Mhadaidh, Maddy, Mad

Allt a Mhadaidh. Photograph by Hannah Devereux, 2015; in collaboration with Alec Finlay, for Gathering, commissioned by Hauser & Wirth 2014-18. A book will appear in 2018.

 

Corrie nam Fiadh, Deer Corrie

the gentleness

………of browsing deer

Allt a’ Mhadaidh, Wolf Burn

will never

………dissolve the wolf

 

Some place-names refer to one-off events, like pegs stuck in the ground of memory. Others reckon the catastrophe of species loss over centuries. In his pioneering study of the influence humans have on ecology, James Ritchie speaks of ‘the great change – soon to be renamed The Irreversible – caused by the destruction of ‘feeding grounds and dwelling haunts, as well as deliberate slaughter’?
 

Creag a’ Mhadaidh, Wolf Crag

in the wake of the ice-wound

came the wood

and the wolves

to worry browsing deer

Creag a’ Mhadaidh’s woods

can’t remember – but

if they could they’d

know wolves

(after Jim Crumley)

 

No names survive for elk, bears, or lynx, though they existed once. Forestry experts are keener on lynx than wolves – they harray deer, limiting their grazing in one location, and cause less damage to livestock – but Jim Crumley’s faith is in the totemic wolf: ‘…from the moment the last wolf died, nature in the Highlands – in all Scotland, all Britain – lurched out of control. It still is out of control, and it will remain out of control until the day the wild wolf is put back. In the northern hemisphere country like this, if the wolf is in place everything in nature makes sense, but in the absence of wolves nothing in nature makes sense.

 

The All-mhad Barn, The Wolf Rock

Ceap Mad, Root-bog of the Wolf

 

Names invite us to see through time, before species loss. Once we know their meanings they turn hollows into wolf lairs and wildcat dens, make burns belong to hinds, rowan, or alder, and create striking encounters on the map. Allt a’ Mhadaidh, wolf burn, is a tributary of the Lui, with the ruins of a township nearby, Ach a’ Mhaididh, wolf field, watched over by Na Da Shidhean and Ruighe an t-Sidhein, the shee knowe, and its shieling. The wolf is beneath Meall nan Uan, lambs knowe. The old moss of Ceap Mad, root-bog of the wolf, is beneath Càrn an Daimh, stags cairn – wolves and lambs, wolves and deer, names make for drama.
 

The Woods of Garmaddie, The Wolf Den Woods

a name is a place

and its absence

the wolves are playing

by Allt Saidh

the wolves are gone

the burn flows on

(after Charles Reznikoff)

 

Balmoral Estate owns the Garmaddie Wuid, a mix of local pine plantation and natural woodland fenced in along the Dee – a likely place to see capercaillie.

Meaning is local: on Deeside barn refers to a big rock, and The All-mhad Barn, known locally as Mady Barns, sheltered a wolf-den. The way we understand the name depends on there being no wolves and the idea that there could be wolves again.

 
 

All Mhad Barn. Both photographs by Hannah Devereux, 2015; in collaboration with Alec Finlay, for Gathering, commissioned by Hauser & Wirth 2014-18. A book will appear in 2018.

 
 

Image credits (from top to bottom):
1. Allt a Mhadaidh; 2. All Mhad Barn.
Both photographs by Hannah Devereux, 2015; in collaboration with Alec Finlay, for Gathering, commissioned by Hauser & Wirth 2014-18. A book will appear in 2018.

 
 

Part of The Learned Pig’s Wolf Crossing editorial season, spring/summer 2017.

 
 

The Learned Pig

Alec Finlay

Alec Finlay (Scotland, 1966-) is an artist & poet whose work crosses over a range of media and forms. Much of Finlay's work considers how we as a culture, or cultures, relate to landscape. Finlay has published over forty books and won six Scottish Design Awards, including two Grand Prix Awards (2001, 2015). Recent publications include A Variety of Cultures (2016), ebban an’ flowan (2015), a better tale to tell (2015), Global Oracle (2014).