Thursday, 24 December 2009

Seasons Greetings!

Happy Christmas to those who celebrate it and Season's Greetings to all!

I won't be posting (much) between now and the New Year, but have a wonderful festive season and see you all in 2010!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The environment in contemporary literature

Having recently read Don De Lillo's Underworld and Bill Duncan's The Smiling School for Calvinists I've been thinking about how the environment features in contemporary fiction. Neither of these books really focuses on the environment as such but both make powerful environmental statements nonetheless. Underworld is a big novel that disects the 20th Century USA using two defining elements - baseball and waste disposal. Characters are seen sorting out their trash into the different materials that can be recycled, ships saile around the world looking for a harbour where they can dump their illegal cargoes of waste and an architect builds beautiful buildings from waste materials.

The Smiling School for Calvinists is an entertaining look at life in the poorer parts of Dundee in Scotland, made up of short stories and snippets, mostly written in a form of Scots (for more about the language used in the book, see this post on my other blog Over Forty Shades). It's mostly a very urban book, but from time to time a character will take time out to go for a walk or to sit on the roof of the multi-storey block of flats to watch the geese fly by.

Both these books show writers who are in touch with the environment and environmental issues, but who are not willing to focus entirely on the environment. I wonder though do people who are not engaged with environmental issues notice these aspects to the books they read? What do you think of the way nature and environmental issues are portrayed in the novels and short stories you read?

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Monday, 21 December 2009

Winter Wonderland

I walked my usual Monday route along the Water of Leith today. I've never before done the walk in ankle deep snow! It was very beautiful and peaceful and the sky changed from grey to white (and snowing!) to wonderful soft blues with gentle clouds. When I stopped to take this second photo I was surrounded by birds, though I don't know if you can see them in the photo. Long tailed tits bouncing in the branches with great tits and blue tits, blackbirds feeding on the berries, a wren rushing from one snowy patch of grass to another and a treecreeper foraging in the lower part of a tree trunk. Not far from here there were three bullfinches feeding in the branches (the male's red chest looking particularly bright against the white branches (and several redwings. In the river a heron was wading while a male goosander dived for food.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

From beer bottle to candlestick

This is an idea I first saw over at Creatively Green, where they repurposed their beer bottles far more beautifully than I have mine! Creatively Green have been sharing loads of inspiring eco-friendly gift and decoration ideas over the holiday season! My bottle is a real ale bottle, with a pattern in the glass of the neck. I've just covered the label area with some reused gift-wrap and added some reused gift ribbon around the neck. We'll use it as a candle stick.....

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Landscape Art in the Snow

We walked along part of the Water of Leith today, up to Stockbridge. We stopped at the Gallery of Modern Art for a warm drink. The lawn at the front of the building was landscaped to a design by Charles Jencks to create Landform Ueda. This is a lovely piece of landscape art that I like more every time I see it. It looked particularly fine this morning with the snow and winter sun casting subtle shadows over it. If you click on the photo you will see the two crows that seem to be exploring the artwork.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Black headed gulls at Moses Gate

These are black headed gulls in winter plumage (they only have black (or rather brown) heads in summer. Click on the photo to see more detail. The photo was taken when my parents and I visited Moses Gate Country Park, just outside Bolton, last weekend. Funnily enough, this was the only area of water that was frozen, the other ponds were all open water.

for Weekend Reflections.

Arvon 2009 Brochure Competition

The winners of this competition, to write a piece inspired by a photo, have been announced and I'm totally delighted to be one of them! You can see the inspiring photo and the winning poems at:

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Goldfinches are Charming

I spent the weekend at my parents' house near Bolton. This is the garden bird feeder which was a Golden Wedding gift to them and which appropriately enough attracts a lot of goldfinches. These are European goldfinches, very different from the American goldfinches which a lot of readers will be more familiar with. Click on the photo to see more detail of these lovely birds. A group of goldfinches is known as a charm and they are indeed charming birds. The bigger bird on the feeder is a starling. While I was there the garden also had: a group of long tailed tits, robins, blackbirds, a song thrush, collared doves, woodpigeons, magpies and a jay.

The train journey from Edinburgh to Bolton is lovely, passing through the hills of Lanarkshire and the English Lake District. I love bird watching from trains and saw several buzzards, a large skein of geese, swans that had started to swim on flooded fields and a small flock of lapwings. There were also a small number of deer and rabbits in some of the fields.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Dark Mountain - carbon, nature and culture

I am an environmentalist because I love nature. It's as simple as that for me. So I am always pleased to find an article by Paul Kingsnorth who believes the environmental movement has lost its way and has become too focused on reducing emissions at the expense of nature. You can read a recent article of his in the Ecologist here. You can read a series of his articles on the Guardian newspaper website here.

Paul Kingsnorth is one of the founders of the Dark Mountain Project, a new cultural movement for an age of global disruption that aims to question the stories that underpin our failing civilisation, to craft new ones for the age ahead and to write clearly and honestly about our true place in the world. You can get involved in the Dark Mountain project here.

I'm away for a few day and won't be blogging but will be back on Tuesday.

Thinking Green

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Three brief reviews

I usually restrict reviews here to environmentally related books, films etc. However these are three very good reads that aren't environmentally related but I can definitely recommend them:
Dog Latin by Kevin Cadwallender - Kevin is one of the most entertaining poets in Scotland and this is an excellent pamphlet of his poetry, published by Calder Wood Press. There's a lot of humour in this short book and some moving poems too. You can read two collaborative poems written by Kevin over on Bolts of Silk here.

My Heart Draws a Rough Map by Howard Good - this is a beautifully illustrated dreamlike short book about the adventures of a heart. Published online by Blue Hour Press. You can read some of Howard's poetry on Bolts of Silk here.

The Woman: In a Box by Susan Culver. This is a beautifully written, thought provoking and sometimes disturbing online collection of poetry and prose poems.

Monday, 7 December 2009

More about the Musical Collaboration

All the poems that I recorded with Belvedere Mountain Express are now up on Myspace (you can find them here - you will need to scroll down to find them all!). I thought this would be a good opportunity to say a bit about how we worked on the collaboration. When I joined Myspace, I noticed that Belvedere Mountain Express (an electronic musical project of Golebnik, who sometimes comments here) were 'looking for a female vocalist or poet'. I've often liked the idea of working with a musician. So I listened to Belvedere Mountain Express' music and we met up to discuss how we could work together. At that stage, I was thinking 'this is music I could really work with' but nothing more specific! I knew though, that I must be able to work with the track 'Aux Champs des Lapins' (In the Fields of the Rabbits), so I gathered together all my rabbit haiku and scattered them through the music. I also thought about the titles of the other tracks and tried to match them with existing poems of mine, to narrow down the poems I would try to fit in the music. From there it was a process of listening to the music over and over and fitting the words in. City Empire is an existing poem and I just fitted it to the track, whereas A Vow in the Blue Belltower was the existing title of the track and I edited a poem I was working on to fit it.

The greatest challenge was how to fit short poems into long musical tracks! We're both very pleased with how it all turned out, and judging from comments here and on Facebook, so are several other people! While you're visiting Belvedere Mountain Express on Myspace, do listen to their other music, they've got some excellent tracks!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Green Christmas Gift Ideas

I have probably done my Christmas posts in the wrong order, after all gifts come before packaging and I've already shared my ideas for giftwrap and cards. However here are some ideas for environmentally friendly gift options:

some handmade gifts from my archives (just follow the links to find out more!):

fabric noticeboard.....

black satin gift-bag

lavender bag

pot pourri bag

needle case

and some of last years' cards

Creatively Green is sharing eco-friendly Christmas gift ideas every day this month and they're doing giveaways too! You can see their projects and sign up for the giveaways here.

Several charities these days offer the option of donating to the charity and giving this as a gift to someone. In the UK these charities include Oxfam and the RSPB.

It is also nice to give gift vouchers for experiences (eg a cinema pass; tickets to the theatre; restaurant gift vouchers) instead of things.

More and more people are seeing second-hand gifts as acceptable - my Mum and I regularly give each other second hand books as gifts. Secret Santa in the office where I currently work specifies that the gift be second hand..... This won't work for everyone though and obviously the second hand item needs to be in very good condition if you're choosing it as a gift!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Onwards to Copenhagen....

The Wave demonstrations happened in London and Glasgow earlier today, as people gathered to show their concern about climate change. Organisers estimated 40,000 people marched in London with 7,000 in Glasgow.

More than half the world leaders will meet next week in Copenhagen with the aim of securing a new deal to tackle global climate change. Read more at the Independent newspaper website.

You can find out how to get involved in the climate change campaign on the new, revamped Friends of the Earth Scotland website here.

You can visit the UN Climate Change Conference website here.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Water of Leith

Lovely weather for this week's walk along the Water of Leith on Monday. Lots of birds too, including large numbers of redwings hiding in the shrubbery and a large flock of long tailed tits flitting amongst the bare branches of the trees, looking like animated musical notes. Dippers and a heron on the river. Also a kestrel being mobbed by a crow. Several grey squirrels leaping amongst the trees. It was a lovely day for photos too, clear and sunny......

for Weekend Reflections and Shadow Shot Sunday.
There are also some nice reflections in the photo in this post.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden

This is the last of the gardens we visited last weekend on the Bank of Reason Walk. Johnston Terrace Wildlife Garden is currently managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and is the smallest of their wildlife reserves. It manages to pack a lot into a small area, as well as the pond in the photo above, there is a wildflower meadow and a bee garden, along with woodpiles to offer resting places for invertebrates and small mammals. There is a resident rabbit, though apparently it is shy and it didn't turn out to greet us.

The Johnston Terrace garden was originally founded by Patrick Geddes . In the late 19th century, this innovative thinker devised a scheme to have a network of gardens in the centre of Edinburgh.
You can read more about the Bank of Reason walk here, here and here.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

icy pavements -
the alsatian pauses
before each step.

previously published in Haiku Scotland 21

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hopes, Dreams and lots of Trees

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams is a charity poetry anthology, featuring Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Carol Anne Duffy, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan and many others, including me!

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams has been re-launched as an e-book and is available for a minimum donation of UK £1 or US $2 (though larger donations will be gratefully received). For more information on how to buy the book, please visit:

All funds raised will go direct to Spirit Aid, a volunteer run charity that works in Afganistan. To find out more about Spirit Aid go to:

Meanwhile the latest issue of the Festival of the Trees is up at Via Negativa. There are lots if interesting links about trees to browse through, including my post about Almondell Country Park.