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.

Fine harvesting memories

August 20th, 2016

dsc03655THE HARVEST is underway now. For the next month combine harvesters will crawl across the landscape gobbling up the golden grain and threshing it all in one operation, and spewing out the spent straw to be baled into monstrous Swiss rolls.

It’s all so different from my childhood memories of being taken to help with the hairst. More than sixty years ago farms were generally smaller, fields were smaller and machinery was smaller.

Combine harvesters were still unusual in the east of Scotland and on the farm I helped out on the corn was cut with a mechanical reaper and binder pulled by a grey Fergie (Ferguson) tractor. Nowadays, agricultural enthusiasts get quite misty-eyed about these wee post-war tractors.

The reaper cut the corn which was bound into sheafs with sisal twine round the middle, and the sheafs were tossed out onto the ground.

Along with other young lads I was put to work picking up the sheafs and helping the men build them into stooks. Eight or ten sheafs were placed head to head in an A-shape to let the corn dry before threshing. It was a skilled job to place them correctly so that they didn’t fall down and spoil the grain, and all much more labour intensive than today.

Back home from our break up north the first walk with Inka was up the bank of the River North Esk. The water in the river was low – ledges of rock and boulders showing which are normally well covered. There was no activity on the water and a fisherman confirmed that very few fish are entering the river.

Conflicting seasons
It’s the time of year when summer’s abundance starts to die back; leaves on the trees lose their bloom and the countryside looks a bit weary.

“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.

Spring is the farmers’ time for sowing and by the time you read this many of the fields of barley will be ingathered, as Teale might have said. But up the riverbank nature has been preparing all summer for its own time of sowing, of scattering abroad.

The purple heads on the thistles have morphed into countless thistledown seeds which will be carried away by the wind on their long silky hairs.

Lacy-flowering cow parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, has bloomed and died. The desiccated flower heads are filled with hard, nut-like seeds which will be shaken out by the autumn winds to germinate. Rosehips – the wild roses’ seed pods which develop from the roses’ flower heads – are already starting to ripen and turn pink.

By the seaside
On Tuesday Inka and I had another waterside walk along St Cyrus beach.
I passed the time of day with a man who regularly walks his dog there. He takes it swimming in slack water at the mouth of the North Esk as a sort of canine hydrotherapy to improve its fitness. He told me he often sees Canada geese in the rivermouth.

Inka ran up the shoreline ahead of me disturbing a flock of dunlin. They have a surprising turn of speed for small birds with such short legs. When he got too close they rose in a wispy bunch and flew in a semi-circle out over the incoming tide and landed again well out of harm’s way.

It was a near-perfect day to be by the sea. The sun was warm, the breeze warm too. The tide was nearly full and I sat for a while on a log tossed above the high tide mark by winter gales. Turbulent water in front of me was caused by the outflow of the river meeting the incoming tide over a bank of sand. The comforting monotony of the waves washing up on the beach cocooned me from the outside world.

Inka disturbed it all, pushing a stick into my hand to throw into the water for him to retrieve. It’s an endless game that only he can win.

A figure appeared over the dunes and waved. It was Dave Dakers, one-time honorary ranger at the SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) reserve at St Cyrus. We hadn’t seen each other for years and spent time catching up on news and mutual friends.

Squalling kittiwakes were diving into the shallow water, catching sand eels. Finnock, young sea trout returning to their mother river after their first season at sea, were rising in the smooth flowing waters of the estuary.

Upstream we saw several hundred Canada geese. Dave reckoned they were half of a resident population that fly almost daily over his house to roost on Montrose Basin. They are becoming more common now but they have never traditionally been Scottish resident birds.

We parted to go our own ways. On the way back to the car I spotted a butterfly I hadn’t seen before. I hope I’ve correctly identified it as a Meadow Brown from Patrick Barkham’s wonderful book, The Butterfly Isles.

Written on Saturday, August 20th, 2016 at 8:18 pm for Weekly.