Monday, October 31, 2022

Species Compass

This is another new form I've been sharing and learning from, the 'species compass'.

Native American cosmology placed totemic animals around the horizon: 

North, mountain lion

South, wildcat

East, wolf

West, bear

I invited friends and those involved in ecological stewardship to compose a compass from flora and/or fauna, representing the landscape they love and care for. 

This form is made for sharing. Please adopt and adapt it. I can imagine examples done for seasons, and, of course, compass which refer to species which are absent or extinct. It is a simple plan for what was, is, and could be.

The project is ongoing and I will add to it in due course.

The contributors are (in order of appearance): Juliet Robertson (River Dee, Inverurie); Gerry Loose (Isle of Bute); Shaila Rao (NTS Mar Lodge, Cairngorms); Chris Watson (Holystone Wood, near Rothbury, Northumberland); Nick Belt (Dundreggan, Glenmoriston); Doug Gilbert (Dundreggan, Glenmoriston); Alec Finlay (Stonypath, Little Sparta); Gill Russell (River Don, Glenkindie), Caitlin DeSilvey (Helford River), Phil Gates (River Wear, Weardale), and Kathleen Jamie (Newburgh, Kingdom of Fife).

My sense is that the compasses that come from Highland rewilding projects function as a dialogue between past and present philosophies of land management, almost as a kind of parliament in which the cardinal points debate ecological principles. 

I asked the poet Andrew Schelling about Native American tribal beliefs and he said that those he knew have 'a four-direction cosmology, associated typically with cardinal directions, a color, and often an animal. 

Those in the south-west have, of course, mountains—so the Navajo for instance regard not just their terrain but the cosmos as bounded by four, which include Mt. Blanca, Mt. Taylor, and two others—those of course being the white man names.

A Navajo friend once gave me a bracelet with four colors, which turned out to be Plains tribe cosmology, the colors stood for directions and animals.

The Achumawi, according to Jaime de Angulo, had a three-way cosmology until the white settlers appeared. Their world was triangular. 

I also admire the Karok and Yurok who do not have cardinal directions, but build into their language “up river” and “down river” as well as “up hill” and down slope.” In fact, the names Karok and Yurok are the words that mean up and down river.'


This is Phil Gates' description of his compass. 

Goosanders because I had never seen them until I came here 45 years ago and stood on this spot by the river Wear

Bird Cherry because there is a magnificent specimen just to the east that was surrounded by pines until 1o years ago, when they were felled: liberating it from the shadows; it has been smothered in blossom every spring and full of birds that come for its berries

Curlews because this is one of the first places I hear them arriving in spring, on the fell behind me

Yellow star of Bethlehem because I found just two plants of this locally rare species the first time I came here on a March day - and they are still here 45 years later (now there are about half a dozen.


My own compass is a sentimental evocation of The Stonypathian, for the landscape where I grew up. 

The big ash that has now fallen and which used to be the garden's patriarch.

The curlews and bog cotton of the surrounding moor, within which the garden rested, and which it will always be in a fragile tension with. 

The few magical hazels which stand by the Anston Burn, on a patch of slope too steep for the sheep. 

It's notable that all of these species pre-date the garden my mother and father made.


Gerry Loose gave the reasons for his choices.

I chose oak for the north because, here on the Isle of Bute, we have a community owned Atlantic oakwood. Not uncommon along the west coast of Argyll. 

Sweet chestnut for the south because two of my favourite trees are such, ancients, corkscrewing trunks and a wealth in odd years of chicken of the woods. 

Porpoises sport all the time to the west since they have the whole Atlantic to range in but come so close to the shoreline. 

Minke - well minke! such a glorious sight, mostly in summer, to catch  them rolling between the island and the mainland.

Taken together, the four seem to sum up island ecologies: the wild and the cultivated, the rare sightings and the apparently immovable (except trees change their ranges century on century; though the chestnuts have no offspring in the south).


Juliet Robertson very deliberately chose trees because this was the focus of her walks, as they define the seasons. 

The elderberry crop this year has been huge on the tree near the Port Elphinstone canal. 

There’s an old lime down by the River Ury that comes alive in summer with the sound of humming wasps feasting on its nectar, 

I have holly in my own garden, planted not long after I arrived in Inverurie, and birch for the Uryside. 

The birch is a pioneer species and demonstrating this at Uryside where a birch woodland is being established entirely by the tree's inclination rather than being formally planted. 


Naturally I could have added more themes: flowers, insects, birds, mammals. At some point I’d love to create my own seasonal calendar based on natural events rather than the static 4 seasons. At the moment, it’s geese season at Inverurie with 1000’s flying overhead.


Gill Russell's compass describes a conspectus of her home in Glenkindie, by the River Don.

The buzzards circle and call above the fields of rabbits to the north of our house. Lying awake with the bedroom window open I often hear owls in the woods to the south, across the river. A heron lives on Garlic Island, upstream and west from our house. In the river shallows, downstream, towards the east, each dipper has a rock.


Shaila Rao took more of an ecological system approach to the compass, using it as an indicator of ecological issues/conflicts in the uplands.

North is the wolf, a pinnacle of rewilding in Scotland and one that we may or may not ever reach. Also the top of the food chain and an important player in healthy forest ecosystems. I also associate this with the north for some reason!


South is the red deer, selected as they have had and continue to have such a significant impact on Scotland’s woodlands. They are also an iconic species in Scotland. I positioned deer to the south opposite wolves as they would be prey of wolves and the complex interaction of these species is important in the dynamics of forest ecosystems.


East is a Golden eagle, for me an emblem of wild land and wide expanses, and indicator of a healthy ecosystem. It also happens to be one of the top predators in Scotland. They are also just beautiful and magnificent. 


West are Salmon, an indicator of healthy rivers and healthy seas. It also links closely with woodlands, in that salmon should be in rivers through forests and trees play an important role in supporting the freshwater habitats and hence this species.


Perhaps after doing this I realise that my head is always in ecology and looking at relationships within species and habitats. If you’d asked me just for my favourite four species it would have looked totally different–dotterel, mountain hare, hen harrier and alpine saw wort!


Caitlin DeSilvey summarises her portrait of the Helford River watershed and a yearning for her childhood home, in another incomer, the Monterey pine.

N – Sessile oak – the river’s signature species, scrawled along the banks and overhanging the watery edges.

S -  Holm oak –  the river’s future-oak? undaunted by droughty springs, ilex as indicator species.

E – Monterey pine – incongruous giants watching over the river’s mouth, California 


W – Feral apple – hugging to hedges and lanes; tossed, lost, and found again.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Day of Access Report: The Shale Bings of West Lothian

This report, by Rob Bushby (Friends of the Award), describes the Day of Access event at Greendykes Bing, or 'Niddrie Woman', which he guided. You can read Alec's introduction to the event here.


Are ‘The Bings’ the most viewed but least explored natural feature in the country? The shale mounds of West Lothian are both familiar and foreign, a landmark that’s close yet distant. 


They squat near the junction of the M8 and M9 motorways, passed by east-west and north-south trains, scattered beyond the end of Edinburgh airport’s runway. Scanned by travellers, commuters and locals from road, rail and air, the rust-red bings are little trod. These 19th century deposits of oil industry detritus are a historic landscape blemish and also a site in recovery. 

They’re a wound inflicted on the countryside that, in its healing, is creating its own ecology.

This renewal creates natural links with ‘Day of Access’, a concept developed by artist-poet Alec Finlay for people with limited walking. Its aim is “to have healing experiences of wild land…The interest is in how someone responds to the site, their perceptions and feelings”. 

Alec himself is access-limited (ME and Long Covid). He writes and advocates for creative forms of wild nature experiences, using place-awareness and ecopoetic approaches to discover “what will happen when vulnerable bodies encounter vulnerable landscapes”.



Since 1998 the charity ‘Friends of the Award’ has supported young people in Edinburgh and the Lothians, irrespective of background or life challenges, to participate in youth awards – primarily the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award but also the Junior Award Scheme for Schools (JASS), John Muir Award and others. These opportunities can build self-esteem, help establish healthy lifestyles, and lead to new skills and qualifications to help future prospects. 


A long-term Friends of the Award collaboration with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) offers one-to-one mentoring to vulnerable and marginalised young people who are struggling with mental health issues. 

Usually the focus of Day of Access is constrained walking but, for this excursion with colleagues and two young people, the focus is on exploring parallels of place-based and personal recuperation. “I’m interested in how young participants will respond to this bare landscape of spoil, once defined as derelict and now recognised as ecologically significant”, says Alec.


First Impressions

A ‘sole map’ is a simple tool for capturing thoughts and feelings and comparing perspectives across two dimensions or locations: bottom/top, now/later, here/there. 

Writing words into a first footprint prompts an immediate response to the bings. An initial other-worldliness is striking. “It’s like a sci-fi film set, as if we’ve been dropped on Mars or Ayers Rock”, says E. “I didn’t expect the red-brown colours to be so dramatic. It feels foreign and abstract!” 

We reflect on the contrast between our industrial estate start point and, beyond the moat-like canal boundary, “a secluded new environment. I didn’t think there’d be so much woodland. The harshness gives way to a soft green lushness.


The change from a central belt hubbub is noticed by A. “It’s so peaceful, weirdly silent, so cool. It has a sense of loneliness and desolation too, of being asleep, at rest. It makes you feel safe being away from the traffic and noise.

Living Museum

We’re immersed in natural and industrial heritage. There’s a coot on the canal. The Birdnerd song app identifies long-tailed tits along wooded flanks. Knowledge about post-flowering, seed-dispersing rosebay willowherb is shared: prevalent on open ground and a coloniser of recently scorched earth it’s also known as ‘fireweed’ and ‘London’s Ruin’ after the Great Fire; its leaves resemble those of the willow species. Tracks indicate the presence of others – fox, perhaps, and motorbike, definitely. 

Two buzzards keep company with a raven, high-pitched mewling mingling with corvid croak. With mature trees, a water expanse and steep-sided bluffs, it feels like an authentic rather than artificial landscape.


The loose shale ground releases artefacts and remnants of industry, previously absorbed technology that has become naturalised. There’s corroded steel cable and rusted dismembered metal – evidence of the infrastructure used to convey waste rock from local mining sites. It’s easy to imagine the noisy sweaty effort expended to create the mounds, a living museum. It’s a reminder too, that everything – inanimate objects, people – is in a process of transformation. To quote Neil Young, perhaps with generational incongruence, “Rust never sleeps”.

Plateau, Panorama, Poetry

A short and punchy uphill push reveals the elevated platform of an expansive plateau. We’re on Greendykes bing, the largest of the group, with nearby Niddry, Faucheldean and Albyn bings now in view. 

Beyond is an exceptional panorama of central Scotland. We take it in collectively, naming what we see in a 360-degree sweep. There’s Bass Rock and North Berwick Law, Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat (“you can see my house from here – sort of!”), Hillend and the Pentlands, Jupiter Artland, Ben Ledi, the Ochils, the three Forth bridges, Lomond Hills, East Neuk of Fife and back round to the Forth Estuary islands.

Having encountered several of the ‘Lost Words’ given recent prominence by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – Oak, Bramble, Fox, Raven – we dip into their books of poem-spells for impromptu readings. 

In a follow-up session the participants respond to the landscape using acrostics:

Bring me a ruler to measure the sky
I want to know how far it stretches 

     from Bass Rock to Black Hill

Now listen to the sudden quiet 

     as you step into the realm of
Giants, sleeping by the road, blanketed 

     in green, a lush and verdant Mars
Swept by time, a living museum, claiming 

     its space–a lonely island left behind


Bold to the eye
Intriguing from afar
Nature fights back
Great hues of colour–


Bright, bold colours
Interesting to learn a
New environment
Great views all around–
Star Wars vibes


‘Here Be Dragons’

Unrolling a decades-old black and white aerial image confirms the evidence of recuperation. The previous barren-ness is in stark contrast to what surrounds us now. 

Some sightings:


Wild strawberry           

Pied Wagtail                



Long-tailed tit  

Rosebay Willowherb    




Blue tit             



Fox prints 


Medieval mapmakers supposedly inscribed the phrase “Here Be Dragons” on maps to indicate unknown regions of the world. As we set out our contemporary OS and Urban Nature maps to orientate ourselves, there’s an equivalence with uncharted territory for young people to navigate. 


Contradictions, peer pressure and complex emotions might be seen as common challenges across generations. But the world has changed rapidly in the past two decades. The ever-present nature and scale of issues, stresses and pressures that can cause vulnerability, anxiety, struggle and crisis are without precedent. 

Whilst the greatest causes of dissatisfaction in adolescence continue to be school, friendships and appearance, ‘the environment’ is the number one concern for four in ten children in 2022 (The Good Childhood Report 2022). 

Mental health services are stretched beyond capacity and failing to meet a rising demand for support. 


Conversation turns to “a mental health journey”. Individual experience rather than clunky generalisation is important, as is context and shared understanding. What helps progress? “Nature connection and the chance to put something back. Spaces that feel safe, peaceful, away from busy-ness. I want to return here with my family and pick up some of the litter. Why? To help nature’s progress. It helps know your place…And even if it’s just a tiny gesture in the scheme of things, I’m thinking about the impact I have on the world.”


‘Greening the spoil’

Alec’s concluding blog questions are a prompt, and perhaps rhetorical: 

How do wounds heal over time. 

How can we learn from nature’s ability to heal?

What has been spoilt and what can still heal?

What’s immediately apparent from the rejuvenation of Greendykes bing is the role of time and natural process. Whilst not wishing to force responses by way of direct metaphor, its ecological reality provides a compelling motif. 

Ongoing support for CAMHS referrals and young people across Edinburgh and the Lothians embraces principles of pacing, individual need, nature connectedness, focus and networks of support. 


A and E have revisited their excursion experience in follow-up discussions – its challenges, as a stimulus for creative reflection – and are planning a return trip. Sharing their words and images might act as a ‘proxy walk’, and an invitation to others to explore West Lothian’s shale bings.



Notes on the West Lothian shale bings

How to get to Broxburn in West Lothian by Bus, Train or Light rail (

There’s an irony to The Bings being tricky to approach on a ‘Day of Access’ outing. Entry via Greendykes Road and Albyn Industrial Estate is less than welcoming. 

Instead, follow Dunnet Way (near Lidl) to Clifton View, where a path leads to a footbridge over the Union Canal to the wooded flanks of the shale mounds.


Read Alec Finlay’s blog about reasons for selecting ‘The Bings’ as a Day of Access location, and associations with the artist John Latham.

For History & Heritage watch ‘What They Don't Say About Scotland's Oil’, an informative 15-minute YouTube video by Scottish history tour guide Bruce Fummey.

Day of Access

The first image is by Hannah Devereux. The others are by Rob Bushby.

“A new program of 12 ‘Day of Access’ events is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by Lapidus Scotland. The concept is to offer creative forms of access to wild nature, using place-awareness and ecopoetic approaches, allied with the practical knowledge of rewilders, foresters and foragers and discover: what will happen when vulnerable bodies encounter vulnerable landscapes”. 

The first ever Day of Access was held at Meall Tairneachan in 2019. 

These are closed events, but their purpose is to encourage people to arrange their own Day of Access, and Alec will continue to update the blog.


‘On Not Walking’ Part IPart II, Alec Finlay's essay on disability.

Alec's blog post on proxy walksA couple of years ago I came up with a walking for art project: the proxy walk. For this a recipient chooses a place they loved to walk, when they could, and the walker does the walk for them…I’ve been told of an artist who gifts walks – a woman making them for other women – and of a nurse in a Perthshire care home who does the same for elderly residents. All limits create new possibilities.”


Thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund, Lapidus Scotland and Paths for All for making this event possible.


Friday, October 28, 2022

Map of Long Covid

Since they were first published on social media, in the Autumn of 2022, many people with Long Covid have been touched by Christine Goldschmidt's maps representing the disease. They represent her experience of illness, and the journey of grief, anger, frustration, acceptance, and creative adaptation the disease is taking many of us on. 

They are wonderful examples of art as a means to gain a new perspective on illness, processing the experience of a multitude of symptoms, many of which go unacknowledged within healthcare contexts, and plotting them in a relational way. 

Everyone with a chronic illness finds they have to create a new map of their life. 

In practical terms, they may no longer be able to walk where they once did–the corner shop, the supermarket, the chemist, the GP, the park, a glen, all out of reach. They must also realign their social relationships, as some friends fall away, and connection with the world is frayed.

Christine's map reminds me of the 17th century allegory, Carte du Tendre, a communally composed map of human love.

Maps are at the heart of Day of Access, from the first event, where I made a place-aware map of Meall Tairneachan, with translations of the Gaelic names, to the recent conspectus–visual poem transcribing a view–composed for the event at Taynish, which maps the view of hills and islands from a ridge.

At the recent event held on the West Lothian shale bings we used the sole map as a form suited to mapping the body like contours of the landscape–I first devised the sole map for a walk with Sole Sisters, a community of immigrant women walkers in Kirkcaldy.


About Christina


Before Long Covid I was a full time freelance illustrator.  I graduated from Rhodes University in South Africa in 2002 with a BFA (Graphic Art and History of art) and additional English degree. I then went on to finish my PGCE whilst working in Zimbabwean and South African private schools before coming to the UK in 2004 with my husband. We’ve remained in Newark on Trent, Nottinghamshire, ever since.


After a few years teaching art and studying silversmithing, I finally decided exactly what I wanted to do – art full time. I’d started my business 7 years ago, when my daughter started primary school, and it had flourished, even weathering the harder times of lockdowns. 

I have become quite well known in this area for what I do and was often commissioned by the County and Town councils, community and outdoor leisure groups to illustrate features such as lakes, playing grounds, festivals and visualise new council projects such as our new library gardens.  My work has been shown on BBC, Sky, I’ve been interviewed on Radio Nottingham and featured in the local press many times.

It was an exciting time and I seemed to have carved a niche for myself with my distinctive ‘maps’. Really, I just enjoyed illustrating anything–maps just seemed to capture people’s attention. And soon I was getting repeat work and didn’t need to go far to find the next commission.


I started to feel generally unwell in March 2021 and what started as fatigue grew into an array of frightening symptoms ranging from horrendous heart arrhythmias (and now a diagnosed heart issue) to brain fog, breathlessness. Life, as I knew it ground to a halt. 

The brain fog was so bad that I would sit in front of my screen, or sketchbook, willing myself to work and barely being able to manage opening a new tab or drawing a line.  I constantly fought against it, becoming frustrated with my tiredness and inability to focus. Eventually I gave in and put my work on hold while I focussed on recovering and discovering what I’d got.


I often say I went from running up hills to barely being able to walk up a hill– and this happened within a month. I used to be a rower (competitive both on water and at indoor events), runner and cyclist and was mostly in the gym when I could spare the time. It’s fair to say the only time I sat still was to draw.


I went through so many iterations of this cycle of relapse. From feeling a little better so taking on more work, finishing it under tight deadline and then crashing for weeks after and hiding under duvets while I tried to recuperate. Every time I took on more work I promised to pace myself and set my boundaries with clients but every time the same lurch back in my health.  

It was probably about 2 months ago I decided to put my illustration on pause and took the brave decision to reject further commissioned work. For now I would only focus on work made by me and for me.  

Sometimes even posting on social media or to Etsy is too much for me. I keep what I’ve created for times I feel well enough to post it and weather any emotions that may come my way as a result of sharing it. It’s become a far more introspective way of working.  And the type of work I make now is mainly explaining to myself how I feel about this long covid journey. The maps help me and my loved ones understand.  

The Long Covid Map actually came about when I caught covid a second time in January 2022. My fevered brain somehow managed to come up with the idea of a map and I started to draw a map of my symptoms as a way of documenting what I was going through at the time. I didn’t have the energy to finish it but I mentioned it in one of the many chats I have with a friend who has Long covid and she encouraged me to finish it and share it. 


Christine's maps will be available soon here.