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.
The tidal loch remains frozen at Wadbister on New Year’s Day, and it may well stay in this state for a while…
Wadbister is the place where I buried 2017 with good friends & two of their neighbours. I woke up this late morning and breakfasted with my hosts, Sharon and Andy, looking at a brand new sky. Blue, serene, by a garden and bay that homes a wonderful wildlife. If I missed the otter, I was blessed with my first avian visitors – starling, blackbird, sparrow and robin – when an unusual visitor (to our latitude here anyway!) graced the garden, a great tit. What a grand start to the primal day of the year!
By the time I left my friends’ home, a West wind was recolouring the heavens, as light rain showers began to christen the land…
A year of contrasts – a tale of two halves, with its kaleidoscope of emotions – that took my heart across headlands, bays, the English Channel and the North Sea.
A creative year, as it has anchored my pen into this second collection of poetry in the making… Writing on both sides of the North Sea, with a fabulous return to West Norwegian shores last September.
And our descent to Yule marked by the shifting of our AHS to its new 21st building at Lochside, which proved an extraordinary exercise.
Yet October was graced by extraordinary moments, reunions and meetings that began to pave my way into 2018. For this, I feel humble, blessed and grateful to 2017.
Christie Williamson and Hazel Frew, see you both in your great Celtic town in April!
November also graced by new humane and creative connections thanks to friend and poetess Choman Hardi, who made me discover Barbara Cumbers, a kindred spirit based in London, and regular visitor to Shetland. Magic slices of life shared since, including two readings at the Book Fest and in Scalloway.
December crowned by many smiles
The joy of reaching Yule marked with many delights – a poet’s working blurb published in Shetland Life, a poem inside the Yule Issue of the New Shetlander.
The island clad by sun and snow on the eve of a well deserved break.
A peaceful end to a year that felt a real roller coaster, and as the twelfth month was about to draw to an end, a brand new project now at my writer’s table in the translation of a manuscript. Wonderful challenge and task that began on the Eve of Hogmanay.
Thank you, 2017, for your joys and tears, harvest of adventures, new friends across headlands and seas.
Today, on the primal day of the year, there burns a fire in my heart, like a beacon for the twelve months ahead.
Hello, 2018. Let me welcome you with fresh eyes, a shameless smile, heart filled with hopes.
The road ahead feels both very exciting and promising.
A very happy new year to you all, wherever you walk on this amazing planet. May 2018 grant you good health and happiness.
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.
Marvellous moments of lightness, privileged times among paired swans, preening and sharing love in grace at last light… Statuesque haigries (herons) around our bays, the joy to reconvene with our beautiful Earth. I observe them from the distance, with that humble feeling, so intimate the moment. The light is soft, nearly sunset. The air is charged with tenderness and love in that autumnal sense of rawness…
Intimate. So privileged, I feel.
This north end corner of Spiggie Loch gradually welcomes them back, as the Arctic winter dictates. They will flock in and preen, share a few weeds with a few ducks – gather on the shore for bathing and arrange their feathers, and roost by twos… A bit of love inside a world so few can taste.
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.
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!
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.
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.
heim (home) with a view
to each sunrise, new adventure!
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.
trekking through the mountains
Geiranger at water level
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.
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 🙂
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.