Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Goatsucker Harvest: Under the Rainbow Hoops of Bram's Duck Decoy

Screens in a duck decoy in nature reserve 't Broek near Waardenburg, the Netherlands (China_Crisis)
"Bram gave a low whistle to the dog, that sounded every bit as natural as the calls of the upland waders, bleak and wistful. Then Piper sprang over the succession of low dog-jumps . Further along the pipe, he disappeared from sight, backing away, drawing the wildfowl onward up the pipe. They seemed fascinated by the little hound. Beady eyes winked in the moonbeams shining down. Milky light turned everything into a mysterious pageant in which Thirza, to her utter delight and astonishment, found herself taking her place.
It felt so natural to her, she hardly realised how Bram was guiding her with his eye. Thirza found she understood the signals that passed between man and dog, even though the meanings behind the strange names and words were lost in the mists of time."
- (c) Joyce Barrass 2014 - Goatsucker Harvest (Kindle Locations 2627-2630) Kindle Edition.

Bram's Duck Decoy or Eendenkooi (Dutch for "duck cage" in the old language of Bram's ancestors who were decoymen before him), is far out on the marshes and peat bogs, somewhere on the misty edges of the novel's level landscape, between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

The villagers of Turbary Nab avoid the Decoy now. Some have forgotten its whereabouts. Some never know them. Others dare not venture out in that direction, where the unpredictable fen-lights, the ignis fatuus, the deceptive glow in the dark of the atmospheric ghost lights flicker over the boggy marshes of the peat fen and moors that are Bram's home, leading the unwary off the beaten track to a fate beyond dread.

Traditional Duck Decoys were devices used to entice wildfowl, for food or in latter days for ringing, constructed with a central pond with between one and eight tapering, radiating arms, surrounded by wooden hoops and netting. These are the "pipes" after which Piper, Bram's faithful kooikerhondje is named (click link for my blogpost about him). First recorded in Bram's ancestral Netherlands in the sixteenth century, the idea of the duck decoy was imported to the fens and wetlands of Britain.

"Ducks bobbed on the star shaped pool under the nets at sunrise. The little teal, its wing shattered by a farmer's gun over a copse in Crowle, had been drawn here by the misty rainbow light arching between the hoops of the old duck decoy. It swam searching along each arm of the decoy for a place to rest."
(c) Joyce Barrass 2014  from Goatsucker Harvest (Kindle Locations 808-810) Kindle Edition.

No killing, hunting or even ringing in Bram's Decoy, though, as the little Teal will discover. Under the rainbow hoops, Bram's lore is the mysterious "Reversal of Ravage", the "Omkering van Schade" passed down to him from his forebears, who came over with Cornelius Vermuyden in the days of King Charles to work on The Great Drainage of the flooded fens.

Decoy ducks were traditionally carved from wood or cork and stained in plumage colours to fool the wildfowl. Bram's decoy ducks are crafted in quite another way, so much more than the sum of their driftwood and clockwork parts.

But in the mid-Victorian world of "Goatsucker Harvest", in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, these secrets are much sought after by others. Those for whom the fragile environment of the moors and marshes means nothing compared to profit and fame. Soon, for the inhabitants of Turbary Nab, nothing can ever be as it was.

Watch a YouTube video of a modern Dutch decoyman & his kooikerhondje (just like Piper in my novel!)

More footage of a decoyman & dog in Holland (1974)

Discover the mysteries of "Goatsucker Harvest" for yourself on Kindle

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