fort in the burn: after Robert Burns

“How pleasant thy banks and green vallies below,

Where wild in the woodlands the primroses blow;

There oft, as mild Ev’ning sweeps over the lea,

The sweet scented birk shades my Mary and me.”

 –from “Afton Water” by Robert Burns

When James and Ellen Elrick left Scotland in 1862, they went to Elmvale, Ontario to  join their sons James, George and William who had emigrated over the six years previous. One brother, Alexander, stayed behind. Alexander was a blacksmith in the village of Rathven, likely dealing primarily with the shoeing horses and making and repairing wheels. He and his wife Ann went on to have three children, all of whom are buried with them in the Rathven graveyard. The Elricks were traditionally farming people, and there was a pronounced distinction DSC00279between the farmers and the fishers of the region. While there was nae animosity between the two groups, they wouldn’t have mixed much at all, except for business. With these thoughts in mind, I chose a site in a ravine overlooking an old footpath that leads from Rathven to the Buckie harbour, imagining this as a path Alexander would have taken, and even, perhaps, a place where he and his brothers would have played as children. I settle under the crowns of the trees and fumble with the digital recorder. The lilting gait of Scotland’s great poet knocks my words into a rhyme. Here are three little poems and a snippet of sound.


birds call cacophonous from the lush ditch of the burn

hush of black water lies under their fever

a passing car glides ‘round the bend up above

and the wake of split air whispers after.


DSC00293tamarack and birk wear daffodil slippers

guarding the bank like slow-blinking sentinels

the black burn flows twist the village and the sea

the old tired footpath keeps apace without speed

I listen for the steps of the passing Alexander

home to the fields above the sea’s constant clatter


up the hill and down

to the net and to the plow

to the salt and to the peat

to the fish and to the sheep

to the ship and to the horse

to the kelp and to the gorse

to the rope and to the wheel

to the net and to the steel

to the bell and to the anvil

to the gulls and to the cattle

to the wind and to the rain

up the hill and down again