I reach to take my jacket from the peg
and my eyes again are drawn
to the next peg just along
where hangs a collar and a well-worn leather leash
and once again my eyes begin to mist
Then I wander back in time to when my old pal Fly and I
would go to gather sheep from off the fell
I didn’t need to speak much or tell Fly where to go
for there were no hiding places – not from Fly
She knew each nook and place of shelter
where sheep huddled in bad weather
and turned their backs against the wind and rain
eyes half closed as though in contemplation
deep in thought and cheering on the cud
I did not have long to wait as I stood there by the gate
until faint bleating I would hear above the crags
below the mists that swept and swirled
up in their rocky rooftop world
then single filed they showed upon the trod.
An odd one would make a dash but Fly would turn her in a flash
snapping at her heels in reprimand –
there was no doubting who was in command
Then all were down ‘in bye’
where for winter they would lie
until Spring when they would lamb beside the farm
more sheltered in the valley
from the elements and foxes on the prowl
Then we too would go ‘in bye’
and again I’d welcome Fly to my abode –
no kennel, not tonight
for she had earned herself the right
to dine in and lie beside the kitchen fire
And never will I part with her collar or her leash
or from the friend that in memory I fondly still admire
as now lonesome and in solitude
with misted eyes and heavy heart
I sit alone beside the kitchen fire
It rained again.
And then it rained some more.
The wind came howling from the West.
Waves pounding at the shore.
Spring tides, the highest of the year
combined with non-stop gales
destroyed the pier and breakwater
like matchwood swept away,
and along with them my memories
of summer nights upon that beach.
We were what is known as sweet sixteen,
heads full of foolish dreams.
We held each other in the dark
and whispered silly things
like we would not be parted.
We didn’t even last through Spring.
I carved for you a Cupid’s heart
on that breakwater’s underbelly,
just to find when you were gone
I was only one of many.
I put blisters on my hands for you
when I did that breakwater carving,
oh how I cheered above the storm
as I watched the timbers parting.
The first flakes of snow coldly kiss my cheek
Melt and are gone,
Replaced quickly again by others
But determinedly, head down, I still press on,
I know that snow is forecast
And quicken my stride up the fell.
I am checking and closing down my traps
Before the forecast wintry spell.
Three traps I am closing
While still the snow is light,
And in the grey of winter’s day
I strive to finish quickly
Before the onset of bleak night.
I am determined to complete the task
Before light fades away,
And lengthen my stride, collie by my side,
Constant as ever disregarding the weather
My ever faithful guide.
The task is simple. I reach with my stick
Put pressure on the treadle,
Give a firm push and the door swings shut
The trap is now disabled.
I repeat the procedure at each trap
Then Fly and I drop down the path
Through the swirling snow,
Both I am sure pleased with ourselves
As I start the van for home.
The falls that carry the rains from the fell To the lake in the valley below Can be heard crashing down in the distance Beneath the palest of pale rainbows. For centuries the waters have worn away At the slate-smooth side of the fell And now from a polished rock flute they have formed Spout like a flared white peacock’s tail. It is not even yet November And bright berries the holly adorn, But without the sound of crashing falls There’d be nothing to welcome the morn. The songbirds now are silent From them no dawn chorus rings For temperatures falling with incessant rain Have dampened their spirits to sing. Whilst on Loweswater’s swollen feeder streams Leafy flotillas go sailing by, Leaves of oak and ash and chestnut Cascading from on high. And alongside the falls side by side are stood Golden fans of bracken And bright green ferns of the wood. The bright evergreen of ferns unchanging Whilst brackens change from gold to brown And will finally submit to winter Who’s sharp frosts will lay them down. Winged seeds of the sycamore too spiral down From branches that sway in the breeze, And red paint declares the sentence of death On diseased and unsafe trees. Plastic mesh across footpaths And signs to say, ‘This way is closed’ For torrential rains and gale force winds On the woods have taken their toll. Some of the older and taller trees Have been toppled by the gales And after seasoning and sawing Will become gates and fencing rails. Nothing here is left to waste, All will be gathered in, Brambles for jam, elderberries for wine, Sloes to colour and flavour gin. For after all, when gifts are free, To waste would be a sin.