Voilà

At last the raven glowed for the last time against the wall for the 2010s.

First and foremost, let me wish you, dear Reader, a great new year and – should our stars wish it – a much more positive (than anticipated) decade ahead… Of course, brand new pages are yet to be written, and the “now” must be fully lived as the most important since “tomorrow” never comes.

The island has been a wonderful shelter away from all the tumult south…

It has heaved hopes, made as well as it unmade dreams come true.

As some footprints vanished from the sand, others appeared… Yet, among the tears and smiles this past decade generated, the island gave me a definite sense of hame (home).

It has taught me crisis, resilience, and the will to rebuild the deeper self through time, love and words.

Achievement and the sheer sense to surmount whatever that past decade threw at my face has made me stronger. The dreamer (visionary) allowed the poet to pen and perform – da peerie lass to smile again when she was scared and let the woman flourish again.

I love that quote from the great NI man:

It makes complete sense.

That past decade took my heart to amazing places and made me tread on uncharted lands… Even made me learn new tongues and discover other cultures. It opened my eyes and heart and made me taste sour & sweet… Isn’t it what life is all about?

This low boreal sun always gives me a sense of determination and will to shine.

Creative wise, the final year of that same decade proved both productive and fun, with continued invitations to well established local events very close to my heart, including Shetland Singer-songwriters, Soul Time and Shetland Arts’ Celebration of Shetland Writing, as WordPlay was put in limbo this year…

But then,

the past decade ended with a fresh twinkle in one’s eye.

The change of world of my final feline companion at the end of last summer made me wander through the void- the nothing and some dark lands – until Saoirse appeared in early December (!) and signalled a new dawn on my island.

She was fostered in Toogs and found herself starting a new life two islands away. She joined on the last Sunday before Yule and has made da hoose her, wir hame.

And as we wandered across the winter solstice, candles and shared love keep us bright inside.

A new decade has just begun.

Barely two days. So many blank pages before my heart and pen; new adventures and slices of life to be explored.

Let’s pick it up from now, and see the many paths ahead.

As Lewis said it so evocatively.

Happy New Year,

Bonne et heureuse année,

Godt nyttår

and let the stars guide us.

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So

What happens between equinoxes remains a mystery.

…A black hole or stravaig in a desert where time locks itself in, as bubbles inside surf, or footprints lost through tides and gales.

Many walks done and gone. I still remember the Vernal Equinox, as March gave way to light and warmth. When birds returned to the island, and jenny wrens perched on roses to sing their songs, joined by blackbirds at dawn and dusk. A song so powerful, explosive and whimsical, you need to turn back and listen.

And as May comes with its unbound clemence, and shiny bright, stars vanish in the blue of night, as Beltane gives way to summer.

Summer, summer, da Simmer Dim, as our sky turns an opera house. Our island sings in tussock grass, around the bays – above our heads. It is a time filed with bounty, as our summer guests fish and hunt. A time where life fills with colours, where chicks grow feathers outwith dark. Darkness unknown to so many of us and fledlings until Arcturus reappears in late July. Our Atlantic and sense of North glow back orange. We then reignite our candles. In this mystical universe, the very few urban dwellers welcome July with refracting light in the bay. They do not question the great clock – the astronomical delight as da mirkin wins back its way. mirkin, murky times lie ahead…

Some walk through time on land, at sea.

As August wanes in honey gold, our most westerly land beacon feels a poltergheist at sunset. Foula, foul, fugl Island, with its bewildering cliff tops, redefines ife, geometry. Light as we knew from Simmer Dim – our nightless nights – lose in power, intensity. Our path to hairst and the autumnal equinox becomes clearer.

It is when night unveils its kaleidoscope of gales and stars. And we look more carefully, auroral glows in between clouds. Our pace hastens as we go home to the fire back in our hearths. Too soon the tides will speak out loud, and auroras trapped inside clouds will signal a new phase across the season. Few gannets fly, fish in the bay. Rose flowers gave way to their own fuits. The overgrowth lost its lushness… A lower sun shines through few leaves from alders or strong willows. That sense of blue tarnished with grey has lost its way. Deep purple hills back to bracken, bare and so brown.

September stepped in as a thief. October followed in its grace. Each wake-up call from our bedside triggers the start of each sunrise. Each minute lost now and regained, days have shortened and yet, still bright. I hear Sawhain’s still a long shot… Our winged friends wander south and south. For us, dwellers of thre island, we need to prepare for dark times.

Now, the island can sleep in peace, with auroras, constellations, stars and comets – a twany moon there as a friend.

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fatalité

ablaze

Victor Hugo had cried for her in his foreword… And it took a book (“Notre Dame de Paris“) to trigger major restoration works, as the elderly lady was notably suffering from severe erosion to time, history and the elements.

What happened last night felt totally surreal. Notre-Dame has survived so many ordeals – human assaults, the hands from time – and during those 850 years (or so), she saw a city grow and thrive.

Inside her so many memories. Her world famous bell – le bourdon – became associated with so many events (including the liberation of Paris in 1944) happy or sad… And against all odds, she has been standing in this Parisian sky.

Last night, my heart bled at the news, and this orange-grey cloud – flames from her heart, as the 19th century spire yielded to a raging fire that engulfed the forest – this nickname given to those 1300 oak trees that served as timber frame to support that huge slate roof.

Like millions of people around the world, I watched powerless, in disbelief, and heaved the following poem, as a tribute or way to cope with shock.

La forêt

Ô Notre Dame,
    ta forêt brûle, ton coeur en flammes!

Une forêt de chênes
         de cent mètres de long,
une forêt de chênes
         charpentée par des anges,
une forêt de chênes 
         anoblie par les âges;

toute une nuit orangée a dévoré ta flèche, ton coeur et
ta charpente -

une forêt de chênes,
         maison pour un bossu et son Esméralda...

toute une nuit d'horreur, pluie battante d'ardoises
retrouvées en poussière à l'issue 
                           d'un déluge -

une forêt de chênes au XXIe siècle toute 
                                      réduite en cendres,

ton coeur, ce cher poumon,
                     au plus proche des âmes.


©Nat Hall 2019

The Forest

 
Ô Notre Dame,
    your forest burns - your heart in flames!

A forest of oak trees
                long of a hundred yards,
a forest of oak trees
              carpented by angels,
a forest of oak trees
              enobled through ages;

it took one orange night to
devour your heart, spire and timber frame -

a forest of oak trees
once homed Esmeralda and her loving hunchback,

one single night of hell in
a deluge of slate as tiles turned into dust -

a forest of oak trees that neared
               a millenium now reduced in ashes.

Your heart, this dearest lung,
                     so close to all our souls.

© Nat Hall 2019

Photo credit to Le Monde for both images. Merci.

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renouveau

Spring has multiplied signs throught that long and still ice-bladed month of March. If light has reached parity with darkness on the 20th day, and our migrating visitors called at night and settled back in our fields and meadows whilst others pursued their incredible journey north, the island still needs to wake to the promises of the season.

April, April… Life rekindles

March now behind us. Tonight I heard eight puffin scouts have been located west of my favourite headland in our inshore waters. Earlier, friends reported the magical ascending song of a skylark as they wandered by abandoned crofts… Common Eider drakes already sit by their concubines… On inspection of the ground, daisies and bluebells have long braved snow, ice and thaws, re-icing and equinox gales. Even within the perimeter of my sanctuary, the grass has grown and would deserve a serious cut. Spring, voar, so precocious.
Eider drake and its concubine reunited at Aith Voe.
Light reappears on the 60th North Parallel. I read somewhere that between the two solstices – and more precisely as we approached the Vernal Equinox – we were gaining up to two hours of light every month… Now, as April has entered in the great cosmic ballroom, my sunrises and sunsets are becoming more epic.
Turnstones by the edge of water…
Strangely enough, fog has already been rolling on from our local hills. “Exotic” and “curious”, for fog remains an oddity before April… February and March both felt odd in places.
Peculiar episodes of fog we, islanders, usually experience from mid-April…
Yet April promises (or do I really take this for granted?) liberation from many claws – storms, gales, and other signatures from the icy months. And if I have yet to listen to my first skylark, I know it will not be long. The sky just needs to quieten a little more and our star to warm up those acres of storm-bent grass around our meadows… Wake, wake, wake, wake!

April is when you return to me.

The magic of walking to my favourite headland.
As I am typing you are gradually falling asleep. Your case is packed. Your passport lies in a pocket of your handbag… Tomorrow, you too will begin your migration north – north by NE, as you will cross that stretch of your Irish Sea to find your way back in Glasgow before making your way to my North Sea from the mouth of a sheltered harbour. We can travel the world like swallows… or Storm Petrels. But to journey, we need a boat. I may not wait for you from my favourite headland on Saturday, But I will gladly watch that great blue Viking efigee on the white hull we call da boat approach my favourite offshore island of Mousa at about 6.30 in the morning and drive parallel to you, as the bow kisses each wave from our sheltered waters. If we are lucky enough, Mother Sea will let you enter the Bressay Sound with grace.
Happy common seal in the surf. Selkie life…
It will be your first time. Selkies and seagulls will salute you on your passage. You are about to return to me as seabirds find their way across miles of oceanic deserts, da Roost to reconvene with my headlands, bays and meadows. Now, my turn to find sleep from my northern latitude, as I will be by your side tomorrow, in voice and spirit. I have prepared home to welcome you on my northern island. In anticipation to your arrival, I wrote a piece entitled North Voyager. It sounds and reads like a leitmotive… And yet it does epitomise that promise from Spring.
North Voyager

There is a time when you will see edge of
my land,
          the rounded head shaped by
                                that kiss of Atlantic and
cold North Sea; where
solans glide above Spring's crests,
follow the furrow from
                                  the ship,
blue man on white,
head-dressed to defy every tide and
                                 moder dy...
No castle perched, but 
a lighthouse that defines hamewir tun an 
                                      hearth;
and if you stand out on
the deck, that gentle breeze fae 60N will
whisper words in northern tongue,
roll every "r" in every breath,
                            sea spray, spindrift -
touch you with salt glued on its lips.
Now,
you're parallel to my world, birds and 
                                             sandstone -
maalies join solans in the wind,
              Mousa appears left to your eyes,
   inshore waters will guide you to
da Horse's Heid, as Bressay grows 
closer to heart, and
        mine will beat as fast as dyne,
now you're safe in the Bressay Sound.

Only minutes and a pressgang separate us.

                                         Welcome to 
                      my northern island.

 
© Nat Hall 2019 

Dialect word glossary:

solans: Gannets
moder dy: the underlying of the swell used by ancient firshermen as a guide.
hame: home
wir tun: our toonship (human settlements)
Spindrift: sea spray, balls of salt created by gales
maalies: Fulmar Petrels
da Horse's Heid: [place name] the Knab (headland in S Lerwick)
dyne: yours

Solan (Gannet)

Bon voyage!

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light in darkness

There is a time when poetics demands music and words to whirl in a shared space. It has happened before and is happening again. Collaboration with Carol Jamieson fae Tresta is flourishing with flair and grace. Already, we have united to offer verse with piano during chosen sessions at Fjara Café-Bar just off Breiwick at Sea Road.

Now, we have taken it a step further. Carol is composing and recording her own music, mixing it to my recorded spoken verse. A first piece, entitled Light in Darkness has emerged. It is beautiful. More will be following. Already, the Poet is thrilled with the Pianist’s work.

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The Seabird’s Cry Book Review

I have just been offered the book, I canna wait to delve into each page!

BirdNation

Seabirds are some of the most fascinating creatures on Earth. Over millions of years, these birds have mastered life on the open ocean. Seabirds are an elusive group; it’s hard to study them because they only come ashore to breed.

A seabird is any bird that spends the majority or part of its life out on the open ocean. While the term “seabird” can describe a wide variety of birds, this group is most often used to describe the orders of Procellariiformes and Suliformes. Procellariiformes include petrels, albatrosses, shearwater, and storm-petrels, which are more commonly known as “tubenoses”. Suliformes include cormorants, boobies, gannets, and frigatebirds. Gulls, jaegers, skuas, auks, and penguins are also seabirds.

I recently read TheSeabird’sCry:TheLivesandLovesofthePlanet’sGreatOceanVoyagers
by Adam Nicolson. This beautifully-written book explores the lives of 10 species of seabirds. For each species, Nicolson explores not only how these birds live from a scientific standpoint, but how…

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Pot-au-feu

Pot-au-feu is a traditional French dish my grand mother cooked through the crucial seasons of my early childhood.

Pot-au-feu

Stock memories inside a pot

wide, deep enough to

let the marrow from

the bone melt and

flavour what

you

picked up from

the garden,

what you harvested through

the years –

sprinkle with salt, pepper and

thyme,

tie-in fresh parsley and

bay leaves,

nail them with

cloves,

let

all simmer for a lifetime.

Scoop and savour hot

with

mustard.

NH 2019

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