pleasure tour of duty

instead of guiding the Nog across the road into the enclosed woodland
where he can run safely on the way up to Sarah Justina’s monument,
I take a tour of my small farm.
This is for the amenity – sheer pleasure of grass and flower and tree-
and secretive wildlife:
also I reconnoitre targets in
long slender dockan stems surmounted by great bottlebrush seed heads,
thistles growing limbs with flowerheads like Hydra,
newly reinforced with subtle ragwort
preparing a second front
and there is something else that crosses between
appreciation and function.
I remind myself here
– a sense of the place-
what is now and what is latent.

I stand for a long time watching the calves, teasing out their qualities, their potential;
in the weaning paddock  aspen suckers set leaf among the thistles:
perhaps this year I should not top them
but fence off and weed by hand to allow the new woodland.
The Nog is pointing- steady while I approach, lean forward to identify the quivering black lining to a hare’s limpid eye.
When she breaks he follows briefly but is checked by a tap of my stick.
The long tail of a hen pheasant projects from a dockan clump
a pace further on
motionless within my reach and the dog’s predatory interrogation.
It can only mean she is sheltering eggs or chicks-
foolish oriental import, shotgun fodder,
lion-hearted mother.
I call the Nog,
thankfully negligent of her presence
on to the next pasture
and other prospects.


First fledged

2014-06-20 15.48.34

It is the eve of Midsummer
– the nights are hardly dark.
As I clean the bunkhouse my attention focussed on the task,
working to an economy that I have polished through practise
occupied with interior things
while the sucklers lie among the ox-eye daisies in long grass
keeping half an eye on their fat calves,
starlings gang on the tin roof
partridges rattle from concealing tussocks-
and a swallow alights on the sill of the stairside window
– sits there as I work, facing the glass,
its eyes following my movements to and fro with broom and vacuum.
There is something strange in this inactivity
when the damp shade below the birch limbs
hold promise of insects where other birds are working.
One of these joins the first on the ledge, proffers a beakful of insects
revealing itself as parent
and the other a fledgling fresh from the mud-daubed, featherlined nest.
I am jolted straight to summer’s end when old and young depart.
This bird has a summer to grow and strengthen,
the parents have time to raise another brood,
and I have projects to complete
before the leaves fall.



He was always long
Ruaridh of Ubhaidh (Ubhaidh being the gaelic spelling of Uvie and the name of my fold, my breed brand).
I mind him walking slowly along the farm road as a calf his long spine stretching gently with each stride.
And then again when my horse breeding aunts came
to stand in the field surrounded by the animals and Patty striding forward to stroke his neck
I booked him for the Spring show of the following year,
but before I could start preparing him a hurricane came and blew away half my roof
while Lynda and I cowered in the toilet.
A month after replacing my scattered shelter
I was parading Ruaridh in the ring.
He was quiet and responsive, long and leisurely
with a fine heavy head and even horns, padding steadily on fine wide hooves carrying his weight squarely on wideset legs,
but he had a skinny arse.
If I’d forced him to bring him on he might have bulked up
but the truth is
it was always going to take longer than usual to fill his oversized frame.
It was the first time I experienced failure in the ring- one bid took him to six hundred guineas
and that was it. I led him back to the pen quietly, doubtful of his future and my ability to hold him on the small farm.
And then Her Majesty approached –
heavily disguised as Docky Ormiston, manager of the Balmoral herd.
So she bought him-
Docky developed him
and today at The Royal Highland Show
the largest agricultural show in Scotland
he was judged Highland male champion.


His full brother, Angus Halfhorn,
remains with me on the farm.


Competing flags

Vegetation is taking over the pond.
Clear water continues enabling space for half a dozen mallard drakes to cruise up and down self-importantly
like Black Sea frigates,
though they have competition.
The flag irises that I planted in three spots
in my underpants
or rather…
while wading in bare feet
wearing my underpants-
are showing vibrant yellow blooms,
while their supporting greenery gently annexes open water.
The south side is sprouting narrow leaved faintly glaucous grasses,
and the eastern border is growing in toward the island.
The jungular lushness is slightly threatening – occupying half my mind with plans to dredge
as if today
it was not beautiful.




Finding a fit

I park tools in buckets while working, keeping them together roughly categorised:
ie. plumbing, electrics, drill bits.
In a random collection stored against no particular eventuality
I find a mortise guage,
used for marking, scoring wood prepared for the essential joinery connection:
the mortise (a square hole) and tenon (a square peg) joint.
It has held things together- buildings, doors and windows, chairs and tables- since the Romans occupied Britain
(and arguably long before, since a similar joint is responsible for the long- standing structural viability
of Stonehenge).
Most guages have adjustable points allowing for the tenon thickness appropriate to the item being joined, while Lear’s ‘joint stool’ might use 1/4″, a tithe barn truss might be 2″, an internal door 3/8″, external 5/8″.
I sometimes buy old tools for constructing traditional timber frames -or so I tell myself.
Truth is –
a tool like this is a delight to handle. It is handmade for a purpose- and tightly made, engineered even – when I employ it I shadow the previous user, the maker.Image
This one has an oval sectioned shaft piercing a stock of the same profile, located by a delicate hardwood wedge.
It has metal pins set into the shaft – spaced one inch -1″- 25.5mm- apart.
No more, no less.
I was reflecting on a marriage I know: far from ideal- but the partners have made up their minds to it.
This guage could not be used for the joint stool, for doors (unless fitted to cathedrals), for chairs, most tables- it is too big, unadaptable: crude therefore.
It has been made for one size of tenon- window/door frames maybe –
but it was made as delicate, as economical, precise as could be
and still perform the task,
the one task it exists to do.


Goodbye – stotty boys

The two boys have been together for some weeks now, grazing on the lush grass around the house.
Today is their last day on the farm- the place they were born:
they are content to belong here.
Due to move three miles to my neighbour’s pristine pastures-
they don’t come to my call.
Shaking a feed bag, ‘Come o-oon boys’
fails to lure them from the fence where they enjoy closeness with the suckling mothers
in Mrs Logan’s meadow.

So I unite them,
opening the gate to the main herd.
Holly comes out first off the blocks beating me to the crest of the hill,
black Abby and Angus Halfhorn follow close-
and, to my relief, the stotty boys.
These five are up to the yard first; I close the gate holding the rest back.
The trough cleared, the breeders are shed to rejoin their tardy companions.
With the boys secure in the yard, I can return the herd to the pasture
briefly vacated.
My German guests: Claus, Ruth, Alice & Fabian wander down to observe-
or so they think.
Fabian is sent to the yard to walk down behind,
when this fails, Alice is sworn in as bagrattler while I urge Angus down the road.
As the stragglers start on the return journey, Claus alerts me:
Abby, always urgent for feed, has barged through Alice’s defences
to bury her head in the bag.
Alice, unused to bovine importunity, bravely keeps hold of the bag,
until I relieve her, rolling the quad downhill,
the beasts following.
On the final slope the feed bag bumps out of the footwell
spilling nuts on the grass.
I swear as I take my hands from the bars to recover the bag,
the bike veers to the side
bumping over rocks
gaining speed.
I pull the bag onboard and transfer to the brake,
jumping down to gather the spilt concentrate
as the animals gather round.
If they find it -they will not follow down to the gate,
but the ground is clear now
and they are happy enough to compete for the remaining booty
as I spread it inside the fence¬†where they will lodge ’til summer is gone.
Did I forget something?..

Oh yes – back up the road to load the boys-
and bid them goodbye.