A’ bheinn mhòr

These are my terms. I am. Have always been.
Foundation of all things; bones of the earth.
No number for the ages I have seen;
To ancient fires and ice I owe my birth.
I suffer you to stumble up my slopes
To brave my bogs and burns, my sudden squalls.
I will indulge the crampons, axes, ropes
With which you arm yourself to storm my walls.

But I will not assist or lend you aid
When storm clouds break upon you and the snow
Screams in. You own the choices you have made;
I stand impartial, neither friend nor foe.
And when the wind and wet conspire to tear
Your trembling fingers from their fragile hold
I do not weep, rejoice, laugh or despair;
Dispassionate, I watch events unfold.

And should you overcome all things, succeed
And stand upon my peak in victory
I offer no opinion on the deed:
Your gain and loss are all the same to me.
I have no truth, no answers. You will find
Them in yourself alone. I am the place
Where you may dare the darkness in your mind
And meet your strengths and frailties face to face.

All things must pass; and yet I shall endure.
The world may change, but I will always be.
When doubt and chaos reign, I still stand sure.
When truth is hard to find, remember me.


For Burns Night: inspired by our trip to the Scottish Highlands last year. Scotland’s mountains aren’t high by world standards but they’re rugged, remote and can be tricky to navigate; combine that with their notoriously fickle, often brutal weather and they’re definitely not to be trifled with. The image shows Ben Loyal, a magnificent Munro in the far north: the title is Scots Gaelic for ‘the great mountain’.

Vulpine

By field and farmyard
Shaw, copse and spinney
Bridleway and holloway
I am Fox.

By garden and playground
Twitten and cul-de-sac
Bypass and underpass
I am Fox.

By seeking and scavenging
Raiding and thieving
Nourished and famished
I am Fox.

By swiftness and subtlety
Stealthy and shadowy
Running and cunning
I am Fox.

By covert and country
Hounds, horn and hunters
Followed and swallowed
I am Fox.

By midnight and daylight
Highways and byways
Glances and chances
I am Fox.

By legend and fable
Knowledge and hearsay
Neighbour and stranger
I am Fox.

By adapting and enduring
Shifting and drifting
Thriving and surviving
I am Fox.







Shepherd’s warning

Once, when young
I would have scanned this morning sky
And from its rose-and-copper conflagration
Taken counsel
Then a waterproof to work.

Now, and older
I gaze upon a fevered dawn
Alert to all the fires breaking out
And wonder if I am the only one
Who hears and heeds the warning.

Outlook

My father mentioned
once, apropos of nothing,
that in this place
he’d lived in thirty years
this view
was his favourite.

Over the churchyard wall
across five miles of fields and hedges
trees so dense no house or road breaks in
and ending in a high green hill
its slopes soft now but ever scarred
by centuries of working.

And still, we never sat, we two
on this old weathered bench
warmed by an autumn sun
and gazed on it together.
And now, I think, perhaps
we never will.

Equinox

A radiant rising
In readiness for a gilded mourning.

For a fraction of a fraction of a second
Night and day will stand

Precisely aligned
Perfectly opposed;

The season a bright gold penny
Balanced on its edge.

And in the fraction of a fraction that follows
We start the long drop into dark

From which we wonder
If we will ever emerge

And if we do
What kind of world we’ll find.

So I let our falling star
Copperplate my limbs and face

Breathe the newly sharpened air
Allow myself one more glance back;

The last day of a summer
That never truly was.

Wise words

All voices mute. All books closed.
And so I took myself into the hills
Wandered among the woods and fields
To tap the wisdom of the world.

Seek my silence, said the land. Breathe my air.
Watch the shadows cross my face, the trees bend with the wind.
Understand my deeper workings
But never let your knowledge close the door on wonder.

Follow the roll of stars and seasons,
The great wheel turning in the earth.
Plough, sow and harvest; but guard the goodness in you.
The sin is not in lying fallow, but working gifted ground to dust.

Feel my bones beneath your feet. Be that bulwark for those you love.
And as time and fortune wear and shape you
Be shot through with truths as hard as flints
That strike sparks, blunt blades, outlast events and weather.

God’s acre

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As a man
Schooled in science
Raised on reason
And living in such times
I have my doubts.

So tell me
What impulse drives me
To seek solace here,
In God’s own acre,
Among his departed faithful;

What comfort can I hope to find
In ancient stones, knapped, dressed and chiselled
To the glory of one
Whose face seems turned away
And mighty arm withheld.

Habit, inculcation,
One last, frayed strand that will not break;
Something draws me to this place
And I find peace, out here, under heaven
If still not yet inside.

 
 

Plein air, St Peter’s Church, Firle, East Sussex

A charm against wanton destruction

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I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.

But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.

From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.

In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.

Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.

Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.

Rewilding

To my left-brained
Scientifically-inclined
Critically-trained
Eye and mind

These fields should now
Be an abomination;
No discipline by plough
Or corrective cultivation.

A shameful parade
Of gleeful weeds appears;
Led by a brigade
Of over-eager volunteers.

But as I look around
All that I can see
Is my native ground
As it’s meant to be.

 

The fields close to our home have been left uncultivated this year and the weeds – and we – are making the most of it. As well as wheat plants seeded from the previous crop (known as volunteers) there’s an amazing profusion and diversity of wild plants that would normally be sprayed out of existence. We’ve followed the rewilding process right through the lockdown period (we’ve been allowed to go out for exercise) and it’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Sadly, all the plants, and their attendant birds and insects, are doomed, but not for reasons of husbandry: the entire farm is a development site and is slowly disappearing under what will eventually be 1,000 new houses. I studied agriculture at university years ago, and I still like to follow the rhythms and workings of the farming calendar. But this spring, I’ve learned I’m even happier seeing what Nature can do when left to her own devices. N.