farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Yellow flowers follow flows

Yellow is being worn today.
Slow draining rivulets along the margins of the farm sport finery.
Peaty and filled with black mud that has clarted my boots many times on my way up the hill, these semi stagnant waterways obstruct hard paths around the farm.

I think sometimes there must have been stone bridges- there are old roads after all, winding their way around and between the townships that dotted the drier slopes above the river’s floodplain.
Today’s road shortcircuits the connecting loops that wander between habitations – at walking pace, at cart pace. The routes describe the journeys, mostly short and where longer, diversionary, topographic – one had to keep one’s boots dry after all.

The new road is far from arrow straight; the cliffs of Creag Dhubh are as unyielding as ever, the low ground as liable to flood as at any time, but the cars fly past on their way to somewhere else.
Watching them as I walk parallel to the road, I am looking not just from these woods separated by a few metres from the facilitating ribbon, but from an old time as if through an opening in a rotting stump.

Here hanged felons swing beside the highway as a warning,

and kingcups blaze above the slow movement of dark water.

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Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

My ghost sits in the branches of a birch tree

I see my ghost in the middle of the day.
Walking the Nog up to the yard before lunch, I spy the robin. He flies into the lower branches of the sole birch tree within the  yard used for exercising the show animals. I watch him in the winter sunshine: I see his redbreast. As usual he watches me from a distance, askance.

*

I think of him as a ghost because he is mostly half seen only: but always there when I walk in the half light to start my service of the animals. Most days I catch him from an eye’s edge swooping across the mouth of the gate to disappear inside the barn. I cannot spy him among the clutter of machinery, haybales, scaffolding gear, fencing tools, machined timber, oil containers, ropes, fencing tools, feedsacks, deer lardering kit – but I know he is there- watching from the shadows, bright-eyed.

*

Perhaps he really is a ghost. This place belonged, of course, to farmers and cattle breeders before me. They, their houses, the township are gone – their fields, the shapes of their roads and yards, the piles of stones picked from the plough remain as their legacy. The kaleyard they used to crop for the table has been restored as my kitchen garden. The robin clearly monitors my activities as I tend the cattle; if he is an old showman he’ll enjoy watching the choice calves grow, get halter trained and schooled in the yard. He would chuckle at my bungled attempt to tag Abby’s calf the other morning. He’d applaud a good animal well turned out.

*

This is, after all, an ancient relationship. Robins, they reckon, followed herds of animals for the grubs and insects disturbed. Later, watching apes grow intelligent enough to manage those herds, the bird followed the man after the ape, the farmer after the herder. Strongly territorial, the male defends his patch, and presumably his provider, the farmer. So my ghost has ownership of me – not my person so much as my behaviour, from which many advantages may accrue to one small bird and his mate.

*

As he sits in the unaccustomed glare of the sun, a flock of finches bursts into the bare branches above his head like a firework, and scatters to the adjacent trees.  A rapid looping swoop takes him to the crack at the base of the barn’s slatted wall- and into the sheltering shade. He has seen and shown enough.

*

I will look for him tomorrow.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

creatures of habit

A blowy night with rain lashing the house and the cattle down in the wood. I’m out a tad later, having worked the weekend but not so late as to disturb the clock watchers in fields and sheds; awesomely dependant on a routine that I have established and must maintain. The wind has blown the gate to the calving pen open and Flora has been able to raid the feed store – trampling and knocking stuff over. Mind you I’m not the tidiest so I can make good quick enough, and even succeed in coralling Morag separately for her dose of of cod liver oil. Is it my imagination or is she placing a little more weight on that dodgy rear leg?
These days my approach to the yard is heralded by a fountain of pheasants exploding outwards like a municipal firework display. In the feed shed there is always a little hen pheasant who is taken by surprise every morning, lifts off vertically to clatter against the tin roof before whirring outward like a wizz-bang. There is a regular visitor too who announces himself in the halflight as a blur at the corner of vision, swooping between the hay stack and the old JCB. As the light grows I make him out darting from vantage to vantage along my route attending on different tasks during the day: piling windblown sheets of corrugated iron finds him watching from a peat pile, clearing a windblown hawthorn finds him concealed in the pile of branches. A few days ago, one of high wind and driving rain, I was astonished to find him fluttering past the gate as I went to open it, blown ragged by the gale but dauntless in his opportunism.
I heard David Attenborough today talking about this bird, robin redbreast. Apparently, thousands of years ago, robins learned to follow tribes of pigs, picking over the ground they disturbed. Then as humans became herders, the birds followed the domesticated animals and ultimately transferred allegiance to the herder as provider.
So, I have been adopted, my care of the herd bringing me a shadow asserting an ancient relationship extending many generations behind my current routines- and the return? Nothing more than cheerful companionship.

Good enough.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, Uvie Farm

Ghosts don’t eat soft fruit

Lunch is a time sandwich: crunchy farm filling between slabs of morning and afternoon joinery. Demi Og watches me arrive, lifting her head from the round feeder- I raise mine to her as if horned. Arthritic old Morag has moved up the field from her dead-buffalo-on the prairie position she had adopted when I left, reassuring me that she is not ready to give up just yet.  

It is the second day of the mild south-westerly & the ground is soft, perhaps the last chance to plant the potted sticks that bother me at the door: red gooseberry & domesticated bramble. I open the door to the ecstatic Nog and head down to the kitchen garden. It is the first year established: sowing was late and little produced but I am glad it is there. It covers half the area of the old kaleyard, the area of subsistence crops for the old township, dominated by the tumbledown farmhouse. I plant the shrubs at the top of the rectangle- almost exactly the vantage of a photographer in 1903 who took shots of Mrs Logan and her home. He saw a substantial thatched house with peat store and cartshed attached at right angles protecting the house and yard from the wild westerlies, In the foreground, cabbages grow where I have my modest collection of fruiting shrubs. I imagine the stern hardworking old ghosts tut-tutting at my frivolity – ‘gooseberries, redcurrants & blaberries not cabbages, eh?’.

Maybe I malign them, they planted lilacs after all: my fruit trees will blossom for them also.

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