change of season, farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Uvie Farm

Today I walked a mountain gold and cold

Summoning crags

Summoning crags

The pump in the basement is old:
it has run dry and burned a few times,
smoking and blowing capacitors.
Still works though – just not strongly
enough to charge the water pressure.

My entire water supply is dependant:
my guests too, my business-
on this old pump’s enduring.
It develops quirks as its power fades
allowing the pressure to run low
as if too tired to chase
only heaving itself into action
when the stream has all but dried.

The one outlet that dries altogether
is the highest: my shower.
In the morning I stand under the flow
wait for it to dribble and die,
and then stretch out a long and trembling arm
to turn the hot tap at the basin
that spurts and sings encouragement
to its lofty wall-mounted companion
which then releases warm liquid joy
onto my chilling head and shoulders.

For three days now the sun has shone brilliantly;
I have the choice to sit at my papers
and wait the slow onset of early dark
and creeping cold
or seize the sunlight on the hill.
The Nog approves my choice.
I will not lose myself this time,
just to crest Creag Dhubh
gigantic companion to the farm round
clear to view
besides many false summits.

Sunlight on the rockface summons:
the grass glows gold.

golden grassland

golden grassland


This gradient demands new pressure
from the old pump driving my legs
upwards to where space narrows
between rock and sky.

Crag Dhubu crest

Standard
Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Breaking out

Every drop of water drawn from the taps this summer I have hauled into place.

I fill the bowser from the tap at the barn, pull it round to the basement at the west end of the bunkhouse, hook up to the alkythene pipe inserted into a hole drilled in the water tank enclosure and let it fill the system by gravity.
So every cup of tea, every toilet flush, hair/hand wash was made possible. Every shower prolonged pleasurably – was paid for in effort.

Every pot filled, garment washed, crock cleaned – was, in a sense, my artefact.

A pain in the water butt, in truth.

When the borehole pump failed first – I pulled it out for maintenance.
When the time came to replace it in the well with electrical connections reassembled, I tested it before dropping it down the 200ft shaft.
It didn’t work –

well, it worked if I stood in the dark basement like a cave-dwelling caryatid with my finger glued to it,

but it didn’t flow at the command of the float switch as it should.

So I run the quad up to the yard several times a day to handcraft the precious resource.

It has become a duty, like feeding the cattle in winter – a chore, literally, but one with a similar gift of routine. When I drive the quad round in the morning I take the measure of the day ahead, and, at night, take stock. While waiting on the twenty minute fill, I look for eggs, watch the ducklings, chop thistles and dockans, pull ragwort.
The Nog comes with me, joins the routine, noses through the silage pastures for pheasants, hares and partridge, also hunts out any hen’s eggs available for breakfast-(his breakfast)- races the quad, eats the chicken feed.

So this improvisation, born from failure and incomprehension,
has become embedded, a part of my day, of me
like a limp.

I must address this inertia.

Each day I aim by elimination to do some one thing to arrive closer to understanding the fault
One by one I have broken the electrical connections, and remade them, wired the pump to the switch in the basement, connected the dry run probe.
I suffer a teasing hiatus after clicking the trip switch – a moment of imminence- and then the light-

always red: always the stop light.
I had filled the pump with water when testing, but today I insert the heavy cylinder into the aperture used to fill the upper tank and submerge it – just in case there is some requirement for the pump casing to be immersed.

Flick the switch,

wait a half breath for the light to come on-

– green!

And this evening the heather has broken into full flower on the south facing slopes.

Okay it's pretty - but does it hide anything I can chase?!

Okay it’s pretty – but does it hide anything I can chase?!

Standard
change of season, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, today's story, Uvie Farm

Five minute story

Against expectation, the farm is flooded with sunshine. Long seeded grass in the silage fields lies almost flat under the weight of night rain and carries a polished sheen when scanned from ground level. The cattle in Logan’s meadow stand drying off the nights dampness, chewing the cud in appreciation. Housemartins and swallows forage further afield on a clear day like this, since the supply of insects around the house house is blessedly diminished by their constant activity.

That is where my attention is set.

A single leaf twists through the still air falling from the giant silver birch as I open the tap to start the flow.

Standard
farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Cloudy Days

There are times the cloud seems to drag along the braes, catching in the birches so that I half expect fluffy white deposits like sheepswool on barbed wire.
Other times the hilltops are axed flat, bandaged in dense vapour like fabric, impenetrable and mysterious: a time to avoid walking the high tops for fear of disorientation, however familiar the terrain.
On a good day with a breeze and broken sun, the patterns of shadow pass over hillsides and pastures like fast moving geology, picking out grey rock, a flash of green upland pasture, a blaze of bracken, the gleam of water.
Today the wind has turned from the north (where the weather lurks unseen behind the dark mass of Creag Dhubh) to south east: warm but threatening the unaccustomed.

I haul the mountain bike from the pick-up and drop it over the gate to the hill-road on Catlodge. A Blue-Grey heifer is watching, head-up, ears pricked. As I wobble off down the rocky track the rest of the herd take flight and stampede down the track ahead of me, as if on a strange new steamrailway with me the monstrous locomotive. I curse under my breath, ashamed at the disruption as if a dog was running loose

Finally, the animals turn up the hill and slow, watching me pass.

When the road turns to grass, I prop the bike against the derelict fence of some forgotten environmental scheme, pull my whistlestick from the bungey holding it to my pack, and start the foot climb. I follow the half seen road used by the old peat cutters toward the green saddle that gives onto the far valley with long views to the west.

The first drops hit smartly, and turning I see cloud lowering over Drumochter Hills. Testing the wind I am forced to acknowledge the bank of rain heading for me like vengeance.
I look for the bright broken elements that presage showers, and the chance of drying off between downpours.
This I have learned to be comfortable with. but there is no relief in prospect.

I climb on-
until suddenly-
as I walk the wild-
my mind calls up an image of bedsheets left on the line.
That does it!
The Nog obediently turns with me as I head for home –
and a world of duty.

No No - I'm talking about all those black clouds!

No No – I’m talking about all those black clouds!

Standard
farm bunkhouse, Uncategorized

Swinging a gate

I return to the bowser a quarter hour after starting the fill.
I have not found time to diagnose the fault with my borehole pump
so I am still bound to fill the water tanks under the house
from the cattle’s water pulled from my first well
tankered round with the quad several times a day.
If the bunkhouse is full I struggle to keep pace.
The tap is by my last bag of cattle nuts from the winter stocks,
I’ll need it on occasion to pull the cattle into the yard for dosing, inspection, weaning and so on.
Since the two yearling stotts are loose round the farm,
not contained like the mothering cows
apart from Moira who with George belong in this middle zone,
the gate needs closed.
Sometimes I forget
to find a rubbed channel on the fabric of the tote bag
where an animal has head-downed to fullness.
The gate is folded back against the fence
needing swung one eighty.
I stand at the post and pull to start the arc,
hold the top bar and lean back with my full weight.
I take the strain on my right foot swinging my left
out and back for counterbalance like the backactor on the JCB.
The pull of my straightened arm tautens the flesh of my oxter,
until the gate starts, slowly and then more rapidly
until I can shift my grip and the metal swings easily into place
like a haltered animal.
I call my father to mind
without knowing why-
unless swinging a gate
is a childlike thing.

Standard
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.

Standard
Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, Highland cattle, new birth, Uncategorized

Did Garbo lie in the grass?

I have two days to renew my electricity contract.
If not my friendly supplier will continue to supply me-
at five times the cost.
A pine marten would, I suppose,
display no less rank predatory opportunism
among my hens.
As I complete the task I notice Holly
lying alone: atypical behaviour triggering a latent alarm.
She watched me head-up this morning as I rode the quad to the yard.
She was watching still at my return.
I put it down to a quest for morning feed,
now discontinued.
I kick myself for ignoring a possible signal-
where is her beautiful white heifer calf?
When animals suffer
or die
any stockman takes it on themselves.
Ishouldhavebeentheregotupearlierinthedawnseenthesignals.
Two months ago I saved Demi-Og’s baby by the merest chance,
a matter of seconds,
sometimes I fail.
Season before last Holly’s calf died
for no reason.
I saw her first thing,
by lunch she had stretched out
and expired as I pumelled and exhorted
in the exact same damp spot that April’s newborn had passed
a month earlier.
I will never permit an animal to calve there again-
just in case they are called to follow..

Dear Holly – not again-
I run from the office, coat and boots collected,
run to the field-
please No!

The calf, big and white, is easily spotted over the brow,
picking at tufts on the ledges of the rabbit warren.
Relieved, I tickle Holly as she lies in the grass.
Angus Halfhorn, as fickle as any harem master should be,
has forgotten yesterday’s dalliance with Moira:
Demi Og is today’s sweetheart.

Image

Standard