Phantom fears stalk the hill

No more black coffee
I’m on a purge.
My flask delivers hot liqourice
and something- camomile perhaps.


I sit to watch

deer scattered in the heather

below the monument.

They watch me –
a dozen hinds and calves
with a couple of knobbers
(young stags) still in velvet.
Hidden gully
Unperturbed though
until distant shots crack
from a neighbouring glen,
shotguns not rifles-
grouse or clays-
but the deer rise
and move below me and out of sight.

The Nog is prone
under my head
-a canine pillow-
and hovers unusually
tight as I move off-
flatteringly attentive –
until I remember his fear of firearms,
however far off.
‘Gunshy’ doesn’t describe
this overwhelming terror
conjuring phantoms
while the heather smells of honey
and the wind is from the south

I study water pouring slowly
down a smear of green,

– to challenge other phantoms.



Chewing it over

The studio is wired in.
A live line of 16mm armoured cable
runs from the mainboard in the basement
to the studio distribution board,
enabling the circuits,
power & light
shower & cooker,
fans & smoke alarm
that I have laboriously installed.
New line from the masterboard
These domestic circuits are cobbled together
like daily routines.
Bringing the power in
involves something deeper,
more dangerous:
dredging potency from the darkness below.
It has been anchored somewhere
on my mind’s seabed
catching on rocks and weed
slowing the job down.

It is done-
and, like many a troll,
living damp and dark,
below ground,
was small enough when confronted-
less than a day-
and I learned from it.
Meantime, the cattle have been lying down
in the humid conditions,
chewing the cud.
Neither expectant nor ambitious,
they loll
in late summer fullness,
moored safely
when I surface.

Old ladies take their ease


Old farm and new

It’s a hornbeam – I think-
the tree growing in the doorway.
The tree is not beautiful
or even that healthy.
The doorway is a ghost
nothing more than a memory
of comings and goings
to and from the old farmhouse,
Uvie farmhouse.

Protected by the fallen lintel,
jambs lying together,
or just possibly human intent,
the ungainly sapling has grown tall.
It spoils the view
from and toward the roundhouse.
(A guest recently took a photo
from across the river:
‘nice apart from the tree’).

Today as I build
the cattle graze
around the house,
like would-be purchasers.

Companion animals

Companion animals

Flora stands alone by the tree.
One day-
when my house is fallen
to an overgrown mound
propped by nine cast piers-
an old red cow may wander here
making milk for her baby.

Flora visits the old farmstead

Flora visits the old farmstead


New freedoms (but no sex)

Sex is in the air, (I won’t tag that)
but it’ll be okay
so long as the West wind blows.

The little heifers
Holly and Alice
graze freely
on the aftermath
of the silage cut.

Stock fences are illusory,
a gesture of control.
The cattle can walk through
parting my lines easy enough.
Mostly they appreciate constraint,
but I have slung a halter around
the horns of Eros
hitched him to a hurdle.

Holly and Alice are 18 months old,
ready to breed
and keen.
If they find the bull now
they will breed successfully,
but all their strength
will go to the new life
leaving them stunted.

Where do you think the  boys are?

Where do you think the boys are?

So I watch,
sour as a dowager,
while they nibble newfound delights.

A field away upwind-
shielded from sight,
Angus rolls along the fence,
sucking at the air’s juice.


Goodbye to kings and queens of the air

Jason and his buddies have left after a couple of nights in the bunkhouse.
Their colour, noise and fun leaves with them.
The quiet nags at me as I stand on the deck
after the first laundry load,
Crossing the bridge to the roundhouse.
I realise I am no longer strafed
by protective swallows
or entertained by squadrons of martins.

They haven’t gone yet!
I tell myself
It’s too early,
I know they are still here.

As I approach the door to the roundhouse
I see a shape fly past the windows.

They are still here! –

A single bird- a swallow –
curls round the profile of my home,
slowly traverses between the buildings
parallel to the bridge,
and slips out of sight
past the southern gable of the bunkhouse.

It’s horrible they have gone
but it would have been worse
if they hadn’t said goodbye.


All Hail the Funghal Empire

The braes across the road from the farm
are the frontier of the wild.
My land is witness to my tightrope walk
of partnership and control.
Across the road, empires rise and fall unchecked.
The developers are active just now,
the architects prolific:
giant structures appear overnight:
municipal play balls,
of brown and red and white,
orange, lemon yellow, greeny grey,
livid and vivid, slimy and rough,
mottled and plain,

they build from the mossy slopes
to open into platters
floating in mid-air on delicate pale stems,
or rooted with fat trunks
like farmers.

Destruction is already present,
edifices toppled by passing sheep,
or inquiring human.
Insects have honeycombed the staunchest monopod,
pockmarked their glossy heads.

Some cluster in groups, pushing outwards
as if to leave,
ammonita grow in groves of lurid sunset reds and yellows,
collared by a lacy ruff,
joyously toxic.
Others lurk pale, lonely and sinister,
these I shun: but my friends I greet:
the great Cep (not many though – and the brown birch is not so good)
orange bolete, yellow russula, and trumpeting chanterelles

Imperial architecture

Imperial architecture

The empire of the funghi is here for a spell,
with riots and uncontrolled assemblies,
before returning to the quiet earth,
and the hillsides under the trees
will be the poorer for its fall.


Summer day:cast die.

My grass was cut yesterday.
Not my lawn-
my grass-
for silage-
survival rations for the cattle this winter.
It is ridiculously late-
uncomfortable like an overdue haircut-
the grass has stopped growing,
it’s sugar content is down,
but it is cut!

Today it is baled and wrapped in black plastic.
I have 63 bales-
exactly the same as last year.
A simple piece of data-
diary entry, catalogued-
no story here for today-

except for the implications of that number.
My complement of fodder (with 46 bales bought in)
is now over a strategic hundred bales.
That is my estimated minimum for enduring 6 winter months-
when my care of the cattle is put to the test, and hardship and failure
results if I have been inaccurate or negligent.
Here is the drama for today – a projection of care,
made on a day of warm sun
and a drying breeze
with the swallows still hunting the air,
the leaves green,
and the bracken only turned enough
to highlight deeper shadow.


Sighting on the story

This is a blessed evening. Absolutely still: the colour of the flowering heather and multiple greens of bog myrtle, grasses and foliage picked out by the orange tinge of old light. Loose cloud is pasted grey against faded blue, trailing wisps picked out in rosy highlights.
Ian and I walked the Catlodge ridge, looking back east toward the farm and west along the peaks of Lochaber and the gleaming strip of Loch Laggan bordering the distinctive eminence of Creag Megaidh, the National Nature Reserve.
We start in shade with a broken sky:
“Will it stay fine” asks Ian
“No”- my reply”- but the rain won’t last long.”
At the crest the wind is harder, driving light drops from the west, chilling our faces.
In the lee of the cairn I pull out a flask of sweet black coffee to share as we watch cloud shadow and rain curtains glide slowly across the opposite face sloping up to the Monadhliath Plateau.
Standing up to stow my gear for the return, I exclaim:
‘There they are’ and pull out my binos. The enhanced view confirms the presence of 4 dozen red deer, hinds and calves, lying in the heather across the valley beneath the monument.
At more than 800 metres I cannot identify them for what they are with the naked eye, but experience of colour and shape informs me of what I was hoping to see.
Without the alertness to their presence, I would have passed over the bank of heather and orange bracken as general, part of the overall pleasure of the wide variegated landscape, and missed something unique to the place,
worth recording.

Handsome beasts

Handsome beasts

Today’s stories are like this – announcing themselves often as nothing more than shapes hinting at significance, opening like heliotropes when subjected to light – but neglected entirely without alertness zeroed on the general, the mixed – even the meaningless.


Landscape with people is quieter

The idea behind todaysstoryblog is to observe the moment, to record the highlights, however inconsequential.
This is the world I live in, that I perceive and experience directly.
Of late the real stories involve people – I cannot write stories about people, real people even though they are as much a part of my world as trees, rocks, skies and highland cattle.
To write stories about the people I know is to reduce them: evenDSCN1887 Misty Evening Light Over Upper Speyside at Laggan ce celebration is to deny them roundness, their full dimensions.
So when life is full of people, and the emotional connections they bring – I go quiet like a shy kid in the corner –
though the world turns still, the heather smells of honey and a jet plane catches the sun shining white in the late afternoon as we climb towards the monument.