the territory in November


What a week this has been! Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Radical Book Fair and the AGM of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics but didn’t stay to check it out as I wasn’t feeling up to much, and couldn’t wait to get home. It turned out that I had shingles, which effectualy put paid to any plans I might have had for the week. I don’t think I’ve done much apart from sit by the fire and read thrillers and watch day-time television. My brain went to sleep and I couldn’t take in anything more demanding.

Outside, however, the garden, the fields and the riverbank moved into winter. It’s strange, you can hear it as you go out of your front door. There are new birds here, different songs, different flight patterns, movements where you don’t expect them. First it was waxwings, moving in a free-flowing mob through the village, over the bridge into Riverside, calling and slinking through the branches. The robins were obviously intimidated, displaying and singing fit to bust on the tree-tops and the top of the telegraph pole. They are still here today, but more scattered, less obtrusive.
Then on Tuesday and this morning it was long-tailed tits. It’s hard to see them; they are small and timid and neutrally coloured, but you can hear them all the time. They move about in bands too, and whistle to each other as they go. Whenever I hear them I think ‘fairy pipers’ and then feel rather ashamed -it’s such a twee image. But there it is (and never was piping so sad/and never was piping so gay too much Yeats in my adolescence no doubt).

The trees are magnificent too, losing leaves daily but such rich colours. From my window I can see the last remaining orchard in the village – the orchards of Cambuskenneth Abbey used to be famous – and behind it is the visual equivalent of the Spector wall of sound – a row of yellow Lombardy poplars, and in front of them some tawny beeches and a golden birch. I wanted to photograph it , but I don’t think I could convey the effect, and anyway it would involve the the foreground of other people’s houses.

The river is full now because of the rain and the spring tides. Sometimes seals come up from the Firth on high tides, and I thought I might have seen one on Friday, just a glimpse of a sleek head and a bac curving below the water. But as I watched, whatever it was came up again and rolled. It was much smaller than I expected, and surely that was a tail and a paw? I think it may have been an otter, the first time I’ve ever seen one here. The it slipped away, and left the river to these swans.

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