There is a spiritual-political-geographical link between Edinburgh, Scotland where I live, and Cataluña in the Iberian Peninsula where the Encounters are taking place (Girona, Olot and Vic). In both countries, we have long been engaged in matters of self-determination, with debates over separation and unity, community, national and inter-national relationships. Whilst primarily represented as a battle fought in law courts and parliaments, or between opposing protesters on the streets, this has often been a binary approach. It is necessary to spend time listening, sharing and making work with artists and members of the community in order to understand each other better and find possible ways forward.
Europe is defined, in many ways, by borders. They speak of crumbled empires, shifting boundaries – most of them, …. speak of unimaginable suffering.
Kerri ni Dochartaigh ‘Thin Places’ p17
As a walking artist, secular pilgrim, feminist and outdoor performer, I will carry the awareness of these issues from the Scottish hills to the Cataluñian mountains, from Edinburgh’s extinct volcanoes (Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill and Castle Rock) to the volcanic land of Olot, and between Oak Wood in the Lammermuir Hills and the oak trees of the Plain of Vic.
I have been walking the St Margaret’s Way through the carboniferous volcanic rocks of the Burntisland area in Fife, Scotland, and will be able to carry my experiences with me on the ancient spiritual path which unites each of the three conurbations where the Encounters are happening, the Camí de Sant Jaume (Camino Catalán).
Separation and Unity
This is the artistic focus
in the human experience (notions of belonging and alienation, shared feeling and dislocation);
consideration of the other-than-human and our relationship to that realm; and in the landscape.
Collecting words, images, marks, and sound segments
Film and pamphlet on return to Edinburgh.
Collaboration with delegates during the International Encounters will take the form of walking sections of the urban camino together in each of the three locations. This ritual series of three mini pilgrimages will be a way of considering the spiritual aspect (in the widest sense of the word), and the trinity of psychogeographical outings will form a unity between the three sites for the purpose of comparing sensations, ideas and feelings. Each walk will start with an embodied exercise for individuals, a group game for unification, and prompt = one hour in each place:
Girona: starts at the Catedral de Girona to Pont de L’Aguia 9pm for 40 minutes
Olot: starts at Plaça Major to Pont de Sant Roc 6.30pm for 30 minutes
Vic: starts at Catedral de Sant Pere de Vic to L’Atlàntida Centre des Arts (35 mins 6.30pm
I will be making contact with women for whom this focus is pertinent, both in Scotland and Cataluña. As always I will seek Shiatsu practitioners with whom to exchange.
6 January 2022 – a winter walk between Winchelsea and Rye, East Sussex
I knew Winchelsea when I was a girl because my granny lived there for a while. My family and I visited for special occasions and I went to stay with her, once on my own and once with my sister. It was the time I was there alone which has remained in my mind.
I was allowed, perhaps encouraged, explore without a grown up. I remember ranging down slopes, across dried cow pats and over little, soft hummocks. I walked and ran, then I lay down and I can recall the feeling of being there all these years later.
I have a visceral memory of the give of the land underneath me, the warm scent of rabbit and sheep pellets, my nose close-up to the goldening strands of springy turf, the upright threads of harebells level with my chin.
When I returned, some forty five years later with mum, the first thing I saw was a dead blackbird on the pavement in front of the church where Spike Milligan is buried.
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; I left my shoes and socks there – I wonder if they’re dry?
It was such a fine-weather day to be walking out.
Mum and her friend asked, How will you get there? But I knew there would be a path, somehow, and there it was.
I walked from this small cliff-town – what is sometimes called New Winchelsea – to her sister Rye, larger and more cosmopolitan. Rye and Old Winchelsea used to be side-by-side until the terrible storms of the mid-13th century when the ocean drowned the Old Winchelsea, a vibrant Cinque Port trading in wine. Pilgrims once put out for St James of Compostelle in Spain from there.
There was ice in the ploughed ruts and water everywhere. I followed the designated way, but it was little more than a desire path.
I caught my foot on a plant and fell over, of course, arriving into the town to meet friends with mud all over my trousers. Then we walked some more, as the rain came on, along Camber Sands. My siblings and I used to make sand castles with dad there. I remember how the sea was so, so far out and we had to walk ‘miles and miles’ to get our feet wet. All those years ago.
There are holes in the sky Where the rain gets in But they’re ever so small That’s why the rain is thin….
This month was my idea for the Walking the Land artists collective First Friday Walk. I had been reading about ‘dynamic stillness’, a term used by geographers and complementary therapists. Also, of course, I was following the war in Ukraine.
I wrote, ‘Let us walk in solidarity with the Ukrainian people who are walking away from their homes and home country, searching, looking for another place where they can be still, to re-find themselves and safe emplacements. We will set out from a still-point (perhaps the place where we live, where we feel secure), and search for “the embeddedness of the sensing subject”.
‘We will ask, ‘Where do we feel embedded?’ ‘Where can we find a moving or still emplacement in the walk, or in the place through, or to which, we are walking?’
Some of us walked alone and others in a group, and we were spread all over the UK.
I sit in the sun and listen to the quiet, then a bee sounds by my ear and some birds chorus. When I stay myself some more, I hear the distant waves, and the odd car – one rattles, needs something doing to it. The tree has got my back. Do I feel safe here? Yes, mostly. This place is known, I’m within the boundaries of my garden, inside the gate. Gulls screech. I am grounded with my feet flat on the stones. Below them is the earth – I know that because there is a solitary primrose which has grown up through them. My sitting bones still hurt though.
Sketching, I have a metallic taste in my mouth and frustration in my wrist as I try a third time to get the angles right. I am attempting to draw the smell of the dead brown Xmas tree which I keep meaning to take to the dump.
1.05pm I begin my walk and am immediately struck by the fact that I am choosing to leave my home and the people of Ukraine have no choice. Yet, the dandelions are so cheery
Ominous skies and a horizontal rainbow – portents
As I walked, I thought about a story I watched last night on the Channel 4 news. A Ukrainian woman was knocked unconscious and trapped. When she came round, she dug out her husband and friend and they escaped from the bombed theatre in Mariupol. Hundreds were not so lucky. She said she felt no emotions, had no feelings. This, I know from my work, is a sign of trauma.
In Edinburgh, I heard a woman speak on her phone as she passed me: “No time to think about such frivolous things”, she said. A child’s swing in a nearby garden squeaked as it swung.
Fallen blossom petals are strewn on the pavement. I hear a dog walker saying, “All present and correct. Have a nice day” as she leaves the park.
As I passed someone else walking her dogs, and this man repairing his boundary, I wondered if the people I am walking with in spirit had to leave their pets behind, and how long it would take them to repair their broken walls if they ever get home again
Text 1 comes in from Richard Keating, my counterpart in Gloucestershire: “I’ve just walked a few miles from home, crossing the Nailsworth Valley and am now looking west towards May Hill. I have lived on this side of the valley for 25 years so feel very much at home here. … However the wind is cold and I’ll be glad when the pub opens its doors. Imagine how a refugee would feel as a door is opened for them. As a home is shared.”
Abandoned tank . Devastation . Clearing up the rubble
The mother said, “Grandma gave her toys to me” and her little son replied, “Do you ever see her?” And then I am aware of the importance of familial relationships, of the personal artefacts passed down, of interrupted generations and houses and possessions all lost.
On the pavement, I am treated with courtesy and kindness as a man, wordlessly, stands aside so I can pass, and smiles.
I hear the father say “Oh you want to touch that” and he lifts the back wheels of the buggy up so that the little one can stroke the leaves of the hedge.
I am wedged between two upright logs, one on either side, and there is a solid one underneath me. I teeter – I am not as safe as I might be. I can’t see behind and would therefore only know if someone was coming if I heard them. There’s a lot of noise coming from all over the place, from different directions so I can’t distinguish if one of them is someone approaching me or not. I can reassure myself, though, because there’s not a war raging here in Scotland.
I hold on and stretch back, the sun is warm. I hear a foot meeting a ball and it clatters against the goal posts. Her heeled footsteps pace beyond the hedge. A dog barks. Distant voices, nearby cars. Smooth wood under my palms, a taste of…of…cucumber… and cedar. Is that a taste or a smell? There is a breeze. Cold at my nostrils, of air, perhaps exhaust fumes, a hint of the warm wood. I have been worried that I’m losing my sense of smell, but maybe it’s OK.
I receive a second message from Richard: “We’ve made our first stillness and are moving on. Your script has been well used.”
Warmer, wider and flatter under my bottom, I have lots of space on this tree stump. My lower back tilts which relieves the pain. I am facing north now, but I have the same awareness of people perhaps coming from behind. Cars wheel beyond the hedge which doesn’t seem dangerous because, to my knowledge, one has never driven through it into the park. Then I realise danger can come from above and see that the tree top obviously fell down, though presumably in the recent storm and not on a day like this…
I can smell the sun on my skin and when I touch it, it is warm. I put my warm hand to my cold nose. The wind is coming towards me here bringing…. what? Ice from the Arctic? Again, my feet are off the ground and it strikes me that this is less safe as it would take me longer to put them down and run away. Footsteps behind me; I know they are male. They come up, go past, without stopping. The taste (yawn) is of old apple. Mhmm. And some metal.
Moving on, I thank the man who has painted the pavilion a gleaming privet-green. He’s busy clearing a thin layer of turf from around the perimeter. We chat about the public toilets they installed late in lockdown and then took away again because someone had to watch them all the time due to the vandalism. He said that there is already “a Ladies and Gentleman’s Cloakroom” in the building, so all they needed to do was to make it accessible for people with disabilities and then there would be a permanent facility. I said, no-one ever asks the people on the ground who know.
I am amongst insistent birds, beside the ever-running Water of Leith, on a hard log. The brambles are intrusive. Or maybe I am. I smell humus and rotting plants, someone smoking weed. I taste coffee (a mid walk treat), and there’s the touch of cool, smooth, dry bark on this knarled trunk.
People walk right past but don’t see me – I’m by the Rocheid Path but off the beaten track. The car sound pollution is distant. The rambling couples always come back in the other direction after a few minutes because it’s a dead end.
I wonder, will Putin withdraw, or are they just regrouping for a heavier bombardment? It sounds like he’s out of rubles but… . I am obviously carrying the story with me as I walk, snippets of it anyway.
Tickling leaves at my neck, ants (maybe) under my thigh.
I see drops of ‘blood’ everywhere
My scarf is getting ruined, snagging on the thorns – as if that’s a big deal, in the circumstances. When I try to wind it around my neck again later, I am scratched because portions of blackberry branches are still stuck in it. Invisibly.
I ask myself, how can I maintain awareness of these horrifying occurrences and still live comfortably here, and Richard suggests that we could focus on better understanding “this connectivity between us all”, and I know that this is what these walks are about. I’ll share the walk, invite a response, and celebrate others’.
At 15.35 I am tired and I wonder if the Gloucester lot are having tea. I try to imagine where they are and what they are doing, without the aid of a newsflash or twitter feed.
I start on my return home with the scent of wild garlic in my nostrils.
I pick off an individual leaf of lavender and squeeze it between thumb and finger tip. I inhale for the pleasure and calm.
In Walking the Land, we connect with each other via computers and phones. You can imagine these ‘meetings’ as emplacements, still places in which we innovate, stabilise and share our ideas. Then, see how we move out into the landscape on our walks, dynamically. If we stay in touch with each other as we walk, using What’sApp maybe, or even tweeting with a hashtag #, we remain in contact via a collective still-point while we move at the same time. If we post on social media after the walk, representing the body movement in ‘stills’ and fixed words, there is a further version of this ‘dynamic stillness’.
If you have work to share in response to this walking prompt, please send it to email@example.com
Preparation: I asked everyone to pick up a cone and practise playing it like a thumb piano, and a dead branch (for snapping when the time comes).
Natalie Taylor (@artforalluk on twitter), Keeper of the Soils, had chosen one of the trees which fell down in the storm. Half the group stood at the head of the tree and half at its foot. This is following an old burial tradition in which half the mourners would stand at the deceased’s head and half at her feet while the lament was sung.
Lament for the Scots Pine
“We stand at your head”
“We stand at your feet”
“And I keep watch over your trunk”
Hail Scots Pine!
Straight your stem
Contained, your goblet of leaves,
Slate-grey your coat
Needles the green of the waves,
We see you
We see you.
Hail Scots Pine!
Silent you lie
When once the wind sounded you,
We play your cones with our thumbs,
We listen to you
We listen to you.
Hail Scots Pine!
Rough your bark
Cold to my palm your branch
Dry your scales
Stroke the smooth lumber inside,
We touch you
We touch you.
Hail Scots Pine!
To sniff your scent
We must-break one of your boughs
Clearing my nose.
Fragrant the resin which oozes.
We smell you
We smell you.
Hail Scots Pine!
Bitter my tongue,
Salt in the air and through you.
Sweet honeydew loved by wasps.
We taste you
We taste you.
Listened to Hedderwick Burn
Smelled the river,
Watched gulls and deer.
We applaud you
We applaud you.
Tickled by squirrels,
Rain wetted your canopy.
Shivered by snow,
The wind blew you right over.
We mourn you
We mourn you.
Grown from seed,
Might have lived 7-hundred years.
Could have grown-more-than 1-hundred feet.
We keen for you
We keen for you.
All identical ages
All same species together
We respect you
We respect you.
Heated by sun,
We rarely view from above.
Cooled by sand
We don’t usually see under.
We learn from you
We learn from you.
‘Timor mortis conturbat me’?
No, fear of death does not trouble me,
‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life’.
‘Timor mortis conturbat me’ from late Medieval Scottish Poetry. A phrase from the Catholic Office of the Dead, it was used notably by William Dunbar in his ‘Lament for the Makars’. See also ‘Timor mortis conturbat me’ by Diana Hendry
‘Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life’ John Muir
A contemplative walk round the John Muir Country Park trees following the effects of storm Arwen. Including live fiddling from Lewis, a community song from Jane Lewis, new poems from Rita Bradd and Tamsin Grainger, and soil sample collection by the Keeper of the Soils, Natalie Taylor.
Blake Morris, in New York, works together with another psychogeographer to make a score for a walk and it is then made available to anyone else who would like to walk it in whatever way they like, wherever they are.
I walked Score #21 ‘with’ Blake and Jody Oberfelder. Here’s the link to the score.
8th March 2022 Edinburgh, Scotland
Even before dawn I spend time practising to breathe, the springboard to living. I seem to have forgotten to exhale, or maybe I was never very good at it.
A casting of a half-dozen rainbow circles – red, blue, orange, yellow, purple, green – and a flag of blue and yellow. Found singly and made into creative collections.
Women in 3s who already existed before I saw them, mythical crones they will one day become, prepare for the wild swim of the year on International Women’s Day 2022. We had a minute’s silence in solidarity with the women of Ukraine and Russia whose countries are at war.
I and 700 other women of many nationalities, cultures and backgrounds are all celebrating together by running into the water beside a sublime sunrise.
The cold water took my breath away.
I want the flag to open up conversations about nationality and migration. I question nationality because of its association with borders. Borders divide; they are used as a tool for power and control, and can destroy freedom of movement which is a basic human right. Freedom of movement exists but only for some people. It depends on your passport—if you are European or British you can travel easily. If you decide to go somewhere for work, for the weather, for love, you just go. So many freedoms. For other people, it is not the same.
Afterwards we drank a shot of icy sea buckthorn juice, kindly donated. It was a satisfying deep orange colour and very sharp to taste.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I walked on the Petite Ceinture with my friend, Alain. It’s an ex-railway, now used by walkers.
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.
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.
I enjoyed the smile on the face of the qin zither player, an entertainer from the Han period (25-220).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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
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.
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.
Roll call for the pigeons and doves which are now extinct
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).
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