“Let me down easy into a pit full of stars” she sings, her voice to us a formulation of strain and anguish. Backroom of a meeting hall, us on a semicircular of hardback chairs, fingers weaved over cold knees or other, colder fingers. Spotlight isn’t kind to her face — nor are we, in our hedging thoughts. To pit the stars? We glance at the sheet, turn it over. Vague in dimness. We clap, as required; head down she walks off the light and out the building and into the Dark Sky Park which encompasses our village and a portion of the land surrounding, southerning, where the road becomes rough track skinned with tricksy streams and edges gouged by ditch.
Tag Archives: nature
It was sunny at the weekend, and D and I went to the botanical gardens. Here I am meeting a leaf. I thought it was Giant Hogweed, so I didn’t actually touch it.
The gardens were full of life and people wandering slowly between the trees and around the pond and walls. An idea of a utopia of the future, the kind where people might reach up and pull fruit off the trees for their meals (though it’s too early for fruit yet).
there was a house over the garden wall that looked like something out of a Studio Ghibli film, stately under ivy, possibly haunted by various spirits.
there were trees high and low, like this willow (lowest, clinging to the ground as it would if it were in its natural spot up on a mountain
some like this pine rose up with branches spread, perfect for lounging, if there wasn’t more to see.
Aside from wandering among the plants and sunlit spaces, I have a little bit of news – this morning I woke to the news that I was a semi-finalist for Tarpaulin Sky’s book prize, which I am pleased to hear! I also have something coming out with Irish lit/art mag ESC [zine], though it’s in print, so you will have to order it to read (or wait until my collection comes out, as it’s a story from there).
I have bigger news too, but it is still brewing. Plans for the collection, for later this summer. I hope to be able to share more on this soon. I’m excited, but trying, as ever, to be patient. Plans aren’t set. But! But – just a little while longer, and I promise not to be so obscure.
It was a sunny day when we arrived on Iona, which you must reach from Edinburgh by taking:
the train to Glasgow (50 minutes)
the train to Oban (3 1/2 hours)
the ferry to the island of Mull (40 minutes)
a bus across Mull on single-track roads, to the ferry at Fionnphort (1 hour)
the final ferry from Fionnphort – 10-15 minutes.
It takes, with transfer and waiting times, roughly a whole day. As the crow flies, the distance between Edinburgh and Iona is only 126 miles . Here’s our journey across Iona on the first day:
As you might know, Iona was the first place Christianity came to Scotland, in the late 500s, through the exploits of St Columba, or Colm Cille in Irish. He seemed an interesting, magnetic figure – his name means ‘church dove’ but he also led an army against some Irish princes and the resulting slaughter by his group may have been the reason he fled Ireland forever. He supposedly settled with his 12 followers on Iona after climbing a hill to determine whether or not he could still see Ireland – when the answer was no, he was happy to set up his religious community there. Under his tenure, the island flourished as a centre for learning as well as religious thought. My favourite exploit of his was the ‘proofreading miracle’ he performed – he correctly predicted that a monk writing a text would make only one mistake, and that it was changing an uppercase I to a lowercase i. St Columba – saint of proofreaders? I’m not sure. There may be a few more contending for that, given that the monks so liked to write and copy great texts. It’s also believed now that the famous Book of Kells was at the very least begun on Iona, and taken to Kells to protect it from the frequent Viking invasions of the island.
This is the youth hostel where we stayed – lovely owner, and perhaps one of the best settings for a youth hostel anywhere in the world –
(these last photos were taken about 10pm)
That’s probably enough for today. As you can see, the island was very photogenic. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was a huge draw for the Colourists, a group of Scottish artists whose work revels in the chalky white and turquoise blue palette the island provides. Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures from Staffa, a tiny, mysterious island that influenced Mendelsohn in his Hebridean Overture. The sea fog came in, as I said, on the last day we were there, so I hope to add more images of the machair disappearing into the coolness.
I’ve had a chance to scan some of my Impossible Project pictures – a little bit wonkily and imperfect, which I think I like better than having them as they are in real life.
The above image is Peyto Lake, just off the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. It is in real life light-leaky and streaked. I have a more true-to-colour version but why not this reality rather than the smoother one?
The Athabasca glacier, and the sun dominating everything, washing away all the blues and whites. I’ve been thinking of how my conception of my time in Banff – now at an end – will be held together by these photographs. By the work that I did while there – though most of that was early drafting of the third ms, and so will be erased in necessary corrections and deletions. All I’ll have is my limited perception, filtered through digital pixels and the hard, blocky, colourwarped images on Polaroid.
(Bow River, frozen one morning near the Hot Springs marsh)
Of course, I’m lucky enough to have experienced Banff with others, so we can meet up and compare memories. Still, that’s bittersweet, isn’t it. We say we put things behind us. The past is in our blind spot, though it is all we have time to consider.
We can alter, we generally do alter what happened. A consolidated emotion comes to dominate what was a series of ups and downs – ambiguity is more frightening when it curls off the past like a mist. We want the solid, and not to have that – takes a certain bravery.
Here are the woods on the way to my studio, though they were never that colour, never sliced with a thin white line (which is a digital glitch, not present in the physical photo). The woods were never like this, and they are like this, purples and light on snow, with animals in the treetops, with nothing captured here.
(fireplace in the Wheeler hut where the other image was burned. A book, an empty or full cup of something)
Whatever I’ll remember, or whatever others will share – in a few weeks, in a few years when we meet again – there are these spaces. The Banff Centre’s official slogan is ‘inspiring creativity’, but for me I think it’s ‘leaving room’. I could get waffly here – oh, go on then. Think of the different sorts of room I could mean. Space – being a void, a scary thing. Room to think. Room as containment. Ambiguous room with no clear measure. Imperfect, capable of warp and glitch. And I am glad of it.
I’ve been laying low, preparing for the Creative Futures open studios at Banff. But today I went with some others on a longish walk on the Hoodoos trail. The Hoodoos are tall pillars of rock, left outstanding after glacial erosion. I didn’t get a great picture of them, but imagine over-tall thin termite mounds and that’s something close. It was down to about -26c today. As you can see above, the Bow river was steaming, pretending to be as warm as a bath.
All this cold weather is terribly aging. By the time I got back, all the hair on my face had frozen white, including my eyelashes. But there was a diamond glint in the air from condensation freezing, and everything was ridiculously beautiful in the light mist and cold, golden light. A good thing that I had this walk to distract me, because today’s the day. Performance time.
The cursed origami is really part of a distraction item I made – either for myself or for everyone who is going to visit my studio. I made about 6 different kinds of fortune teller (perhaps you remember making them at school?) where instead of picking a colour, counting out the letters, and opening up a fortune, people will receive, alternatively, lines from Sappho (I’ve been reading Anne Carson’s translation), bits of vague prophesy, and curses extracted from Greco-Roman sources (and tamed a bit, because I don’t want to terrify anyone).
Other than weird paper goods, I’ll be showing the Polaroids I took while here, some concrete poems, bits of flash, and I’ll be reading from Flesh of the Peach. The other Scots will have their doors flung open wide too, so after I get my part over and done with, I’m going to enjoy listening and looking at their work.
Time to go and get ready/take some long deep breaths.