Corrie nam Fiadh, Deer Corrie
………of browsing deer
Allt a’ Mhadaidh, Wolf Burn
………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
(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.
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.