Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Solitary walking

I am kitted up for walking the Nog at the end of the day: stalking jacket, gaiters,hiking boots, stick. The Nog knows the form and is through the door as soon as it’s cracked.
20 paces on and everything changes. A shot claps from the far side of the river – sounds flat like a rifle, possibly connected to the herd of red deer on the riverbank a few hours earlier. For the Nog this is the end- hopelessly gunshy, he turns back to the house, turns again, sits at the end of the bridge looking at me. For all his excitement at running the hill, this fear dominates. He follows meekly as I return to the door and let him through to curl thankfully into his basket.

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This lesson derives from the time we were halfway up the old quarry path through the birches, and a guest started to zero his heavy bore rifle on the farm, the sound of his ranging shots booming back off the hard granite faces. I ushered the Nog ahead of me upwards for a few hundred metres, until his resolve shattered and he turned and ran. Following him downwards, I failed to find him at the deer fence bordering the road and only caught up with him at the front door, set like a concrete ornament.
He must have wormed his way under the deer fence and crossed the main road in his desperation.

*
Alone now I take the same route, intrigued at how much less invasive I am without my hyperactive shadow. A roe and calf trot uphill to the side of the path, turn and look back at me from fifty foot as I walk quietly forward. Three goats, white with large black patches, one heavily pregnant, pause from stripping the bark from a fallen birch to watch without moving from their basket of denuded branches, briefly bright in raw orange.

*
I am more inclined to listen to the southeasterly and the water windcombed from the crags. I share the landscape surveyed by Sarah Justina from her granite, cross-topped obelisk. The strata of colour and contour are layered from the dull marsh grass with the black coils of the slow river fringed with dark birch, up through brighter pasture to the rolling frieze of conifers with snowfields behind grading from scattery to solid white where the eye moves into the wild. Broken cloud rolls across the peaks, seeming to snag.

*
At the foot of the hill I walk parallel to the road before crossing to the yard – cars roar in passing, headlights revealing the road ahead.

*
I move unseen through the darkening wood as invisible ravens call to roost.

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Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm, village life

The visitor

I was going to say that I never saw a human face today (so it’s a good thing I enjoy the animals) – but it is not true.
I am in the yard after dropping a bale into Billy and the gravid mothers. They are all outside since it is breezy and fine; Abby’s wee black boy gallops among the birches like a tiny stampeding bison, and Billy tries to intercept the bale hoisted above the feeder, reaching up like a basketball player.
Gates shut, JCB parked; my sole visitor appears at the gate. Trevor the woodsman wants to know who owns Lochain Ubhaidh (Wee loch Uvie – close enough to the farm to share a name).
He was standing between the cliffs and the water when he heard a thrashing in the water.
Sma-a-a-k. A giant fish clears the water and thumps back with the noise of a sledgehammer splintering a gatepost.
Sma–k. It breaches again.

The sound echoes from the looming crags, vigilant with ravens.

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Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Granite granny & the birds

A covey of french partridges whirr away from bracken at the base of the Aspen paddock. Black Abby and dun Holly are given a cursory tickle just to maintain friendly relations, and I’m headin up the old township road toward breakfast. Watching the birds skim the grass like portly sprinters- a short expletive makes me look up: ‘Tchack’ -just that. Twoscore jackdaws high up head due west from somewhere downriver. I see this every morning: these birds are commuting: I have no idea why or where to. ‘Tchack’ drops like a stick from the beak of one of these sociable intelligent birds – it may be in the old speech of the place- Gaelic. The poetic gaels had a wonderful way of eliding, compressing meaning in musical syllables: the name of the farm, a case in point. Uvie was spelt Ubhaidh – a name that is almost a story: ‘Place of beauty in the lap of fear’. Write it again! ‘Place of beauty in the lap of fear’. This tells how my pastures are suspended between granite outcrops like an apron over bony knees. Follow the knees upwards and your sight fills with the dark granite cliffs of Creag Dubh – again from the Gaelic-‘ the Black Mountain’. A place of fear indeed and yet the crag is a granite matriarch hunkered with her sheltering back to the north wind and her knees spread to catch the warmth of the southern sun, skirts rolled up to her knees. It was her name that the fighters of Clan Macpherson yelled as they ran into battle: feared she may be – and loved.
So the terse call of the jack may be understood as something close to: ‘ No good watching your wellies, look up!Something will be happening in the sky.’
A smaller flock sweeps past the windows of the house, and lower yet a foursome fly so close to the ground they curve into the slight hollow of the Apron pasture. It is often like this – there appear to be set flight paths distinct for each group.
As I watch a flock in middle air steering busily toward the west in their untidy way, a single bird glides close – easily mistaken for one of the same but larger. A solitary raven brushes past angling downwards, as inscrutable in its lone mission as these foragers in their clannish foray. The raven lives and breeds on the cliffs above, a small blackness launched from the crag to patrol the farm.

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