Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Poetry Inspired by Art

Jinksy and I recently started a collaboration, where we send each other photos of artworks we've made and in return write something inspired by each other's art. You can read the latest poem I wrote inspired by Jinksy's artwork here.

Jinksy in turn wrote a poem inspired by the above collage, which I originally posted way back for Inspire Me Thursday. I made the collage when I was a teenager and asked other Inspire Me Thursday participants what I could do with it. Their answers are still below in the comments section! And now, Jinksy's lively poem:

Whirling of petticoats,
flashing of eyes,
as couples gyrate.
See? Girls with their guys
flaunting bright cummerbunds-
colours galore
on softly draped neckerchiefs.
None can ignore
the traditional folk tunes
whose rhythmical beat
encourages dancers
to stamp their feet!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Le Quattro Volte

The Four Times

This wonderful film follows the life of an elderly goatherd and his herd. The goats are full of character, specially when they are young (there is a wonderful scene where a newly born goat joins the other very new kids for the first time and they all start playing together, leaping around in their barn and exploring the world around them). The goatherd is helped in his job by a bossy and opinionated dog, who chases everyone and everything and in one pivotal scene causes absolute chaos, in which the goats escape to cause their own chaos.

The film is beautifully meditative, focussing on the hillside scenery, the sounds of the goats and their bells, the colours of the buildings in the village and the texture of lichens on tree trunks. The viewer becomes immersed in a very rural life, which is probably at risk of disappearing.

Three quarters of the way through the film things do disappear in fact. The goatherd dies and his goats are tended by someone else. One of the kids gets lost in the woods and then suddenly the focus of the film shifts to the local charcoal burners and doesn't return to the goats. So the viewer is left wondering whether the lost kid was ever found and in fact what was the fate of the herd itself without its goatherd?

Le quattro volte is on at the Filmhouse, Edinburgh until Thursday 2 June.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to webpages where you can find out more.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Roslin Glen (2)

The River North Esk runs through Roslin Glen. The photo above shows the weir on the river that was used to provide power to the old gunpowder mill that used to operate on the banks of the river. In the background is one of the several pedestrian bridges over the river. Below is a photo of another of them. It was at this bridge that Crafty Green Boyfriend saw a kingfisher, though I didn't, I was probably watching a butterfly at the time, as there were a lot of orange tip butterflies around.
Away from the river, by Rosslyn Chapel, there is this wonderful bridge, surrounded by trees. The first photo is taken from the bridge and the second from below!

for Sunday Bridges

You can read more about our trip to Roslin Glen in yesterday's blog post here.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Roslin Glen (1)

We had a lovely walk today round Roslin Glen, to the south of Edinburgh. The weather was very changeable, raining one minute, beautiful sunshine the next. We saw lots of swallows and house martins. One field was full of swallows swooping low over the buttercups. There were swifts too, unexpectedly far from their usual city centre habitat, but we guessed they must have been nesting in the old mill buildings (there are plenty of those in Roslin Glen, including ruins of a gunpowder mill).

There were loads of interesting insects around, most of which we couldn't identify, but we enjoyed admiring their colours and patterns. It was nice to see several of these insect houses had been attached to trees around the glen, as well as several bat boxes and bird boxes.

Then there were these amazing fungi.

Roslin Glen is near the now famous Rosslyn Chapel and the surrounding ruins. I know nothing about the Da Vinci Code, but enjoyed the photographic potential of some of the buildings and ruins.

to be continued tomorrow!

Friday, 27 May 2011

Ugly Ducklings?

How can anyone call them ugly! We saw this swan family on the Union Canal today. The cygnets were very curious and came right up to us.

We also saw a female mallard with eight ducklings that looked as though they had just hatched, they were full of curiousity about the world around them and were zipping around at top speed, too speedy to photograph, but oh they were fun to watch!

We saw lots of swallows too, flying around low over the water, chasing insects. They seem to be nesting in the new flats near the canal. Last time we were there we saw house martins, but they didn't seem to be around today. There were also huge numbers of house sparrows, making loads of noise in the hedges, they seemed to have plenty of young. This is great news as in the UK, the house sparrow is declining rapidly in number!

Edinburgh City Council is holding a consultation on the future of the Union Canal. You can read it and add your views here. You can read my recent post about the consultation here.

as ever text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Water of Leith: Nature's Course

Last night I went along to the Water of Leith Visitor Centre to the launch of Charles Everitt's photography book Water of Leith: Nature's Course. For the launch Charles gave a slideshow of highlights from the book and some other photos that aren't in the book. This was lovely, though the musical accompaniment was rather loud at times, which was a shame, specially as there were blackbirds singing beautifully outside the building! He also spoke about aspects of the book, including some of the challenges he faced taking some of the photos.

The book is available either as hardback or paperback. The book takes the reader through a year along the Water of Leith, season by season. There is very little text, which lets the photos speak for themselves. The photos feature wildlife and landscapes, many of the latter being taken from interesting viewpoints along the river.

Although there doesn't seem to be a facility to order it from Charles' website, I assume he can let you know how to order a copy if you contact him there. Or ask at the Water of Leith Centre. It's a self published book and probably not widely available!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011


As many readers of this blog know, we do try to grow some of our own food. We have access to a garden at the back of our building. Unfortunately this isn't ideal - partly because only a small area of it gets any sun and partly because recently when we have planted in the 'shared' area (which is the bit that does get sun), our plants have been dug up or removed. At the same time our flat faces north east and so doesn't get a huge amount of sun. However, I recently planted some coriander seeds that I had received as a gift - it's already growing rapidly, the shoots appeared almost immediately, I'll need to thin it out and repot soon! I also repotted some basil plants (that I had bought so we could have fresh basil when my parents visited) - the original pot was tiny and didn't give enough room for all the plants. The replanted basil is leaning slightly oddly at the moment, but we have several plants in three pots so hopefully some of them will survive. My usual problem with basil is that I harvest it too rapidly. the lack of sunshine doesn't help! We're hoping to also get a tomato plant from Crafty Green Boyfriend's parents. Just imagine fresh tomato and basil salad!

More and more people in the UK are growing some of their own food these days, which is great! There's a very appealing infographic over on Love the Garden which shows this recent growth (no pun intended!) of grow your own! You can see it here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Union Canal

The Union Canal is a lovely waterway passing through Edinburgh. It is a real haven for wildlife, swans, mallards and moorhens nest along it and we've seen kingfishers there. (You can read more about the wildlife that we've seen along the canal here).

The City of Edinburgh Council is currently carrying out a consulation into a future strategy for the Canal. The strategy does seem to place a high importance on the wildlife and natural environment of the canal. It suggests that future developments alongside the canal should be environmentally friendly - they suggest green roofs and sustainable drainage systems, plus I have noticed that house martins and swallows seem to be nesting in some of the new houses that were recently built along the canal. However there is always a concern that development can take precedence over the environment, and personally I would be concerned that too much investment in visitor and community facilities, even if they do have green roofs, could, if not careful, have a detrimental impact on the wildlife of the canal.

So I have responded to the council's consultation document and you can too at this link. The more people who express their feelings about the importance of the canal as a wildlife habitat, then the more likely the council is to honour its good intentions about respecting the environment.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

International Day for Biological Diversity

The United Nations proclaimed May 22 The International Day for Biological Diversity to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. This year is International Year of the Forests, and the theme for the International Day for Biological Diversity is Forest Biodiversity. Forests cover 30% of the land surface of the earth and hold around 80% of the species of plants and animals that live on the landmasses. So they're very special places.

Woodlanders, edited by Ian Edwards and published by Saraband Books is a wonderful celebration of the value of the UK's forests. It is a big, beautifully produced book (printed using 100% vegetable based inks on paper from carefully managed forests). The book looks at how people can live in harmony with woodlands, foraging for fuel and food, building homes using sustainably sourced wood, using woodland products to make crafts and running community woodlands, where a whole area of forest is managed by and for local people.

The book is full of inspiring case studies, whether it is individuals who forage for their own food, artists inspired by woodlands or small scale companies developing their business using sustainably harvested woodland products. There's a lot of practical advice, from recipes for using your foraged foods (and guidelines on how to forage in a sustaiable manner) to how to build a composting toilet. Everything is illustrated with beautiful photos and plenty of UK tree species are described in between the case studies and practical advice.

It is an inspiring book for anyone who loves woodlands, specially those who would like to look into developing a more intimate relationship with their local woodland. it is also a very timely book, given the uncertain future of UK forests. The Government may seem to have decided not to sell off the nation's forests (yet) but they have recently given the go ahead to a quarry extension that threatens the existence of a vital piece of ancient woodland in Kent and are considering a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham that threatens the futures of 21 ancient forests across England. You can find out more about the threats to the UKs forests and how you can help to preserve these vital habitats at the Woodland Trust website here.

Read this book and be inspired about the importance of our forests! Then join the Woodland Trust and help to secure their future!

I received this book as a prize in a competition on Twitter.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks where you can find out more.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Unthinkable Skies - the musical

On Wednesday, I picked up a sample copy of the CD of poetry from my chapbook Unthinkable Skies with music from Belvedere Mountain Express. It looks pretty good, doesn't it? The cover photo is the same as was used for the cover of the book and currently also features in the header of this blog, although it's a different detail of the photo in each case. It was taken in Caerlaverock in Dumfries and Galloway. You can see the original photo in this post. Howard of Belveder Mountain Express has done a great job in recording and mixing the CD (as well as composing and playing the music) and in designing and making the packaging (which includes the words to all the featured poems along with photos I've taken. The CD will be available from Monday 20 June from CD Baby, probably only as a download.

Meanwhile you can still buy Unthinkable Skies, the chapbook here.

Plus, I've had a couple of poems published recently:

Photo Album on Generations of Poetry (you probably need to scroll down to read it)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Scottish Biodiversity Week

Biodiversity is Life - Biodiversity is Our Life

Biodiversity is simply the variety of life on Earth and is central to sustaining our lives. Biodiversity performs many functions for human communities, including providing food, dresh air and medicines. It also provides enjoyment through walking or birdwatching and inspiration for writing and other art.

Scottish Biodiversity Week this year is happening from 21 - 29 May and there are events happening across Scotland.

If there aren't any events in your area, why not make a point of spending some time in a green space next week, enjoying the wildlife and plants and perhaps learning more about the wonderful biodiversity that surrounds us!

As ever, red text in this post contains hyperlinks to webpages where you can find out more.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Hares and Films

I visited Annette Tait's wonderful little exhibition in Portobello Library today! Anyone familiar with Annette's blog will know that she creates beautiful soft sculptures of mother hares and baby hares - mostly from fabrics bought from Portobello's Cat and Dog Home charity shop. Annette also writes wonderfully engaging stories for each hare. The exhibition includes a lovely selection of hares with their individual stories and it's well worth spending time on reading all the stories! My favourite story is that of Fetlar, a lovely baby hare from the Scottish island of the same name whose purpose in life is to look after the nests of the red-necked phalarope, which is a small wader found only around certain remote Scottish islands. You can buy Annette's hares and other crafts from her Etsy shop. Annette's exhibition is on at Portobello Library until 27 May!

After visiting the exhibition I had tea and cake with Annette on the balcony of a cafe with views over Portobello beach and swallows and house martins rushing around the sky around us. I also got to meet Annette's adorable rabbits Arabella and Wesley!

Also today was the launch of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. I've said a wee bit more about this year's programme over on Over Forty Shades, but it's worth saying here that this year there seem to be a fair number of films with environmental connections (look out for plenty of reviews here!). There will also be a bike powered mobile cinema, showing films throughout the festival. It promises to be the most exciting Film Festival for several years!

Finally, I'm delighted to have three poems in the current issue of Sketchbook, which you can read here.

As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Green Chain Interview

I've been asked to take part in the Green Chain interview to raise money for envieonmental charities. This campaign is run by Price Minister who believe that trading second hand items online is a great way to increase opportunities for sustainable consumption and reduce the environmental impact caused by the purchase of new goods. The campaign is raising money for three UK charities: Surfers Against Sewage, Trees for Cities and Young People's Trust for Environment. So here are my answers to the interview questions:

Turning the heating down by just one degree in your house saves 240kg of CO2 a year. It would take eight trees to soak up this amount of CO2! Are you currently doing anything to make your home eco-friendly?

We've got double glazing and recently had the loft insulated (though we don't have solar panels!), we put on extra jumpers before we turn on the heating, we don't have many electrical appliances and only have them switched on when we're using them, most of our furniture is second hand and we only use environmentally friendly toiletries and cleaning materials. We don't have a tumble drier, we let everything dry naturally (though usually indoors because the drying green is three flights down the stairs and doesn't get much sunlight!)

Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth's land surface, now they only cover 2%. How are you reducing your use of paper?

I reuse paper (including envelopes and gift wrap), I have a big box full of A4 paper only used on one side that I've rescued from office recycling bins and mail, which I largely use for writing drafts of my poetry and stories on. I buy most of my books second hand. I use loose tea, rather than tea bags.

At PriceMinister we believe that trading second hand items online is a great way to extend the life span of products. Have you ever thought of buying or selling second hand items on or off line?

I give all my unwanted goods to second hand shops so the money goes to charity. I have thought about selling some of my second hand books but on balance decided it was easier to give them to second hand shops or to friends, though I donate foreign language books to a local youth hostel or language school.

One of the biggest environmental challenges we face is Freshwater Shortages. Are you taking measures to reduce your water consumption?

We have quick showers, we don't always flush the toilet if its only pee in there, we only put as much water in the kettle as we need to, we use as little water as possible for washing up. Our washing machine is water efficient and we aren't obsessed with washing things (ie we wear items for more than one day if they don't get dirty).

- How do you choose the produce that goes into your shopping basket? (any favorite products?)

Local, organic, fair trade, with a preference for local and organic where possible. Also we try to avoid products that include palm oil (as palm oil plantations are helping to destroy the forests of Indonesia and thus drive the orang utan to extinction, unfortunately palm oil is in most processed foods, try Paterson's Oat cakes as a palm oil free option) or that include any environmentally damaging, unhealthy chemicals. We also avoid proudcts with excess packaging and we use reusable cloth carrier bags. My very favourite recommendation would be the Cyrenians organic raspberry jam, which is made on an organic farm just outside Edinburgh that is also a training centre for people who have been homeless. On top of all that it is by far the tastiest raspberry jam in existence! (Can be difficult to find though, even in Edinburgh).

What is your favourite green space near home? (a photo would be great!)

Water of Leith, specifically Colinton and Craiglockart Dells, which is currently a mass of hawthorn blossom.

Which charity would you like to support and why?
I would like to support Trees for Cities, because I live in a city with plenty of trees though sadly we are losing some all the time. It is vital to have trees in cities because they are beautiful, they offer shade on a hot day and they improve the air quality, the also offer homes for insects and birds who bring colour and variety into the city too.

Please give us the url of a fellow blogger (or bloggers) you would like us to contact to raise an extra £10. Or tag them on Twitter with this tweet.

I will tag at least one UK blogger via Twitter. If you are reading this and you are a UK blogger on Twitter who would like to take part in the interview and help to raise money for these great UK environmental charities, let me know in the comments section and I'll tag you!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Calder Wood

My parents are visiting at the moment and yesterday Crafty Green Boyfriend and I took them to Calder Wood in West Lothian. The weather was wonderful and we really enjoyed walking around. Large parts of the area are made up of meadows (currently rich in bluebells) and scattered hawthorn trees (currently in bloom). The area was also rich in willow warblers, whose songs filled the air, a wonderful sound!

The photo above shows two metal pedestrian bridges over the River Almond just at the entrance to Calder Wood with the road to Edinburgh passing over the old stone bridge in the background.

For Sunday Bridges

(As ever, text in red contains hyperlinks which take you to other webpages where you can find out more!)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Night Fishing, Lake Malawi

Jinksy and I have been working on a little collaboration project recently, which has been great fun! I have written a short poem to go with one of her artworks, you can see the artwork and read the poem here. In return Jinksy wrote the following poems in response to my painting of fishing boats on Lake Malawi.

As nightfall approaches,
fishing boat lights
wink across lake water,
while a tired sun,
preparing to sleep,
settles into a pillow of hills.

No rest for the fishermen
who turn night into day,
and entice fish with pseudo suns.


Old hills wait,
ready to close eyes
at day's end.
Darkness falls,
and busy boatmen entice fish
towards mock sun flares.


The land waits.
A pillow of hills
tempt the Sun,
who craves sleep.
Busy boatmen entice fish
by imitation.


You can read my poem After Sunset, Lake Malawi, here.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Nesting Coot

I've seen several nesting coots this spring already but this is the best photo I've been able to take (at Edinburgh's Inverleith Park).

Coots are very cute birds and at this time of year can be seen feeding their young with great care and attention (you can see my videos on Flickr here, here, here and here) but later in the year they will often attack and kill their young.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Summer Courses

You can now book for my two summer courses at the Office of Lifelong Learning, University of Edinburgh!

10am - 4pm Monday 1 August Creative Writing Inspired by Nature to be held at the Water of Leith Visitor Centre. You can find out more and book a place here.

10.30am - 3.30pm Monday 8 August and Tuesday 9 August, Introduction to the Water of Leith. You can find out more and book a place here.

In other news, I'm delighted that one of my haiku (you can read it here) has been set to music by Tom Cipullo as part of his Insomnia cycle, which will premier at this concert of the Mirror Vision Ensemble at the Weill Recital Hall in the Carnegie Hall, New York on 24 May.

As ever, text in red takes you to other webpages where you can find out more.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Value of Woodlands

I made my usual walk through Colinton and Craiglockart Dells by the Water of Leith today. It's a wonderful area of ancient woodland (well the area has been wooded for centuries, although it isn't undisturbed and some of the species aren't native).

The hornbeam (a non-native species, first planted centuries ago as its wood was nice and hard and useful for building parts for the mills that used to line the banks of the river) is just starting to show its female catkins.

Some parts of the Water of Leith (though not the Dells) are undergoing building works at the moment for the new Flood Prevention Defences. Trees have been cut down in places to allow this work to go ahead. The council and the building contractors have promised that the banks will be regenerated after the work, but this will mean that the flood prevention barriers will be seeded with wildflowers, which is fine but the trees are very unlikely to come back. The Flood Defence work is seen as necessary to protect the housing along the banks of the river, but if planners had refused permission for housing to be built so close to the river then it wouldn't be necessary to damage the ecology of the riverbanks in this way.

Meanwhile down in England, though the Government seems for now to have abandoned its plans of selling the forests, several areas of ancient woodland are threatened by development:

The planned High Speed rail link between London and Birmingham would damage or destroy a number of areas of ancient woodland. High speed rail is seen as environmentally friendly because at least theoretically it diverts people away from flying, though personally I thought the normal speed rail link between London and Birmingham was already quick enough - why is society so obsessed with speed? Is it appropriate or necessary to destroy the environment to reduce travel times? You can read more about the proposed High Speed Rail Link and the damage it would do here. The page also includes a list of ways in which you can help campaign against this development.

It seems that a recommendation has been made to expand a quarry (despite independent research showing that existing quarries can supply enough stone) that threatens Oaken Wood, an ancient woodland in Kent. You can find out more about that here. STOP PRESS (10 May) this quarry has been given the go ahead so that is another piece of ancient woodland that will be seriously compromised.

You can find out more about these and other woods under threat in the UK and the valuable work the Woodland Trust does to try to save these areas on the trust's website here.

For Tree Year.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Rabbits to Watch out for!

Annette over at Dragon House of Yuen has an exhibition on at Portobello Library. Her delightful hares will be on display there until 27 May. You can find out more and get a sneak preview over on Annette's blog here.

Meanwhile the always entertaining Follow the Wabbit blog recently hosted an appeal for a rabbit rescue centre, you can find out more here.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Hawthorn haiku

hawthorn blooms

under a sky

of skylarksong



the air full of house martins -

the scent of hawthorn

Friday, 6 May 2011

Haweswater by Sarah Hall

During the time between the two world wars, a small village in the English Lake District is threatened with destruction to make way for a dam to provide water for the industrial city of Manchester. This novel explores how this threat affects the individuals and community of the village, focussing specifically on the Lightburn family. Janet Lightburn is a young woman with a determined mind and passionate nature, who is fiercely committed to securing a future for the village. She negotiates a longer time period for the villagers to evacuate, enabling them greater opportunity to find alternative jobs and housing, she also secures funding to rebuild the village school. She has reckoned without falling in love with Jack Liggett, who has been sent from manchester to oversee the building of the dam. Their fiery love story is at the centre of this novel, which is written with a wonderful eye for detail, characters and the landscape are all described beautifully. The central story around how the village copes with the dam has a lot of resonances for communities across the world today who are threatened with inappropriate developments that potentially damage the environment and people who depend on it.

Haweswater by Sarah Hall, published by Faber

Thursday, 5 May 2011


As some of you may have noticed, I recently discovered the video setting on my new camera! I posted a few videos of birds on Flickr which you can see by following the links below:

Mallards Mating

Coots feeding young (1)

Coots feeding young (2)

Coots feeding young (3).

Coots feeding offspring (4).

Zen and the Art of Waiting for dabchicks

I've also set up a YouTube Account, where I will post all my future videos. So far I have posted two videos of haiku I've written. You can view the videos here. So far Blogger hasn't let me embed videos here, but I'll keep trying. (On a related note, Blogger won't let me comment on some blogs, so if I've not commented for a while, that may be the reason why!). Our computer is up and running again but our internet access seems not to be entirely reliable, but fingers crossed we're back online again...

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Computer woes

Our computer is out of action at the moment, so sorry for the lack of posts in the last couple of days! I hope to be back soon!

Meanwhile, we had a lovely walk today round Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. We had good views of the heronry near Duddingston Loch and saw about seven heron nests all up in the trees on an island by the endge of the loch, some with the herons sitting in them!

We also had a very good view of 2 ravens (yes ravens!) flying around in the valley behind Arthur's Seat. They were kronking a good deal and were being chased by the carrion crows.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Birds along the Water of Leith

I wandered along the Water of Leith again today, lovely as ever. There were lots of birds around. I particularly noticed:

a bullfinch sitting in an elm tree, eating the flowers so messily that I (standing underneath to get a good view) was showered in bits and pieces!

two robins hopping from stone to stone in the river, flying up to catch flies and then flying into a tree (as flycatchers become rarer, I've seen more and more species of birds doing this)

a grey wagtail (normally very strictly a river bird) flying up into the trees and then onto a telephone wire above the road

a dipper collecting leaves and washing them in the river

I'm predicting the swifts to return to our area of Edinburgh on Wednesday, but as migrants seem to have been returning early all across the country this year, I'm already keeping my eyes out! Which migrants are you keeping your eyes out for?