Sharing Territory

When I was on Raasay in October I had a couple of close-ish encounters with a sea eagle.  We  passed each other crossing the island a few times and I was able to stop right on the road, get out and watch her flight with an entire island lying at my feet and no traffic jam to beep me on or throw exasperated arms in the air wondering what the hell I was doing.  As I left Arnish in Raasay’s North for the last time, I turned a corner and there she was, this time perched just metres off the road, watching me then watching Skye and the sea, letting me stop, get out to lean on the car and admire the scale of her so much better with less air between us.  I had breathed in deeply through my nose so my chest filled and puffed.  I chucked my camera back in the car.  All the better to see her with.  Then I realised her chest was the way of mine too but she was staying and I was leaving.

I’ve been thinking a lot about territory recently, from various vantage points of my own.  Maybe my experiences with the eagle were the real start of it – the consideration of what it is to move into a space and share it, without asking permission of the other inhabitants.  The knowing what it is to be at the top of the food chain and the beginnings of an appreciation for the fact that I can choose to respect or exploit that.   The overlap in all of that with human experience; what it is to live with someone you don’t normally live with, what it is to live alone, what the formulas are for positivity and co-operation as a group while still ensuring enough space for everyone to test their wings regularly too.

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My husband and son became vegan last year and their decisions have brought awareness of animal welfare closer to my streams of thought.  Husband made the change to reduce his cholesterol – he’s naturally on the high side of those readings so self-help is prudent.  My son, on the other hand, choose veganism because the more he reads about philosophy and psychology the less he can reconcile eating animals.  And of course when one person in a habitat makes a change, everyone else in the same space kinda does too; a human choice eco-system at work; one which, in this case, has had me considering what I eat and, in even greater quantities of airtime, before we changed an animal’s name to meat or poultry, what was its story on the way to my hands?  The words territory, autonomy, captivity, economy and empathy keep bobbing around in my thought soup.  Part of me wants to push a stick-blender in with them and make it all something that’s easier to swallow while the other part doesn’t trust that that act wouldn’t be a murder of it’s own kind.  So I’m letting it be for now, knowing my brain is working on it while I dream of bizarre things in the nights.

The starting thoughts on territory were backed up by dealings with stags on the same Raasay trip  – and quieter hinds – the latter seen only briefly here and there, darting eyes a jangle of nerves at every footfall, their opportunities to eat in peace apparently never without a readiness to bolt, fast.  Such was the season.

When I arrived at Arnish back in October there were just one and a half hours of usable daylight left in front for a wander into the unknown.  Joining the blissful audio feeds of bird song and seashore were the inelegant, part-beligerent and part-desperate calls of rutting stags.

‘How nearby?’, I’d asked the owners of the Airbnb cottage I was renting.

‘Difficult to say’, they’d said, looking at the trees and rock on the other side of their deer fence.  ‘One’s definitely just up there and the other’s probably within half a K’.

Near, then.

My deaf dog sniffed at the air then checked my bearings and in the moment we agreed an adventure.  We’d leave the unpacking to a job with the head torch later on.  We’d walk outside the fence before dark and take our chances on what we might find and what might find us while we could do it without me stumbling.  The drive had been long and beautiful and I had just five nights to wring everything out of the experience that I could.  So we set off and didn’t come eye to eye with anything other than our own reflections in the glass of old croft house windows.  But the trepidation of every grunt and testosterone laden throat gargle belonging to the antlered ushers around us quickened my heart and dropped lines from my face like no wrinkle cream has ever managed.

There is nothing better for kickstarting the soul than surviving a shared adventure and having the iPhone photos to prove it.

Yesterday I went to the zoo.  The thought to go and see animals arrived in the night and beckoned for exploration, memories of the stags and the eagle calling me back to a limitless place inside myself, probably triggered by spring sunlight pushing its way around everyday spaces, making me smile without thinking.  But of course you don’t find limitlessness at zoos.  At zoos you find talk of research and preservation and squirrels who’ve worked out how to break in to enclosures to pinch food from animals whose instincts for handling vast territories have been forced to recalibrate to restriction, concrete under earth and discreet electric fencing as ever present, non-communicative company.

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I thought about my territory yesterday too.  It’s mainly Edinburgh with frequent stretches across to Glasgow and down to East Lothian.  Less frequently I venture up to Aberdeen and Deeside and, at least once a year, if I was fitted with a tracking device, you’d see me on a screen heading north-west and stopping on an island to meander there for a week or so before winging back across Perthshire and the Forth.   Maybe once every 18 months I go to another country altogether, taking wing in a steel tube and marvelling at real time maps through tiny windows.  My territory, over my lifetime, is pretty enormous, especially compared to some of the chimps who’ve been at Edinburgh Zoo longer than the 42 years I’ve been alive.

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I thought about how if I shrunk my territory in the same way as a Zoo meerkat’s is shrunk,  I’d be allowed a range that just about allowed me to peek at Linlithgow, I reckon, or Eddieston to the south.  Not enough.  Not enough for me by far.

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So the sea eagle and I have something else in common, apart from our sometimes puffed chests.  We have relative freedom – but me much more so than her.  Sea Eagles were reintroduced to Scotland in 1975 after being hunted to death in 1916.  I’m not sure it’s fair to say they’re thriving yet – perhaps tentative optimism is brave enough for now.  Secrecy is, after all, unbelievably still required about the bird’s nesting sites in order to protect them from humans who wish them harm through their own pursuits for trophies.

The bird I met on Raasay has family with datelines that intersect with my own life.  One of her relatives was around the skies over west Scotland that same hot summer of 1976 I arrived in a nearby part of the world.  We’re connected, albeit tenuously.  I find that comforting.  And while I’m absolutely still pondering territory, I’m definitely done with zoos.

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52and40/24 Galaxy Formation

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I grew up thinking I had an un-mathematic brain.  Yet as I’ve aged I’ve discovered my brain’s just fine with mathematics.   Science too.  Whaddya know till you retry?

Viewing an often chaotic world through an organised lens can be comforting.  I’ve found maths and science have overlap with understanding human behaviour, too.  This week, with help, I’m considering fractals;

‘Fractals are infinitely complex patterns… […] …self-similar across different scales. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.  Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals.’

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Into randomness and order?  You’ll find more about #52and40 here.

52and40/10 Air In Your Hair

I’ve never seen a Scottish Autumn and Winter as beautiful, so far, as what 2016’s given.

The beauty in these seasons is going a long, gentle way to keeping breathing through the humanity shitstorm we’ve seen happen around the world this year.  It’s easier to believe we’re not all doomed when nature’s on its best behaviour.

As my own shield and sword, I’ve added focus to health and work ethic. These things help my locus of control  stay internal so fear doesn’t breed with downtime to create mischief.

Everything else is weather.

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More info on #52and40 here.

52and39/42 Are You Straight?

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A few weeks ago on the number 16 going down Leith Walk a tourist got on, cleared her throat, radiated deep blushes and asked the driver in a beautifully accented voice, ‘Are you straight?‘, while pointing down the big road through the front windows.  The driver replied with,  ‘yes, I’m going straight on’.

She paid, thanked him, smiled a lot and humphed on her huge rucksack and hand luggage.

This week in France I told a farmer I only speak a petit pois of French.

52and39Good enough is amusing.  And good enough.

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The Birds & The Bees

There’s a lovely new, wee shop on Comiston Road in Morningside, just up from the landmark Morningside Clock.   I noticed this when I was running about one Saturday morning, ricocheting from one cash-point to another, trying to find an ATM with cash after what must’ve been a busy Friday night for taxis and local pubs.

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The stylish little oasis of Blackbird Studios‘ frontage called me over and from there, as they say, it was love.  Well, at the very least it was a continuing lusty affair with painted porcelain, stunning stationery and frankly anything with a bird on it that makes me smile and think whimsically (vultures & turkeys need not apply).

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It turns out Blackbird is run by a lady called Sheila Angus who’s moved back to Edinburgh after a long stint in Banchory where she was an art teacher at the local High School.  The very High School, in fact, that my kids would’ve gone to had we stayed in Banchory instead of moving to Edinburgh four years ago.  There’s one of those sliding doors moments again, see?  2015 has been full of them.  I’d never met Sheila before (the kids were in primary school when we left the Aberdeenshire Hood) but I was really pleased to meet her in her new setting and to have a gander among creativity while marvelling at how tiny Scotland is; city or not, most folk here are barely separated by six scones in a tea-room never mind the zoomed out, six degrees, global separation chain of connectedness.

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Anywho, Sheila invited me to her Summer Exhibition Opening the following week where I got a fab chance to wander again, take some photos and to meet another local business – Edward and Irwyn  – whose little workshop with stable door on Morningside Drive has intrigued me in passing every time I’ve driven by over the last few months.  More on them below.

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So, the lowdown on Blackbird Studios according to me is as follows;

Sheila’s business and art are a welcome addition to a Morningside shopping environment that seems to have gone a bit highly-priced-charity-shop-hysterical in recent times.  Shops like Sheila’s help the balance and are essential for keeping the street relevant to a range of shoppers.  Sheila has created and chosen a fantastic range of items and the shop’s vibe is relaxed and non pushy – a total hit with me.  I get the feeling that in a year or so Sheila will be firmly established in the Edinburgh arts and crafts network and the shop will daisy chain into lots of ideas and talent in and around the city.  It already has the feel of a hub for shoppers & artists who appreciate unpretentious, accessible originality – no mean feat in a short time-scale.

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My favourite things were;

1. A Prism of Starlings stationery

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2.  The felt & denim blue tits handmade in Fife

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3.  Sheila’s own ceramic tiles in frames (above) or with hanging wires (below) – a simple, perfectly executed idea in a fab range of colours and designs.  Instant artiness added to a home with these.  I now have two and they’ve really given character to a previously blank space.

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All of the above are super affordable, prices ranging from £6 to £20 (tiles in frames, most of the ones pictured here are £8-£10) with quality and individuality factors being super high: SCORE.

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At the higher end of the offerings there are gorgeous prints, canvases, ceramic plaques and mosaic wall art pieces that would be fantastic statements in a lucky home.  Again, quality is high and pricing is extremely reasonable.  This is indeed a boon for visitors and locals to Morningside alike.

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And so to the chocolate….

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Edward and Irwyn (E&I) make very, very, very good chocolate, i.e., the kind that you are reminded of two weeks after tasting it and the flavour is once again somehow on your tongue, rendering all other chocolate dead to you instantly.  The honeycomb chocolate we tasted on the night of the exhibition opening was made with honey from bees who live idyllically at The Secret Herb Garden where, incidentally, you can do a course to learn how to keep your own bees, should your heart desire that as a possibility.  Remember my post about that lovely place here?  It’s a wee gem that seems to be going quickly from strength to strength and has become a destination for Edinburghers with a day off or spare weekend time.

Back to chocolate for now though.  If you pass E&I during the week there’s a fair chance you’ll see the two best chum chocolatiers sitting outside in their whites having a break between batches.  They always seem to be deep in conversation and happy.  This is happy chocolate made with salt from Iceland and, sometimes, happy bee’s honey.  It’s available from various places around Edinburgh and you can also pop into E&I on a Saturday afternoon to buy some of anything they have left over from the week’s orders.

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Edward & Irwyn are on Twitter @EdwardandIrwyn and Blackbird Studios is happily tweeting from @BlackbirdScot.  That’s my Christmas present ideas totally sorted and we’ve not even finished June.  Happy Days…

52and39/20 Kingfisher Karma

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Last year, around summertime, I fixed on the idea that 2014 would be my year to see a Kingfisher again.  Cheesy?  Maybe.

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I’ve only seen one once before, in childhood.  The rarity of the sighting was impressed upon me excitedly.

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In 2014, the memory of the Irn Bru glitter ball bird of tiny glory came back to me.

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I invented some whimsical folklore in my head that I’d see one again soon, thus meaning that the heavens would be aligned, the cosmos cleansed, and the laundry tamed, etc.

So, erm, 2015 for sure, right?

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