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Predawn

An early train to edinburgh
distorts the farm
with schedules
and absence,
warping like wet wood worked negligently.

Animals announce themselves
as paired glimmers
when my headtorch
tunnels through darkness
fringed with light rain
to pick out eyes
turned on as if switched-
illumined inside.

These my companions
seem turned robotic overnight:
my untimeliness preempting
secret daily resumption
of blood and bone.

light in the east

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Water changed worlds

Long days of wind and rain close our dry summer.
Hurricanes tail lashes us half heartedly beating rain against the windows,
rocking the buildings almost gently as if to reassure,
but the rain is relentless.
The cattle now stand silhouetted against a new lake
as if beached.
New shorelines
Holly and Alice are missing this morning;
eventually to show at the top of the marsh.
They pick their path gingerly
coming down to the trough to feed,
cantering when they meet firm ground.
Girls on firm ground
This afternoon I coax the quad across wet ground
to collect two hinds
picking up speed only when sure of my way
where there is no path.

freedom from rain

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Work is not sport

The tops are hidden in mist this morning.
I have to take the quad bike over the crest to the far valley-
-vallee oscuree par nuages-
(I do have French guests after all).
Mist over the tops
Edouard shot two small stags yesterday
the type that the government wants culled
so no sporting triumph here.
It was late –
we emptied them of innards
and left them overnight.
So my work is not done.

I left reluctantly this morning,
rode the quad out to the hill gate
with the Nog as Passenger;
juggled the machine up the line of the burn
that leads down from the saddle
and hence over to the far valley.

It is rough ground,
and there are many dangers.
A quad bike will go anywhere
but being lightweight,
needs agility
to be kept balanced –
and constant vigilance.

There are holes hidden in heather
many cross drains to drop into
with jarring abruptness,
or to take the wheels away on one side,
to tilt the bike.
There are deep holes left by peat cuttings,
banks that give way
puddles that plunge into
Alph-like caverns.

(I was glad of these once,
when the bike tipped and dropped me
safely to the bottom
with the quad propped on the banks
above me
inverted.)
On the return journey,
my little rig is unstable
with the carcase weight.
It will take little more than
a moment’s unwarinesss,
or a hidden rock,
and I will be over.

There is no-one else.

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The season is bound to turn

It's October for goodness' sake!

It’s October for goodness’ sake!

Last night I blew myself up.

Late night- last thing
and I needed to fix an error.
I missed the undercounter fridge socket
from the ring main:
the circuit that supplies power to all
the other sockets.
So I have to take a line from one of these-
a spur, to remedy my neglect.

Connections made, I tidy up
by pinning the cable to the studwork.
Unnoticed in the failing light,
I nick the cable when driving in a clip.
Switching the power main on
confidently-
results in:
BANG! FLASH!
And scorch marks up the wall.

Today I must make good,
and, going to the shed
to fetch a replacement socket,
I find I have company.
A wren
has taken refuge
in the sheltered warmth.
Wren at the door
I don’t know how she entered,
but when she batters against the window
I open the door
as usual with trapped birds
wide to the great space of sky
to enable her leaving.
Instead of which,
she perches on the sticks by the opening,
and watches me while I ferret for the part.
Until finally I turn to leave
and she bustles out the door
as if dutybound.
Low ground evening
Later, walking the Nog up the hill,
I spy the first snow on the cap of Cairn Gorm
and a rainbow’s arc,
steepening.
rainbow steepening

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Mr Wind has a job to do

Sometimes the wind arrives as an envoy
of distant places:
this one comes as an assault force.

A major part of the day was spent
fetching connectivity to the new studio falt
beneath the bunkhouse.
Even though it involves hardware, cables,
connections and fixings:
it doesn’t feel like work-
somehow insubstantial
like releasing a balloon or chucking a bottle into the sea.

The wind too is an engineer;
has real work in mind.
His job is with the fabric of the house,
stick and stone, glass and metal-
he will unpick it if he can,
crush it if he cannot.
I fall back for refuge in these buildings,
retreat cut off,
to endure the siege.

Meantime the moon has risen over my spire,
and small flickering lights from the new machine
remind me of other worlds
beyond the wind.

Moon over the roundhouse

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Signals at the end of the day

You can just see the deer below the trees if you look very closely - but you cannot HEAR HIM ROAR!

You can just see the deer below the trees if you look very closely – but you cannot HEAR HIM ROAR!


Calum’s door is always open on a sunny day,
his dark wee house faces south
but the small windows deny him the benefit.
Announcing myself with a shout
I enter briefly but it is more congenial
enjoying the bright evening on the step,
all the sweeter for the forecast of storms.

From here we study the sunlit valley below us,
upper Strathspey
where one of Scotland’s great rivers
has yet to find its power and meanders
sleepily through farmland and marsh
like a teenager.

We review the new broadband signal from the hill,
all the while conscious of the signal
being broadcast by the stag below the wood,
now with a harem of upward of a dozen hinds
and a possible rival further along the riverbank.

I take my leave of my valued neighbour
and follow the dog out to the open hill.
The light is failing and a halfmoon appears:
once again it is the time the world changes
from manifest to half-seen:
and a shot cracks the quiet.
The Nog grovels, gripped by gunshyness,
a stag has died.
I listen longer
and pick up the groaning serenade once more.
Catching the Nog to the lead for reassurance
I descend
alert to the ironies
of his boastful clarion.
Half moon return

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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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