Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Week on the Threshold of Winter

This pottery witch was made a long time ago by my youngest daughter, so it's just right to start a post on Hallowe'en!
My grand-daughter and I made this lantern yesterday. I know it was a small cultivar - wee be little - but this is ridiculous. It's a testament to how poor the summer has been. On the other hand, said grand-daughter took it into school today and everyone thought it was 'so cute'. One of the mothers said she was going to go to Tesco to see if she could buy a small one like that, and I didn't have the heart to tell her!
Other things like the wet. There's nothing wrong with the kale:
or the cabbages and the chillis don't seem to mind it either.
But this is the reality of this week. In the wind last Thursday there was a sudden rattling on the roof as leaves in their thousands left the trees. I can see the railway line through the trees, and even as far as the windfarm on Sherriffmuir from my window. The world is opening out as if the orchard had drawn back a curtain. For all the shorter days, winter here is the time of vision.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Shreds and Patches

My head is full of the random wispy ends of things I've been doing lately, places I've been, people I've met, books I've dipped into. Thus:

  • By Leaves We Live - the Scottish Poetry Library's Bookfair, which features some of the most beautiful independent publications you are likely to see anywhere. I met several friends, caught up with the gossip and bought Colin Will's latest book The Propriety of Weeding (which looks so far to be a serious advance on previous work) and picked up ten copies of the new imprint of Wherever We Live Now.
  • Started reading Beyond the Lyric by Fiona Sampson on the grounds that I could do with a birdseye view of all the things happening in British poetry, and already I can see why it has caused so much irritation. Judgement is suspended however until I see how well she has met her own brief.
  • A gig by Aly bain, Ale Moller and Bruce Molsky which introduced me to the concept of 'troll tuning' - open tunings for the fiddle which lead to some tunes which are not only difficult to play, but darker and stranger and a bit renegade. I'm thinking I should play with some troll verses.
  • Discovering a creature called the huldra who lives in Nordic forests, has a fox tail and a tree-bark back, but is otherwise beautiful and seductive. The Norse word 'huldra' means hidden or secret - so the 'huldra-folk' are the elves or trows of folk-tale. The story is that Eve had a lot of children and when God came calling she was ashamed that some of them weren't washed, so she hid them. God decided that what was hidden should stay hidden. Huldra herself has affinities with the English Seelie or Hookey or Ainsel or the Celtic Gruagach who features on Tairis this week. Fascinating.
  • The new issue of Earthlines, which seems to be getting the feel of where it's going, and gets better all the time. Also Where the Air is Rarefied by Susan Richardson and p\at Gregory - a beautiful book.
Where this will take me I'm not entirely sure, but the notebooks are filling up with fragments and ends and breadcrumb trails. It feels right for the week of Hallowe'en and the start of indoor time. As Kenneth White says - 'Poet, use well the winter'!.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Week that Kindled Autumn

Abbey Craig

High on the grey rock
autumn lights a burning torch
oak among alders.

It's like watching a slow fire from my window. The beeches are turning coppery, the birch yellow, the maples red and the sycamores every shade of flame from sepia to bronze. Bringing Lucy home from school is complicated by leaf scuffling and walks 'in the forest' - the avenues of lime and cherry trees that were planted on the river bank only thirty-five years ago, but which have always been part of my acquaintance with the territory of rain.

On Sunday we went further afield, to Aberfoyle, where we saw this amazing stagshorn fungus. We go there often, and I've written three poems about it, for spring, summer and autumn.

Naming the Autumn

A mite in the hills' green folds,
I walk, naming the autumn –
coal tit, oakmoss, bracket fungus.
I mark the whiskered outgrowths
of blaeberries and whin, and hollows
where primroses will flavour spring
with sunlight and honey. I know
which woods are good for burning
and where the Highland fault line cuts
the ancient metamorphic rock
from fertile sandstones in the south.
A net of sweeping birch twigs sifts
the wind, and catches strands of lichen,
ice-green and hairy. Taxonomy
fails me. I cannot bring to mind
its name, or whether it’s the sort
I need to make a winter pot-pourri.
No matter. The art of knowing
is knowing when to let things be.

Now I feel I should do one for winter!I can't say I like it so much since they put in the zipline, but it's hard to grudge people an experience that they obviously enjoy so much.

One new thing I do like, however, is the wildlife hide, where we saw this irresistibly cute resident.

I am glad to know that the squirrel and bird populations are going to be supported this year, because I've been shocked to see how few berries and acorns there are. Last year, I know, was a 'mast year' when trees bear heavily, so I expected a certain falling off, but the weather has been so poor that wildlife is going to struggle if we don't help. The good people at the Loch of the Lowes were only saying yesterday how many underweight hedgehogs they've seen, so the plan Lucy and I have made for a hedgehog house looks very timely!

Can I just give a last call for submissions fro the Stravaig magazine? We'd like artwork or filmclips as well as poetry or essays if anyone has them, on the theme of 'coast to coast'. Submissions to, please, by 1st November.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Week of the Wild Geese

This is pretty much the view from my window just now.It's grey and wet and the sky is heavy with featureless cloud. The leaves are turning, thanks to all the frosty nights and clear bright days we had last week and the last apples, too high to pick, are like copper buttons on the trees in the orchard. But the most significant event in the territory of rain is one I can't photograph.

Morning and evening, every day for the last week, hundreds of geese have passed over heading west and a little north,(mostly right to left as you're looking at that photo),towards the fields of the Carse of Stirling and Flanders Moss. They are mostly pink-footed geese, as you can tell from their cry ('pinks wink' as the saying goes), but there are also some greylags (greys honk), and once a skein of whooper swans strung out along the shoulder of Dumyat like a silver necklace. Some fly high and look like those m-shaped scribbles children use to draw sea-gulls. Some fly low and the sun catches on their wings and turns them to silver and black. But the noise is incredible, a peal of bells, a playground of rowdy children, a pack of hounds in full cry.

It's no wonder that stories grew up around the flight of the geese. You can hear them at night too, when it isn't just loud, it's as eerie as those vixen cries or screech owl calls they use on television programmes to indicate the isolation and terror of the countryside. People believed that it was the 'Wild Hunt' or the 'Gabriel Hounds' hunting for lost souls, or the souls of those about to die in the coming winter, and I'm not surprised. I love it. As human life retreats indoors to firelight and storecupboard cooking, it's good to hear the clamour from outside and remember that the winter landscape hasn't been abandoned to the wind and frost.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Poetic Justice 11th October

An evening of singing, story-telling and poetry (from fellow Red Squirrel poet Anne Connolly and myself) in Lauriston Hall, Lauriston Place Edinburgh, 7:30. Please come along if you are in the area - it should be a great night!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Week of the Indian Summer

For the last few days, the nights have been cold and frosty, and the days bright, clear and warm. The work on the roof has gone without a hitch, and it should be finished today. It's been lovely. The flowers are doing their final fling.

The leaves are turning. We haven't had too many blueberries, and what there was, the blackbirds will surely steal, but what we get is this fantastic colour.

I'm really thrilled with this, however. The wet summer has provided me with the ideal conditions for this cranberry - well, bog, to be honest!

And this is what I got this morning! Not much, I admit, but maybe next year---

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Week the Roof Came Off

This is not a re-run of Hurricane Bawbag. After thirty years, the slates are breaking up, every wind lifts a few more, and rain and condensation is getting into the upstairs rooms, so we are having the front of our house re-roofed. There is noise and dust everywhere and I'm camping out in the kitchen (nice and warm, though but) writing reviews and correcting the proofs for the new print run of Wherever We Live Now.

The picture, however, is not of our house but of the dig at the Abbey. This wall, they think, is what is left of the old watergate. There isn't too much to see, because a lot of the good stone was robbed out to make fancy buildings up beside the Castle. But there's enough to encourage the archaeologists to come back in the spring, and when they do, I hope I'll have the first draft of a bunch of poems about it.

On the Great Road of the Four Abbots
two monks come ghost-walking
from St Ninians to Cambuskenneth.

This is a reference to some friends of mine, American Benedictines, who came to visit the Abbey and pray there,so that there would be monks there again. And after that there was a story going round the village about ghosts haunting the place!

The thing that intrigues me most is the continuity. People have been here since Pictish times. The first Abbot may not have been the Augustinian Canon whoename is in the histories, but Cainneach, a friend of Columba, whose family, like mine, came from Waterford. And the last, one Alexander Mylne, renewed the connection between our abbey and the Abbey of St Victor, which later became the sorbonne. This is a connection for me too, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing which is one of the key texts in my life, was heavily influenced by Richard of St Victor - who turns out to have been Scottish.