Twelfth

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We shot the hill and found it thin. I’d never seen such a poor showing of purple flowers, and the lower slopes were red with caustic rub of heather beetle. Many of these plants will die now, and the remainder will struggle on into the autumn in a state of hurt confusion.

It was inevitable that the worst hit ground should be bare and barren of birds. But we failed to find them even on the rising faces where the coveys lie. There were pairs and singles; odds and sods where I’d usually expect to find broods of seven and eight. And there was something imperfect in those birds which is hard to pin down. I’ve spent ten years working with grouse and I’m nothing like an expert, but I’ve learned to read something of them as they break from cover. They were slack and sluggish; they lacked panache and it puzzled me. The dog brought me a grouse and I could feel the keel of its breastbone under my thumb – not stripped or bony, but scant.

So we came away with three and a half brace, and I returned again to the growing idea that summer dies with the first grouse. They rise in the heat and light of long days. They are killed as they go. And they return to the earth in a different season.

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