In this world silenced by a terrorist disease, skylarks still sing above an early April hissing gale.
In this part of the main island, where Sandness looks lost inside haze, tussock grass yields, yet those birds we call laverick have returned as lairds o’da braes – elevated above da tun an da scattald (human dwellings and open fields where grazing’s shared among crofters…).
They will defy the harshest gust, ignore that brutal tongue from gales to sing to blueness and the sun.
To each passing of cirrus clouds, they do not know the world’s locked down, as they ascend among ravens, oblivious to material us.
They have returned in their hundreds to the daresay of each hillside.
On this Monday lost in April, this sky has turned cacophonous, as hillsides home song of skylarks, that dare to ignore gusts from gales…
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.
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.