On the Beef Tub Road
Crossing from Tweedsmuir to Moffat
the sun's slanting rays
light the first October snow
like wrinkles on the hill's face
or an orthography
of lost language, words of the scattered clans
who first wandered through these Lowland hills
and gave them names.
Today the wind is warm enough
what will be lost, written, then lost again
when the real winter snow blankets it out
like a tribe submerged,
falling like a wave against the shore
of centuries, then gone, absorbed
among the later ones – my ancestors –
shepherds, drovers, labourers, miners, masons,
honest folk and thieves: provincial Scots
doing the rounds of market, pub and kirk,
people of little note.
Yet as the road winds higher
and nearer that calligraphy of snow
I see where the two Moffat coachmen,
James McGeorge and John Goodfellow,
six miles out from Moffat, with their coach
deep in a snowdrift, carried the mail
on their backs until they had to lie
under that white blanket on the hill.
Here's the Beef Tub: brown fields below,
a misty sheet over Moffat town,
zig-zag strokes of a burn as sleet showers
dissolve to rain.
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