By Innes Macsween, Domhnall’s brother.
I’m guest-writing this article for Air An Lot seeing as I was the crofter for the day instead of my brother, who was at work and directing my chores via text. This crofting duty via texts/pleas/threats is a frequent occurrence, but as part of the sweetener to get me out of bed this morning, my brother, perhaps foolishly, offered me the chance to blog about my crofting day. I thought that unwrapping the flip side of my brother’s passion with that of an unenthusiastic crofter would make for interesting comparison.
My brother Domhnall has been fanatic about the croft for as many years as I can remember. His blog is testimony to this, and it quite accurately mirrors his real life commitment to his overgrown role as our family crofter. I’m not him, so I don’t know when it started, but it started well before I came onto the scene (I’m 6 years younger than him). Today, he asked me to find 4 sheep that had escaped past one of his notsheepproof gates, as well as to give water to the chicks and move some sheep from one section to another. Simple stuff really.
As I walked along the back roads looking for these sheep, I was completely relaxed and was finding the experience rather peaceful. Let me assure you, this is not how I usually feel. Unlike Domhnall, I have absolutely no love for animals. I genuinely don’t know what’s wrong with me, or why this widespread empathy or love never developed, but I don’t care one iota for animals, and most especially the thickest of them all…the dreaded sheep. This does not mean that I would ever hurt them – far from it, I would hate to see any creature suffer. I am also well aware of being an anomaly in most of society, not deriving a moment’s peace or joy from any animals whatsoever – apart from the distant aesthetic values of cooler animals like lions, tigers, penguins, elephants, etc. However, I believe Domhnall was given the most attention as a youngster in regards to working with the animals, and had first priority as firstborn when it came doing the “manly” chores. Our second brother, Murdo, probably falls in line with my view, eschewing EVER wanting to work with sheep ever again, and I often ponder this phenomenon, where the oldest brother took all of the passion/empathy/talent and the rest of us took exactly the opposite desire.
I found the sheep, and guided them back down the hill. All was going well – I have a very short fuse when it comes to sheep, invoking my impatience and my frustrations with animals that cannot just do what you want them to do – and this time they went down the road amicably.
I put them into my brother’s desired section of his croft, and then went off to get new water for the chicks. The water keeps freezing because of the conditions, and needs occasional shaking to dislodge ice blockages, so to make sure the chicks are being watered I chose to change the water carefully. Chickens and chicks don’t frustrate me as much as sheep, simply due to their size (you can pick them up), their friendliness (they’ll follow you around), and the immediate benefits (frequent eggs). I still don’t love them, but I can gladly put up with them.
As soon as this was done, Domhnall texted with further duties. Obviously, this annoyed me. It’s not an annoyance born from a feeling of entitlement or laziness – I just don’t care at all about the work I’m meant to be doing. It often strikes me, the difference between brothers, and I ponder the divergence of our paths. He was always the privileged one of the croft, and by the time Murdo and I came to age Domhnall had been taught many of the necessary tricks of the trade: the common sense of what to do; the names of the tools in Gaelic; the techniques; the exact nicknames and faces of the older men working with him; the order of duties; the practical application and graft.
There are many more things, but the key one, I feel, in passing on a passion and knowledge of working on the croft to a younger generation is attachment (any synonym would also work here):
A heartfelt attachment, born in childhood when watching with starry eyed wonder older people doing their thing, along with a childlike attachment to animals, playing with them often;
A practical attachment, deriving a short-term peace when working with animals and the land, as well as having a clear long-term perspective when viewing the future benefits that can be reaped;
An historical attachment, seeing and feeling a clear link to the past, and to our forefathers, when having the traditions of our ancestors passed on to us.
I have none of these things, apart from a general idea of the long-term perspective of future benefits – which is the only reason I even help out at all ‘air an lot’. I do believe that, unfortunately, since my grandfather died before I was born, and then since Domhnall grew in command and responsibility on the croft, I missed out on the same factors that were so evident in his life. Having your older brother bark orders at you constantly and getting dramatically riled at your mistakes invariably and using you as a sheepdog regularly becomes very grating for a young teenager who feels neither a practical, heartfelt or historical connection to these dumb animals in front of him, and wants nothing more than to go home and play Pokemon on his Gameboy (ironically, to nurture fictional battling animals).
Back to the point at hand, I moved another collection of sheep from section 3 back to section 1.
Again, all of this was perfectly fine. One of my favourite sheep days and chores in a long time. A beautiful, calm, peaceful day, and everything was going perfectly well. Then…
One new sheep had escaped. I spent 30 minutes chasing it, coaxing it, opening other gates (as you can see in the picture) and generally trying to get it back into the desired section. It did exactly the dumbest and wrong thing at each point. I felt so angry and frustrated at the sheer stupidity of that sheep that I ended up letting it run into the wrong section of my mother’s croft, and then closing the gate and leaving the scene of the crime. I had had enough. Totally fed up of sheep, once again.
That’s my experience with animals and the croft in a nutshell. Perfectly harmless, and then I just get irrevocably annoyed with the beastly instincts of animals.
I do wish I had a heart for animals, because everyone looks at me like I’m a terrorist whenever I admit my utter aversion to all animals. But that was my day ‘air an lot’. No doubt, with Domhnall, it won’t be my last.