by Tom Collins
Blasted yet blooming,
weathering it all: heathland
will purple my prose
A metaphor for today
Of course it was raining. It’s Scotland. It had been sunny when I drove into the Ochils above Dunblane. But as I climbed up a road that quickly turned into a meandering single track, the sun faded. When I reached my destination, rain was rivering off my windscreen.
From Bridge of Allan to Sheriffmuir you pass through a dark thicket of forest, the road narrowed by lush summer vegetation. Then the trees thin out. Baroque ferns give way to grasses and then heathers in vivid purple robes, looking like bishops resting after a long walk up to the heathland.
This is a minimalist’s landscape: the tallest object is a wizened fence about a metre high, its crumbling posts colonised by lichen. Tiny yellow daisies – barely noticeable – fringe the road, then the heathers of deepest amethyst, and behind them grasses waving their seed pods in the breeze. Across the heath, the ground swells, lifting the hills into the low-hanging clouds.
You wouldn’t know it from looking, but “upon this blasted heath”, to quote Macbeth, men once battled for the soul of Scotland. The blood of 1,400 soldiers watered this soil in 1715 as the Jacobites tested their strength against the Hanoverians.
From where I live, I see the upper heathlands of the Ochils every day. But ‘see’ of course is quite the wrong word for it. Until I began the research for this haiku and pledge, I wasn’t conscious of what I was looking at.
We talk a lot of the natural environment but, as Philip Parker and Alex Fenton tell us, heathland is the result of man’s intervention, albeit starting 3,000 years ago in the Bronze Age. So not an act of God, but an inheritance from our ancestors. The unintended consequence of their actions was the creation of an environment with its own ecosystem – plants and wildlife which found a way to survive on depleted soils, weathered and beaten by the elements.
If any landscape is a metaphor for today, this is it. We have created this world, in all its imperfections, and like the heathers we must find a way to thrive on it.
I struggled with my pledge. How could I help? Falling back on what I do, which is working with words, my pledge is to adopt heathland as a cause and to use my writing to help protect it for future generations.
Read Philip Parker’s 26 Habitats heathland centena and essay.
Read Alex Fenton’s 26 Habitats heathland centena and essay.