MarySmith’sPlace – Mountains, magic lakes and fairies

The remote Kaghan Valley, in northern Pakistan, is one of the country’s, if not the world’s, most beautiful valleys. The lush vegetation of the terraced lower slopes is superseded by great forests of pine and fir which, in turn, give way to magnificent mountain peaks.

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A morning’s steady driving from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, brings the traveller to the small village of Balakot. From here, the Kaghan Valley stretches ahead for 160 kilometres.  It was along this route the Moghul emperors travelled to their summer residence in Kashmir.  In 1898 the road became the main route to Gilgit, via Chilas on the far side of the Babusar Pass, 4146 metres above sea level.

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David’s first dandelion clock

The Pathans marched through here to their jihad (Holy War) in an attempt to save Kashmir from Indian rule in 1947. The construction of the mighty Karakoram Highway led to the Kaghan route falling into disuse – one reason for its continuing isolation.

 

Our journey took us along a narrow, twisting road with steep cliffs on one side, a hair-raising drop on the other. Far below, the Kunhar River – sometimes a brown, foaming torrent, sometimes a startling green, thunders along its rocky bed.

In the 1920s, the British, who never allowed postings to far flung corners of the Empire to interrupt their sporting pursuits, stocked three of the Kaghan Valley’s lakes – Dudupatsar, Lulusar and Saif-ul-Muluk – with eggs from Scotland’s best brown trout.

I had come to the valley with a friend from dry, dusty Karachi who had never ventured to this part of his country before. Drinking in the glorious views, he declared:  “This can’t be Pakistan, I must be in Switzerland.”

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There was a distinctly alpine feel about it. Surrounded by mountains, the high plateau’s meadows were strewn with wild flowers. No yodellers to be sure, but, on the still, clear air the distant tinkling of bells could be heard from goats, grazing on the rich pasture.

At the northern end of the valley, at an elevation of 3,224 m (10,578 feet) above sea level is the glorious, enchanted, magical Lake Saif-ul-Muluk.

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We hired a jeep as far as the glacier, which we crossed on foot (disappointingly dirty) rather than putting our trust in the rather thin, hungry looking horses for hire. On the far side, drivers wait to transport passengers up the final rough stretch – a bone shaking, spine jarring experience which made walking seem a delightful idea.

Saif-ul-Muluk was spectacularly beautiful.  At over 5000 metres, Malika Parbat – the Queen of Mountains – stood proudly above the circle of white peaks, their mirror image reflected in the brilliant blue waters.

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There was an ethereal quality to such startling beauty, conjuring up images of magical fairy tales. Indeed, there is a legend that Prince Saif-ul-Muluk fell in love with a fairy bathing in the lake. To tease her, he stole her clothes and she, to preserve her modesty, agreed to marry the handsome prince. The fairy’s demon lover, enraged at seeing his beloved happily wed a mortal, wreaked revenge by flooding the valley. The fairies still visit at night, when the moon is full, dancing on the flower spangled meadow and bathing in the lake.

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When I was putting this blog post together I Googled Lake Saif-ul-Muluk and found many entries on TripAdvisor, which hadn’t been invented when I visited the Kaghan Valley. It sounds as though my beautiful, magical place has become commercialised with eating places,  (though no toilets), touts offering horse rides and boat trips, and polluted by the crowds who leave their rubbish behind. At least I have happy memories of my visit. And, given the chance, I would go again.

 

 

 

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MarySmith’sPlace – what is this monster?

When I bought this plant in Woolworths

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– that tells you it was a long time ago – it was a tiny thing, not even six inches tall. It was being sold off in a sale. I assumed it was some kind of cactus or succulent which would grow upright.

Instead, it seems to grow horizontally. In fact, it looks like it’s trying to escape its pot. I’ve staked it and tied it up but this is as upright as it gets. I moved it, to make way for our Chritmas tree a couple of years ago. It seems happy in its present position on the wndowsill half way up the stairs. Which is fine but it keeps growing and its becoming harder to find bigger pots.

What is it?

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Will it eventually climb out of its pot and murder us all in our beds?

 

MarySmith’sPlace – #Buzkashi

I came across some photos from my years in Afghanistan and felt such a pang of nostalgia for my winter and early spring Friday afternoons watching buzkashi – Afghanistan’s national equestrian sport. Apologies for the poor quality images, which do not do the sport justice. I have others, transparencies, which I hope one day to convert.

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And they’re off

It’s a sport which makes polo look like a game for children. Instead of a ball, it is played with a headless carcass of a goat – the name means, literally, grabbing the goat – or a calf. The goat is killed the day before the match, its head cut off and the guts removed. The torso is soaked in water for twenty four hours to toughen up the hide. By the end of the match the meat must be beautifully tender, which can’t always be said for goat meat.

It’s the fastest, most exciting, exhilarating sport in the world and I became addicted to it when I lived in Mazar-i-Sharif.

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The high saddles are wooden, padded underneath and often covered with small Afghan rugs

The carcass is placed in the centre of a circle and surrounded by the riders. At the games I watched there was always upwards of a hundred horses, the riders paying as individuals rather than in teams. The teamwork is between horse and rider, where the incredible level of trust and co-operation makes it seem as though there a single entity.

As the signal to begin is given, the riders urge their horses into a furious scrum. When one, leaning at an impossible angle succeeds in grabbing, he has to haul the dead weigh onto his saddle and break free of the melee. He has to gallop round the playing area and return to drop the carcass into the scoring area. Of course, as soon as one buzkashi player grabs the goat all the others try to wrest it from him.

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Somewhere on the ground is the fiercely contested carcass

The game, although played over all of Central Asia, belongs to Afghanistan. Its origins are hazy though it is a legacy from the days when the plains of Central Asia were populated by nomadic tribes. Over two thousand years ago, the traveller and geographer, Herodotus, remarked on how the horse provided not only food, fuel, clothing and shelter for the tribes but was also vital for herding flocks, hunting and raiding expeditions.

Battles were fought on horseback even before Genghis Khan swept across the plains, conquering all before him. Legend has it that in the earliest days of buzkashi it was not a goat which was used but prisoners of war. Today it is still played by mostly by those tribes – Uzbek, Turkoman, Kazakh and Hazara – who claim Turkic/Mongolian descent. There were stories, not necessarily apocryphal, of captured Russian soldiers suffering the same gristly fate during the not so distant years of the Soviet invasion.

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The goat or calf carcass can be seen on the ground beside the hooves of the horse in the foreground

Competition is fierce. The chapandazan (master buzkashi players) look magnificent on horseback, from their traditional round fur hats, chapan (a loose, padded overcoat, tied round the waist), which provide some protection against other players’ whips. The knee-length leather boots have high heels, which allow the rider to hook his feet into the stirrups while he leans down to grab the goat. When requiring two hands to haul the goat off the ground, the rider holds his whip between his teeth.

These incredibly skilled horsemen have trained for years, spending many games riding on the edges, observing and learning. Very few achieve the kind of success which leads to being invited to ride the best horses. Not all the riders on the field get anywhere near trying to grab the goat. Only the most skilled form the inner group circling the carcass; the remainder of the field is made up of novice riders, horses under training, spare horses ridden by grooms and other riders who, although not chapandazan, simply enjoy the high level of excitement – and danger – at being so close to the centre of activity.

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The horses, bred specifically for the sport, undergo an average of five years training. They are well looked after and fed well on barley, melons in season and raw eggs and butter.  A chapandaz teaches a horse never to trample a fallen rider. I remember a pagal, mad man, wandering onto the playing area, where he sat in the path of over a hundred horses galloping towards him – not one touched him. The horses will rear on their hind legs, push and shove the other horses to get their rider into position to try to grab the goat. While he is leaning over, the horse remains perfectly still.

It is not a game for sissies. I think as long as a chapandaz doesn’t deliberately knock another rider off his horse or intentionally slash someone with his whip, pretty much anything goes. The Afghan Olympic Committee has now established a set of official rules but they are really only for games in Kabul – and the Olympics if that dream ever comes true. In Mazar-i-Sharif they played old style.

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At the end of the match – around two hours and two carcasses – the spectators drift off, still hotly debating the quality of the play, favourite chapandazan and referee’s (yes there is one) decisions. And they walk tall and proud, for they have not only watched a tremendously exciting game – they have witnessed a re-enactment of the ‘old ways’. Buzkashi awakens a collective memory of their nomadic ancestry, their fierce independence, their victories in battle and their incredible affinity to the horse.

I’ll end with a poem; published in my collection Thousands Pass Here Every Day, which I hope gives a flavour of the excitement of the game.

Buzkashi

Rearing, wheeling, plunging,
urged by leather-booted heels –
a rugby scrum of horses.
Whips and hooves, knife sharp,
slice frozen winter air as rising dust
meets sweat and steaming breath.
Laws of gravity ignored, a horseman leans,
crazy-angled, reins between clenched teeth,
and grabs the goat.

Men and animals scream defiance,
the maelstrom melts, dissolves –
a tidal wave of horses.
Thundering hooves become
thudding heartbeats, spectators roar approval,
ancestral memories stirred
by sounds and scents of victory.
No longer taxi drivers, labourers, shopkeepers,
they are Genghis Khan’s army streaming –
invincible – across Asia’s plains.

Tomorrow, the sound and the fury gone,
they’ll be shopkeepers again.

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Tug of war

 

MarySmith’sPlace #Awards: The Sunshine Blogger Award

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I’m delighted to say I received the Sunshine Blogger Award in in February 2019 from Rob Goldstein at Art by Rob Goldstein.

Rob started his blog in 2013 to advocate for himself and other people with trauma related mental health problems. He is informative, writing with honesty and clarity and inspirational. Over the years his blog has evolved and includes his own poetry and other writing, digital art and photography.

The Sunshine Blogger Award is a peer appreciation award given to bloggers who are creative, positive, and inspiring, while spreading sunshine to the blogging community.

Thank you to Rob

The Rules:

Thank the blogger who nominated you in a blog post and make a link back to their blog.

Answer the 11 questions sent to you by the person who nominated you.

Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award, and then write them 11 new questions – or cheat like I did and use the same questions 🙂

List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or your blog

Here are the questions I received and my answers:

What was the driving force behind the creation of your blog?

I have two blogs: My Dad’s a Goldfish and MarySmith’sPlace  I started the Goldfish blog when I moved in with my father who had dementia. I began it as a way of recording and processing what was happening in Dad’s life and my own. It was also a way of being able to keep my writing muscle working when I found I had no time nor creativity for my own writing. I started MarySmith’sPlace because I wanted somewhere to blog about non-dementia related things – exploring the countryside around me, holidays, stories from when I worked overseas.

What was your vision for your future in blogging/writing when you first started this blog? How has that vision evolved?

I don’t think I had any particular vision when I started the Goldfish blog other than recording the ups and down of living with someone with dementia – and maybe to connect with others in a similar situation. It was quite a lonely place to be. I was delighted when it came apparent the blog resonated with many people who were affected by dementia, either going through the same process as I was (often with a spouse rather than a parent) told me they found my stories helpful. Their comments made me realise I was not on my own in this situation and feel it was worth continuing.

MarySmith’sPlace is a baby still. I’ve only been blogging on it for a year. It’s still settling in and deciding what it wants to be.

What age were you when you realized you loved writing?

About ten, scribbling stories in notebooks. Probably plagiarised from authors such as Enid Blyton.

How has your life changed as a result of the electronic age? Is it better/worse/the same?

Better. I love being able to connect with people all over the world, some of whom have become real friends.

What was the very last website you visited today?

HughsViewsandNews  He reposted a post he wrote some time ago on keeping blogging fun and not feeling guilty when you can’t manage to read and comment on the blog posts of bloggers you follow – or not posting as often as you think you should. Sometimes, the guilt threatens to overwhelm me so I need a reminder from Hugh that blogging should be fun!

What was the first website you visited when you woke up four days ago?

I don’t remember.

If you could change one thing about your past, what would it be?

My lack of self-confidence.

How would your life be different today if that one thing from your past were to change?

I would have achieved more.

If you have children, tell me…how did your parenting change from the time you had your first child until the time you had your last?

I’ve only had one child so I don’t know how my parenting would have changed.

Tell me about the funniest experience you’ve had in the past month.

Getting ready for bed one night, sitting on the loo still swishing mouthwash round my mouth – bulging cheeks, contorted mouth, loud swishing noises – when the cat wandered in, took one look and fled as though confronted by the world’s scariest monster. Of course, I laughed. Have you any idea how far mouthwash can spray across a bathroom floor?

What do you have planned for the upcoming holiday season?

We always have our first picnic of the year at Easter. Anything from a dozen to twenty of us, all ages from babies to nonagenarian meet up at a local beach. We roll our painted eggs down a hill seeing whose lasts the longest before it cracks, collect wood, light a fire, toast marshmallows and catch up with each other’s news.

If I nominate you and you have an award free blog, please view the nomination as a compliment: you are under no obligation to respond. My questions are the same as those posed to me.

My eleven nominees:

Sally Cronin

Darlene Foster

Barb Taub

Shelley Wilson

Lucinda Clarke

D.G. Kaye

Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo

Beetley Pete

Brigid Gallacher

Cathy at Between the Lines Book Blog

Lizanne at Lost in a Good Book

 

MarySmith’sPlace -What a difference a day makes

Capricious – a rather lovely word to describe Scotland’s changeable weather. I can think of others less flattering. My last post was about a very wet walk along part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path when it rained on us for the entire walk. Yet the following day the sun shone out of a brilliant blue sky.

It was supposed to be a writing day but I couldn’t resist going out to enjoy the sunshine and decided on a short walk along the shore at Sandyhills, on the Solway coast. It’s about twelve miles from where I live. In the summer, the beach is crowded with holiday makers, some of whom stay at the caravan park and there is a charge for parking. In the winter, parking is free. Most of the other people on the beach are dog walkers or, like me, simply out to make the most of a bright, sunny – if cold – day.

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In the 19th century and early part of the 20th century the Solway Firth was a major shipping channel bringing and taking goods to and from the ports of Dumfries. The treacherous Barnhourie Banks were responsible for a number of shipwrecks including, among others, the William Levitt bound from Quebec to Greenock in 1888, the St Patrick (four days after the ship ran aground one crew member was found alive, clinging to the rigging), and the Village Belle heading for Glasgow from Penzance in 1914. She ran aground at Barnhourie, the crew took to the lifeboat, which also ran aground and they then walked across the sand for three miles to the Southwick Burn where a local farmer helped them.

Apart from history, which includes the remains of a Bronze Age cremation burial site, the area abounds with legends of mermaids – some of whom save drowning sailors, while others who sing them to their doom – smugglers, and excisemen.

It’s a lovely walk from Sandyhills over the coastal path to Rockcliffe but today I don’t have time so content myself with a walk along the shore before climbing up and returning along the clifftop path.

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Entrance to one of the many caves along this coast

Stake nets are a traditional form of tide fishing. Long ago, before stake nets were developed, fishermen created a hollow in the sand which trapped fish in a pool of water left when the tide retreated. Later, rocks and hurdles were used to form the pools and eventually the stake nets. These consist of nets hung vertically on stakes driven into the sand, often in a zig-zag pattern. The nets have narrow openings which salmon can easily enter but not so easily exit.

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Stake nets with wind turbines behind them

Sandyhills

 

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The rocky cliffs are peppered with caves and incredible shapes.

From the clifftop path the views are stunning. You can see why this is such a popular place with both visitors and locals alike. Despite how empty it looks in the photos I met many people out walking – it’s just such a big, big space!

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The square shape out to sea is an RAF bombing target used in World War Two by the Number 10 Bombing and Gunnery School based at the Heathhall airfield, Dumfries.

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Perfect outdoor poetry performance space!

This final photo is looking across to the snow-covered hills of Cumbria.DSC01370 (Custom)

MarySmith’sPlace – Walking (a bit of) Ayrshire’s Coastal Path

Maidens to Dunure

My friend and I met at Dunure, a small village in Ayrshire, where she left her car and I drove us to Maidens, another small village in Ayrshire, from where we would walk along the coastal path to Dunure.

It was raining. The first stage of the walk was across the beach, deserted apart from a woman walking her dog. The rain became a bit heavier. The last time we did a stretch of the Ayrshire Coastal Path we walked from Ayr to Dunure and it rained non-stop then, too.

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A dreich scene

We headed up from the beach into the grounds of Culzean Castle and Country Park. The huge cliff-top castle is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

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Culzean Castle

In 1569, the 4th Earl of Cassilis, who lived at Dunure Castle, gave Culzean Castle to his brother Sir Thomas Kennedy who expanded the tower house. It was not until his descendent, David Kennedy, inherited Culzean in 1775 that major transformation was begun. He commissioned architect Robert Adam but both men died before the work was completed. David Kennedy died with debts of £60,000 (£4m today), mostly from the costs of rebuilding Culzean. However, he ensured the castle (and his title) passed to a distant cousin, Captain Archibald Kennedy, a wealthy naval captain from New York who had the means to finish the work.

It was his grandson, the 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, who completed the final development of Culzean Castle, providing modern accommodation for his family by building the three storey west wing. In 1945 the widow of the 4th Marquess handed the castle and grounds over to the National Trust for Scotland, keeping the right to use the west wing for the remainder of her life. She also insisted the top floor of the castle was converted into a flat for General Eisenhower as a gesture of gratitude from Scotland, for his part in securing victory during World War II. Apparently, you can hire the flat for your wedding.

We tramped along in the rain, passing the Swan Pond and a line-up of small cannons pointing out to sea, round the back of the castle and down a path to the Gas House. As the name suggests, it provided gas (coal gas) to the castle from the mid- 19th century.

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The gas house. And raindrops on my lens.

Back on the beach we looked back up at the castle on its clifftop. The views from there must be stunning but both Ailsa Craig and Arran were well hidden from us. DSC01293 (Custom)

At least we had the wind at our backs and not driving the rain into our faces.  walked on, sometimes over firm sand, sometimes rocky outcrops, sometimes over seaweed slimy rocks until we reached Croyburnfoot Holiday Park. A burn ran across our path and the bridge was gone. We wandered through the caravan park hoping we’d find a route back down on the other side of the burn. Finally, we climbed over a barbed wire fence and back down onto the shore.

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Rachel on the rocks – and more raindrops on my lens!

Then we had a nasty bit over a rocky outcrop which was lethally slippery. I decided to climb up and over through bracken and brambles; only realised the next day how much the brambles ripped my jacket.

The next bit was uphill off the shore. The walk guide I read (but left in the car) said we passed a Protected Ancient Monument called Katie Gray’s Rocks. If we did, we missed it as we ploughed on through the rain over farmland, though some woodland and finally onto a path leading to Dunure Castle. The rain began to ease and we were granted glimpses of Arran beginning to show through the clouds.

Dunure Castle was once the main fortress of the Kennedy family although it has been a ruin for at least three hundred years. One member of the family married  a daughter of King Robert III and another went on to become Bishop of St Andrews. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here for three days in August 1563 as the guest of Gilbert Kennedy, the 4th Earl of Cassilis.

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Dunure Castle has a long, often brutal, history.

On reaching Dunure village we discovered the pub where we had intended eating had shut down. Luckily, the café was open. The macaroni cheese was excellent.

I am determined to do this walk one day when the sun is shining. It must happen. I’ve seen photos.

MarySmith’sPlace -Remembering Silvana

Artist Silvana McLean sadly passed away last year and The Whitehouse Gallery in Kirkcudbright, south west Scotland is paying tribute to this wonderful artist with a solo exhibition of her work.

credit Euan Adamson (2)

credit Euan Adamson

As well as a large collection of Silvana’s prints and original paintings, there will also be items on loan from her family, such as a much treasured painting called ‘The Lighthouse’, which was part of Silvana’s school work, submitted in her application to Art School.

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Fold (This is my favourite painting. I could lose myself in it forever)

 

Something very special to me will also be on display – a portfolio of Silvana’s prints accompanied by five of my poems. This was the result of an arts project on which Silvana and I collaborated.

In 2007 when we were commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage to work on a project called ‘Voices of Glentrool & Merrick’ Silvana and I had never met, but there was an immediate rapport which led to a lasting friendship. The project was designed to reconnect people to the landscape around Glentrool, including the village purpose built to house forestry workers.

The completed work, which was based on stories and memories from the people interviewed, was the portfolio of Silvana’s etchings and my poems. A small pamphlet of the images and poems was also printed. The portfolios were placed in a number of public venues including visitor centres in Galloway, Newton Stewart Library, Ewart Library in Dumfries and the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh and National Library of Scotland. Silvana also presented everyone who had taken part in the interviews with one of the limited edition prints at a launch event in June 2008.

When we began the project we each went off to do our research, explore the landscape and, in my case, interview people who lived or had worked in the area. As well as emailing updates to each other we met meet regularly to exchange information and ideas. I vividly remember the first time we met in the Glentrool Visitor Centre, to report back on our initial findings. We were both fizzing with excitement – and we fizzed very happily over huge and delicious scones. ‘Ruthy’s’ scones we discovered were extremely conducive to creative collaboration and to cementing friendship.

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Loch Trool, Dumfries & Galloway. Who couldn’t find inspiration here?

Silvana went to view the Silver Flowe, an area of bog land, which gets its name because from high on the hills above, the pools of water look like silver.

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On the Silver Flowe (credit Silvana McLean)

When I met her afterwards, she was bouncing with excitement and ideas. Of course, she hadn’t just wanted to see it from above but to experience it herself. Luckily, she had a guide from the Forestry Commission because this unique bog is a treacherous place for the unwary.

Silvana had always been fascinated by the remoter islands and seaboards of Scotland and Ireland and her work reflects the stark beauty of these coastlines. The Glentrool project provided the impetus to head even further north to Iceland. A few years after we’d worked together I interviewed Silvana for a magazine feature in which she explained:  “The research into the geology and glacier activity which formed the hills was a vital stepping stone. People who lived on that land were shaped by the forces that shaped the landscape. I was fascinated by how glaciation created the landscape and I thought – Iceland – that’s got glaciers – let’s go and see. I think you should always follow your instinct.”

1. Fjord. Collograph w_etched glass. 2016. 35 x 33cm #D4FD (2)

Fjord

 

After her first visit, Silvana was in thrall to Iceland’s landscape and she returned several times, including for a five-week residency in the winter with snow all around her. Not that the cold would worry Silvana. Despite her Mediterranean background (her mother was born in Rome) she always felt more of a connection to cooler climes.

Our friendship continued after the project. A catch up for coffee could segue seamlessly into lunch because we had so much to talk about. We both had cats. We both had fathers with dementia. In fact, Silvana was sure one her cats had dementia, too. We still talked about geology and glaciers and tectonic plates. One day, I hope I will go to Iceland and see for myself the landscape, which so enthralled Silvana, with its volcanoes and glaciers re-forming and shifting.

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Fractured Landscape

The Whitehouse Gallery exhibition opens on Saturday 2nd February at 11am and runs until 23rd.  Four local makers who Silvana greatly respected have been invited to take part in this exhibition, each taking inspiration from Silvana and her work. These include Amanda Simmons (glass), Lizzie Farey (willow sculpture), Ruth Elizabeth Jones (ceramics) and Hannah McAndrew (ceramics).

If you are anywhere near Dumfries & Galloway do go and see it. If you can’t visit the area you can see some of Silvana’s work on the website gallery along with work by the four other makers.

Silvana’s own website remains as a testament to her many talents and achievements.

The world lost a remarkable artist and a truly beautiful person when Silvana McLean passed away in 2018. And I lost a wonderful friend.

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Silvana McLean RSW 1953-2018

MarySmith’sPlace – #Murmuration

This winter we have been privileged to watch a spectacular display of starlings over the town of Castle Douglas in south west Scotland every evening. Thousands of birds mass in the sky to perform the most breath-taking aerial ballet.

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The starlings start to gather

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No sky, just starlings

It seems starlings do this for several reasons. Grouping together offers safety in numbers as predators such as peregrine falcons are less able to target one bird to grab for dinner in the middle of thousands swooping and swerving. They gather to keep warm at night and they exchange information about good feeding sites.

At some point the decision is made and communicated to the entire murmuration and they swoop down to their chosen roost. It’s like a black waterfall pouring out of the darkening sky. Once settled the racket they make as they chitter chatter amongst themselves is astonishing.

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Coming in to roost

What makes them choose a particular place, though, remains a mystery. For years we’ve had a small group which roosts in the monkey puzzle tree in the grounds of the library but we’ve never had such numbers before. For some years, Gretna boasted a large murmuration and last year they were at Kirkcudbright. This year, I’m so delighted it’s our turn – even if my poor car is under their flight path. And, if it’s true a bird pooping on you means good luck then I must be going to be incredibly lucky this year!

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All over the town photographers are wandering about, eyes glued on the swirling mass above. They’ve led us a merry dance, too, changing their roost location several times over the last few weeks – still always within walking distance. Wherever they choose to roost, I’m lucky they gather right outside my study window before they fly homewards for the night.

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My friend and collaborator on local history books, wildlife expert and photographer Keith Kirk has taken some stunning photos and videos. This link takes you to his Facebook video page and from there you can find the link to his photos.  He’s a MUCH better photographer than I am!

MarySmith’sPlace – #Reading challenge 2019

New Year/New Challenge! I’ve signed up to Sam Ann Elizabeth’s reading challenge ‘When Are You Reading?’ You can find the details here.

Basically, it means reading one book from each of twelve time periods from pre-1300 up to the future. I can see some of the time periods may be a challenge as they are so far out of my usual reading zone but excited to have to try something new.

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It is up to the participant to determine what year a book belongs in. She suggests choosing a year where the largest part of the action occurs or the most important event.

The first book I’ve read for the challenge is Kate Atkinson’s Transcription, which has a brief beginning and ending in 1981 but the bulk of the story takes place in 1940 and 1950 so it slots very nicely into the 1940-1959 time period. I’m off the starting block!

These are the time periods:

Pre-1300:

1300-1499:

1500-1699:

1700-1799:

1800-1899:

1900-1919:

1920-1939:

1940-1959: Transcription by Kate Atkinson

1960-1979:

1980-1999:

2000-Present:

The Future:

Why not give it a go? At only twelve books through the year it feels like it should be do-able, doesn’t it? Sign up here.

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