Friday 29 November 2013

A total work of art

I have spent the past few days launching Into the Forest, in a library, in bookshops, with a poetry group, with school kids and last night in style at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The most delightful thing is watching people stroke the gorgeous cover, with its stunning Carrie Akroyd artwork, and then discover the chapter illustrations for each of the tree species featured in the book, like the oak leaf above. These were created by Kate Cranney and they're rich in folklore and ecology, as well as being simply beautiful. Thanks so much to these talented artists and to Jo Morley who designed and typeset the book, and to Sara at Saraband who makes the whole thing happen. It is a work of art, and I'm so delighted that everyone else seems to think so too.

It's in aid of Trees for Life, and tonight we hear that they won the People's Lottery prize yesterday. Congratulations to them. May the woodlands flourish! You can make a donation to them by buying a copy of the book on my website.

There are two launches left - the first is tomorrow, on Saturday night (30 Nov, St Andrew's night) at Glencanisp Lodge, near Lochinver. The final launch will be at the Findhorn Foundation at 7.30pm on Sunday 8 December, with poetry readings by John Glenday, Margot Henderson and other poets accompanied by a slideshow of tree images. All welcome!

Thursday 21 November 2013

Tree Poetry On Tour!

Tomorrow sees the first of a series of events around Scotland to launch Into the Forest, and give forest-lovers and poetry-lovers the chance to revel in great writing about trees. If you're looking for Christmas gifts, look no further! You can buy it by PayPal on my website and for each copy bought there I will sign it, post it free and give a £5 donation to Trees for Life, so you will be making a significant contribution to the restoration of Scotland's woods with each purchase. 

  • The series of launch events begins on Friday 22 November (9.30-12.00) with a fun morning at the community tree nursery at Little Assynt. Local children and anyone else who comes will be planting all the species in the Gaelic tree alphabet. As well as poems and cakes, there will be music with Henry Fosbrooke' woodland orchestra, with an instrument made from each tree in the alphabet.
  • On Monday 25 November, I will be running another children's event at Wick Library, with the winners of the Poetree Competition, which has been run by the library service.
  • On Tuesday 26 November, at 6.00 pm, I will sign the book in Waterstones in Inverness.
  • On Wednesday 27 November, at 6.30 pm, there will be a launch event in Nairn bookshop.
  • On Thursday 28 November, at 1pm, I will be talking at the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens about mytime there this summer as poet in residence. At 6.30pm there will be a launch party at the Edinburgh Botanics with readings from Gerry Loose, Sue Butler and Jean Atkin, poets in residence at the other Scottish Botanical gardens around Scotland this summer.
  • On Saturday 30 November, at 7pm, we will read from the anthology at the Woodland Weekend at Glencanisp Lodge, near Lochinver.
  • On Sunday 8 December, at 7pm, there will be a slide-show and poetry reading at the Findhorn Foundation, hosted by Trees for Life, with readings from a range of Highland poets including John Glenday.
I am giving the royalties from Into the Forest, plus donations, to Trees for Life. Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Executive Director, has said, 'We’re delighted to be involved with this inspiring project. The poems in this book reveal the long-standing cultural importance of trees in Scotland and around the world. The royalties will help us to restore the native forests of the Highlands, ensuring that trees continue to play that role in the future.'

You can get your copy here, or even better, come along to one of the launch events. If you think I could do an event in your area, please get in touch. 

Monday 18 November 2013

Sunday 17 November 2013

Speaking about this land

I got hooked on Gaelic when Roddy Maclean came to Lochinver to talk about the language. He said, 'you know how Inuit are supposed to have 50 words for snow? Well, given that Gaelic is the language of the Highlands, I wondered how many words could I think of for a bit of high land.' He put up a powerpoint slide crammed full of words, and said, 'I got to 72 and couldn't fit any more on the slide...' 

I realised that Gaelic has evolved to speak with real precision about the landscape. The language is customised for this loch-and-cnocan place. And it's not just about reading maps, though that is greatly assisted by a working knowledge of Gaelic.

I love reading Gaelic poetry and I have tired of only being able to read the right hand side of the page. As I've grasped some basic grammar and learned how sentences are constructed, I've become increasingly aware of how often a word like 'moor' is used repeatedly in the English translation, yet several different words are used in the Gaelic original. There are nuances about the shapes and textures of this land that can only be expressed in the native tongue.

I can't speak it yet, but I'm working on it. This week, a group of five of us in Assynt reached a landmark, completing the 144 units of the Ulpan course. I've just spent the weekend at Glencanisp Lodge, for some intensive but very enjoyable Gaelic learning, and singing, and joking, and an indecent amount of chocolate. My favourite session was one on similes: how about 'Cho caol ri taghan' - thin as a pine marten? 'Cho trang ri triur ann an leabaidh' - as busy as three in a bed! And that specificity is there again: in English we'd say 'as old as the hills', but in Gaelic it's 'Cho sean ri ceĆ² nam beann' - as old as the mist on the mountain. What an evocative image!

The other thing I remember from Roddy Maclean's talk, back then, was him telling us that the oyster catcher says 'bi glic, bi glic, bi glic, bi glic'. It's a perfect rendering of their sound, and it means 'be wise'. 'If you learn to speak Gaelic,' Roddy said with a twinkle in his eye, 'you discover that all of the birds are giving us good advice.'

Saturday 9 November 2013

Nature in Assynt - a plan and a vision

There were two interesting public meetings in Assynt this week. The first was a scoping meeting for Assynt Foundation's new forest plan. At last things are moving forward to enhance and expand the woods on our 44,000-acre community-owned estate.

The expansion will probably not be by very much, as there is so little land that is suitable for planting, plus unfortunately there is a strong lobby to protect the red deer, which will greatly reduce the amount of land that can be set aside behind fences for natural regeneration. Personally, I'd like to see a large zero-tolerance zone for deer and see what natural regeneration would result, but it's not up to me. The good news is that there will be ongoing effort, with resources and backing by the Forestry Commission, to enhance our existing woods by planting some of the missing species and to encourage expansion by natural regeneration, with fences and some planting. Around Glencanisp Lodge the horrible wind-blown mess is being cleared and will be replanted, with plans to grow a bigger area of lovely woodland there. The forests will at least go in the right direction (i.e. grow up and out) over the next twenty years, so that is encouraging. If you want to see the draft plan and comment, contact Adam Pellant at Assynt Foundation.

The Foundation is hosting a woodland weekend, at which there will no doubt be much discussion of the future potential for the woods in Assynt and elsewhere in the Highlands. It will be the last weekend of November ( 29 Nov-1 Dec). I'll be contributing some tree poetry, naturally, but there'll be all sorts of other stuff too - from practical wood skills to walks and talks.

The other public meeting was a slide and video show by 2020 Vision. The village hall was pretty full, and we were shown loads of lovely images, but I was left wondering (and in conversations I know many others were too) what the point of the evening was - there was no discussion and no obvious outcome or next steps. The project aims 'to engage and enthuse a massive audience by using innovative visual media to convey the value of restoring our most important but often fragmented natural habitats - to show that healthy ecosystems are not just for wildlife, but are something fundamental to us all.' I can't help thinking if Lochinver was representative, that they are merely entertaining those who already care, many of whom are already busily engaged in things like woodland restoration. It looks like a big budget project, but it seems to be missing an opportunity to inspire new, different or collective action for nature.

My gut instinct is that I want to love the 2020 Vision project, and I've been subscribing to their emails and looking forward to seeing their results, so I was sorry to come away disappointed by their show. I'd be interested to know if anyone out there has a more positive take on the project.