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).

Home adventures….. Reader Cafes…

Loving York Library reader cafes this summer. We picked up a leaflet in Rowntree Park Reader Cafe encouraging us to get a stamp from all six reader cafes this summer to win a goodie bag.

It worked! We have two left to go. It’s cost me a small fortune in posh lemonade and hot chocolate – but we made it a teddy bears picnic event and the whole family have got back into reading in a major way. (Result!)

I’ve made some great unexpected finds for my PhD. Nothing better than running your (sanitised) hand along a book shelf and seeing and seeing what speaks to you right?

And we have discovered some great new resources under our noses.

For those of you interested in the bears… they are all rescue bears from charity shops ❤️ Mr Snoots (in the leopard print) only likes to be decent and clothed. Tom Traveller (strange green colour) doesn’t really give a damn. Bez the bear (in his lion onesie) is my replacement bear (top pic) after Mr Snoots surprisingly migrated from my room to my daughters.

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!

When life gives you lemons…

Life at Base Camp is certainly never boring. I am in total admiration at the younger members of our team – being able to adjust last minute to changing plans amidst the chaos of covid.

This week I was meant to be at home working while my Scots’ man took the children back to Scotland for a ‘wee holiday‘ and a catch up with the clan.

On Saturday we got a message to say a close friend of my son’s had tested positive on a flow test for covid, as had his sister and they were waiting on full test results. This meant my son couldn’t risk travelling to Scotland as it seemed likely the tests would come back positive . We decided my daughter and husband should still go on their adventure and my son would stay home and isolate while I worked. A text message arrived today, twenty minutes before my husband and daughter were due to set off, to say the covid test for my son’s friend was actually negative, even though his sister’s had come back positive.

What do you do!?

Quick family meeting – can we pack a bag in twenty minutes etc etc. The whole of base camp’s heads were fried! Twenty minutes later we decided to stick to the second plan, as everyone had adjusted to the changes, so we put hubby and daughter on a train. My son (now not in isolation) revised his plans – and organised a week with his friends. So my son and I spent a day chilling in Base Camp then went exploring at the River Nidd and Knaresborough this evening, we even found a paddling pool hidden in the park that runs around the castle.

I’m lucky that we like to go with the flow here,

My Dad has a motto ‘Fear the Worst’ and then anything that happens that is better than the worst is a bonus! I think you call that Stoicism!

Hope that your holiday plans aren’t all topsy turvy too. Although it isn’t the week of catching up with work and research that I was expecting it’s certainly lovely having some gorgeous quality time with my son 🙂

Late night allotmenting…

I completed my second set of courses for the Field Studies Council this evening. I’ve hugely enjoyed creating the courses and teaching. Visiting the allotment was the perfect wind down after a lovely online session.

The pond is teaming with tiny frogs, everything is lush and full of life.

Linden blossom and honey suckle scent marked our path. Roses trailed over the plot borders.

I think I will sleep well tonight 🙂

I’m looking forward to running the two courses again in the Autumn term. If you are interested in joining, you can find more out about them here:

*Exploring Nature Writing

*Developing Nature Writing

Both courses are run virtually. Students download and complete course tasks which are followed up by a 40 minute zoom at the end of each week. They will be running again during September and October 2021.

Find of the week… The Mint Moth

I was actually looking for frogs (for the children to inspect), when I stumbled over two of these stunning moths resting on the oregano in the allotment herb border.

About the size of a five pence piece , they are absolutely beautiful. Wings the colour of red velvet cake with lemon yellow splashes. The tips of the wings fading to light feathers.

I love the contrast of colours against the gem green of the plant. Just beautiful ❤️

My daughter and I made moth inspired paintings after seeing them. It really helped me to appreciate the fine markings, I especially love the zebra stripes running across the main body.

Moths and butterflies are definitely the fashionistas of the natural world. Always such amazing patterns and colours.

A journey I can not take.

Often blogs give the impression of a rosy, perfect life. We post only the edited things we want people to see. A magazine imprint of our lives.

Sometimes it is important to know that behind the scenes we are all human, we all have challenges and ups and downs.

This week my sister relapsed in mental health and was admitted to hospital. This has been a heart breaking journey, and one where I have had to realise I can support but I can not rescue. Like a traveller on a foreign shore, I am sending her love and support from a distance until a time when I am able to reach her in person and give her the biggest hug.

I am posting flowers daily on my social media so that at some point she will know that she is in my thoughts every day. Mental health is hard on so many levels. Devastating for the individual experiencing it, devastating for the family left behind. My heart goes out to anyone reading this with lived experience of mental health and anyone supporting or caring for someone in this situation. A big shout out also to all the health professionals helping in very stretched services.

For any other siblings in a similar situation: Rethink run a fantastic Sibling Network you can find here.

The River Nidd Gorge…

This weeks adventure from Base Camp was to The River Nidd Gorge. Shallow enough for river swimming and quiet enough to hear nothing but bird song and rushing water.

We like to go in the early evening when the day walkers are returning home. I love the way the evening light filters through the trees. This week it was misty when we arrived adding an ethereal feel to the valley.

For more info about the Nidd Gorge click here.

Discovery of the week: Mysterious Toadstone Amulets

This week I was delighted when my daughter found a baby toad under a patch of grass on the allotment. A beautiful little creature, satisfyingly compact and full of character. (Don’t worry he was safely returned to his hiding place a few moments later).

I was doubly delighted to discover the poem Toad by Norman MacCaig via a Twitter feed. The last verse of the poem reads:

A jewel in your head? Toad,
you've put one in mine,
a tiny radiance in a dark place.

I love a poem that raises questions. ‘A jewel in the head?’ had me intrigued. A quick google later I discovered there is such a thing as a ‘toadstone’ a highly polished stone which was thought in medieval times to hold magical powers and act as an amulet. They are in fact fossilised fish teeth! There is a great article here if you want the technical fossil info.

A toad stone was thought to sweat if venom or poison was detected and protect the wearer from the effects. My favourite part of the information on the ‘Wartski’ web page is that in ‘1658 the English cleric Edward Topsell suggested a method of harvesting toadstones by placing a toad on a red cloth and waiting for it to cough up the stone.’

Fascinating!

I once read of a toad that lived in an enclosed courtyard in France for 50 years, quite happily, it sounds like an urban myth, if only I could find the article again! Ah well 🙂 I will satisfy myself with the thought of magical toadstone amulets instead.

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.