Jonathan: It’s now three weeks since Denise came back from Stornoway after her operation. Three weeks that have been kind to Denise, kind to both of us – and for that matter kind to the islands and everyone here, islanders and visitors alike.
Denise’s previous two operations (for the same condition, though more limited in scope and neither triumphs of medical know-how) left her in severe pain for weeks, and unable to resume normal life for months. This recent operation was more extensive than previously – in fact it was the most extensive ‘intervention’ that the consultant had told Denise might be needed. We expected Denise would be away for a week, and out of action for many more. But just a day after the operation, the consultant was joking with Denise, wondering whether he had operated on someone else by mistake – she was not only up and active on the ward, she was so cheerful ! She was discharged after just three days.
Driving home from Balivanich airport, Denise was full of news about her journey, the airport, Stornoway town, Lews Castle, the hospital, hospital food, hospital toilets, the staff and other patients (I could scarcely get a word in edgeways!) … but scarcely a word about what she actually went to hospital for!
No sooner back at home, and despite my protestations, Denise got straight on with preparing a meal … and indeed she’s simply got on with her normal daily duties … but with me doing all the bending down, lifting, carrying, anything involving abdominal strain or tension – or any risk of those things. And that’s the way we’ll continue a good while yet. Denise has gained time for reading, for experimenting with new ideas for the Hebridean Woolshed. Oh, and for planning a holiday … but more on that another time.
So, my daily duties have increased somewhat, not least by taking on Denise’s flock of Buff Orpington chickens, here at the walled garden. As a result, there’s less left of the morning for my work at the croft. Which is a pity, because I could be making the most of the fine weather, progressing the new fencing for High Field … well I could be if I wasn’t waiting for a delivery of custom steel fence and gate posts! No matter … the good weather has allowed me to get numerous small improvement and maintenance jobs done – lots of lines struck through on the task list (though not necessarily as many new tasks as have been added).
Thanks to three weeks of mild, mostly sunny, and nearly rainless days, glorious autumn has been all the more glorious! The play of shadows across the hills. Morning mists rolling over the crests of the mountains. Skeins of geese in silhouette against the sinking sun. Catching the shepherd’s call to his dog, carried across the waters, stilled for now, of the Sound of Barra. Toadstools swelling amongst the grasses. Rocks, grass, cloud and water, all re-imagined in the black and silver palette of the full moon ; and turning homeward with Tilly as the dew begins to settle.
There’s a few days more left of this weather, it seems ; but let’s just take it one day at a time.
Yesterday I cleared out a stone culvert (or cundy in Scots) that has been so long choked up with silt, and its openings obscured with rushes, that it was only the hunch of a certain retired civil engineer that prompted the effort to try and find one. Cleaned out, it solves two problems at once: draining a patch of ground that is perpetually waterlogged, and providing a means to extend electricity and water supplies from one side of the old road to the other. Scraping out the silt at the base of the cundy with a shovel, there came a dull crunch of breaking glass … and what’s this bobbing out of the cundy on the muddy water? A Grant’s Whisky stopper! And is that a faint whiff of whisky in the air? Now I’m wondering whether some of the famous Politician whisky was Grant’s!
Tomorow the 2015-born lambs have an appointment in Lochmaddy. A very important appointment , an appointment very first thing in the morning. This morning was spent rounding up all 33 ewes and lambs – both last year’s lambs and those born this spring. We sorted the going from the staying, the latter being dosed with treatments against ticks, blowflies, worms, liver-fluke … and let out again. The six gimmer ewes from 2014, plus five of their half-brothers were loaded into the trailer. (Coinneach, has a much more interesting future ahead of him … though for now he’ll stay in Home Park with Rhubarb for company.)
After lunch we set off for Lochmaddy. With a heavy trailer – and livestock to be careful of, it’s a drive of an hour and nearly a half. Offloading the sheep is a matter of practicality and paperwork. It’s when you drive away that you have time to reflect. The eleven have had a good life – two good summers, and a winter between. They’ve grown well and are in good health … but, alas, that’s not an end in itself. This next step is what justifies the whole – and without it we could not, we cannot continue: there wouldn’t be any flock of sheep at all.
It’s not just meat on the bone they’ve put on but also (no, not fat – hopefully not!) they’ve put on a lot of good wool on their backs. Really good wool! And that’s the heart and soul of the Hebridean Woolshed. So all the sheep going to the abattoir were sheared first!