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  • Writer's pictureMonique Sliedrecht

From the Ashes

For the end of February, the day was surprisingly springlike and warm. My friend and I went to do our fortnightly shopping in Thurso and on the way back briefly visited the most northerly point of the mainland, Dunnet Head. The afternoon light and cool air was refreshing; the birds were being lifted on the breeze and floating over the sea, returning to their perches high up on the clifftops.

Oh to be one of those birds, to drift high in the sky without effort and look down on the light-soaked landscape; to forget any worries for a while.

On the journey back we took the slightly longer route home, following a large dark flume of smoke developing in the sky.

'Goodness, that's a lot of smoke!' my friend said. We had noticed it on our way out and had been curious as to what was causing it. As we drove nearer it became clear that there was a controlled heather fire underway near Gills Bay.

Burning of heather is an age-old thing. The process of setting alight small areas removes the older growth and allows the plants to regenerate afterwards. New heather and grass shoots quickly follow, and these, along with a flush of plants such as bilberry or blueberry, are key food for red grouse, deer, mountain hares and livestock.

For some of us, lockdown is burning up our energies like the fires on these hills.

We have all been through a lot. Twelve months into a pandemic and nine weeks into a third lockdown, many of us are experiencing fatigue. Whether we are working and/or stuck at home, the feeling can be the same: a little fed up, struggling to maintain healthy lifestyles, being tired and yet waking during the night….

Author, Donna Ashworth, has tried to put this into words. Her reflection seems to perfectly sum up the mood of right now, and acknowledge something a lot of us have been experiencing for the last few weeks.

She writes:

You’re not imagining it,

nobody seems to want to talk right now.

Messages are brief and replies late.

Talk of catch-ups on zoom

are perpetually put on hold.

Group chats are no longer pinging all night long.

It’s not you. It’s everyone.

We are spent.

We have nothing left to say.

We are tired of saying ‘I miss you’

and ‘I cant wait for this to end’.

So we mostly say nothing,

put our heads down and get through each day.

You’re not imagining it.

This is a state of being

like no other we have ever known

because we are all going through it together

but so very far apart.

Hang in there my friend.

When the mood strikes,

send out all those messages

and don’t feel you have to apologise

for being quiet.

This is hard.

No one is judging.

How many can relate to this? I was certainly relieved when I read this, comforted even. The fact that so many posted this online told me I was not the only one struggling in this way at times. Any growing sense of guilt hovering in the background was brushed to the side - for a little while.

We were never supposed to live our lives like this - socialising through a screen only, replacing human contact with a weekly Zoom chat which lives or dies by our broadband connection. Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Skype...these all have become replacements for a weekend away, meandering chats over endless cups of tea, or in a pub after work....

We may feel like we're living in a smoke-filled room, unable to see the forest for the trees.

But what if there is a refining process taking place? A restoration. Just like burning the heather brings restoration and new life to the land, so the tough times can help refine our lives and open up new pathways and ways of being.

When gold is refined by fire, what are we left with? What dreams survive the fire?

Which are the most important? What are the things we want to let go of and not necessarily pick up again? After all major crisis, including the great wars, a new order gradually forms. From the devastation of the 2nd World War, the National Health Service (NHS) was created.

In this time, a new order is emerging. In what small ways does a new order emerge in our own lives which could have relevance in our art, relationships, finances, even the dreams we still want to pursue?


I step outside on this first day of March, greeted by welcoming blue skies and the beckoning of Spring. The warm weather has kindly extended to the start of this new week.

It's time to get moving. Seeing all that burning heather has given me ideas…

Let’s face it, who doesn't enjoy a good bonfire?

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