Tuesday, 10 May 2011


At the launch of Southlight 8 recently, I met Kate Foster, a Borders artist.  Southlight 8 (poetry, prose, literary interview and illustration, published in Dumfries & Galloway http://www.dgarts.co.uk/349/literature/southlight/) contains a double page spread of Kate's work.  What with all the lambs hopping around at home, I'm drawn back to take another look at Kate's work.

I find it both delicate and hard.  The soft shades of her pastel drawings are certainly reminicent of wool, but also of mud, and the grey and green landscape.  Her lines are lean, and there's an awareness of skeleton, the boniness of a sheep's face.
She's exploring the many ways sheep make marks on the landscape.  They make their own landuse, in a mirror of our own.  They follow contours, favour certain slopes, sleep at the foot of particular dykes.  I notice ours move around according to time of day.  This is a very predictable pattern, but they vary it to take shelter from bad weather. The routines and the paths are learnt by the lambs at their mothers' tails, and passed on along the generations.
Find Kate Foster's work at http://inthepresenttense.net/, I recommend it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

New lambs, apple blossom and a general feeling of growth

Walking down to the field early on Saturday morning, I knew something was up.  Diamond, Dodd and Pearl hurried towards me, eager for what I bring in the bucket.  Ruby turned on her haunches, her head bent down, and I could just see a slim black shape close by her in the shadow of the dyke.  Then a second one as she moved them smartly off and away from me. 

Dougie brought the nasty gooey bottle of iodine, with which we swab newborns' umbilical cords.  While the other sheep searched for every last beet pulp nut in the trough, I casually sidled towards the lambs.  Ruby, wits honed by new motherhood, gathered them up and set off at a fast walk.  Grasping the iodine I'd just got the other hand on the curly back of the slower lamb, when it let out a horrified bleat and sprang to mother.  I missed.  We caught up with them later when all three were sleeping, and managed to catch one.  Once you've got one, you've got both, as the mother and second lamb mill anxiously around the first, which is wailing in panic in your hands.  Your hands are in no time striped bright yellow with iodine.
We have a biggish tup lamb and a smaller ewe lamb.  Both look fit and healthy, feeding well from Ruby's always abundant supply.  Doug suggested that as they were in all probability born the night before, they could be Kate and William.  However, even in a republican household, it was felt this was a spot callous: as cute as these lambs are now, their long-term future is er, quite short.  But jolly - no travelling, grow up with mum, auntie, and some cousins, plenty to eat and kindly treatment. 

Diamond and Pearl are now also very heavy on their feet, and should soon be lambing too.  Dodd is a wether, a pet lamb from 2 years ago.  He toils not, neither does he spin.  All he does is canter up to me to have his face stroked and his ears rubbed.  I don't feed him titbits in case he starts pushing people.  He stands close beside, eyes faraway, regressing to lambhood while I scratch under his ears. He is rather charming.

The apple blossom this year is amazing.  No rain to turn it brown, and - just and so - no frost to blacken it.  Look.

Hill  Lambs

This week the hill lambs are being born,
 licked dry in blowy glens.
They raise skinny rumps and totter,
cry thin as peewits. This morning

I found new twins nested below a dyke, just as,
an hour ago, they slept in warm red dark.

Knitted onto tiny frames their 
thick-whorled, black wool coats
are a perfect fit.