Walking in a Summer Haze
A tower rises from sleeping fields
like a recurring childhood dream.
It fades from sight, slipping
off the edge of our world.
Cross the dark gallop of woods
held back by this ancient spur of land.
We are lost, rolled into hay bales
and forgotten in the waning sun.
Your tongue tastes of dusty apples
gathered for the coming winter.
In the sad, heavy pull of dusk,
crows paint the trees with rasping wings.
If we hover over the city we will meet
the violet sky in its crawl towards night.
We are cradled together,
a shell thumbprint in limestone,
fighting the weight of time.
The first bucket for windfalls,
sweet rotted mush,
shrivelled apples girning faces.
The children shimmy up
jaggy, lichen-strewn branches.
Laughter flutters in the leaves
followed by thudding rosy rain.
My old bike basket fills.
The bruised offerings left
piled for hares and birds,
sugar crisp perfume.
Wash, peel, core and slice.
Little hands crank and await
their crumble and custard reward.
The Cheviot and the Stag
A bothy somewhere on Skye
after days on my own, walking in the rain,
I was welcomed by friends of a friend
into the excitement of my first
Scottish General Election, 1992.
Drying my clothes before the fire,
the women warmed me with Nationalist fever,
staying up all night to rant and debate,
rooting for a Tory defeat,
still another five years away.
The words read in a sterile classroom
awoke to their spinning emotions,
thumping in me like a bodhrán.
My island jumping continued,
crossing the Uists through to Lewis,
focusing beyond the beauty of hills and lochs.
Listening to people on ferries,
in the youth hostels I stopped in,
gathering their stories into my heart.
The Scotland we know is a ghost.
Empty hills stripped to the stone bones
of vacant crofts and scree,
acres of trees clear-cut
and replanted in barren rows.
Tattered scraps, islands
of the once great Silva Caledonia
lie almost inaccessible,
waiting to be stitched whole
by willing landlords, millions of pounds
and the patience of countless years.
Step back to allow the land
to heal itself, a natural succession
where the trees can self-seed.
Or step in to recreate a lost ideal,
refill the peat bogs, dig up invading plants,
rhododendron and larch,
reintroduce native species,
Scots Pines, sundews, red squirrel,
maybe lynx and wolf
and cull the red deer
nibbling on young growth.
A tiny seed, the slow growth of a conifer
hold the possibility of rebirth
of an unremembered Scotland.
I travel out-of-season
to avoid the guides’
interpretations spilling over.
Seeking a paper dream,
maps buried in my rucksack.
The land speaks
its guttural syllables for itself,
the sea whispering in my ear.
Sailors smoke against the wind
as the ferry slides by island towns.
They paint the boat as we sail,
rain dripping from the stairs
into the can of black.
Its timetable is dictated
by the season, spring delayed.
The port crowds for our arrival,
a thread of car taillights glowing red.
I walk the curve around the shore
away from low houses,
their warmth calling me back.
His hooves snapping stones
into the gold moss, a pony rides by.
The child’s legs in salt-wet jeans,
thick wellies swing with his strides.
The horse shakes off the rain
as her hand seeks steaming warmth
beneath his knotted mane.
Loch Linnhe’s finger draws
the castle further from me,
its fallen walls a cup touched
by low blued mountains.
The sunset flickers,
setting the water afire.
A bus captures this patchwork
in its windows, the driver nudges
the road’s balance,
almost falling into the frosted trees.
To lie cradled as their needles tumble,
hints of unease in their wild sway.
The sky darkens as the loch possesses
the light and swallows it down.
The still-distant castle is just cold stone,
unreachable, no more real
than my faded guide books.
I wrap the countryside around me
and turn to catch the bus to the village.
Stalcair – Castle of the Hunter
Gerry Stewart is a poet, creative writing tutor, and editor based in Finland. Her poetry collection Post-Holiday Blues was published by Flambard Press. Find her writing blog here.