Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

Welcome to "Man with two dogs" - the family website for dog owners and dog walkers.

This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Gather and scatter

September 13th, 2014

‘FOR MAN, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.’ So wrote Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), American countryman, naturalist and photographer, and it’s one of those self-evident truths that are so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t think of it yourself.

Memories of harvests sixty years ago are very different from today’s. Farms were generally smaller and fields were smaller. With the introduction of more intensive farming, the development of larger farm machinery and the drive for improved efficiency hedges began to be removed and fields amalgamated into bigger units. Combine harvesters were unusual in the north-east of Scotland in the early 1950s, and they were tiddlers compared with today’s monsters that are as high as a house.

My father used to take me to Westerton of Rossie farm, outside Montrose, ostensibly to help with the harvest but most likely to keep me occupied on a Saturday. Then the crop was cut with a mechanical reaper and binder pulled by a grey Fergie (Ferguson) tractor – agricultural enthusiasts get quite misty-eyed about these wee post-war tractors nowadays.

Before the tractor and binder could get in, a strip of corn all round the edge of the field was cut with a scythe so that none of the valuable crop was lost. The binder cut the corn, bound it with sisal twine round the middle into sheafs and tossed the sheafs out onto the ground.

These were pre-myxomatosis days when farms were overrun with rabbits and lots of them took cover in the corn. As the corn was cut the square in the middle grew smaller and smaller. At a critical point the rabbits began to bolt in every direction and the youngsters who lived on the farm, and I, tried to hit them with stones. Fat chance of success we had – I never saw one hit yet!

Us youngsters were put to work picking up the sheafs and helping the men build the stooks. Eight or ten sheafs were placed head to head in an A-shaped tunnel. It was a skilled job to place them correctly so that they didn’t fall down and spoil the grain. The stooks were positioned facing north and south so that the grain and straw would ripen and dry evenly. It was a matter of pride, and the hallmark of a good farm, that the lines of stooks should be as straight as possible.

The stubble fields I take Inka walking in these days are enormous compared with the fields of barley when I was young. I can let him stretch out and run to his heart’s content knowing I shan’t lose sight of him.

So, yes – this is the time of gathering together for farmers. Spring is their time for sowing. But all through summer nature has been making ready for its own time of sowing, of scattering abroad.

If you’re not speeding by too fast, look at the roadside hedgerows, the ditches, the woodland margins. The flowering heads on the thistles, and the rose-bay willow-herb too, have all died back releasing countless thistledown seeds, carried away on the wind with their long silky hairs.

Lacy-flowering plants like Pignuts – Lucy Arnots locally – Hogweed and Cow Parsley, have bloomed and died. Their desiccated heads are filled now with hard, nut-like seeds which will be dispersed by the winter winds to germinate.

The yellow is off the broom and if you stand beside a bush in hot autumn sunshine you’ll hear the long, black seed pods exploding and scattering the seeds.

Berry-bearing trees such as hawthorn, rowan and holly rely on birds eating the berries containing the seeds, which pass through the bird’s gut and are expelled and some will take root.

Conkers, acorns, hazel nuts, beech mast, sloes, pine cones – all are shed by their parent trees in the autumn. Birds and woodland animals or us humans harvest much of them, but the reality is that nature’s calendar is telling nature it’s time for sowing, for scattering the seed abroad.

And a quick update on Macbeth. His medication and rest have transformed him and he’s scampering about like a spring lamb. We just wish he wouldn’t give us frights.

Written on Saturday, September 13th, 2014 at 11:32 am for Weekly.