The Field

Through the half-light of a northern winter morning, through a smudging rain that wets you from the inside out, though air saturated with the sound of the Atlantic Ocean never resting, looms a fenceline. In the midst of a dereliction of fallen stone walls, corroded stumps of posts and needle-sharp rottings of old wire, there is this tight, new stretch of stock fence, the wire still shiny, the posts young and straight-backed, parading up the slope. Feel the tension of the wire. This fence will last fifteen years or so at attention and maybe a further ten at ease, I would guess, with a little fettling here and there, where it crosses the wetter ground.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe stop, the two collie dogs and I, on a rock outside the gate to this shiny new field of two acres. With its boggy west end, the ditches only half-dug, but a good dry east end where it rises up the brae. The dogs have worked it before but this time there are no sheep so they look, discount and sit for a while, bored. I look and look, as if on a quest, before the gate which will only open if I ask it the right question. Which is a strange place to have reached, sitting on a huge outcrop outside my own field, rebuffed by the fence which I built and dug and hammered and strung, carrying every hundredweight of wood and wire and rock by hand: no track approaches this field.

The year before last I fenced this field through spring and summer, stealing four hours here, five there, from other work on the croft. In late summer a short-eared owl took up residence. Just a single bird, I suppose a juvenile, but it was there regularly and I found some feathers and a roost in the thick grass and a few pellets. We had plans, the owl and I. The bird was ready to move on, looking to get some better territory down in Uist, where the ground isn’t so bare nor the voles so thin. I said that I was staying put, and look at the strong fence I was making to keep my tups (rams) in, with a field shelter and running water once I cleared out the main drain.

The dawn light has firmed, although the sun will still be hours climbing rocky mountain paths before it reaches the top of the Mealasbhal ridge, three miles or so inland to our east.  From where I sit the field, still my field for now, a narrow rectangle, a legacy of the origins of croft land, stretches away from me and up the slope as an exercise in perspective, the effect heightened by the regularity of the posts and their fresh pale colour against the wet brown of winter rough grazing. I ask it again, in all the languages I know, with all the incantations I have learnt or guessed at. But its face remains steady and its eyes fixed on the western horizon. I am leaving and may no longer enter this place.

From the top of the eastern slope of this field a person might look south-south-west and there would be nothing but the Gasker lighthouse and the curvature of the earth between them and Donegal.

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