Thursday, 20 August 2009

A Scottish Childhood, c1930

"The March Burn's valley floor is wide and flat and cattle grazed in the meadows each side of the stream. Its sides were clothed with woods, mostly of beech and oak. Interspersed with these large hardwoods were plantations of spruce, larch, birch and Scotch fir most of which had been planted in the period immediately following World War 1. Throughout its length and breadth there was an abundance of wild life. There were rabbits everywhere, living in warrens wherever the soil was light and sandy. Red squirrels fed on the plentiful beech mast and acorns. Foxes, weasels, stoats and wild cats hunted their prey through the bracken and rose-bay willow herb which clothed the sides of the valley with colours of tender green and flaming red in summer and died away to a russet-brown in autumn.

In one of the Scotch fir plantations there was a rookery where thousands of birds squawked and squabbled over choosing the best nest sites at the tops of the tall trees. Rooks are cheeky birds and in spring, at nesting time, to enhance their own nests they will steal branches and twigs from a neighbour whose attention has momentarily been distracted. The reaction of the victim of this crime accounted in part for the strident, cawing cacophony that echoed through the woods.

In autumn and winter every morning as soon as it was daylight they would set off in a seemingly endless trail, strung out like racehorses at the end of a long steeplechase with the stragglers and late-risers trying hopelessly to catch up with the leaders. They were off on a foray, searching for food in local farmers’ stubble fields. There they would spend the whole day strutting around with their hands behind their backs leisurely feeding on grubs and worms and insects and gleaning, like Ruth and her mother-in-law, grain left over from the harvest. In the frosty air of late afternoon they would form up in the same endless stream and return to the rookery where they would circle clockwise in a massive flock. Round and round they would go like currants in a huge Christmas pudding being stirred by a wooden spoon. Their chatter was incessant and in the gloaming of a still autumn evening could be heard for long distances. I’m sure they were discussing with their neighbours the rumours and the gossip of the day. When the light began to fade, gradually they would settle down for the night and the raucous noise would slowly decrease and die away until all was silence.

There were plump wood pigeons in the beech trees cooing to each other with their unmistakable rhythm. Coo Coooo Coo-coo, Coo Coooo Coo-Coo. Interminably. When disturbed they took off in a great flurry making a sound like loud applause from an enthusiastic concert-goer until they had gained flying speed and were safely airborne. Sparrow and kestrel hawks patrolled overhead and circled in the convection currents. They found rich pickings of field mice and voles, young rabbits and small birds in the dead grass and among the ferns by day. Owls patrolled the same feeding grounds by night. Plovers performed their lively aerobatics over the marshy ground and curlews joined them wading in the shallow water to share the worms, grubs and other tasty morsels. The lingering, haunting, trilling cry of the curlew or whaup could be heard the length of the valley all summer long. There were white-breasted dippers in the burn genuflecting as they searched for choice morsels beneath the surface of the water and wagtails bobbing on the protruding stones while they fed on larvae and grubs. Starlings came by the flockload and house sparrows twittered on Auchenglen’s roof guttering. When they graced us with their presence during late Spring and the Summer months swallows swooped and soared with streamlined precision in search of airborne insects to feed their young tucked safely away in mud nests up in the eaves. As the light began to fade in the autumn evenings, pipistrel bats fluttered between the buildings as they hoovered up the midges, moths and flies that should have gone to bed sooner. Cock pheasants and partridges, woodcock and snipe could be heard calling to their mates and staking out their territory in the woods and on the moorland above the valley sides. In the still of the night foxes could be heard barking and owls communicating in a series of short and long hoots. As a special treat, if one were really, really lucky, occasionally, just occasionally, one might see a small family of roe deer crossing from one side of the valley to the other."

Just a small extract of a childhood memory, written by my father (now 84) of the natural world around him in the small Scottish valley where he grew up. I thought you might like to share it.


Uta said...

Wow Chrissie that was lovely to read. I could hear all the sounds and the pics just added that special something. You are so lucky your father shared his childhood memory. And so am I. Any more???

AeFondKis said...

What wonderful experiences to remember..your dad has a great mind and love of nature.
Linda x

Chrissie said...

Uta - thank you - there's a whole life story!

Linda - thanks, his surroundings obviously made a lasting impression on him.

florcita said...

That is a beautiful extract! Gorgeous description. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

ewa-christine said...

Tack för kommentarer på min blogg idag!
Jag är så glad över 200 personer som var där!


Beautiful words and photos - thank you for sharing!

Happy Sunday


Pomona said...

Just found your lovely blog. Great to read this post - it's just the sort of thing I love.

Pomona x

Sue said...

Hi there Chrissie, thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a wonderful poem in your comment. I found it very moving indeed, both the poem and the fact that you'd taken the trouble to write it out for me. I appreciate that so much. This is a lovely post about your father's childhood. It is so important to get the old ones to write things down before it gets lost. Best wishes, Sue

Anonymous said...

Oh Chrissie - how beautiful. It's easy to see where your own easy prose style comes from. Thank you and your father for sharing that with us.