Dougie Strang is a writer, gardener, and storyteller who lives by the River Ae in Dumfriesshire. He writes regularly for the online journal Bella Caledonia, mostly essays on nature and culture. His work has appeared in other journals and anthologies, including Dark Mountain, In Other Tongues, and Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered.
A recent essay, 'At Diarmaid's Grave', was commissioned for Antlers of Water, an anthology of writings on the nature and environment of Scotland, published by Cannongate in 2020.
The stag knew I was there. He could smell me, but it didn't discourage him: he stood at the mouth of the cave and roared, and I was inside the bell of his voice, the cave ringing with it. It was dark, but there was moon enough to mark the shadow of his antlers on the floor, and I could see the shapes of the hinds passing, hear their hooves drumming the path. The stag muttered, begrudging me, then strode off, following the hinds up towards the slopes of Breabag.
All afternoon, I'd sat in front of the cave and watched the deer in the glen: small groups of hinds, young ones at their sides, grazing the autumn grass; and to each group a stag, lording it over them.
The stags have bulked up from summer and a coarse ruff of hair bristles on their necks; they've rolled in soiling pools, coating themselves in thick, black peat that's soaked with their own urine; and they've chewed on mosses and lichen until they smell rank. One stag I was watching, with his hinds on the slope opposite the caves, began to bellow as another stag approached, crossing a boundary. They hurled themselves at each other, the bone-clack of their antlers sounding clean and dry like a gunshot in the glen.
I didn't come here for the rut. In my month of walking, I only knew that I wanted to soften boundaries rather than define them. That afternoon, sitting at the mouth of the cave, watching the deer in the glen as the day began to thin, Ullapool's bustle slipped from my mind and my body loosened, as though I had removed a coat that was too tight.
'I'm honoured and excited to receive a New Writers Award, and I look forward to working with the Scottish Book Trust team and with my fellow awardees. The timing is perfect, as my aim this year is to hone the first draft of my book and prepare to send it out to agents and publishers.'