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Orkney ~ from Spring to Summer

As I walk past a curlew flies up from the heather where the cotton flowers bob. It’s purpose is to distract me from a nest on the ground nearby, or so I think until a menacing herring gull swoops low a few seconds later. The domestic season is here, no more proud territorial marking, no more feathered balls of song perched on the stock fences. Whether cuckoo or true, the parents scurry and with willing self-sacrifice worry any passer by out for a morning walk.

In the ditches, because there are not really hedges here, there grows such a variety of things – ladies mantle, cuckoo flower, dandelion, daisy and dock. The cow parsley is blowsy and shoulder high on the east side of the road, but still busy growing massive scrolled leaves in the western ditch.  Above them, last year’s papery bone-coloured stalks sway loosely in the prevailing breeze. Every few meters the deep red-green buds of campion sway like searching beaks in the breeze. Their cerise flowers open in bright flourishes set off by the shiny yellow faces of buttercups held up like torches above their crowns of leaves. There is the occasional nettle, and ferns grow here and there, opening and uncoiling their striking green moth’s antennae against a backdrop of flat couch grass. This year the grass flowers are thick and luxurious, with thick grey-green spears and burgundy tails bent over with the weight of seed.

Mixed in among the wild flowers there are jail breakers, the most glorious of which is the red opium poppy. The startling danger of the petals is instantly centre stage whenever it appears. Petals scatter and create a bloody carpet leading to the wily, blowsy, snakehead buds. Their green lips pull apart in a quite improper manner to reveal a slit of redder than red. They form huge clusters in the banks where they take hold, a gardener’s envy. Then around close by there are outposts, like discarded pieces of a lover’s clothing, carefree and abandoned among the grasses and in the thicket were things hide.

There is ‘frost fern’ whose name I do not properly know. A fine white flower almost like the spray from an orchid grows out of its scruffy low mound and for a few weeks glows like no other at dawn and dusk.

There are garden-escaped centuria too, one is pale pink, fading to mauve, spreading its leggy stems from its dark base on the crowded ground. Here and there with white or sky-purple petals is another I have in the garden. It’s leaves are separated into tiny leaflets, like a citadel it grows from a central spike that holds aloft tiny orange-throated flowers.

The dandelions will be over soon, buttercups will reign by the side of the road. The bees will browse the red clover and a dozen or more flowers that I am too ignorant to know or recognise. Vetch is one I remember now, with its tiny pink petals that intertwine here and there.

The image is of an ordered whole, yet it is an insatiable battle. It is a riot, everything climbing on backs and shoulders, rolling over and seeking up and under.

In the field, a lamb gently butts then suckles from its mother, her untidy fleece wafts in the breeze. The ewes are black-bottomed and scraggy, the wire fences covered in moulted wool like some strange mana left behind by the haar (sea fog) that comes after fine weather. Careless, the lamb’s tail flicks back and forth in pleasure as it drinks.

Dust kicks up as a tractor with a red trailer goes by. The farmers will be wishing for rain because the late planted barely that has sprouted, but not made deep roots, is looking poor and like it may fail. The seeds have spent their energy, given their effort. Like so many things, it is a question of good fortune whether the next generation will thrive.

Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Barnby

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