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, 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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