In the desolate uplands of Iain Crichton Smith’s Deer on the High Hills (1962) the animate and inanimate quietly converse. They bear witness to the hidden memories and unnoticed change of a landscape whose social history and ecology are inextricable. Through the shifting morphologies (linguistic and biological) of Crichton Smith’s poem, this article traces an understanding of the Highlands and a way of reading. Comparing the text to work by Norman MacCaig, Nan Shepherd and Duncan Ban MacIntyre, it uncovers the poet’s unique – though complex – ‘ecological’ approach to the land, and develops an ‘ecological’ attention to the text, rooted in receptive close-reading. It finds that after Crichton Smith’s scrutiny of Highland stories, myths and symbols, all that remains is ecology – and only then the possibility of altered perception.