In dire fettle and foundering, I pushed up through the broken ground to find altitude. This was an act of desperation in a bleak moment; the hill always provides a shift of perspective and leaves me smiling and renewed. I hoped that height would bring clarity, but now the high ground was dark and cloud-bound, and the grass rushed in eddies like foam. Night would soon come, and small birds rushed away like flecks of spit.
There was no cheap comfort on the hill, but it was a relief to be alone. I love to fly through this country and follow thin tracks through the deep grass. When friends come with me, I chafe and stamp at their slowness. Streaks of this land have grown thick and coarse with white grass which crowds in tussocks like an army of busbies; newcomers stumble and quickly tire, and of course I wait and say I don’t mind but real freedom is to pound through this stuff at a loping jog, hunch-backed and alone.
Rain came, and darkness slumped the wide horizon into a passive blue. Two miles from home and still outbound, I stopped and felt the sweat prickle my back. Sheep recoiled in horror as if I were some blood-hungry beast in their midst. Clouded and dark with frustration and gloom, I swore at them for their panic. Vague wings passed over head, and then came the onset of utter night, still bounding over grass and scored with flecks of ice and rain which soaked through my trousers and rasped the blood into my face. It’s a miserable damn place on the edge of day when all life has gone away and even the birds are scared to steep their feet in the moss pools. Snot trailed on the beak of my nose and then blew away or was trailed in long, streaking tracks up my cuff.
Geese moved on the edge of the last light; new birds rumbling in the clouds. The swallows have gone and now the grizzled ganders have come to replace them. They are tourists and refugees from Greenland and the Arctic Circle, come to carry the baton and keep the lights on. There is always something on the move, but these tidal tilts can leave me feeling lumpen and immobile. I am the only living constant in a world of shifts and relays.
I can hardly grudge the freedom of birds, but it’s an uncomfortable balance to my own static life, squatting on the same few acres like a toad under a stone. And I impose that stasis upon my cattle which would soon move away if they could. But I ring them in with dykes and wires and keep them as my prisoners, bottling their aspirations for soft grass and mild living. My ancestors would follow their herds around the seasons in a gradual, steady revolution. Those folk were not from Galloway as I am; they had a claim on all the grass from Glasgow to Liverpool. Perhaps they would think it was odd to stand all year in the same glen, enduring.
I turned for home. Long gone are the fine days when this place is a balmy, barefoot cushion of skylarks and ticker-tape. Gone too is that brief moment in autumn when this grass comes up peachy and red and the rowans are bent with berries. Now the hill is grey and blue and there is nothing but granite and the bones of dead summer. Even in the pits of grim bother, I drew some solace in my unnatural loyalty.