Somewhere Nowhere Blog
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A reflection on the projects of 2017, legacies for the future, and lots of walking ...
The Lake District National Park received inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on July 9th. We think it's great news - but it doesn't mean this area needs to be frozen in time. Rather this accolade is a stimulus for partnership working towards a National Park where the environment improves alongside traditional farming practices and thriving communities ...
We have spent two years with seven remarkably ordinary trees so it feels wonderful to share them through The Long View book and the exhibition at Grizedale Forest in Cumbria.
Looking back on somewhere-nowhere through 2016 we decided to pick out just a few highlights, including night photography and a couple of poems ...
Sometimes you've just got to do it, you just have to give in to the urge. Getting up at 3am to sit with the Little Asby Hawthorn under the light of the Super Moon, and then to watch the dawn come in, was, it turned out, a very good decision.
The stunning beaches of the south Pembrokeshire coast drew us in and we swam in the late evening sunlight before strolling across the rocks ...
Following the UK vote to leave the EU, in the midst of political confusion and financial uncertainty, does paying attention to nature really matter?
Isn't it great when art causes debate ? Here's our reflection on how a single line of cloth got people talking about the impact of humans on the environment ...
We hadn't guessed that it might feel good to cut down trees ... but recently discovered why it can be very beneficial in Hardknott Forest in Cumbria's Duddon Valley.
What good does it do to sit in a tree? Or to lie on a slab of rock and watch the clouds? Can there really be any point if you’re, well, just sitting in a tree with no particular point in mind?
It is beginning. We both felt it, but didn't talk about it until after we had come out of the valley. We walked back from the Langstrath Birch long after the sun had set and the moon had sunk below the horizon, picking our way along the stony footpath by the light of our head torches.
A journey on the 555 bus to the road block between Grasmere and Thirlmere, and back again, via five pubs ... an unusual kind of a journey.
The five of us began our walk in the thickness of night. The sky was the darkest of blues - perhaps the colour of ocean depths.
To mark the beginning of a new year we thought we'd take a moment to reflect on somewhere-nowhere's year in 2015 and to look forwards. If you've missed any of the highlights (mountains, meadows, wandering poems, mavericks ...), or want to find out more about what's coming up, read on. There are exciting times ahead.
The floods caused by the rain that fell with Storm Desmond have left their mark in Cumbria. We spent hours bailing, fighting against a sense of futility, as if trying to empty out an ocean with a thimble. For a time we felt like machines, bending, scooping, bailing, lifting buckets, filling, emptying, filling, emptying; at times our own rage rose, although hurling that at the fury of the storm was utterly useless.
When we turned up I wasn't quite sure how it was going to work. One wall gap of about eight metres in length, and around twenty five people, many of us complete novices. Was mending this wall - in fact building it up all the way from its footings - going to be all fingers and thumbs and confusion?
The rain is lashing down on what anyone, in a cynical frame of mind, might call a ‘typical’ October day in Cumbria. But in truth, most of October has been sunny and warm, and we were treated to a string of bright days in September that did, in some way, make up for the wet summer months.
The wind has dropped and I can hear the scraping of an insect in the grass at my feet. The evening sun is a gold orb in the black mirror of the tarn. Stillness. Here is silence, a commodity that is, as far as I know, impossible to find in the city.
walking barefoot by the waterline on fine shingle sand with nothing to think about except walking barefoot by the waterline ...
Showing sheep in the Lake District can be a competitive business – never so competitive that it overrules friendships, but the reputation of a farmer and his flock is boosted by success. Quality matters. Writing a poem to adorn the champion rosettes was not something to be taken lightly.
I asked how long Elyaman had been riding. After a short exchange with the interpreter, he broke into a broad grin and held his hand about two feet above the trampled grass. Then, with a big laugh, he raised two fingers. I may not understand any words of the Kazakh language but I got the message.
The land climbs abruptly away from the flat east, up, up, up from the myriad greens via intensely folded valleys to an average height of 4000 breathless metres. And then rapidly returns to being flat again. Up here where the parched earth is peppered with snow-covered volcanoes, thousands of lamas roam unfettered across a vast open space.
This particular bee is flying heavily from one clover to the next. It seems to take a random zig-zag path, led on by scent, but maybe there is a plan that I, as a non-bee, can have no idea about. Above its pollen-laden body, meadow grasses sway, sorrel shimmers red-green, oxeye daisies turn to the sun, and the fells climb green to the skyline. There’s constant birdcall echoing through the valley, and the river’s gentle song is like breath, always there.
I’ve owned the large format camera for perhaps 20 years, but for many of those years it languished in a box stashed in the loft. Digital came along and film was dead, right? Well, wrong actually. I started to use the camera again five years ago and now could not imagine going on a trip without it.
Our eyes are drawn by the colour: bright gems of pink, purple, blue, yellow. Buttercups, cranesbill, speedwell, campion, clover. It's hard not to focus on them, to marvel at their vibrancy. It's a major delight of this time of year when roadside verges, meadows and woodland floors sing with these flashes of brilliance.But what about the greens?
The pulse of sound that rose like a cross between a muffled donkey's bray and a bassoon stopped me in my tracks. I stopped breathing. If I could physically open my ears, as I would widen my eyes, I would have. And there it was again, a sound I heard with my belly and my bones more than anything else - low, dense and strange.
The word ‘adventure’ tends to conjure up the idea of risk, challenge, something daring. It has a ring of the intrepid about it, as if it will necessarily involve hazard. To call someone an ‘adventurer’ is to put them in a league beyond the reach of almost all ‘average’ people (just think of Sir Ranulph Feinnes, or Scott of the Antarctic). But there's another way you could look at it.
We walk against the wild westerly wind, heads down, eyes closed. Land bound, we try our best not to be lifted off our feet, and keep what we feel is a safe distance from the edge of the cliff. The sea is one hundred feet below, playing a vigorous rhythm on coarse rocks.
If you haven’t already got a copy of The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks, then I advise you to find one, settle down, and start reading. Since its release last week it has caused his twitter following to rise by more than twelve thousand, and its reading on BBC Radio 4 as book of the week has certainly got people talking.
" The ashtree growing in the corner of the garden was felled. It was lopped first. I heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there came at that moment a great pang and I wished to die and not to see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more."
Gerard Manley Hopkins
It’s official now, that the current era is the Anthropocene – ‘The Age of Man’. Wind back the clock to the late 1760s when a writer called Thomas Gray wrote a journal of his tour of the English Lakes. The result was what was to become the first true ‘guide to the lakes’ and a very popular one at the time. Last weekend, Gray’s guide was one of several shared and discussed at The Wordsworth Trust.
Over the last few months we’ve been putting posts and comments on twitter and Facebook about sheep wandering in the fells with a poem attached to them. Now that they’re back, it’s time to share a bit more of the story behind the poem sheep.
The sound of the curlew’s song looping in the cool air was a cause for celebration last week. And then the sight of its familiar inverted ‘W’, wings in mirrored arches led by a curved beak, added to our joy.
Encounter with place is often enriched when there is a purpose – the eye becomes keener, all the senses perk up, and you take in the sense of place with more intensity than if you were just passing through.
So it was today when Rob and I went to the Borrowdale Valley, just north of Kendal, walking into the heart of the valley for the first time. Our purpose was to take a look at a place I’ll be getting to know more intimately during the summer months when it dances with meadow flowers
From the first step of a walk time is redefined. It passes in glimpses: shards of grass, bare winter trees, limp burnished bracken, sky. Its pulse is the rhythm of footfall, the come-and-go of breeze nudged in from the sea, our breath. We walk through the present, and the sun follows its usual arc through the sky, but Greenwich Mean Time is from another world where counting and figures follow rigid laws ...
I go out into the land to leave behind the lines and squares and glares of inside living, of walls and rooms, computers and information exchange and jagged edged thinking. I heard today another was beheaded; a body was found in the woods; two murdered on a dream holiday; and another child in adult's frame raises her voice to sing the refrain of one abused.
Four years ago, we collected a pine cone hard as stone. There were no gaps or spaces between the folds of the cone and it sat in my hands heavy as a rock, but unlike a rock, this weight was full of promise. Full of trees.
During the last month our eyes and minds have been drawn eastwards. Anyone who has linked in to Facebook or Kickstarter will have seen Rob’s posts and pictures from Nepal, where he has been walking in the hills. He has referred to it as strolling, but that’s far from accurate. Rob has been doing the job of a porter – one of the many men (and a handful of women) who carry loads up and down the mountain trails.
It doesn't take long. I am, overnight, disconnected from the mainframe of technology. Signal-less, no WiFi, no television, no radio. No emails to draw me in, no texts, no messages to log and reply to. Finally, I have found a pause from a near ceaseless state of alert - and my nervous system has found another frequency. My head relaxes.
Well, after two years of research, photographing, dark room alchemy, writing and days out on the fells and in the yards of farmers, we have finally brought together a selection of material for the Land Keepers exhibition, which is looking pretty nice at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere.
That single tree that greets us, and is greeted by us, every morning, holds the morning against its winter silhouette. The sky behind shifts from pink to white to grey to blue, from dry to wet to blown to still. Each evening its skeletal shape fades into dark as dusk is pulled over the land - except with a strong moon, like last night, when every branch and nest became an etching on the deep blue infinity of the cold night sky.
" Whether we regard our situation as heaven or hell depends on our perception. "
That quote resonated with me just a week ago whilst camped in deep snow below the world’s third highest peak, Kanchenjunga. I was coming at the peak from the west, on the Nepali side. To the east lay the Sikkim region of India, to the north Tibet. It had been a tough few days, a typhoon over the Bay of Bengal had brought three days of heavy rain in the valley below and a lot of snow
Last month Rob and I went to the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal to hear and see presentations from a number of artists who opened their studios for C-Art. Each artist showed 20 slides, each for 20 seconds, using just 20 words per slide to describe what they were showing. And we began to think about the invisible third.
In Kathleen Jamie's book Sightlines she writes about the way that her unstoppable urge simply to get out of the house when she was younger laid the path for her deepening relationship with the natural world. It gave her close encounters with plants and weather, it became a refuge for her eager, explorative self and it probably had a lot to do with her eventual maturation into an outdoor wanderer and a superb writer.
My life seems to gently vacillate between being close to home and being a heck of a long way from home. I am lucky that I can adapt quickly and easily to both lives. I also know I am lucky to be able to travel to many wondrous parts of the planet. This time I’m going east to Nepal for two remote treks.
We all know that the essence of nature is flow, but I think we sometimes forget this in our quest to find certainties, answers, stability. In a yoga class yesterday the (very bendy) teacher triggered a realisation in me when he refuted the names we use to describe our bodies. Rib Cage? It’s not a cage: it’s flexible, more like a basket. Spinal Column? Again, it’s so flexible and responsive, it's like a spiral, a spring.
Seamus Heaney’s Blackberry Picking has been lodged in my mind from around the age of thirteen. When I read it now I can taste and smell blackberries and the quickening breeze bringing Autumn in from the north, I can feel the tingle of stingers on my feet (still bravely wearing sandals) and I can hear the urgent calls of swallows preparing for a long southward journey.
Just back from Georgia and one of the things that struck me was the gentle but insistent hum that filled the air - a low drone of countless insects going about the no-nonsense, urgent business of gathering nectar. Prime amongst these winged collectors were the bees. Every flower head seemed to hold a furred yellow and black brooch-like worker.
I feel as if the wild has been teased out and pushed away. It’s as if it dwells over the other side of the hillock rising to the east, in the Howgills and beyond; it dwells in the higher reaches of the Lakeland fells where gradient, rock, course grasses and weather determine the choice of man to hand it back to nature.
Life moves in a series of daybreaks and nightfalls, shadows shifting, clouds drifting. Doors open, doors close. We follow one road and not another, enter a forest maybe, or climb a bare-backed hill. Each and every path we take, however many times it might have been trodden by others before us, is a singular, distinct journey in time and space, captured in light and shade, sound and scent, blended with thoughts and moods in an unrepeatable way.
Dent has been released from the grip of winter. After a few false starts Spring has finally arrived. The leaves on the sycamore and rowan are luminous, the sky is blue, the water in the river is low.
When you see an open door, do you walk through it?
Well, that was some week. I am only just back, so this will be only a brief overview. The week was so packed with personal insights, wonderful writing by other women, animated debates about environment, place and wildness, fierce weather, delicious food ... it’s hard to know where to start!
It comes at a raging rush, and it comes in waves. As I stand on the stony shelf the surge rolls towards my feet every second or two. It is pulsing while it is flowing. A few weeks ago I walked up the pale slabs of this river bed, I knelt beneath ten-foot icicles and peered through ice sheets, hearing only a gentle trickle of water and the echoes of bird song.
I stop beside one pool where the rock has been worn away and an unlikely three-petalled aperture appears between water and sky. Beneath it, the water is golden yellow, reflecting the leafless trees inside this shape, like a church window with burnished stained glass.
Five stars, irregular points of an imaginary shape, shine on the velvet sky, then fade. A slice of high cloud has snuffed their light, and brushes the crescent moon so that it shifts from bright white to a cool silver haze. And then it passes, revealing the stars once again.
Last week, we headed over to Newcastle for the day to see an exhibition of photographs by Dean Chapman at the Side Gallery. We were not disappointed.