Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Aura of an Animal

I'm lucky enough to be in a job now that takes me to incredibly beautiful places, and special areas that are a wee bit off the beaten track. And none more so than when I put on my waders.

I recently had to survey a loch. An entire loch, but a third of it had banks so steep that the only way to carry out the survey was from within the water. It was a pretty isolated loch, not many visitors and I was alone. On with the waders. And wading commenced.

The walk/wade took all day. I was there until the light faded (this was several months ago now so we had short days) and I managed half the loch. But oh my, was it an experience!

Otter signs like I've never come across before. It was like otter heaven. Eau de otter did actually haunt me on the way around the loch. I was much quieter than I would normally be, being in water, sometimes up to my waist, and in an unexpected place, and though I never actually saw an otter I have no doubt that it was there for the smell was so strong and some of the spraints so fresh that I cannot see how it couldn't have been there.

It was sunny, and it was a kind of heaven. Otter loch. Dobhran Loch. That's what this place will always be to me, no matter if it is really big loch of the hind. Or something similar. Otter Loch.

The smells an animal leaves behind, the aura, the mysterious something that marks it for this animal. When taking groups out for education purposes I always try and get them to smell a poo. At first they laugh and turn down the offer, but there are always some with whom curiosity gets the better of them, but it's hard to encourage those that don't want to. It's more than just smelling poo, it's more than just trying to get a reaction. It's about getting to know an animal in more ways than one: sight. It's about using our other senses to survey. It's about becoming more animal.

To smell an animal is a privilege as it means we're close. To smell remains such as faeces helps tune our senses so that when we do smell something on the wind, it might, just might, mean that our animal is near.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Dreams and Fevers

Spring returning
Colours abound
Birds singing
Leaves unfurling
Another year passing
Nothing has changed
Within the chains of despair;
Hope is lacking
The badger digs
And the sandpiper
Raises her young
The shoppers shop
The clock keeps turning
And time just slips away
The cuckoo flies
The meadow pipit panics
The wheels of time don't care
Year passes; chicks fledge
Politicians keep lying
Weaving tales to confuse
Promising fiction with conviction
Purity is forgotten
The roe deer pauses
Barks and her young
Hides in the undergrowth
Like a stone
People march
People protest
For bread, for milk, for freedom
The state reacts with anger
The hills grow quieter
With each passing year
One fewer songbird returns and
The wind blows harder
A little more fury
A little more hate
Keeps on building
With each passing year
Where does the night go
And the sun and stars?
Where does the wind blow?
And joy and freedom abound

Remember the saplings?
Remember the songs of hope?
Turning fortunes:
Freedom beckons

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Perfection in Miniature

Life tends to be about the large. We focus on the mountains and the vast landscapes. We hear about the wars, the shootings, and the politics. But sometimes solace can be found in the small.

When was the last time you lay in a meadow and looked down, rather than up? Into the grasses and you really looked? Looked so you noticed the dangling stigmas, the tiny glumes. Understood the perfect forms that make up what we so often just tread on? Without the names it does not matter. A rose is a rose by any other name, no? And beauty can be appreciated even without the knowledge of what it is you're looking at.

Looking down, you can see more. Can see the tiny mosses, miniature flowers and the wee beasts that walk over them all. The hunters and the hunted, and the oblivious too. All within their own niche, their own system of care and you are nothing more than a shadow.

It soothes me to do this. In my back garden in the suburbs of Inverness, I am creating a meadow. Part of it is mown (in order to appease my landlords and the neighbours), and part unmown and the unmown part is magical. There are flowers appearing, speedwells and fumitories, and so many species of grass that at the weekend when I got back from a botany field trip and returned to my back garden to relax, I idly thought about how it would be a challenging exercise for me to identify all the grasses within my back garden. I don't need to travel far for botany any more!

It's peaceful. It calms while reminding the soul that it is not at the centre of the universe: the universe is not us. Maybe it's just me but it does me good to be reminded of my place in the world. I am nothing in the grand scheme of things and this is extremely reassuring.

To lie in grass and to breathe. To be in nature and to breathe. It's all one and the same. I recommend long grass, and I recommend wild woods. But even then, to sit on the grass in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens is one of life's true treats. But this time when you do, take some time to look down into the grass and see what's there to be seen. It might surprise you, and it might just make you smile.

PS. To do yoga in a meadow is to find a whole new experience. I beg you to give it a try. You'll find it hard to return to the indoor space that the normal class is within!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Changing my World: Six Month Review

Well, changing my world is still ongoing, though I'm not managing to blog about it very often. It feels very much like there's more consideration going into everything, but sometimes it can be a tad detrimental.

I recently had to attend a meeting for work which was quite important (the quite is a bit of an understatement). However, when it came to putting an outfit together, I realised that as I do not buy clothes as a general rule, I had nothing smart enough to be appropriate and all of my everything is starting to look a little shabby. I still wear clothes that I bought when I was 15. While that's a great testimony to an unchanging style and the longevity of the clothes, there are somethings that really do need replaced.

It's appropriate that this has come up as June is 'clothes month' and I'll be looking into sustainable ways of dressing myself this month.

Other things that have changed, slowly but surely, is the things that I put on my body: I've cut out 'normal' deodorant (using Salt of the Earth instead) and facial moisturiser (now using a lovely tahini-esque moisturiser from Lush). I am also considering my summer holidays and how to do them sustainably, for although I holiday a lot at home in Scotland, I do have a wee bit of wanderlust which will probably see me getting on a plane at some point. I've flown to Barcelona already this year to have a weekend away with my sister, and I've done a wee bit of holidaying here in Scotland. It's worth mentioning that holidaying in your own country is easy to do by car sharing or on the train, both of which apply to my main weekend breaks. The car is handy to get to hard to reach places, or places that you want to take your bike to too (trains take bikes, but unfortunately most buses do not) but really if you use some alternative form of transport surely your holiday then starts from that moment, rather than four hours later when you arrive at your destination?

This year it has been brought it home to me how wee changes add up and can help the wider situation (i.e. the world). A couple of years ago I started to use the mooncup, and introduced my sister and friend to it. Now both of them (and I) would never even consider using anything else - thus my initial impact of reducing my waste has tripled. That's why sharing can be so effective. If you're trying to make a difference, that difference can be multiplied ad infinitum if you speak up. No one ever changed the world by remaining silent, and though I know my impact is tiny (I ain't no Martin Luther King) my point is that we don't all have to have a huge impact: we can change the world if we open one other person's eyes. That's all it takes for change to start to occur.

It's an interesting exercise this one. It's given me good opportunities to try new things and to keep experimenting and, best of all, to keep questioning. When I try to purchase something new, there is a definite question in my mind of but do I need it and this has cut down my spending somewhat, but I never was a big spender to begin with. There is also the desire to go too far down that route of not needing, but finding a healthy balance is good - something that works without guilt while still enabling us to be fully functional in our lives.

What do you think of the above? Have you done anything to change your world this year?  

Monday, 6 June 2016

Plants (what they mean to us: Tools, joy, love)


What does it mean to you?

Life returning to the bleak hills? A touch of green? And here and there a touch of purple, yellow, gold, blue, red, splendor, glory, richness.

But what do the plants mean to us beyond a wee appreaciation for their looks? Surely we consider them more than just beauty? Within us, there is an aspect which harks to the coming spring as our ancestors' ancestors once did. For the coming of spring would be the signal that you survived. Survived the harsh realities of winter with the constant battles of a lack of food, short days and real, bone-chilling cold. Spring and the colours returning to the hills means more than just poetry. It means survival, a glimmer of hope and a breath of fresh air.

I wanted to carry out a wee review of the plants of Sandwood and look at what they mean now to us, to our past generations and what the might have meant to the ones that came before:

Tormentil Potentilla erecta
Meaning of name: Possibly from the latin tormentum, a torment of the stomach that the infusion of the root is meant to ease. In Orkney tormentil is known as 'bark' which refers to the use of it's tough roots for tanning (barking) fishing nets.
Uses: It seems that this modest wee plant is very useful! You can use the roots to tan leather, and people did especially in areas, such as Orkney, where trees were scarce. The roots could also be boiled in milk and drunk to help sooth diarrhoea (that torment we've all experienced!) and the effects could also help expel worms from the intestine. Applied to the skin, the plant could also cure cold sores and help soften corns.

Primrose Primula vulgaris
Meaning of the name: Unknown, though it's obviously English. I can't find any reference to local names for this flower.
Uses: Used to heal abscesses on the skin on Lewis, used for coughs and colds, and that's the only references I can find. Not the most widely used plant, it would seem... The primrose, however, heralds the spring. It signals the changing seasons, and it's one of the first flowering plants I look for and appreciate during my work. Find a wee nook and a wee sheltered spot, and with the first glimmer of spring there will be a hardy wee primrose promising good things and bright days to come.

Moss Campion Silene acaulis
Meaning of the name:Probably pretty obvious, being a moss-like campion, but local names might be more interesting.
This plant grows on the mountains and the coast: extreme places with extreme weather. This explains the shape, the round compactness evolved to cope with harsh times and to get through them intact. I can't find any reference to what the plant was used for, or alternative names for it. It's bonny enough that I'm sure there will be something somewhere. This is not one that would go unnoticed. A name will be there, and it won't be forgotten - someone will still use it now. However, it does beg the question - does everything have to have a use? Must everything have been useful at some point? When dried it may be tinder, the flowers may form a tincture, but really the wee moss campion creates food for insects and it manages to exist which is, at the end of the day, the whole point of life. Really, to be essential is not the highest requirement: to be will do the job just nicely.

Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica
Meaning of the name: (There's gotta be something wonderful for this!). Well, locally on Shetland it appears that this was called 'honey flooer' so I'm definitely going to be tasting this next time I see it! Apparently lousewort gives livestock worms - though I think blaming this one on the plant is a bit cruel, it's undoubtedly more to do with the livestock grazing in the damp ground that lousewort grows in. I am sure that this would be known - I've never met a farmer yet that didn't have a good understanding of the plants and what they tell you about the soil on which they grow.

And what about the others? The cuckooflower, called that because it flowers when the cuckoo begins to call, or the silent sedges, rushes and grasses that don't need to shout to still be beautiful. What about the honeysuckle - the name literal (have you ever tasted the sweet nectar?), or the hawthorn and the blackthorn? All the plants have the stories and contain the lore, and it's up to us to remember them. If we forget, and our generation is definitely on the brink of doing so, then future generations definitely won't remember. It's our legacy, our stories and it's our fight. No one else is going to remember our past for us.

Tell me: what's your favourite plant story?