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That Most High Arctic of British Birds

  ‘[I]t is a Scottish belief that the frequently repeated cry of
  the Ptarmigan low down on the mountains during frost and
  snow indicates more snow and continued cold.’
       —A Dictionary of English and Folk-Names of British Birds

Snow Chickens, White Partridge, Tarmagants,
their flintknap cries summon the cold—
even their eyelids are feathered.

In December, a scouring wind on the Devil’s Point
sent us scurrying to the Rock of Tailors
(named for the five caught out in a blizzard).

Beakless, unclawed, we needed picks and crampons,
softshells, base layers, and four pine-logs
hissing in the grate at Corrour.

New Year, and the burn is in spate.
Lady’s mantle unfurls, and gnats swither
from hollows between boulders.

But these Ice Age refugees require
weather from beyond the north wind,
a snow-cloak to outfox the eagles—

there they huddle in a melting drift.
Step too close, and they burst into flight
in a drift of coverts, towards the Angel's Peak.

Yvonne Reddick

PN Review

January / February 2018

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