Winter Solstice Walk 2

22.12.21 Please refer to the previous blog before reading this one as it explains the premise of the walk and my plan. Phrases in bold refer to the walking score prompts.

As we move towards a repeat of last winter’s restrictions on movement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I took my Solstice Walk #52More No.16 as a collective endeavour – remotely with Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris who devised it, and with my friend T. We had planned to lunch at a café with our daughters (6 between us), but the Scottish guidelines changed on Monday to a maximum of 3 households at any one meeting, and B and A both wanted to limit the possibility of picking it up in case Xmas and New Year plans are jeopardised. So, T and I could not do away with the outside; instead, we had to do away with the inside – and brave the cold.

The walk, Silverknowes, Edinburgh

We met at Gypsy Brae and walk towards Cramond, through Silverknowes, a notoriously windy and exposed stretch of Scottish coastline.

I was invited to walk through a book and I stretched that a little by using an app called Tsubook which I contributed to a few years ago. It shows the Shiatsu channels on clever body maps which can be tilted and turned so that you can see all aspects and angles. There are views with bones, muscles and the internal organs to enable the practitioner to identify the location and relationship of the acupressure points in as much detail as they want.

I chose the Lung meridian story. The points all have Chinese pinyin names which have been translated into English, and they sound surprsingly similar to the names on Elspeth Penfold’s Map of the Forbidden City which she used for her walk. In addition, we were walking and asking, ‘how does walking function as a storytelling mechanism?’ and these channels have a sequence about them. The Yin meridians often begin close to the central core of the body, and as they flow along, carrying or containing the chi of the Organs which give them their name, the points or access places along the way reflect the journey that the chi takes. From large spaces (in this case, a Palace) through rivers and ever smaller tributaries, they move outwards along the limbs to the small bones of the fingertips and the border between us and the outside world, the people whose skin we touch with ours.

Chi

We struggle to adequately translate this amazing word because it contains so much. It can be thought of as energetic vibration. In earlier times, people were better tuned into this aspect of themselves than most of us are today.

Many centuries ago, the Chinese believed the body was sacred and should not be cut up. Even if it was damaged through an accident or illness, the aim was always that it should be repaired sufficiently so it could eventually go on to meet the Ancestors in as complete and whole state as possible. They didn’t dissect each other, nor examine their insides, but instead relied on how they felt, using metaphors and comparing the sensations to what they knew well, which was the natural environment in which they farmed, fished and lived.

The names of the acupoints are poetic and descriptive, encapsulating their individual and collective function (including that of the Organs) and the location. Thus, the sensation of the radial side of the arms, the internal sensation of the flow of chi which emanates from the lungs, which changes through our lives and at different times of the day according to our activities and the weather and external pathogens, is alive, it’s an on-going story.

From Elaine Liechti’s book, Shiatsu

I have known T for many years, since before the children were born, and we keep in regular contact. I consider the relationship with her to be one of the important ones in my life, and so it was good to share this time with her. When any of us walk, we don’t walk in isolation, not from each other, not from the landscape we walk through, and not from the world-situation in which we are situated.

Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar ‘Palace’, Zaragoza, Spain

Central Palace

The Central Palace is the translated name of the first point on the Lung channel, and it relates to the importance of the lungs. Their domed ceilings, interconnected corridors and meeting chambers play a the vital role in keeping us alive. It is in the lungs that we exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and maintain a balance of gases. From an emotional and spiritual point of view, their function can be extrapolated to encompass the quality of our communication with each other, the literal noise we make enabled by the air passing through the throat, and by extension the gestures and movements we use for the same purpose, whether speakers or not. They are associated with our corporeal existence, represented by the breath which situates us right here in the present, and consequently the loss of the ability to exchange, and the absence of the breath which characterises death. Covid challenges all of that, affecting the respiratory system (coughs, sore throat, runny nose, the struggle for breath), and our exchange with the environment (smell and taste) in addition to our need or instinct to withdraw from each other and feelings of alienation.

Lung 1 – 4

Our walk-story begins from our central location, home, and the travelling homes which are our metal cars, in other words our Central Palace. (I would usually walk there but I was going on to make a large Xmas food shop). Shiatsu practitioners and acupuncturists touch or needle this point to sedate the Lungs, to calm and smooth the Lung chi in cases of coughing. T and I are saying ‘Hello’ and ‘How are you?’ and catching up with each other. We walk on stone, beside low walls where small dogs trot, and Cramond island, separate and stately, stands out in the sea mist. The air is fresh in my nostrils and I take a series of deep breaths.

Cormorant and Cramond Island, Edinburgh

Cloud Gate

Above our heads is cloud, a lid of unform grey which has been low down for days. Cloud Gate is an acupoint which descends and disperses the Lung chi, giving the body the chance to redistribute excess phlegm away from where it clogs and stops us breathing and communicating. T and I are swapping work stories now, the busyness of the end of term, and the urgency of the festive deadline. A solitary cormorant stands on a single rock.

The distinctive shape of a cormorant (from a distance)

Celestial Storehouse

Other brave walkers stroll and cycle past us in the opposite direction, and ahead is a café, a Storehouse for sure, but Celestial? Its musak is only just audible from a distance, and we hadn’t yet got close enough to see the Buddhas which decorate it. The surround-sound, high-pitched voices of gulls intersperse our family chat – who is doing what and going out with whom. It has been noted that Lung 3, as we prosaically call it, assists with depression, characterised by isolation and lack of communication, as well as the familiar respiratory disorders. The towering and distinctive Scots Pines which we walk under have a dark, olive canopy drawing our gaze heavenwards.

Silverknowes Scots Pine On another day when the sky was blue!

Cubit Marsh

By the 5th stage of the walk, we are onto the topic which sadly still dominates, and T told me that her G is ill with it in Glasgow, meaning she can’t join them for the holiday. We use Cubit Marsh, found in a small indentation at the elbow (cubitum), when someone is suffering certain types of pulmonary disorders. It is useful to think about the body having an internal weather system – prone to Heat and Cold for example – and, in this case, the acupoint is said to deal with Damp, something which is injurious to the Lungs, hence the name of Marsh, a wet and boggy place. It isn’t hard to understand why it is beneficial for infections, then, where there is discharge and snot. The water we are walking beside is very still, it barely circulates, and the Oyster Catchers simply sit, floating very slightly. Brine hangs in the air and the cold stings our cheeks.

Lung 3 – 11

Collection Hole

Reaching the café, we choose hot chocolate and wait at the hatch for our steaming drinks. The man who attends to us wears his neckerchief over his mouth and nose and serves at arm’s length, pushing the card machine across the surfboard which doubles as a counter. I tap without touching and try to make eye contact to say ‘Thanks’.

Down to the water’s edge

Broken Sequence

The Lung meridian now diverts to converge with the Zen Bladder channel (from the water element) and unblocks any stuck chi. At Silverknowes there is access to the foreshore where railings and steps break up the homogenous slate sea, leading down to the rocks and sand. Wind surfers like this spot and in the past I’ve watched them grasping the tow-line attached to a speed boat which zips and angles giving them the impetus to sail suddenly up into the sky, spray flying. It’s an exhilarating spectacle. We stop walking and choose a wooden bench, hoping it will be warmer to sit on than the metal ones. I had Covid recently and got off lightly with only a cold and a scratchy, irritable throat and tightness at the occiput (back of the top of the neck), which Lung 7, Broken Sequence, was very useful for.

Looking eastwards

Channel Ditch

Missing out no.4, we continue with the sense of depth that the Marsh at no.5 brought and the story continues with the second of four wrist points. With the prosaic chat now out of the way, T and I talk about matters close to our hearts and we turn tail under the spitting rain. We see the same landscape from the west now, the bay curving round to a finger of land that seems to reach out to the Kingdom of Fife. We are flagging a little as daylight thins and the haar descends, moisture palpable on jeans and bobble hats.

Lung 7 – 11

Great Abyss

The 9th point on the Lung Meridian goes even deeper, hence the name. It connects with the Po, often called the Corporeal Soul, the Lung spirit in Chinese Medicine. It connects with the spiritual aspect of ourselves.

the Po [also] allows for a tricky balancing act of living life as a human being, namely that of being a creature of spirit inhabiting the body of an animal.

Acupressure.com

T and I are nearing the end of our walk and we start to reminisce, remembering walks we took 30 years ago and relatives who have since died. It is satisfying to be able to connect with someone who knows my background so intimately. It stabilises me and gives a sense of shape to my life.

John Kirkwood continues,

Lung 9 is able to go down into the abyss, to the depth of the soul. It can retrieve a person who has lost their way, calm one who is manic, stabilise someone who feels like they are cracking up or losing control. In short, it can reach down into the very depth of a person.

Crossing the bar and, metaphorically, the wrist crease, we amble eastwards, an easy, flat trajectory which allows the focus to be on what’s said and on the feelings expressed, rather on the terrain. The short day (it being just after the solstice) closes in around us.

Walking west

Fish Border

We leave the edge of the Firth of Forth, home to cod and pollock where the tide is now receding, and head towards a gift exchange. We hug and make plans for the week between Xmas and New Year; T suggests we come to sit around their fire pit and drink mulled wine which sounds delightful. The Lung channel is nearing its end and the fresh air has renewed us. Our walk-story has merged interior and exterior, past and present, day and evening, sea and land: Yin and Yang. Two friends met in place, and in spirit I was with Elspeth, Blake and the other Solstice walkers, telling a tale.

Cramond Island

Winter Solstice walk

In response to Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris #52more no.16


Choose a book, follow the score and see where your walk takes you.

Here is the link to the blog which explains Elspeth’s thinking behind her and Blake’s walking score.

Map of the Forbidden City taken from Elspeth Penfold’s blog

In response to the Map of the Forbidden City with its Gate of Divine Prowess and Hall of Imperial Peace, I will use Tsubook (it’s a Shiatsu app) and specifically the Lung meridian map.

Each acupressure point which is located along the channel has a name translated from the Chinese. It starts at Central Palace in the chest, passes through the Cloud Gate, Celestial Storehouse, Cubit Marsh, Collection Hole, Broken Sequence, Channel Ditch, Great Abyss, and Fish Border. I have chosen 9 of the 11 points (the points where I use my thumb or an acupuncturist would use a needle), because those relate to place and tell the story of a journey.

Illustration from Shiatsu by Carola Beresford-Cooke


Here are @ElspethPenfold prompts, rearranged and collaged from @BlakeMorris score:

  • A collective endeavour,
  • Do away with the outside,
  • Consider the relationship,
  • Function as a storytelling mechanism,
  • If walking is akin to a speech act, then it can also craft stories of space
The walking score devised by Elspeth Penfold and Blake Morris

@ThreadandWord #52more @blakewalks thisisnotaslog.com link to A Different Lens, award winning project by Elspeth Penfold and Thread and Word, which I made a small contribution to. This is my walk #16

Precarious

‘Precarious’ is part of a collaborative film called Watermarks, which is Walking the Land’s contribution to The University of The Highland and Island’s (UHI) Edge Conference.

I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number I filmed it on Portobello Beach in 2021 in response to the alarming number of deaths of young guillemots who unusually massed along this part of the coast of Edinburgh and then found they did not have enough to eat. This piece is part of a larger body of work looking at the effects that climate change is having on the bird population of the UK.

‘Watermarks’ is a collective response to the UHI’s theme of Edge, and was made by a group of different types of artists from around the country who worked together collaboratively over a period of a year. My two minutes is a part of this whole. Here is the link to the whole assemblage / film with details of all the artists who made work and their links https://walkingtheland.org.uk/?page_id=147

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said that while the exact cause remained unknown, the climate crisis was exacerbating the factors that lead to falls in seabird populations.

Clea Skopeliti in The Guardian

The guillemot (RSPB site link)

Guardian article about the investigation into the deaths of these guillemots

Guillemot wing, Portobello Beach, Edinburgh Summer 2021

Many thanks to Bea Parsons and my mum for watching and commenting on drafts, and to Richard and the team for compiling all the two-minutes into a great Watermarks film.

Walking Paris with score #17

4 December 2021

The prompt came from Mathilda and Blake as part of the on-going series 52More. Mathilda walked in Paris and Blake in New York, connecting up in time and through the score – a faded green British Library card with random phrases pasted on it.

Before leaving London I visited the British Library. I forgot my card, though I had my Edinburgh City and National Library of Scotland cards on me.

Library cards, but not the right one

I bought 3 presents, one for each of my hostesses in France’s capital city, put each in a scarlet paper bag with BL on them, and promptly left them all at St Pancras in my rush to board the Eurostar.

My moment of immediate excitement – the French flag flying above the Gare du Nord

I am here to teach Shiatsu, a form of Japanese / South East Asian bodywork. Shi means fingers, atsu, pressure. These hands spoke to me amongst the industrial units on my walk through Barbes.

Hands on the wall

On Linda’s table, were feathers in all shapes and sizes, not identical to the ones I have been collecting on my walks since the start of lockdown 1.

Feathers courtesy of Linda

I walked on the Petite Ceinture with my friend, Alain. It’s an ex-railway, now used by walkers.

La Petite Ceinture

It’s not exactly the subway, but it passes below street level and tunnels are dotted along it, not unlike my Trinity Tunnel on the Edinburgh cycle path.

Shiatsu practitioner and teacher, Alain Tauch

At the Musée Cernuschi, I found more Cranes (I was with them at the National Museum of Scotland a few days ago), symbols of longevity and immortality because they were believed to live for 1000 years. Their feathers were SMALL BITS of beautiful sculpture from the Japanese Edo Period, 1603-1868.

Crane incense holder, feather detail

I enjoyed the smile on the face of the qin zither player, an entertainer from the Han period (25-220).

This is the lid (in the form of a mountain) of a funerary object.

Sitting on the highest point, closest to heaven, he has transformed metaphysically, as depicted by his extended head, signalling that the energy of his crown chakra is so developed that he has achieved something akin to enlightenment.

Blake Morris @formerfresnan (twitter) @blakewalks (Insta)

Mathilda @thetravelingtype_ and https://www.wildlyidle.com/

Lost Species Day 2021 – Passenger Pigeon

In the sound poem which is part of my No Birds Land installation, I mourn the death of increasing numbers of British birds and list some of the reasons we are causing their demise. In Clipp’d Wings, I celebrated the Carrier pigeon and pigeon feathers in general, giving them our wish-messages to keep safe during these Covid times. On the day of remembrance for lost species 2021, it therefore made sense for me to spend some time with the spirit of the Passenger pigeon.

Passenger pigeons, Ectopistes migratorius. Photographed at the National Museum of Scotland

Ewan Davidson and I met at the National Museum of Scotland to listen to Luke Jerram‘s Extintion Bell which sounds at random intervals, just once, approximately 170 times a day, indicating the number of species lost worldwide in every 24 hour period.

Luke Jerram’s Extinction Bell at the National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Occurring in huge numbers in North America in years gone by, Passenger pigeons were extinct in 1914. They had been hunted for meat and as pests, and their habitat was destroyed. Martha was the last of her species, and she died in captivity.

Martha, the last Passenger pigeon, died 1st September 1914 at Cincinnati Zoo. Photo https://ebird.org/pa/news/remembering-martha-the-last-passenger-pigeon-lessons-from-the-past/

The Passenger part of the pigeon’s name derives from the French passager, to pass through, referring to its massive migrations. It connects to the Peregrine falcon, where ‘peregrine’ is said to come from pèlerin, the French for pilgrim, also on account of its migratory habits. It’s a description I sometimes give myself.

Common pigeons, Edinburgh

[the Peregrine falcon is] the world’s most widespread raptor, and one of the most widely found bird species. In fact, the only land-based bird species found over a larger geographic area is not always naturally occurring, but one widely introduced by humans, the rock pigeon, which in turn now supports many peregrine populations as a prey species

Wikipedia

Before that, these birds lived en masse. They fed, swarmed, perched and roosted in large groups, and in their absence, I spent some time in Nicholson Square in Edinburgh. I sat and watched the antics of the Common pigeons / Rock doves and Wood Pigeons (Columbidae family). I observed them stepping fast, balancing on each others backs in what I might term excitement as they ‘fought’ each other for the seeds which the kids were feeding them. They flapped off at the slightest human gesture, though individuals were clasped and carried carefully by one child when he could manage it.

Their movements could mostly be described as ‘nervy’ and ‘agitated’. (It’s interesting how easily the vocabulary of human behaviour comes to mind when I attempt to describe them. It’s a symptom of our tendency to refer to others (other people, and other-than-humans) through our own eyes, using our own terms. In one way its inevitable, after all I only know me, and if I’m being generous, I could say that I am trying to identify with them, but if I caution myself to describe, rather than liken, then I get some distance, can see more clearly beyond my own realm.)

So, I will start again, to help you see what I saw more objectively. They make short, forward and backwards, staccato pecks, with their necks; sometimes they waddle, the fattest part moving side-to-side. They take fleet running steps, gently bump into each other, but don’t seem to mind, and they do sudden take-offs. They flutter a few feathers occasionally, change direction often, and have their heads, their eyes, down most of the time. Every now and then they make a quick exit.

Collective escapings happened several times when I was there: a great, almost but not quite simultaneous, lifting and clattering. (I keep returning to this word to describe the noise of a pigeon quickly leaving a copse or pavement. Though it’s not the metal saucepan kind of clatter, it is a more irregular, continuous noise and rhythm made by wings batting the air down. You can sense the effort and impetus behind the action.)

Then they are whirling above, and I’m less aware of individuals and more of the group shape, shifting and coordinating seamlessly. They sweep around and around, their elipse becoming a sphere, really like bees swarming, the spaces between them widening, closing. Sometimes their mass is raggedy and I fear they will come right apart, but somehow they gather back in before settling on the roofs of the tenements opposite. One, two, three, five, seven, eleven, hundreds. In a second they’re still, perhaps jostling, a little preening between vanes to put everything in order. And they wait until the coast is clear before reversing the whole process to resume their feeding frenzy on the ground.

These pigeons had to be constantly aware of human activity whilst feeding as much as possible

The Sixth Extinction… has accelerated massively since the start of the industrial era, when our ability to wreck havoc on the non-human lifeforms that share our planet has reached awesome proportions.


Nick Hunt, A Bell for Lost Species, Dark Mountain 2015

Roll call for the pigeons and doves which are now extinct

Mauritius Blue pigeon, Alectroenus Nitidissima
  • Tanna ground-dove 1800
  • Norfolk Island ground dove 1800
  • Lord Howe pigeon 1790
  • Spotted green pigeon 1820s
  • Norfolk Island pigeon 1839
  • Mauritius blue pigeon 1840
  • Réunion pigeon 1850
  • Rodrigues pigeon 1850
  • Choiseul pigeon 1904
  • Thick-billed ground dove 1927
  • Ryukyu pigeon 1936
  • Red-moustached fruit-dove 1950

What must it have been like for one, solitary Passenger pigeon to be singled out, captured and die in a small cage alone? The flocks of these wonderful birds were said to measure 4 miles by 1 as they flew, to take two hours to pass overhead there were so many. They were massacred and trapped for commercial reasons and to, apparently, protect crops. Ironically, shortly before there were none of these birds left, the Lacey, then the Weeks-McLean Acts were passed in Iowa to prohibit trade in wildlife. They marked the start of conservation as we know it today. In 1918 the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed which protected the eggs, nests and feathers, as well as the birds themselves. (source: Barry Yeoman audubon.org 2014).

As I left Nicholson Square on Lost Species Day, there was a dead pigeon in the gutter

Our English word ‘bell’ comes from the Saxon bellan, meaning to bawl or bellow. Spending quiet time with other members of the Columbidae family resulted in some bawling in grief, a fitting response I think to the whole-scale extermination of Passenger pigeons.

You might also like this article from the Smithsonian Institute