Ho ro laithill ó
Ho ri ho ro ho ill ir inn is hó gù
Ill ir inn is hó gù
The cattle today are being shifted
Waulking song from the Western Isles
The cattle were shifted at Saari last October, from wetland pastures eaten to the nub. The cattle were all beef steers, unlike in Benbecula (the waulking song was recorded in 1954 by Penny Aonghais 'ic Raghnaill from there) where it's sure they were house cows, kept for milk. The Saari cattle were Aberdeen Angus, brought in to replace the Highland cattle that Penny Aonghais might have been familiar with, and they were in a trailer, a few at a time. The song continues: "Going to eat the grass of the churchyard" but the Saari beasts were going to spend the long dark Finnish winter in a barn, hay and silage fed.
I watched from my window (the song: "the big house of the glen / A big fire and a swept floor / With chairs all around there . . .") in a dreamy semi-bovine state that's induced in me by the close proximity of cattle: my own Kerry cows - long gone now; the Saari Angus steers moving on wheels past the window; the small black house cows that were once common in the islands - islands everywhere, from the Turku archipelago to the Western Isles of Scotland.
I see in these cattle movements maybe the last faint vestiges of transhumance that was common across Europe at one time. Common grazing having been eaten away by landowners (not cattle) private and corporate, the movement of cattle from one meadow to another, or from winter dearth on one farm to summer fattening pasture on another is all that remains.
I'm in winter now, pondering between my pastures of Ardnamurchan & Saari.
It may be that my links of oakwoods of Sunart & Ruotsalainen are secured, but that there are others - of tradition, of culture, of the remains of husbandry - is certain. The unsentimental, pragmatic occupation of farming's a strong tradition in both places; the old common culture of seasonal slowness that is all but beyond the ken of any who've not lived it - a dying breed in Europe.
Today, the speckling of cattle on the Bowling hillside - let out for exercise as much as the bite that's been snowed & frosted over for a couple of months and thus still a little green - return me to Saari and the sight of the Angus yearlings grazing idly in the sun by the bay on the Baltic, and much else beside.
Penny Aonghais sings to me "You've taken my possession from me" and I make a personal transhumance from one field of memory to another, from one decade to another. Penny would have known, even though she's singing a song fragment of loss and ineffable sadness from before her time, one that uses cattle as a metaphor, that love cannot be taken.
Love is the token between people that also represents culture and landscape; that softens the tongue of the singer and binds us to ourselves: a hefting, a waulking, a joy.