Thursday, March 29, 2007


Our first night at Cotterton, we awoke to the view of rolling hills, and total silence. Outside, only the cawing of crows far off near a pond. Amber prepared coffee, then a breakfast of scones and pancakes which we ate sitting by the picture window in the kitchen, looking out over the hills. A tractor moved slowly over the distant field; back and forth, the plow carved a long dark line. Alerted by the sound, a flock of gulls followed the tractor and dove into the freshly plowed earth for their morning snack.

We decided to explore the neighbourhood, and that meant walking. The previous day we walked up the road that wound out of our glen -- beautiful and quiet, but still a road. Today would be different --- we wanted to go cross country to the opposite hill where we might see the ocean. Through the gate we came into our sheep pasture, a long field with a strange mound in the middle. I had visions of a prehistoric midden but Nicky, the previous owner, dashed my hopes saying that she and her husband created it. The field led to our burn, a stream flowing over a stony bed. But to reach it required a scramble down steep banks, so we thought the better of it. Returning to our main track we walked toward a small copse. An SUV coming toward us pulled up. A father and his son, Robert and Mark, turned out to be owners of Mains of Blairmore, the stately farm next to us. They are Irish, have lived there six years, but did not appear in love with the glen. Not the weather, as Northern Ireland is colder. Something else. A short round of friendly introductions and small talk. "We'll watch the house while you're gone." Robert said.

After crossing the copse we reached the burn, an easy crossing this time and a jump over a barbed wire fence. Amber walked slowly. Her feet had been hurting lately from standing all mornings in the Camphill kitchen. Walking became easier when we reached the sheep meadow, our eyes down to avoid the small wiry sheep turds. We came to the croft on the hill slope, visible from our living room. Close up, the main house has several large windows broken and boarded over. Some rusting farm machinery, barns with bales of hay, some dung but it might be a few years old. People seemed asleep that Sunday morning. We continued down the hill in a circle toward Cotterton, across some electrified fences, thankfully inactive. A pond in the distance looked like the spot for bird congregations, somewhere to go another time.

Leaving Cotterton we headed for Mains of Glass, Hugh and Anne Christie's farm. Coming over the hill we encountered large barns, bulging with hay, a herd of cattle, and mountains of steaming dung. Anne welcomed us in the farm cottage. Before long we were sitting at a long wooden table in their kitchen with coffee, pancakes and biscuits. They listened, nodding approvingly, while we told them about our plans for Cotterton, my gardening visions. She and Hugh are in their sixties, have lived there for fifty years. Until lately Anne has worked as a nurse. She is chatty, interested in everything. Hugh is quieter, seems to think more before he speaks, in a low voice. Lately, their son, Gary has taken over daily farm operations. I offered them our sheep meadow for their sheep, and they thanked me. It's best to work such arrangements like barter where we exchange services. I know I'll need dung for my garden, use of a truck and so on. I'd like sheep to keep our meadow's grass short, fertilize our fruit trees, and keep the property's status as a registered holding (similar to agricultural zoning).

Amber started talking about Rachel Ashton's upcoming art exhibit in Aberdeen. "Don't you know Rachel?" I said. "As a young girl she lived over the hill from you at Midtown of Bellyhack?" Anne immediately lit up. Yes she did remember the Ashtons, Charles, Linda and the kids. Also Charlie Roy, Rachel's husband, an artist who came from that locality.

Now we began to feel like family.


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