Friday, 5 July 2013

A meditation on landscape - a sense of place

I submitted this meditation as part of my Bardic review for the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) course, to show my work with the elements.  I allowed myself to mentally sink into the landscape here in Orkney and imagined that I was part of the land and had deep ancestral roots, as if I had been here for thousands of years.  I tried to locate and root myself in Orkney for this exercise but I don't have Orkney ancestry (to the best of my knowledge) and there will be some who proclaim I do not have the right to dream these thoughts; but I did dare to do so and this is the result:

            North - Earth
To the North is the cold, ice, barren; fierce stern women who judge with their stare.  Winters of permanent night.  The north wind is to be feared for it brings snow and snow brings silence and isolation as we are cut off unable to leave the house, unable to get out.  The north is the realm of the old Gods, Odin and Thor and Loki, they do not suffer fools gladly and it is no good approaching them as a penitential victim.  The north is dark and constant, permanent and ever-threatening.  The north is winter, always present, always hanging over us like a curse at the dining table.  The north is mysterious and magickal too – the Northern Lights, the aurora borealis, the Merry Dancers – and from whence the Fin Folk come to enchant maidens away to their ethereal island homes.  To the north is our ancestry, our authority in Norwegian Courts until but recently; the north is from where we are owned, to where we are tied.

East - Air

To the East is wind.  Cool wind, blowing in from the North Sea.  The east brings sunrise and daybreak.  An otherworldly light.  To the east is Kirkwall, our capital city, and an urban centre for this tiny island nation.  The east is intellect and thought and it has a presence there in the annex of a university.  There is a Norwegian Consulate based there too, many would like to be passed back to Norwegian rule, instead of lax Holyrood’s to the South, or worse still, Westminster’s.  To the east lie trade routes for us and the closer fishing.  There are sunken landmasses to the immediate east, forgotten land with drowned homesteads, memory and recall of things past and passing.  Our immediate government is to the east, the local council, cathedral, hospital, ferry ports, airports, library and archive, police, and where our MP is based; all east from here.  East is thought and logic and sometimes cool imposed reason without quite thinking through the care of it.  The fierce, bleak Rendall hills are to the east, I would not want to get lost out there.

South - Fire

To the South is warmth and luxury and decadence.  To south is our modern authority, the rest of the UK that does not understand or appreciate the harshness of our existence on these god-forsaken rocks.  From the south comes petty and hot-headed dictates that threaten our way of life and our culture,  Most of the traffic comes from and goes to the south.  Our planes fly south.  Our ferries sail south.  When we get away, we “gan sooth”, a short stretch across the treacherous Pentland Firth to a huge landmass where commodities are abundant and cheap and so much choice!  We know south envies us and our island ways.  South is warmth.  The Gulf Stream, our saviour, brings warmth from far south.  South is civilisation and treasures.  South brings incomers and their strange habits.  South is where our young people abandon us to go to find jobs that match their long training.  South is packed and jostling and land so expensive.  I do not want to go back south, even though I miss the warmth.

West - Water

To the West is water.  The Atlantic Ocean.  A vast tract of sea, no land until America, or Newfoundland, to be precise.  West is where we go to see seals and orcas and puffins.  To the west is the sunset.  Magnificent sunsets and the best sunsets are in Harray (the parish where we live).  Nothing but sea and a vast expanse of water for thousands of miles until the New World.  We went west.  Long ago.  The Norse / Northmen went there a-Viking and a-raiding and they stayed and stuck it out, stubborn that they were.  More recent we went west in search of fish and oil and brought back strange little nut-brown wives with thin eyes that bore us equally strange bairns.  To the west the golden sun dips into the ocean, slowly in summer, fast in winter and almost south in winter.  The west is the point which calls for adventure – come, see what is over the horizon!  The west, here, is exposed, on our other sides there are other, nearer land masses, but not to the west.  We are open, exposed, raw and emotional.

One of the lessons of OBOD is: “We can’t fully experience the magic of life if we don’t know where we are, if we don’t feel like we belong to the earth beneath our feet.”  This is what I have been trying to explore with this exercise, I am trying to feel the earth beneath my feet: back where I was raised, Hampshire in the central south of England, I was used to clay with chalk, now I have to deal with the depths and organic nature of peat.  “To discover true magic we have to stop and take root ... we have to discover the stories that hum in the streets and fields around us.”  So it would appear that I have to get to know peat ...

Photographs by the amazing Mark Woodsford-Dean - see more at

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