heroic ambition, today's story, Uncategorized, village life

Flying beyond the flock

Two small birds tear into the sky – and out again – like streakers on a cricket field.
Their compact profile and short triangular wings are familiar – but anomalous. They are surely starlings – and not only that – they are the starlings nesting in my eaves – or rather under the tin roof of the bunkhouse. I see them flying in and out of the gable end when I cross the bridge to my office – but mostly in the summer. There is something remarkable about this pair climbing the air above the Apron field where the stotts are now clearing the troughs of this morning’s nuts.
Starlings are woodland birds, so tree-loving not house sharing: and profoundly gregarious, swirling in great single-minded flocks like shoals. My birds behave differently, of necessity maybe or choice – and this aspiring glory in solitary flight marks my vision as I race the quad up to the gate from the bottom paddock with the Nog zigzagging madly across my bows.
Feeding the beasts is a welcome obligation – I know how to start my day – but to continue….? Work with immediate tasks- tag the carcase hanging by the pond, text the gamedealer, empty my pack to dry out my gear, oil and sharpen my knives – and then…?

Which item on the Endless List is fit for crossing off?
-and then-

Lynda phones to say Marie and Kari are here.
These are Wally’s womenfolk: – Wally Herbert- the greatest British polar traveller –  resident in the village for the last decade of his life
– and generous host

– and friend.
Wally made his own path where there are none; forcing his way forward in places without precedent, against Nature’s adversity and with little support or acclaim.

Marie and Kari follow in his steps, not the ones quickly filled with blown snow on the polar approaches, but the more enduring habits of psychological enterprise and endurance.

Some habits cast hard like pre-human prints on a beach- or the flight of starlings.

Animal stories, Farm Life, heroic ambition, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Uncategorized

Why would the wren fly higher than the eagle?

I leave the feeding to the end of the day. It has been snowing on and off with bright skies between showers. The JCB doesn’t start, so it’s a race to the pumps for fuel and back for putting out hay and silage before dark.
When I return from Newtonmore, the stotts are bellowing: with reason, their feeder was close on empty when I checked this morning.
‘Fee-ee-e-ed us: you–uuu–re laa-a-ate!’ the big guy bellows from across the field; they are gathered at the gate the way they do every morning waiting for me to appear with the nuts.
‘I—iii-m ooo—ooo—n iiii-iit! No–oo–tt l—-ooong gu-uys’ I yell back before filling and powering up the old machine.
I’m taking the silage from inside the enclosure with the two little girls, Holly and Alice, so I let them into the yard. They come out dancing – and set to scratching on all the novel protuberances suddenly made available.

The old yellow machine thunders down the farm road past the pond where the mallard pair have recently taken up residence, nudges the gate open with the front wheels, drops the bale in the feeder and lurches back up the road.
It’s Billy and the girls in the calving paddock next. The bale catches on the forks and needs a shunt: the plastic wrap drops with it requiring removal  in case of ingestion, fatal in the case of a calf. Billy is sidling round the feeder as I hack at the plastic caught by the weight of the sodden grass. He catches up to me before I manage to release it, and bashes me with his giant horns.
As it happens I know this manoeuvre: I have to tickle him before completing the task. Toll extracted in the currency of contact, Billy permits me to haul out the remains of the wrap and remove it from danger.
The moon is shining clear on the snow-peppered mire of the yard. There is a single star riding above, like a wren above an eagle. As the story goes, we need a lift to fly high.

Animal stories, Chooks, Farm Life, heroic ambition, Living with Nature, today's story, Uncategorized

Working is for the birds

A light rain falls as I convert some of my timber stack to firewood using the chainsaw. A choice must be made- these are sawn boards, and seasoned for years in the lean-to, in case I am called to use it to make furniture. There is ash there, local pine, larch, beech, sycamore,oak, chestnut, walnut – all fit to be machined and worked, but none of it used in the last twenty years – so why keep it?


Firewood has a real value, not potential. I guage the value of my segmented timber stock in hours of burning – this board gives me an hour, two hours; this pile gives me a day, a week, longer. Horizons come closer in winter: this mild spell will end, and now I have stored some insurance like racking potatoes.

As I swing the bellowing saw, a tiny finch works alongside, also laying down reserves against winter extremes. The lesser redpolls have been active in the birches for some weeks now, settling in sudden showers among the purplish twigs waving at the branches’ extremities. They strip out the residues of nutritous seeds with rapid agility. This little bird is working alone, out of context in more ways than one, nipping not at the seed source but at the deposits on the black plastic wrapping my silage. Its head has a blush of russet, a cape of yellow descends its neck,  its wings carry dark brown flecks like grains. It is focussed on its task and observant but oblivious of my operations-
-unlike the robin.
My companion ghost appears at the far side of the finch, perched on the roadside gatepost. The robin has no work, he has authority. He is a beadle, hands clasped behind his tailcoat, observing the industry of the deserving poor (me and the finch, that is) while pretending to watch the road traffic.

By 4 o’clock the timber for warmth is cut and the timber for making is stored; but someone is working harder than ever. Cocky disappeared into the lonely chooky house earlier, but now, as I prepare to lock him in, he returns to the open. He has his gaze fixed on the roof timbers where his ladies have all learned to roost, leaving him earthbound. Not for much longer, his body language says.
His posture is rigid, his neck points forward and upward like a brandished cavalry sword. He braces himself… and launches.

He gains an elevation of a full eighteen inches- (His ladies manage fifteen foot to the tie beam in three stages)- and holds fast. Sadly, his perch is a fence post that, being cylindrical, rolls backwards and forwards as he struggles for equilibrium like a logger on a Canadian river. His efforts, plainly incompetent, alert the predatory instincts of the Nog who I oblige to sit. Cocky is eventually dislodged, but remaining totally focussed on his task, stalks forward for his next attempt completely unaware of his proximity to the motionless Nog, who salivates silently.

He is attached to the deluded intent that he can fly directly up to the tie beams without following the pattern established by the womenfolk. I leave while he is still working on the problem, and return later to shut the chooky house on the assumption that he failed, and is sulking within like great Achilles.

I reckon his power to weight ratio is against him – or maybe brain to muscle. Ambition for change came late – but for all that it looks like it’s here to stay.
We are all fighting our battles on windy plains before locked cities.

We are all mighty.