It’s been ten years since I started out on this path. A decade of working and thinking and trying to make sense of nature in Galloway. This blog began in January 2010, but I had been sketching down ideas for weeks before the first article was published and Working for Grouse was born.
I can tell you that ten years ago today (October 23rd 2009), I was out with the gun pack at Craigenputtock. I shot the fox when he rove out from a cundie at the request of a terrier. I remember the spray of larch needles which fanned around him as he took the shot; how he hunched and rolled and busted the bracken below him. Ten years is long enough to melt an animal’s bones – he’s so far gone, I have no proof he was ever here. Even the trees which stood above him in death have since been felled and turned into railings at an equestrian centre. There are different trees there now.
Maybe it’s humbug for me to affect nostalgia. I’m thirty four years old, and I daresay there will be people reading this who can draw on more than just a single decade of memory. But perhaps even they will remember how it first felt to note the passage of significant time.
And the rest is history. If you were queerly inclined and had a month to spare, you could read this entire blog from beginning to end. There’s a million words and more here, but I often tend to think of things I didn’t write. The missing piece which hangs most heavily upon me was a night in April – I don’t remember what year, but it was early on. I had been ill in bed and woke to find it was late at night. A whole day had passed and I’d failed to get around my traps. Compelled to get up and do the job properly, I staggered to the door with a high fever and stepped out into the dew.
What a night it was; a storming beauty, with stars like steam across the whole damn sky. And the curlews were home, and the snipe drummed like a riot in a relay round and through and up again. Those were the days when we still had enough blackgame to hear them bubbling in the darkness like dafties – true enough, there they were.
The air was crisp and clean and as I climbed up through the lambing fields to see my traps, all the Solway spanned out below me. And being sick and dull and bound to the mechanism of my chore, I hated every damn acre I saw. I hardly heard the birds and thought the starlight was some brutal mockery of my bloodshot eyes and the swollen, pulsey din of a heart in my skull. How I hated this place at that moment of pristine brilliance; and how that hatred transformed everything for me. The hill was unfamiliar; fresh with infinite new potential for darkness and loathing. Flushed and gaping for breath after a steep climb, I paused at a gatepost and spat on the ground in a gesture of fury. I never wanted to see Galloway again.
But I got better again. My fever had gone by the following morning, and I resumed the same old loop around my traps. And I loved it again, and I apologised for my rage. But the wound never wholly healed. This blog often runs a simple strand like a diary, recording the day-to-day doings; the slow acquisition of knowledge. I’m staggered by the ignorance of my early posts; I wonder how I could have been such a fool or misread such obvious signs? But alongside these “nuts and bolts” lies a growing sense that place is hard to fathom, and that rarely gets an airing on Working for Grouse.
People look upon a landscape and say it seems different in every light. They never get tired of it because the same view is endlessly altered by the turn and shamble of clouds. I agree; but I start to think that’s only part of the puzzle. We’re shifting too; rising and falling in mood and manner. If a slant of sunlight can change the way you see a place, why shouldn’t illness do the same and more? How does it seem in love or loss? It took me a dark, feverish night to realise that I will never see everything of these hills, even if I walked the same loop of traps and cages for a thousand years.
So with the childish brevity of a decade behind me, I almost feel like I’m ready to make a start.