‘You get to know grey in Scotland in winter. Either you make yourself miserable wishing for summer’s saturated hues, or you embrace grey in all its endless subtleties.’
Samantha Clark – The Clearing. A Memoir of Art, Family and Mental Health. (2020)
When I first started teaching people to use writing to connect to the natural world, I ran a ten week ecotherapy class called Winter Solace. We looked at the beauty of nature through the winter months and talked about using the winter months to take a cue from nature and take a rest.
In grey we can find many shades and hues of colour, something the artist Samantha Clark wrote about in her memoir The Clearing . A beautiful poetic book, with so many themes I could identify with.
We make our own happiness with the narratives we tell ourselves about the world. Instead of focusing on the cold grey winter months, I choose instead to look to everything that is beautiful, dew drops on a spiders web, the delicate veins of a leaf skeleton, the sliding colours of a river…
Last summer, completely by accident, I stumbled upon the breath taking nature reserve of St Cyrus. I only found it because we were looking for somewhere to let the dog stretch her (very short sausage dog legs) and to break up our journey travelling through Scotland.
We followed a track that took us from the road across a wooden footbridge and sand dunes to the beautiful wind swept beach of St Cyrus. We weren’t expecting the vast stretch of sand before us, but there was also another surprise that was one of the strangest things I have ever seen in my life.
We walked for a mile along the beach and found an inlet of rocks and granite stone. In one of the inlets thousands and thousands of sprats had been trapped by the tide. Maybe chased in by birds? The whole pool was glittering with fish as they jumped to get air. Another young group of walkers was trying to dig them a trench to reach the sea. It was an eery sight as the pool glittered and fizzed with fish, many that hadn’t made it lined the edges of the shore line.
Further around the inlet the rock pools were deep and round with perfect clarity, lined with shells and fronds of jewel coloured seaweed.
The whole bay was stunning, there was hardly another person for miles. A few tiny bothies were visible set back in the dunes. Someone had used driftwood to create some fabulous shelters, some of the wood was so weathered it looked like rivulets of water in the sand.
I woke up this morning dreaming of the beach, of the crunch and dig of sand under foot, the sound of the wind sweeping the bay and the pull of the tide.
At the end of the walk, we found the visitor Center with a poem carved into stone marking the placement of a time capsule. If I could bottle St Cyrus and take a lung full of sea air whenever I felt like it, I would have done so!
Marram Whispers Secrets over time Blown Sands. Colour dusted wings Dance over Flowers of memory Lark silvery notes Soar above the sea Rhythmic sighs: Wind woven sounds Singing the song of St Cyrus
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.