Photo by Rachael Clyne

Singing Over the Bones: Women writing the Wild:  a course at Moniack Mhor with Sharon Blackie and Roselle Angwin

The land did not make it easy for us to love her; she made us work for her beauty. We had to face our disappointment and frustration at finding the moors enclosed, fenced off. She made us feel the anguish of the forestry battlegrounds that surrounded us, our rage at being hemmed in and the grief of knowing that it was we who had put up the fences, who had demanded the trees, so systematically slaughtered.

We were forced to acknowledge the depth of our longing with the sight of the Cailleach mountain, so far off on the horizon; she lay with her back to us, listening to our dreams. For three days she sent unremitting wind to poke and provoke, stir and rattle our bones, stoke our rage at being denied access. Once hearts and minds were opened, she began to reveal quiet pockets of grace, curved larch limbs, laden with cones, birch and spruce garlanded with all manner of lichen; the clinging, the stiff trumpeted, the dangling tufts and swathes. Their array of colours ran from palest grey-green, mustard yellow to black bearded fence posts.  Only then the wind ceased its harrying to leave us bright sunshine.

We saw hen harrier, hare, heard the mellow warble of curlew among tussocks of sedge, trill of peewit, pippit. Only then were we ready for the gift of walking her body to Loch Ness. And on the penultimate night we gazed open-mouthed at a full moonrise from a nest of silver cloud into clear sky, with the sound of snipe churr and stridulation echoing across the dark.

The final morning, a sprinkle of snow turned the mountains into the maiden Bridie, clothed white and purple. How she hammered us on her anvil, pierced us with her fiery arrows, beat the poetry out of us. How our own relationship and journey with the land mirrored those inner journeys, our individual struggles to define, find and re-find the wild instinctual self.

Yet the trappings of domesticity smoothed the week, as we women simply got on with the practicalities without murmur. We ate well, slept warm, tended each other’s ailments and this we did with remarkable ease. We encompassed our differences with goodwill, listened enrapt to each others’ words and knowledge, shared the joy of singing bowls, walking in the dark, drumming and howling with the wind on the rocks and gazing in wonder at a new-born full moon. But most of all we wrote furiously till our brains and fingers could do no more.

There were those among us whose life and passion is spent living with the land and who provided us with seemingly endless knowledge of animal and plant names, behaviours and even conjured birdcalls at whim. Who needs apps with such companions?

Photo by Rachael ClyneIt was a well-run course. Our facilitators Roselle and Sharon guided us through different aspects of writing the natural world, shared an abundance of books and regaled us with their own works of myth, story and poetry. Amazingly, although having corresponded, they had not met prior to this week, yet seemed to flow easily through. They were generous and caring, whilst leaving room for our own process and encouraging us to break through our limitations. The emphasis was on the experiential rather than form and structure, leading us to our own wild spirit for inspiration. If you want to get in touch with your inner wild woman writer, this course does what it says and is priced economically, to fit within current tighter budgets. I hope that this will be the first of many. Future courses are now planned to take place on Sharon's home, the isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, where the wild and the waves are free to roam.


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Words and photos ©Rachael Clyne, 2013.