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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One hundred years ago, a small party of men gathered in a wagon inside a French forest somewhere in Picardy to stop madness and attrition, a futile butchery, unparalleled till then, agree to terms for an Armistice. Humanity defaced, filled with hurt, on its knees.
To those millions of innocents, victims who fell and died, I wrote a short poem four years ago, entitled
Of Flowers and Men
Little lead men
fell one by
inside a field other than theirs, where
red flowers now flourish high -
scarlet to colour
a river to remind us
inside our walls.
Four years later, on that same month of November, I penned a string of verse to remember you all – irrespective of alliance, skin colour or religious denomination – because you were all human beings turned inhumane inside a theatre of death. You fell or you were shot, because you had beliefs.
On this occasion, the following verse is in your honour.
In memoriam, 14-18 Now
Time belongs to lush poppy fields.
They walked by their millions in wet mud,
France or Flanders,
leather laces in No Man's Land, along with
shells and barbwrire.
Canary girls back in Clydebank or in Gretna
manufactured what was to kill
somebody's boy in a cornfield, or
their own genes here on homeground...
An assemblage of sacrifice in
the name of an empire, country or king.
They fell by millions in cold mud,
furrow or field they never sowed -
through earth layers,
chromatic world recorded shell shock and their fears,
Within an hour, I will join all those who remember them at my local beach – St Ninian’s Sands – and read poetry to those clad in a uniform as part of this project #pagesfromthesea because I don’t forget. Later tonight, as part of this year’s edition of #shetlandwordplay (the annualbook festival in Lerwick), I will join in for the last event, the Open Mic and read both aloud, as part of a sequence dedicated to #14-18now.
I toy with the thought of
touching the Moon that
hangs out in
this dark blue sky;
tide turns in
your favour, on that last weekend of
I feel its pull, rolled up in
I lit a tea light in your name, and
let the lantern on the deck, for
you to find me in
mørke, mørkin, in murky night, where
the Moon shies here in
thin clouds, between my world and
summer tides – where Angle shades fly to the flame, where your voice vanishes with
When it comes to Irishness, the world is our oyster. So many magical voices, celebrated throughout the world. The ones you know are household names… And the list is by no means exhaustive. I could have selected a few that have really struck chords in my heart; but, there is one, one, anonymous, living and breathing by River Lagan, who devotes her time and care to vulnerable people, hence double-touched my heart.
Don’t ask me for a photograph, as I have yet to immortalise her smile, and, light in her eyes. Her name too remains anonymous, for it is wished this way.
When it comes to the Nordic connection, the web widens as we network. This is exactly what happened with a kindred spirit from Hamburg, as we began to mingle via Instagram, followed by Facebook. Northwhile, alias Diana Lukas-Nülle, is a lover of all things north, wild, sheepish, travel, design, hearts carved by nature and write. I love the way she speaks about the light, north, snow, Norway or Fair Isle… Whilst she insists how I would love Iceland. Funny how we eventually met in Shetland on her way to the Hebrides.
Photo by Nordicblackbird
This intrepid north wanderer returned to an island she loves and has a pied-à-terre, as she had a contract with a knitting designer and Misa Hay to design this year’s WoolWeek Magazine. On two occasions, we met and shared by the water – in Melby, where we watched an otter playing in the bay whilst we savoured some homemade cake we found and bought from a local box; and at Ninian Sands, where we marvelled at the magic of the Atlantic, a wondrous sky, changing light and the shape of clouds… We spoke deep words, found some hearts fashioned in stone and felt the wings of the maalie, my favourite seabird the Fulmar (Petrel) I love to nickname “Jonathan”, for this long distant relative of the albatross seems to fly for fun – and sometimes at very close quarter!
Some enchanting evening we pursued at my humble hut for a splash of homemade lamb curry and a hope to see Northern Lights after twilight. Of all those moments shared, the one that prompted a poem was triggered as we walked along da shoormal (that area in the shallows…) on that bridge of shell and sand. Diana was combing in search of something specific, whilst I was gathering my own pocketful of treasures.
This prompted the following poem.
For you, D. L-N.,
for your friendship & cunning eye.
On the great bridge of sand and shell,
she untied her shoes and
walked free to
feel the pulse of each sandgrain,
blue of evening and
by the shoormal where dark sand shifts,
she imprinted her higher self,
eyed washed off
vile tides, hunting for
hearts molten in
hearts in shingle, or tidal shaped, among
plovers and sugar kelp –
what the Moon pulls in between
stars, thin waterline,
She came to walk to an island,
she entangled time in
smiled at the world’s greatest tiara,
gifted my hearth with two
her heart and mind still in
She said one day she will own sheep… She’s still to find her home island. In the meantime we share that passion for the Nordic realm – Norway, Norge – island life, light, wild & remote, hearts molten in anything natural and photography.
I owe her the back cover photograph of my book, a lifetime friendship on a plate, a well of laughters and shared moments of emotions…
We are woman, beautiful.
I met Aneta Lukzikova through Anita Orheim (see blog post “Vakker #wearewoman “) over a decade ago. Like Anita, Aneta was then in academic transit and decided to establish her own “hame” on this latitude. Our friendship blossomed through time and shared slices of life. We earned each other’s trust and respect gracefully, travelled the length and breadth of our islands, and even crossed the sea last summer to reconvene with Anita on her homeground for a weekend of sheer happiness in and around Fana. I had promised Aneta a beer in Bergen, we did just that. Today, we know ourselves pretty much inside out.
Of this, I’m very proud. Forever grateful to have her friendship, her love and trust as a woman and a close friend, so close I can call her my Czech sister.
For you, dear Aneta, I am going to improvise you a poem as I’m typing,
We have travelled so many roads,
crossed many bridges,
sea, earth marks.
listened and dried
so many blueprints from cold rain;
laughed at my face by
the White Wife,
helped me to
We crossed the sea to
share a pint,
taste simple pleasures in Bryggen to reconvene with
“Nat, I challenge you to a short poem…” I still remember Chris’ words one fine evening at the Mareel Café in Lerwick during one memorable Open Mic’ Night in 2016.
At the time, little did I know those words would generate such a fabulous collaboration with Visitors – a trio of very talented singer/songwriters based in Shetland (till band member Chris Grant left last autumn for his Glasgow homeground with a mix bag of excitement and sadness…).
To the poet, writing for a band feels playful and self-indulgent.
Whilst band member Chris Grant has known my writing from 2012 through the National Theatre of Scotland’s Ignition project, fellow members Cha Johnson and Andy Kinnear have been exposed to my poetical world from the Shetland Open Mic Night sessions. When it came to their project as a band, they had some of my spoken words in mind for the purpose of one song when the opportunity arose. Whilst they were assembling an EP later named after the final lines of my short poem, I quickly scribbled a very short piece recollecting my “first time” as a then visitor to 60N. This recollection never left my heart and mind, so magical and powerful this very first experience felt, and became imprinted in my heart forever.
This I translated into words,
submitted to Chris, who immediately related to the piece. Perfect was his response. And left it like this, until he recorded me in a tiny office on his last day at work.
Although I had no idea of what was really happening, I later received words from Chris explaining me about Visitors’ plans and project. A bigger picture began to shape in my head. With Chris in Glasgow, I left the spoken word in good hands. Meanwhile, Shetland Times journalist and singer/songwriter Adam Guest penned an article in the islands’ weekly. More light on Visitors‘ work!
An EP to be launched in Shetland
So little did I know Visitors would launch their work at this year’s Shetland Folk Festival in South Nesting. News filtered gradually via all three members earlier this spring. I still remember Cha’s lovely words- both at Gutters’ Gaet and Andy’s… We all turned more excited about such launch! From Cha’s messages to the rehearsals at Islesburgh and Clairmont Place, I discovered the entire EP, tasted fabulous slices of life (as well as Andy’s newly improved home made chilli con carne!) in fabulous company; a wild ride in Andy’s car to listen to the CD newly arrived in his lair, and reconvened with Chris and Roo.
On the night, 29 April 2017
Whilst Visitors had already invested the South Nesting Public Hall for the indispensable sound check, I joined in with the audience. Familiar and other faces lined up against the wall, ticket in hand. The air was crisp in a dry though overcast world… I left the comfort of my peerie buggy as soon as I saw my trio of artistes emerging from the building. Reunited on the night for the gig! Hugs, smiles and kind words filled our hearts.
Little did I realise the concert would be performed in a jam packed hall with other great bands following in our footsteps…
Visitors live on stage, 29 April 2017 at the South Nesting Hall for the launch of the EP at the Shetland Folk Festival 2017.
And Chris invited me on stage to close the act, whilst reading those words I once scribbled about “little did I know this would mean home”. The act well, very well received by the audience on this fun night of performance. Maggie already released in iTunes. The rest of the EP to follow in the great digital constellation of the apple.
Happy poet, humble and thanking you, dear Visitors for such an epic adventure 🙂
The Federation of Writers (Scotland) is an organisation dedicated to making the written and spoken word available to the public of Scotland, with respect for diversity and recognition of additional support needs. Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) ’S e prìomh-amas Caidreachas nan Sgrìobhaiche (Alba) litreachas sgrìobhte is labhairte a chur mu choinneamh poball na h-Alba, a’ toirt spèis do dh’iomadachd agus feumannan-taice a bharrachd.