Category Archives: roots

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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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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tilbake

flying norge Back with eight bairns/ åtte barn

I never thought I would be back with eight pupils and a member of staff, leading them all to twelve days of Norwegian experience in families and school.

It took just under a month (from our new term in Shetland) to land back at Flesland, and wander back in my now familiar Bryggen i Bergen, Vågen, via Bybanen – Bergen’s Light Railway that links BGO to the great sentrum – only this time for a pioneering trip to 62N.

bryggen 1

I love school exchanges. I still reminisce that in Germany three years ago, led by my colleague and friend Peter Haviland. This one, however, had a couple of twists: back to familiar territory, and, unique in its nature, for it encompassed four Shetland schools with that in Måløy, Sogne og Fjordane, on the island of Vågsøy. It felt such a great honour to be vetted with both such leadership responsibilities and setting a precedent by both the Association – under the helm of Graham Nicolson and Per Kåre Nybakk – and my school. Three years earlier, I was asked to find host families for a small party of young Norwegians by friend and Shetland-Måløy Twinning Association… This time, I would return with a small group I affectionately christened “the Shetland Gang”. That first term at my High School in Lerwick would prove both hectic, challenging and exciting!

The trip proved to be epic! A two-day trek that would require two boats (Shetland-Arberdeen and Bergen-Måløy) and an aeroplane (ABZ-BGO). And what a saga!

on the fast boat norge

Back in the mythical land, back in what I have always called heim since I first stepped onto Norwegian soil… Where I feel home on this other side of the North Sea.

Back in Måløy, Anita’s homeground… The one who opened the door to it all – NYBAKK, more than a boat, a clan, now my Norwegian family. My first visit there would prove the stepping stone to this year’s voyage and exchange. The great Norskie jigsaw is shaping up with flair and grace.

The ride would prove long and tiring for us all, as we arrived long after dusk on 14 September and engulfed ourselves inside the ferry terminal. Arve was there, with such a huge smile! Our host families, ready to welcome those young Shettis, as the school’s Rektor (Headmaster) Kåre Bakke nicknamed us all, for a good night sleep before our very first day at his establishment. Happy but exhausted.

62N sign

Some stories to write and share! A brand new taste of Norwegian life began for all. And each of us – pupil & staff – experienced our own along the way. For my part, I was reunited with Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik at Gate 6. And my temporary Norwegian home life was rekindled with unbound joy. Immersed in norsk (with flings of English to relieve my brain!) inside their home, with family and friends, would help me improve my humble knowledge of Nynorsk, and local dialect. Challenged by so many voices, including that of a friendly story teller on the first Friday night at Kraftstasjonen Restaurant! What a night! Anne Mabel and Arve ensured I would have a memorable time, and that they managed effortlessly. I really felt home; helped out Jarl Eirik with homework, felt an integral part of the clan, especially once Sam (their dog) accepted me fully… Hmmm. I knew that leaving them would mean tears in my heart, and it did. They ensured I would explore this wonderful island called Vågsøy.

brig brua to M

heim (home) with a view

sunrise fra heim

to each sunrise, new adventure!

skog trening 24 sep 2017

skog trening (forest hiking) with Anne-Mabel, Jarl Eirik and Arve for fun!

The Educational Experience

Up at 0630 every morning – each school day began at 0830 and finished at 1410. The Norwegian system encompasses different ethics, which would either make smile or terrorise any British teacher! Some differences – from the day structure to the more informal working relationship – we all tasted for five full days. Our Shetland Gang was challenged every day, and undertook a blend of private study, assembling and delivering their Shetland presentation (as requested by the Association) which they delivered on nearly 10 different occasions to a myriad of class groups – as well as start preparing their own for Shetland, and they even cooked for their Norwegian counterparts & Rektor. Colleague and friend Tanya Myhre would keep us smiling every morning. The In-School programme shaped up for such pioneering experience, and, every single member of staff made us welcome and fully supported. My Deputy Leader would also prove invaluable on a daily basis. What an eye opener!

But we did more than this.

Whereas Tuesday was spent visiting four different local businesses around Måløy, the final Saturday would be felt as the ultimate prize: sightseeing in and around Geiranger , where we also celebrated one of our pupil’s 14th birthday. I believe he will never forget.

fjellet 2

trekking through the mountains

Geiranger fjorden

Geiranger at water level

perspektiv norge

stepping out at snow level on the roof of Western Norway

Per Kåre Nybakk and Kåre Bakke worked hand in hand all all levels, and employed a gang of host drivers for such unforgettable experience. I cannot thank them and everyone enough for enabling this entire trip.

An experience our young Shettis and us, team, would never forget.

our sihouettes at the top of the mountain

Some extraordinary stories to tell about their Norskie life chapters, as well as to share with their families & friends back home. Our journey back to our islands’ shore proved as epic as the inbound adventure, as we had to overnight in Aberdeen because of flight and boat timings… But we made it, and now we are resettling into our Shetland lives, we are barely beginning to share our tales.

 

Thank you, Graham, Per Kåre, Valerie, Mandy, Peter and Lewie, for all your support along the way – Marina, for accompanying such pioneering trip, Tanya, Kåre and everyone at the Vågsøy ungdomskule for all help and friendliness, Anne-Mabel, Arve and Jarl Eirik, for having me at home – as well as all our host families and friends. But foremost, to you all, dear Shetland Gang. You were awesome 🙂

kannesteinen

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swallows

 

 

 

 

 

On the topic of migration, hirundines – the embodiment of summer – and swallows in particular have always captivated my heart. I remember them nesting under the roof in rue de la Libération in Gisors as a child; and their return every year throughout life – wherever I have settled – remains magical.

Today I watch them return on the island, so far away from my grandmother’s home, and every time they rekindle that moment of discovery as a child… They fly from West Africa to reach us. Their journey feels incredible – travellers without papers across our northern hemisphere. They come to create the next generation – they have two homes, they are the product of two worlds, and they embody with so much grace many of us, humans, who have been blessed with more than one home…

A powerful allegory.

 

Here, to celebrate those amazing avian wanderers, a string of micropoetry, first written in French, then, translated in mirror.

 

Les hirondelles

1.

Furtives,

des anges habillés bleu et noir,

avec dans leurs yeux, du courage;

l’iris riveté au soleil, avides d’amour hors des nuages, sous

les génoises, elles font un voeu.

1.

Furtive,

they, angels clad in black & blue,

with courage in their eyes;

iris riveted to the sun, avid to love in cloudless skies, under

a roof they make a wish.

2.

Intrépides,

elles traversent déserts, champs et mers,

se confient aux cours d’eau, les chansons de la terre

pour retrouver enfin une once du berceau.

2.

Intrepid,

they fly across deserts, meadows and seas;

confide to waterways, the many earthly songs, to

find at last an ounce from home.

3.

Je les entends venir enfin,

leurs longues plumes dans mon ciel,

s’arrêter  sur un fil de fer, entre iris et mur de pierres,

un rebord de gouttière,

la latitude de leurs ancêtres.

3.

At last I hear them come,

their long feathers inside my sky,

to perch on a wire, in between iris and stone walls,

the edge of a gutter –

their ancestors’ latitude.

 

 

 

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maelstrom (or not)

water and headlandI am water, not the rock – I am able to flow instead of being eroded.

Powerful affirmation in a world that never teaches us to fall, but our ability to rise again and adapt, mend our bruises and scars, with time and sheer resilience, remains a strength in many of us. Life takes us to amazing places, a thought I very recently shared with a close friend – sometimes, totally unexpected, with their areas of “shimmering” and “dark” areas… The fear of the unknown, the dark lands with its own pitfalls and question marks – paths littered with both flowers and pot holes, sometimes deep. Irrespective of all this, we make our own choices, and, when trusting our own decisions, select the path ahead. Because we dare to take a risk and our eagerness to see the light will act as a magnet. We, journey folk through our lives, will use our boots and hearts well. To adapt in a world in perpetual motion, with its own sudden twists and turns, sometimes out of our own jurisdiction, is key to survival, living. We can at times lose track of the compass – our own sense of direction – however, it is our own ability to steer our own boat and free that sail – be resourceful, innovative in our own sense of self and trustfulness.

At different stages in our lives, we shall reach crossroads; a change of wind that may define a change of current. That’s when our compass tell us of change to come. We are living in extraordinary times, with others taking all kinds of decisions on our behalf. Again, our survival senses that need to re-assess our current position and, with wisdom and trust in the water, will help us find and write a course in life that will take us away from a maelstrom that can feel dangerous or too dark to our taste. This journey may feel treacherous, it is however necessary to find ourselves in calmer waters, because we simply need it.

And yet, I need headlands, and lighthouses.

In the kingdom named Animalia, we are, by definition, land mammals. This may make many of you smile… But is it a fact. And I am with a passionate sense of place, solid, with a beacon that reminds my being and spirit where “home” is. Because we make it where it is. Home, that concept – feeling more than a place when one comes to think of it – can be reached, eventually. For nearly two decades, I have experienced the joy of such feeling, and rooting up like thrift, or sea rocket, by the edge of the water. A poet friend once confessed to me how “fortunate” I was to reach such el dorado, feeling of home, for she was still searching for it. Being born in one place on Earth does not necessarily defines it automatically as home. Far from it, as we have neither chose it in the first nor do we have necessarily have to simply “get on with it” and die where were once born. Some of us will feel a pull from a far away land… Yes we turn back into what our ancestors were, nomadic in our minds and hearts. We were made sedentary by politics imposed by some elite in pursuit no other than materialistic, or sheer wish to control us – where we are, what we do, what is expected of us as contributors to their world (not ours).

I believe in bettering myself whilst contributing to the community in which I have settled. Important as it will define my sense of assimilation within such community, hence, feeling home. I am the water, not the rock, and adapting to where I anchor my mind and heart feels paramount. Enriching the self whilst enriching others with a different culture. A two-way process in a multi-cultural world, or island. My own island where I live has been subjected to this throughout history, as it is bathing in both a sea and an ocean. Nomads in search of their own treasure island mingling, blending with natives to contribute to the fabric of a much more open society. A blessing and a powerful feeling.

My own beacon still shines very bright on top of that headland. However, I have reached others that feel equally powerful in their luminosity, hence defining and accepting in my head the notions of hame, Heim, home in an effort to avoid losing either partial or complete track of the compass. From the moment I chose to leap out and make my life an adventure, as encouraged by my grandmother (who always believed in me) I have begun to believe much more deeply this is a wonderful privilege to be able to have more than one beacon. I have felt and found myself in a couple of treacherous types of maelstrom in the past half decade, but, with the love of support of what I consider my kinsfolk, soul family, as well as all those who deeply embrace me as a human being, have helped me to flow again as I naturally do it.

After all, I am the water, not the rock. 

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