George
who weaned himself onto grass
at six weeks old
and has hardly grown since.)
Some of the earlier born are shaping up:
Holly’s blinding white heifer,Surfer boy
Abby’s boy, surfer cool -black with highlights,
Demi-Og’s little lad trying out
his bigboy bellow.
Their destinies opening in this tense transitional season
when the stags across the river
and on the hill behind the farm
roar seasonal challenge
to the year past
and the winter to come.

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Angus Halfhorn breaks out

Angus at large
IMAG0512
Angus Halfhorn is looking pkeased with himself.
He trots up the farm road,
stops in the birches
and watches me brightly
while scraping at the dust with his left leg.
He is happy because he has broken out,
skittling my fenceposts to drunken angles
to join the pair of cows, Flora and Morag
that I have held separate as they calved late.
He doesn’t seem deterred that Morag
is 15 years old with chronic arthritis
and Flora is his mother.
Back from holiday,
the sky is grey
not blue,
the heather is brown
not purple
but there is a rainbow across the valley.
So maybe I can share Angie’s well-being-
if I just break a few fences.

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You must need small fingers to milk sheep

George stepping out

Madame has hope

Madame has hope

I must take some ewe’s milk cheese home from Aquitaine.
The first person I met in the village was Pierre
in his barn down the slope.
I could see the machinery but not until he told me:
‘laiterie’ and ‘brebis’ did I realise the local tradition
of cheesemaking, unknown at home.
It takes maybe 8 litres of sheep’s milk to a kilo of cheese-
Thank goodness Pierre didn’t have to do it by hand,
I said linking my experience of milking Moira for a month
for the benefit of halfcalf George-
who would not suck.
Rene leaning against the wall in his blue singlet looked sceptical,
but Pierre was open for chat
bout the changes in the villages,
les jeunes – the young dont want it,
don’t know how to work,
we shared a conversation held many times at home,
he brought his fingers to his mouth
they just want this he said
fumer hashish-
now that did surprise me a bit!
So I am in Lurans for my ewe’s milk cheese
and chat with madame about the way of things
in rural Aquitaine – a place of producers, ageing ones-
and seasonal tourist outlets, but shorter seasons.
‘Do you think these small producers will survive?’
I asked, she looked apprehensive and then cleared
as she handed me a sliver first of pure ewe’s milk,
then sheep/goat/melange then local vache-
known only as ‘Ferme Glorion’ the farmers name.
‘O I think so she said,
there are new people;
they look at things differently,
they are willing to start at the bottom.’

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Hillwalking London

Not gonna climb that one

Not gonna climb that one

I walk
Simon is my guide this time:
on his territory.
(I would guide him on mine.
Beyond the end of the peat road,
across the head of the dry loch):
he guides me from Covent Garden
to the Embankment.
We walk beside the river,
(along the burn,
sphagnum and frogs)
past booksellers & musicians,
A student leafleteer proffers
cancer support:
‘You should tell him-
you have enough already’.
I joke.
We turn at the Golden Hind,
a woman
jonah
dressed in hessian
entertains a stand of visitors
(the boat at the loch
was broken for firewood
by visitors
a decade ago)
We cross the river by London Bridge
(but not jumping cross stones)
towards the Bank
(towards the bank)
still talking
and on through the villages
old hunter’s paths
(old stalker’s trails)
using his skill
through HolbornSohoEdgware
HydeParkNottingHill
to Portobello
where we cruise the stalls
and finally sit to eat.
(beyond the bothy
at Dalnashallag
we choose high hills
roadway or river-
We will use this last
to end at the pub
still talking after walking
the way of the day).

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