A Moment to Capture
Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Travelling through Scotland in the autumn fills me up in a way that makes me want to hold onto the experience, not to forget it - the colours, the smells, the low light and mist….
The sun projecting its rays onto the bright yellow birches standing tall against a background of dark green pines, raw sienna ferns, rusty red moors and a distant bulky blue of hillside is enough to make me think I’ve gone to heaven!
It reminds me of a painting by the artist, Franklin Carmichael, one of the Canadian Group of Seven.
Autumn Hillside, 1920
I’ve been feeling ‘full’ lately - both culturally and aesthetically. The last days have included rich experiences that have inspired and re-established connection with myself in relation to my art, and the world around me. Culture has a way of doing that, when done well. And nature does too, which is always done well.
On Friday early afternoon, I felt inclined to check out the programme at Lyth Arts Centre, which has been hosting a few weeks of events celebrating the tradition of storytelling in Scotland. I glanced at what was on the schedule for the weekend and immediately felt drawn to an evening of poetry and music by local artists, George Gunn, Andy Hawthorn (piano), and Gordon Gunn (fiddle).
It turned out to be a wonderful occasion, a seamless collaboration of music and poetry. Original compositions by Andy and Gordon were combined with the power and vision of George Gunn’s poems. The poetry has a very strong sense of place and history inspired by the far north, covering Sutherland and Caithness, and the surrounding seas.
In a fine work called 'Atlantic Forest' George summons up the memory of an 8000 year old forest that once stretched the length of Britain and beyond. He told us that squirrels could have jumped from tree to tree all the way from Lands End to John O'Groats and far beyond to Nova Scotia. As a boy he played among some fossilised remains of this vast forest which can be seen at low tide near Dunnet Head, the most northerly of mainly Britain. He also told us that each letter of the Gaelic alphabet represents a different tree. The ancient language embodies a profound love and respect for the natural world. This is evoked so poignantly in his poem 'Coda' even while it deals with the darker themes of a destructive civilisation.
In Caledon the bards shaped their songs
from an alphabet of trees
now a cauldron of storms
shapes our coasts with the revenge of carbon
which lay in bogs for millennia
roofed the people against Winter
& was burned to ensure the rule of law
that arrogant set of prejudices
which wipes its rank across the map
from the Uists to New Orleans
but carbon is the still centre of the Atlantic lung
razing hotels & casinos as it throws the dollar
into the high branches of decline
when the last leaf falls a new forest grows
~ George Gunn, After the Rain
I found the idea that the great forest would one day reassert itself was an image that lingered in my mind for a long time.
And driving through the dazzling scenery of the Cairngorms is like the experience of going to that memorable live show. I wanted to hold onto both, to capture them somehow.
Going through Gateshead on to Durham I see construction work happening on a hillside just below Antony Gormley’s awe inspiring Angel of the North sculpture.
It seems all of Britain is undergoing reconstruction right now, and an angel is most certainly what is needed.