r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: November 2009

Moment musical in Assynt

A mountain is a sort of music: theme
And counter theme displaced in air amongst
Their own variations.
Wagnerian Devil signed the Coigach score;
And God was Mozart when he wrote Cul Mor.

You climb a trio when you climb Cul Beag.
Stac Polly - there's a rondo in seven sharps,
Neat as a trivet.
And Quinag, ralletando in the haze,
Is one long tune extending phrase by phrase.

I listen with my eyes and see through that
Mellifluous din of shapes my masterpiece
Of masterpieces:
One sandstone chord that holds up time in space -
Sforzando Suilven reared on his ground bass.

Norman MacCaig

39 steps


Annabella Smith: Have you ever heard of the 39 Steps?
Richard Hannay: No. What's that, a pub?

John Buchan,  The Thirty-Nine Steps

Time and Sgurr Urain

Tonight on the shoulder of Sgurr Urain
on the top of Kintail,
Above the floor of Glen Shiel,
it is not of stag or hind I murmur.

For John son of Murdo
is up and down in the glen
And the smoke of Torr-laoighsich
lasts under the kindness of the mavis.

Farquhar of the Kettle is heard
with his finger-end whistle,
and the Burn of the Axe King
runs by the braes it was used to.

Another Big Duncan is
On Sherriffmuir on the battlefield,
And Duncan of the Silver Cups
in high-wooded Inverinate.

Young Angus of Glengarry
Is in Clachan Duich under the threshold,
And the Third Hand of Generosity is
Under the turf of Cnoc nan Aingeal.

The warriors of Clan Matheson are
about the Field-of-the-Two-Descents,
and Clan MacRae is going home
to that famous Cro of Kintail.

The beautiful high head of Sgurr Urain
Casts its eye over the waters
to the notched-knife-edge of Liathach
and the bounds of Ben Nevis.

Time stops on the mountain
and is idle in my desire
for in my thoughts they are equal,
those of yesterday and the day before it.

Equal in my thoughts
those lasting and those gone and neglected
since the heroism of the Kintail men
is as fresh as the beauty of the mountain.

Doubly fortunate that clan
who got this beauty for heritage;
the fame of the Kintail men is the whiter
for the white snow of Sgurr Urain.

Time in whirling winds
about the steep slopes,
and time in eddying currents
coming north through Kyle Rhea.

Bringing the fleet of Clan Donald
to the strife of the Cailleach
and Black William of Seaforth
going up the Glen to the battle;

Coming with the breeze of the songs
and a mist on the mountains,
a dew on the memory,
a breaking wave to the vision.

Ice on Sgurr Urain
And a vapour on the heights
Where the splendours of Scotland
Are right around Kintail.

Sorley MacLean, trans from the Gàidhlig

The Big Mistake

the shepherd on the train told me

is to clip hill milking ewes too soon

I put my newspaper down;
he'd got my attention.

Nothing puts the milk off them quicker
than just a day like last Wednesday.
And when it goes off at this time of year,
it never comes back.

His warning continues

They never get so rough in the backend,
and have less protection
against the storms and the winter chill.

He glances up,
checks his crook in the luggage rack

And another thing
is that the wool neither weighs so heavy
nor looks so well. It's the new growth
that brings down the scales.

A fleece from a ewe that's near
hasn't the same feel as one from a ewe
that has plenty of rise and a good strong stoan.

In the beginning of July the new wool on a thin ewe
will grow more in one week under the fleece
than it will do in three with the fleece clipped off.

He summarised his argument for me

Experienced flock masters never clip hill stocks
before the second week of July.
In terms of the sheep's sufferings
a strong sun is little less severe than a cold rain.

He stopped there
looked out the window at the passing fields
then fell asleep to Waverley
content that a stranger in a suit
had listened to his wisdom
this wisdom I now share with you.

Jim Carruth