Winter sunshine makes bright the afternoon as I took young sally cruise out for her first solo hack. Sal is a big chestnut filly with a good temperament but she still has some ideas about her self. We crossed the bank from the yard into the neighbouring stubble and set off at an easy trot. Sally was making
me work hard just to keep her going in a straight line., she is not to pleased about not having company to give her a lead or at least to give her confidence. We left the first of the stubble fields and rode out into the laneway, an old carraige road that now links all of the land of the blacklands together. Its an old road that used to run into the back of the Palmer estate, a road paved by men with nothing better than horses and drays and the rudimentary hand tools of the late 18th century and yet the road had survived in good nick up until about twenty years ago, now it has been reduced to a muddy track, hacked and churned up by vast machines that are the hallmark of modern farming, the machines that do the job of twenty or more men, the jugernouts that have turned family farming into factory farming and taken the goodness and the heart out of it. The traditional family farm is dead and kids will no longer grow up in this area with the certainty of summer jobs picking potatos or helping at harvest time, instead they will become drones who live a sentient existence plugged into play stations and xboxes, Ipods, Ipads or whatever other piece of mind numbing kit they prefer. Its all changed and with it the values of the twentieth century have dissapeared, swept away like dust on the summer wind. Family units are different now and the once taken for granted support of extended family has now gone. It seems that families are slowly turning away from each other and extended families are becoming strangers to each other. Sorry I have wandered away from the object of my story, degression seems a symptom of an aging mind. Back to the muck of the blackland lane, I use this lane every day as it connects the two small fields that makes up our small holding. I use it for driving young horses in preperation for life under a rider, I use it as early spring grazing, in february and march I hand graze horses on the lane to keep them off still wet fields and avoid poaching sodden land. The lane runs from our road for less than half a mile and ends at the Blackland river. Short and all as it is we utilise it to great effect. The lane is a public right of way but because we are the only family who use it regularly we like to think of it as our lane. I am cursing the changes that the passing of the millenium has brought to our small piece of the world, I am cursing the muck and filth strewn on the lane by farmers who no longer care for the soil but instead view it as an asset on a balance sheet, (boy they are in for one hell of a shock when they realise how much their carelessness has depreciated that asset, the write down will be way beyond financial. ) All of this progress on the road to oblivion is on my mind when a plaintive cry from above breaks into my grumbling musings. Its the evocotive cry of a buzzard and it catapults me back forty years. It is a summers day and I am sitting high on a boggy of hay bales, the smell of sweet fresh meadow grass and clover clings to the air about me, floating over and after the gently rocking boggy as its pulled along the lane by the near idling tractor. The peircing cry of the buzzard is magical, i fancy myself a hunter and I use a stick to take aim lining up the raptor in my sights ready to blow it out of the sky. The buzzard in question is making lazy circles above me, she is drifting through the blue space between high white clouds, her outstretched wings catching enough updraft to hold her steady she is oblivious to my nonlethal stick and my non killing heart. I watch her dip and dive as she skirts the grass stubble flying in close to the ditch and then as if I have entered a dream she is flying beside me, skimming the bales on the trailor, close enough for me to touch if I would just reach out to do so. I see her black cruel eyed behind bright yellow maw with its schmitre curve and sharp tip, i see the wind ruffle her chest feathers and cause the feathers along her wings to wave and vibrate as it flows over and about her. She is beautiful beyond reason and for that single moment in time I am flying with her and then in an instant she was gone, a flick of a wing and away she darts taking with her a part of my soul. That was the summer of seventy four, I was ten years old and I thought the boggy of bales I rode proudly upon was a ship that would carry me to the end of the world. Im older and more pragmatic now but from Sally’s back I scan the skies above looking for my youth. I have lost her in the clouds. And then she is beside me again, curved wing tips banking past me as she hunts the ditches along the lane. I wonder if the buzzard of my childhood is an ancestor to this magical winged hunter, I want to believe it because in a world so altered I want to believe some things have not changed. I kick Sally on and we continue our day with one of us at least a little happier. Sally is still upset but she will learn in time.
Dave Kavanagh January 2015