Walking to Loch Brandy

A recent hike in the mountains of Glen Clova took me to Loch Brandy (sadly not a Loch full of actual Brandy according to my Scottish husband).

The hike gave me the opportunity to begin working on a new collection of poetry. I have been reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I am thoroughly enjoying and is helping me to develop my writing.

The poem here is not yet fully finished, reading it again I have more words to cut. A fine poem is like a painting – many layers and edits are made before the finished piece is ready, and for a true artist there is always something that could be tweaked.

Loch Brandy itself has a mysterious causeway running over quarter of the Loch. Some say it was made for fishing the lake – you can see the outline of the causeway when you stand on higher ground. The Loch glittered as we paddled due to the fragments of fine sand – quartz and granite which sparkled as we stirred up the water.

We encountered what I think was an ermine moth caterpillar half way up the mountain, hence the reference to the moth in my poem. We also saw several peacock butterflies which appeared so fragile and beautiful against the landscape.

I would love to hear from any other poetry writers – any recommendations of books or resources. I would also love to read your poetry.

*Walking to Loch Brandy is copyrighted to myself. Please do not reproduce this writing or poem without my full permission. (Emma McKenzie).

Taking a leap of faith…

In indigenous cultures nature is full of meaning and symbolism. We can learn from this and follow our own intuition using nature as a guide. Using nature for reflection is a useful tool.

Recently on my allotment we found a very docile grasshopper. We were able to get close up and inspect him / her and the wonderful markings.

As is usual for me, I became intrigued with grasshoppers and crickets (and the differences between them) if you want to know more follow this link. It certainly gave me plenty of inspiration for my field notes.

Whilst researching I also came across a fun page on animal totems and spiritual connections. Apparently if you encounter a cricket you can expect good fortune and you should decide whether to take a leap of faith. It is also representative of finding your true voice.

Having spent some wonderful days delving into books, writing poetry and working on prose for my PhD recently, I will take this as a sign that I am on the right track!

Walking hand in hand with John Muir

It’s no secret that I love books. Reading is travelling in the mind. Diving into another world, or places that we haven’t yet had chance to explore.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on a project about Darwin for the Field Studies Council. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Darwin’s life, but was also surprised to discover that after his epic voyage on the Beagle he rarely travelled and stayed within his home for much of the rest of his life. (Mind you – five years at sea might have felt like enough travelling for one life time!)

Reading about Darwin inspired me to learn more about another naturalist, John Muir (1838 – 1914). Much less known in the UK John Muir started his life in Dunbar, Scotland. His Father was strict and John Muir had a harsh upbringing. To escape he often wandered into the hills and found solace in the natural world.

When John Muir was 11 his father moved the family to America to pursue a new life and the preach for the Disciples of Christ, a strict religious order. Muir left home at a young age of to pursue work for himself (he was a brilliant inventor and engineer), Muir also continued his pursuit of knowledge of botany and the natural world and in 1867 decided to walk 1000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Muir often slept wild, meeting strange folk along the way as well as discovering for himself what we now know as some of the greatest national parks such as Yosemite.

Muir published eight books over his life time recording his findings and thoughts. He is now known as one of the greatest environmental philosophers and the person who first put forward the idea of National Parks.

Muir recognised our disconnect from nature and worked hard to protect the world and find balance. I love his words about life and death that reflect that humans are often divorced from the life cycle and the natural world. We often see death as a medical failing. There is much comfort in John Muir’s words which also make me more determined to appreciate each day that I have.

‘Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.’ John Muir

The pictures are from the Scottish Hills as a nod to John Muir’s birth place. I highly recommend a visit to John Muir Country Park if you are in the East Lothian area. My favourite beach is Ravensheugh Beach – also a place that the artist William Turner made some beautiful paintings and somewhere I will be visiting as soon as possible.

Recommended Reading for your own adventures:

On the Trail of John Muir – Cherry Good.

The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books – John Muir. Diadem Books.

This mornings adventure…creative writing inspiration.

There’s nothing like a car boot as inspiration to create a story. A rich resource for creativity and writing prompts, although I find myself pondering human life and our detachment from the natural world. If only we realised how transient life is, our attachment to ‘stuff’ is quite strange.

The verges on the way home to base camp were where I found the real treasures.

Find of the week… Song Thrush / Mistle Thrush / Blackbird?

This week we found a nest in the lean to against our shed. On peeking in I thought at it was a Mistle Thrush, but on further investigation I think we may have a blackbirds nest (also a type of thrush).. This got me researching the difference between the – Blackbird, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush and also discovering that they can cross breed.

Here is a poem I created from my findings!

Mistle Thrush

Mistle Splashed

Throstle

Sound Spilling

In undulating notes

And stops.

Storm Cock

Wing Tipped

Lightning bodied

Warbler.

Fiercly guarding

Jewelled Berries

Throaty Rattle

Hedgrow

Warning.

Wednesday’s Trend…

Today was the second to last creative writing course that I will be running for St Nicks in York.

A bitter sweet day this is where my writing journey began six years ago and where I have worked with such an inspiring and lovely group of people.

I’m leaving to give more time to my independent freelance writing and PhD, but I will certainly miss it. This morning our creative writing tasks reflected the experience of writing at St Nicks. One of my lovely participants wrote that coming every week is his ‘Wednesday Trend’ to be in nature. I love those words.

Going forward I am going to continue the Wednesday Trend of connection with nature – taking a break from studying and writing to connect with the natural world.

The class will continue to run and will be hosted by my amazing colleague / friend Griselda who is also an artist and writer, so York friends please do get in touch with St Nicks if you are interested in joining them.

Here are some beautiful pics from St Nicks this morning… take care! Em 🙂

I just found out there is such a thing as Hermit Crab Fiction…!

Who knew!? My friend William messaged me today to let me know he had seen my previous post on hermit crabs and to ask if I knew about Hermit Crab Fiction…. which I didn’t!

Hermit Crab Fiction is a term used to describe using a verbal template to write a story. E.g a recipe / board game rules etc – you can be as creative as you like. It sounds fun for a creative writing exercise, or a short story.

You can find more out about it here.

Hermit Crabs – a new favourite!

A couple of weekends ago we travelled to Fife and spent some time along the rocky shores of the villages along the Fife Coastline.

My youngest child adores rock pooling and her absolute obsession was to find a hermit crab. Luckily, there were many! Imagine her surprise when this little fellow ( I have no idea the gender of this little crab) thought he was about to be eaten and shot out of his shell to make an escape back to the rock pool!

Don’t worry we placed him back where we found him and the crab slipped right back inside the shell. We were really surprised at the long soft tail of the crab – I’ve since discovered that hermit crabs are more closely related to lobsters than crabs. There is a great article here

A final gorgeous note. I once read somewhere that larger hermit crabs often have a sea anemone attached to their shell. The anemone feeds off the debris from the crab’s meals and in return protects the little crab from predators. When the hermit crab moves shell the anemone will move to the new shell too! Buddies for life ❤️ A quick google search brought another article up all about this – for anyone intrigued click here.

Finding some peace at the plot…

Last week I was late getting around to writing, mainly because I wasn’t feeling well. On Saturday morning I was in agony and struggling to stand up straight due to a bad back. I emailed the GP asking for an urgent review and then I went for a walk to loosen things up, when I came home I decided to lay down on the sofa to rest and something literally slid / clicked / slotted (I’m not sure which) back into place and I’ve been so much better since. Phew!

Feeling much better we spent most of the weekend at our allotment, taking a complete break from home and a change of scenery was so welcome. I even managed to finish a book and our faces, my heart, brief as photos by John Berger. This book was so evocative, thoughtful and dream like, it was exactly the inspiration I needed to get going again.

Yesterday evening I sat down with my research and began placing together fragments of a story that is emerging from lots of trial writing. I finally feel like it is starting to form a shape and coming together. I’m hoping to get my little shed back in order at the plot so that I can make myself a little writing space free from other distractions and somewhere that feels different to working from home where I am too tempted to answer emails and my phone.

Else where last week when I was able to get outdoors I loved seeing the new blossom, snails crowded into the split of a tree and fungus growing like flaking paper from a log.

Goals for this week:

Wednesday – Tutorial check in.

Four hours PhD research / reading time.

Writing, writing and more writing….

I hope that you had a good week too. Here’s to more writing…. and less lazing about like Stripes who is a total goof ball.

Is This the Truth of the NHS?

TACTICS 


If we take out the locums,


The bank staff,


The mounting costs,


We CAN hold the front line – only just.


If we hold back on orders,


Ration the needles, the swabs, the linen,


Stretch out supplies,


We CAN hold the front line – only just.


If we cut back on printing,


Buy our own biros,


Cut the funding for training,


We CAN hold the front line – only just.


If we close the services,


Double up the wards,


Use half the staff,


We CAN hold the front line – only just.


If we add a new triage team,


Screen all the entries,


Up-skill the nurses and health care assistants,


We CAN hold the front line – only just.


If we streamline the problem,


Keep our heads down under fire,


Signpost to outreach,


Keep our sights on the end of each shift…


We CAN hold our heads above water – only just.


Written in response to a discussion about the financial crisis of the NHS and ‘changes in the way self-employed people pay tax has led to some NHS Trusts to say they are facing demands for a pay-rise of over 50% for locum doctors.’ World at One – Radio 4 (05.04.17) This programme highlighted how much of the NHS language is the language of war.

This week I attended the NAWE conference (National Association of Writers in Education). I was inspired to hear from writers using their skills within the NHS as a teaching tool to support reflection within the workplace and understanding, in particular compassion towards patients, but also of their own experiences and the pressure born of working in the health system. I was particularly blown away by the writing of Romalyn Ante who’s recent book Antiemetic for Homesickness portrays her experiences working in the UK as a nurse and the distanced relationships between herself and her Filipino family. Personally, speaking as a health care professional, I feel too often our voices are not heard. There is a real need for humanity to be at the centre point of relationships between staff and patients, to build connections as people. Health Professionals are not infallible, we are doing our best under difficult circumstances, we are often as frustrated as the people receiving the services of the limitations on what we can offer.

During my MA in Creative Writing at YSJ University I completed a module on Literary Activism and chose to raise awareness of the pressures that the NHS staff are under by translating my own and colleagues experiences into poetry. The poem at the start of this blog and the collage was part of my final work. The NAWE conference has inspired me to resurrect this and to think about running some workshops for my colleagues in the NHS to support our voices being heard. If you are interested in this work, or have an interesting view on this, please do leave me a message on the comments.

Progress on my PhD this week – the NAWE conference has given me some rocket fuel and a raft of ideas to follow up. Challenges – Not to fall down too may rabbit holes!

Writing: Many notes / 0 typed words. Although I did get an extract sent in to my tutors and now have many exciting words to type up.

Goals for next week: To get typing. 500 words minimum.

*Collaged words scrap booked from old issues of the Nursing Times.