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The walk

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A walk is no walk unless it’s uphill

I console myself

panting up the slope behind the farm.

The big snow of a month past

has vanished from the fields

but lies here yet

and has seen sporadic supplements

the last few nights.

But I am unprepared for the plateau

where the snow is hard

blown deep against the rocks

but clearing from the tips of heather stems

to reveal a kind a tweedy fabric.

The sun is bright

– an icy westerly freezes my brain-

but the air lurks in my nostrils

like a chilled dry white wine

with memoried fragrances

that do not exist

in this frozen waste

where the snow glisters with countless crystals,

ice gleams with surface melt

scoops and curls and tendrils of deeper snow

remind me how winter shows the purer forms.

On the north side

drifts freeze hard

creating causeways

for the easiest walking

over feet deep snowhard path

Rocks hold coatings of wind-drift.

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I meet my father’s ghost here

above the dry loch

that resembles a glacier

creeping downhill to Newtonmore.

For a moment I seek a second shadow.

Seeing the clouds appear

I turn home early,

wanting to make the return in sunshine.

Gulleys on the south side

run like silver fire

trapped air and water collude in moving

beneath melting ice,

a hare runs towards a ridge

white and white.

Perhaps I turned back too soon?

the sun is shining still,

and I am smiling

punching time on paradise.

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What a world that holds the like!

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Winter Schooling

sunlit snow peaks

Grass showed briefly at the start of the week,

allowing the cattle to expatiate-

(how satisfying to use a word in its rural purity-

such as ‘aftermath’:

greenery returning after harvest.

Rivers and hunting trails

traced under city streets

like veins under skin

for those of us that keep

our hands fit

for milking and digging

and knives

in our pockets.)

but we are now constrained again,

returning for shelter

as the snow falls once more,

adding six inches to post tops

slowly toppling.

The cattle cluster

round fodder bales,

wild birds appear daily

to be fed

with chickens.

The white cape is thrown

like a threat,

tensing life tight.

Two heifers we school

to the rope

walk quietly

when led from the pen

to rehearse circles

silently

in the largeness

of the whitened yard.

alice awaits

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Silent under trees

snowy gateway

I stand looking at larch

planted in a semicircle

on the lip of a small quarry

grave spectators.

The grove is white and quiet,

skinny birches twist

along the brae

like hieroglyphs

on a white sheet.

Retreating to pasture

I am met by a light wind

blowing in my face

turned southwards.

The water in the burn

is running with snowmelt

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Odd barbering

Yesterday we walked above the clouds.

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Today I join a newborn under a cow.

Our heads are together. I feel his rough red hair against the side of my neck. We are both intent; he on dragging every drop of milk from his mother, while I focus on the scissors clearing long hairs around the delicate fleshy cones that might deflect a questing mouth.

He appeared Boxing Day morn – already on his feet as I come down at first light,

but hungry,

refuses to drop under Abby’s stomach,

signalled instincts misread,

reaches up not under.

A day later and I must intervene. Abby is wed to her companions so they’ll all have to come. I lead them rattling a feedbag
past Angus Halfhorn and the boys held back in the hayfield
so keen to meet young Holly and Alice!
Not yet boys..!

With the pair safely penned at the shed: the girls must be led straight back home: shunning Angus cantering along just the other side of the fence.

And now to work: Abby in the crush moves calmly, bless her ,stands while I squeeze loose the hard wad plugging the milk stream in each quarter.,

…and he takes it. Sometimes they exhaust themselves resisting, others just aren’t interested (one, George Halfcalf ..never cottoned on at all). This one wants it – glory be – and before long I can leave him while I attend to udder trimming.

It will be cold tonight: he’ll sleep in the hay with a full stomach.

Ready for bed

Ready for bed

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Organized chaos

Well - not all bad

Well – not all bad

So grey today. Snow melted and new rain from !ow cloud. So fitting then to wean calves – overdue O yes I know you judgmental tutelary farming deities. Old Billy was slow to service last year on account of his weakening hindlegs so the calves came late: March to June not January \February. So the painful separation of mothers from young normally happens in September: all sorted before winter regimes kick in.

Well, not this time.

I have waited my chance: the right animals in the right place:priority is getting the heifer calves young Holly and Alice behind the deer fence with – er- not so young Holly and Alice (from last year) where they are collectively sheltered from the attentions of Angus Halfhorn.

Single handed I work with the animals, persuading them that what I want is what they want. Holly follows the feedbag accompanied by her outstanding white daughter; Angus had been sidelined with a private pile of nuts, Alice is held at the yard.

Farm operations involve committing to a plan and then working to extend it as it happens: a mixture of planning, opportunism and blind faith

– bit like life really.

This time the young heifers find their place with the female yearlings: and the mothers of the bull calves- too complicated to explain- but both girls and boys are now sad and weaned

At the yard mother Alice rubs her neck on the gate as if to open it by sheer persistence, or seeking the magic word, equivalent to ‘Open Sesame’

‘Open Dark Grains concentrate’?

It’ll have to do

-its a rainy December day after all!

I know it'll open if I keep rubbing it!

I know it’ll open if I keep rubbing it!

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just a beautiful day

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After the thaw
black of rock and birch shows through
a thin blanket of snow.

The sky above granite

merges ridiculous girlie bedroom

soft pinks fading to blue.
air in my nostrils

is fresh cut

thin as citrus.
The cattle take their feed
jackdaw wings rustle the air
a stark heron stalks the water.

The day is latent
til the sun seeks
to free the shadows
folded into the crest
of the hills
beyond the marshlands.
It is beautiful
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