r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: December 2014

Hogmanay

Murdo gave the cock meal
damped with whisky. It stood
on tiptoe, crowed eight times
and fell flat on its beak.

Later, Murdo, after the fifth verse
of The Isle of Mull,
fell, glass in hand,
flat on his back - doing in six hours
what the cock had done
in two minutes.

I was there. And now I see
the cock crowing with Murdo's face
and Murdo's wings flapping
as down he went.
It was a long way home.

Norman MacCaig, from The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen McCaig

The Year of the Whale

The old go, one by one, like guttered flames.
    This past winter
        Tammag the bee-man has taken his cold blank mask
             To the honeycomb under the hill,
  Corston who ploughed out the moor
        Unyoked and gone; and I ask,
    Is Heddle lame, that in youth could dance and saunter
       A way to the chastest bed?
The kirkyard is full of their names
              Chiselled in stone. Only myself and Yule
                  In the ale-house now, speak of the great whale year.

This one and that provoked the taurine waves
    With an arrogant pass,
        Or probing deep through the snow-burdened hill
           Resurrected his flock,
                Or passed from fiddles to ditch
        By way of the quart and the gill,
    All night lay tranced with corn, but stirred to face
                     The brutal stations of bread;
While those who tended their lives
        Like sacred lamps, chary of oil and wick,
            Died in the fury of one careless match.

Off Scabra Head the lookout sighted a school
    At the first light.
        A meagre year it was, limpets and crows
            And brief mottled grain.
               Everything that could float
        Circled the school. Ploughs
    Wounded those wallowing lumps of thunder and night.
                The women crouched and prayed.
Then whale by whale
        Blundering on the rock with its red stain
           Crammed our winter cupboards with oil and meat.


George Mackay Brown, from The Year of the Whale

Boxing Day in Nairn



visit Nairn here and here

Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr dhuibh uile!



Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

Duan Nollaig (A Gaelic Christmas)

Yule in the Northern Isles

Processional at the Winter Solstice

He has gone down into darkness at the wrecked end of the year
And is lying, gaberlunzie, in the needled nest of frost.
The arctic thrushes call for him although he cannot hear,

And the worm too understands him in the chilled grip of its dark,
And the ptarmigan in blizzards where no thought is worth a crumb,
And treecreepers in shivering puffs in Wellingtonias’ bark.

Shop windows glint in city lights like ice and sky, but still
No tinsel gifts can touch him, freed to silence like a stone’s;
His face is white as paper’s white in miles-high midnight chill.

He lies as plain as frost-dust where those starving thrushes call,
And his lime and ray-struck armoury could hardly be less small
On the anvil of beginnings in the sun’s gate on the wall.

Gerry Cambridge, from Notes for Lighting a Fire

Setting Out

The gravestones still weigh the same.
No-one has altered the dates.

No-one asks why I've come back
again. To see not graves but

that wedge in the river-bank
where the green boat leaned. My years

at home had boulders on them.
The keel never touched water.

My years tugged at weight
no longer there. The ribs now

gave their atoms slowly back.
The boat is no longer boat.

Its ghosts set out at high tide.
Its wake is a coiling script

whose fluency the words trapped
on granite could well envy.

Robin Fulton Macpherson, from Grenzflug

protecting our wild places



Slate

There is no beginning. We saw Lewis
laid down, when there was not much but thunder
and volcanic fires; watched long seas plunder
faults; laughed as Staffa cooled. Drumlins blue as
bruises were grated off like nutmegs; bens,
and a great glen, gave a rough back we like
to think the ages must streak, surely strike,
seldom stroke, but raised and shaken, with tens
of thousands of rains, blizzards, sea-poundings
shouldered off into night and memory.
Memory of men! That was to come. Great
in their empty hunger these surroundings
threw walls to the sky, the sorry glory
of a rainbow. Their heels kicked flint, chalk, slate.

Edwin Morgan, from Sonnets from Scotland

Scalpay: Last of the Fishermen



"Far nach bi an-o'g cha bhi an sean - If there is no young, there will be no old"
David Morrison, Scalpay fisherman

"My name is Ruth and I was born and raised on the Island of Scalpay off Harris when the fishing industry was a large part of the Island life. My father is a fisherman which he has been from an early age. From my early memories I can remember many boats heading off early to get their daily catch, and my uncle's gang were out for many days at a time. Times have changed now, there are only a few boats going out with the same fishermen on board. The younger generation don’t choose this way of life anymore as it is hard and times are changing. Each year the amount of boats going out to sea is falling, which will soon leave only a handful and probably going only for pleasure rather than a way of a living."
 
words and translation by Ruth Morrison, daughter
film by Johan Hallberg-Campbell, nephew

Islay


Too messy for Nessie

There’s a terrible mess
On the shores of Loch Ness
Where the monster’s been chucking her bones.
There’s bonnets and sporrans
All tattered and torn
And a pile of chewed-up mobile phones.

There’s socks and there’s shoes
And bits of canoes
And they’ve turned a bit slimy and green.
There’s flippers and goggles
And venture scouts’ woggles
And the fins from a small submarine.

There’s camera gear
Piled up over years
Rusting away on the shores
And there once lived a man
On the shores in a van
Now all that is left are the doors.

Now you might think Nessie
Is terribly messy
With her rubbish and piles of old bones.
So stop trying to watch her
And stop trying to catch her
It’s her place, just leave her alone.

Donald Nelson, from The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish poems for children (ed. by Julie Johnstone)

Highland Shooting Lodge

Crouched up beneath a crowd of Grampian hills,
this old house waits to hear the report of guns
crisping the Autumn air, for its rooms again
to warm to the jokes of August-trampling men
roughed by the grasp and snap of salmon gills,
the twisted necks of grouse. But nobody comes.

Only, at times, a shapeless horde of cloud
that shifts about the rocky peaks, creeps down
to lick at gutters soured with rotting leaves,
or rub a shapeless back against cold eaves,
then vanish, thin as breath; the drifting shroud
of everything that men once thought they owned.

Maurice Lindsay, from Collected poems 1940-1990

Munlochy

The valley shines
gold from sea to hill, tree to sky
in afternoon sun, good sun, though the evening chill
promises frost, morning mist.

Anne MacLeod, from Standing by Thistles

Lios Mhor

As strangers
we came to
the island of broch,
of Culdee haven, of
Norseman’s
lonely castle,
of the high
churchman’s
palace. But,
green isle in
Gaelic deep,
your
limestone
teeth were
pushed from
sea to air by
the same
force that
split the
earth from
Shetland

This the line my
heart defaults to you
along, links Scotland,
Norway north to
Ireland west, to
Sodoroy beyond –
and here we bring our
children home –
where Somerled hid,
half-breed of Gael
and Norsemen, here
too I hid among the
undergrowth of
youth with deer, and
my imagination
mountain-real

Green isle, the
time-tides swell
around you;
Glensanda’s hills are
scarred by weeping
quarry-sores while
you yourself smooth
out, eye of the great
ravine, that Nevis to
Cruachan, Morven to
Jura, welcomed any
sea-bound stranger
landing in a coracle,
hopefully, down at
your gentle shores

The hand of the saint
which is missing a
finger points to the
heavens above, and
then to the earth at
his feet – these
strangers bring
mysteries, they build
up enclosures against
ghostly Fianna who’d
strike off the
newcomer’s cross-
bearing arm.

The weaver loops
from age to age, a
picture-memory
looms the threads of
one into the other.
Flight is possible here
without a plane, until
the Phantom swoops
the glen, buzzing
and the white-tailed
eagle lifts from the
kirk roof, shrieking,
‘ Here thunder
moves!’ The silence
returns

All that the
noises were,
is gone. The
stranger
children go
back on the
ferry, away
from the
crofthouse
sinking
slowly in an
unfarmed
bogland.
Wet green
isle, see how
the stillness
goes with us
now,
rippling
outwards till
among the
echoes, it
finds a
narrow
mountain
pass, or tidal
seaward
channel to
the world


Robert Alan Jamieson, from Dream State, (ed. by Donny O’Rourke)

On Jura

He stopped to step around something he could not miss,
the ruffled disc of colour, an orange pool,
red soil and water, bleeding through the path,
the torniquet around the island’s fragile neck
from lost Tarbert to the sea.

A pale sun warmed his stare
over glassy water, silver and grey,
and an arc of black rocks, as if fire had razed the bay.
And he loved her now as he had back then,
before what they found had been mislaid.

He struggled, shredded, over wild rocks
and sharp inlets to the closed bothy door.
Two women, home for a week, warned him away
out into the wild of the west, disconsolate.
A frigid night, a stone sky and a granite floor.

Cold beans, hard breath and a crimson morning land,
the strait ahead, as flat and sharp as a peeled tin lid
rolled back, a fume of salt and loss
and the distance to Islay
wide as the breadth between stone stars.

In the wind at Ardlussa, the car shook in the storm
and coins broke in the red telephone box.
A soft murmuring radio,
and in the morning, the chime of frost,
A rusty island, the exhaust and the cost.

Wild goats, stinking and pie-eyed, snuffled at the tyres
near the standing stone, the frozen pillar of sky.
And the red grass, the red bleeding hills
bled on the redhead island in the copper sea.
And the head in the hood was cold, damp, and free.

Philip Miller