‘Existing floras exhibit only one moment in the history of the earth’s vegetation.’
Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer: ‘Plant Distribution’.
A moment you might fathom, you’d think,
reciting names like adderstongue and moonwort,
coralroot and yellow birdsnest,
names from Tentsmuir’s resonant flora.
But then an owl disgorges
a pellet packed with fieldmouse fur
and tiny bones from a neighbouring parish,
with seeds that will grow into another moment.
And there are days when haar drifts in from the sea
and settles like drops of mercury on rhubarb leaves,
when you step out into the garden
into the moment before; digging, you unearth
bits of clay pipe, the bowl inscribed with
masonic symbols – a pair of compasses
like a Pictish V-rod; when shifting light
turns fossil-heap to shell fish-midden.
Moments washed by Forth and Tay; Fife
a Mesopotamia of silts and erosions;
a kingdom stretched between its firths
like a hide from the scriptorium at Balmyrnie,
barley-fields the colour of vellum.
Earth that’s good to be fathomed in, you think,
instinctively at home; peninsular;
putting down roots almost by accident.
You heard a story about a plant that sprang up
when a ship from Tierra del Fuego sank
at the mouth of the Tay; how Patagonian fleeces
hung for weeks on Tentsmuir’s barbed-wire;
wind was combing the wool with weavers’ fingers
as you remembered the Huguenots who fled
here in an earlier wave; loosened seeds
of Norwegian Lamb’s Lettuce taking root.