Laurie has the deep love of a place that’s at the heart of explaining it to others. There’s a certain sort of landscape writing that delights in antique mysticism: as if remoteness and spirituality are the same thing. This book is far better than that. It confronts the loss of open hills to sterile conifer plantations, which make nobody local rich but have obliterated a way of life and the nesting grounds of curlew, a bird which merits the obsession Laurie has for it. I have seen curlew this spring, in England: but each year there are fewer of them in Britain and Laurie dreads the day they are gone from his land forever.
There’s nothing easy about the farming life, which for Laurie means ‘weeks of pale solitude in the middle distance’. He is driven to tears by the sheer hardness of the land. But it consoles him, too, with its timeless indifference: ‘The old, dumb hills stand above me; they’ve seen all this and worse.’
A farmer with a poet’s eye is a rare thing indeed, and this is a rare breed of a book: an elegy to a vanishing landscape but one not without hope, and to be greatly treasured.
Yet what makes Laurie’s book so remarkable, and so profoundly enjoyable to read, is that for him, many of these decisions seem almost instinctive. He follows his heart, in choosing his patch of land, the breed of cattle he loves, and the presence of curlews as a measure of the health of the landscape; and often, it seems as though the Galloway land itself, on which his family has lived for centuries, is breathing and speaking through him, sometimes driving his prose to extraordinary heights and depths of rich, sweet lyricism. At some moments it’s hard not to think of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s heroine Chris Guthrie in Sunset Song; and his extraordinary power to conjure up in words her passionate love for the land of the Mearns, and its old farming ways.