Recovering Ground - The Future Places Environmental Essay Prize 2021(2nd place)-Lancaster University


‘In this trembling moment [...] is it still possible to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?’
Barry Lopez, from his essay Love in a Time of Terror

Martin and I were standing on the edge of a rock face, the overcast day was warm and close; fourth of July 2018, the day the golden eagle chick would be ID ringed. It was also our twentieth wedding anniversary, and our third visit of the season with Scott out to the eyrie – he pronounced it ‘aye-ree’. Scott was in his usual high spirits and full of eagle stories: the male he’d seen carrying off whole meadow pipits ’nests in his talons; this year every eagle territory between here and Campbeltown was occupied; within the 360° skyline visible from where we stood fifteen of those territories could be seen; the only sound an eagle makes is the contact call to its chick; golden eagles have no sense of smell; nothing will shake the female’s commitment to her young. Scott kept talking as he emptied his backpack, out came the climbing rope, a mallet, wooden pegs, harness. Tattoos darkened his skin, many designed from photos he’d taken himself on wildlife focused travels: a tiger; two spotted owlets; a totem pole; the view down Loch Etive from Buachaille Etive Beag; golden eagles - his biggest passion; a silver-backed gorilla – ‘cover up job from a lion rampant he’d got done in Blackpool’.

Scott was quick to laugh at himself. This man in his late forties emanated joy and positivity. When I asked him if he ‘gets down’ with how things are in the world, with the climate emergency, he was quick to answer: ‘Humans are the plague of this planet, but I’m a people person too. I love people, and connection makes a difference. I do my work on grouse moors and talk to gamekeepers, I can show them how every place needs eagles for balance, how the eagles are doing the keepers’ own job for them – predating on foxes, young badgers, stoats – so why not leave them alone, it’s not in their interest to intervene with apex predators, and most folk get it. But there’s a lot of corruption out there, across the board. I’ve had people asking me how much it would cost for me to make nest sites of harriers ‘disappear ’from my survey work. I used to get really low, really low, now I listen to zero mainstream news. It’s helped. I love this work, I love what I do. We can all do our bit, but the people who have the control in the world don’t do enough. That’s got to change.’

In his work as a wildlife surveyor Scott is coming up against corruption, habitat destruction, the effects of the climate emergency, and yet he remains positive. His own life story imbues the possibility for change. His interest in birds began as a young lad collecting eggs – peewits eggs, duck, geese, pigeon – for his grandfather, his papa, who wanted them for omelettes, ‘for good protein’. The people living next door to his grandfather trapped, caged and showed wild birds. 'That’s just what people did.’ He remembers
seeing a male bullfinch and a male goldfinch side by side in cages, an electrifying moment that turned his interest in birds into a passion. Scott went from collecting eggs for his grandfather’s omelettes to collecting eggs for himself, not to eat, but to have and to hold. ‘I never took a whole clutch’ he assured me, ‘I’d just take one’. He was sixteen the year he stopped, it was also the year he found his most exciting nests yet: Slavonian grebes, hen harriers, a golden eagle nest. He could have taken an eagle’s egg but he didn’t, and that was the moment he knew everything had changed, that it ‘was time for a turn’. When I asked Scott if he thought it was his conscience speaking to him he replied ‘no, it was the eagle speaking to me’. He left the nest untouched, went home, smashed his egg collection, and has never looked back.

‘One of the healthiest chicks I’ve ever seen, ’Scott said, breathless after the climb up from the nest. ‘The three things you need to watch – two feet and beak – see, hold her like this. ’He was expertly and gently removing the eaglet from the backpack – from where I was sitting on the ground it looked huge – and was passing it down to me, into my outstretched arms, my shaking hands. The yellow of its beak was a charge of colour, its eyes – large and luminous – held the reflection of the hill, the sky. Eyelids glided milky- moon-blue. There were tiny beads of moisture on its tongue, its breathing was heavy. I did what I do with horses when they are stressed - calmed my own breathing, concentrated on being in my body. Scott carried on talking, ‘something I would love in this lifetime, if I had one wish, would be to see what they see,’ he nodded at the chick, ‘you know, they can spot the terracotta of a grouse’s eyelid closing from four miles away.’

The leg ringing was quick and efficient, Martin held the pliers and followed directions. It was important to get the chick back on the nest as quickly as possible, and for us to get out of there so that the female bird could return. Holding something that wild, that essential, felt like the most extraordinary privilege, I also felt uneasy, having my human hands on this feathered creature, this panting epitome of freedom. I also understood that the information Scott was gathering would play its part in safeguarding future generations of eagles. He was measuring her tarsal bone, ‘yep, I thought so, she’s a female. She’ll weigh about four and a half kilos right now, will probably fledge in a week, she’s already fully grown bone- wise, the parents will be keeping her hungry now, dropping her body weight in preparation for flying. So much about these birds is hollow – their feathers, their bones.' The chick’s heart was beating fast against my own, the heat coming off her body intense, but it was the smell that affected me the most. I inhaled her, a mixture of bark and horse, of spice - cinnamon maybe, of dry leaves. Then it came to me, fire.

She smelt of fire.

Then she was gone, back to the nest with Scott, the place that hadn’t seen an active eyrie for years, but was locally known as ‘Eagle Rock’, a place that had seen eagles hatched during previous decades, centuries, possibly even millennia.

We watched Scott drive off, his wee dog, Alfie, strapped into his own seat belt; a dog with a steady gaze, bearded chin, one that ‘does an excellent job of finding birds’. The pair drove off into a mystery of early starts and late nights, all the birds – hen harriers and merlins, ospreys and white-tailed eagles, short- eared owls and golden eagles, the greenshank and the divers – between his home in East Kilbride and the rest of Scotland. Distance, he does it:‘ This time of year, ’he’d said,‘ I don’t stop.’

The space the eaglet had created sat vast and bright on my chest. I fought back tears. Her downy fibres were all over my t-shirt, my throat, my bare arms, and flakes of skin from her legs, her talons, stuck like tiny scales to my own skin.

I wouldn’t wash for days, and life would never be quite the same again.


That summer three years ago, when we met Scott and the eagle chick, was also the year I began a creative collaboration with sculptor Lucy Gray. This led to an invitation from the Resipole Studios on the Ardnamurchan peninsula to develop an exhibition of sculpture and poetry – its remit ‘all things are connected’ – to be exhibited at the same time as COP26 in Glasgow. After a day walking the tidal shores of Loch Etive, resting in the lee of the mossy walls of long-ago shielings – àirigh in Gaelic, after a day of being sunned and hailed on by April showers, the working title ‘Recovering Ground’ emerged through layers of conversation, of silence, of listening to place. Barry Lopez’s describes walking in the desert: ‘In terms of what governed the line of my footsteps, my many changes of direction, my pauses, my squatting down, it was primarily my desire to pursue immersion - letting the place overwhelm me.’ It is our own experience of immersion in landscape that inspires Lucy and I in our collaborative work. It is also why we go back to the same area again and again, discovering for ourselves the meaning in Scottish writer Nan Shepherd’s words ‘the known grows with the knowing.’

Immersing oneself in the landscape can do two things simultaneously; you feel at once so small, unimportant, and reassuringly part of a vibrating living whole that encompasses deep time, and somehow, amidst all that enormity, you can touch base with your own elemental, essential self - this brief flare of blood and bone and spirit that is you. In the North of Spain, in Catalonia, near a town where I used to work, is a large rambling house in the pinewoods. Next door is a rehabilitation centre for people with long-term drug addiction. The patients may be invited by their psychiatrist to go next door for carefully administered ‘plant medicine’, specifically an Amazonian vine called ayahuasca. One person I spoke to, who is familiar with the process of taking ayahuasca, told me it cures many people of longstanding depression and addiction. The secret? People report knowing for the first time that they are truly connected with all of nature, that they will never again feel alone. That connection is a life-changer. It is well known that people who feel disconnected from others and place, who don’t feel a sense of belonging, or who feel isolated, are more prone to drug addiction, and other forms of disengagement such as alcoholism, gambling, unhealthy relationship and sex patterns, and excessive unsustainable consumerism. In many ways the climate emergency is also a symptom of longstanding disengagement, of not feeling and knowing ourselves to be closely connected to the natural world. In David Attenborough’s words: ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.’

It is now late summer, and the ‘Recovering Ground’ exhibition is merely weeks away. Driftwood and bogwood, dried roots, gesso and jesmonite, palladium leaf, bone, graphite, tarnished silver leaf, French ultramarine and Prussian blue paint, acorns and charcoal, are all breathing ‘being’ into sculptures. There is also bronze in this collection, bronze poured on the shores of Loch Etive under a clear August sky. Now we are busy bringing language and sculpture together, inviting them to find their flow. It feels like alchemy. It’s sometimes hard, frustrating, it’s sometimes joyous. It is always an act of faith and it’s full of surprises. Collaboration is a process of dissolving boundaries, of vaporising ego, of staying open, and above all of being in love with the process.

Recovering Ground

‘You will love again the stranger who was your self’
Derek Walcott

When you come back to me
and call me by my name – Ruadh

I can breathe freely

when you stay long enough

for stillness to settle
I am unmuscled
in the softness of now.

Under a supple sky I rest
here where many places meet –

hawthorn and hill,
sea-loch and alder,
bog myrtle and river.

Under a supple sky I ache –
if I were the river this would feel like boulders moving

through the bed and breadth of me;
if I were a fox denned in the earth
it would be the liquid dark of my eyes.

Nan Shepherd, describing her playful experimentation with different ways of viewing the landscape – such as having her head upside down between her legs – writes in The Living Mountain: ‘Details are no longer part of a grouping in a picture of which I am the focal point, the focal point is everywhere. Nothing has reference to me, the looker. This is how the earth must see itself. ’Might this world, where the focal point is everywhere, be one in which us humans can know ourselves to be part of a whole, no more no less, and to treat that whole – the earth-sky-seas – as if it were the palm of a newborn’s hand, the underbelly of a horse. I said that vaporising ego is what collaboration demands of us, and yes, that’s been my experience, and yet the poem that I wrote – that wanted to be written – is written in the first person, and is personal as well as universal, on the theme of how we humans can abandon ourselves. I have sat with a discomfort around this: enough of the ‘I’, surely, I say to myself, and on it goes, the reflection upon reflection of ‘I’, the echos of one’s own mind. But there it is, this poem, written in first person, and resisting despite my attempts, at being written in any other way.

By honouring the poem, by listening to the poem, by staying with the poem, I come face to face with my own shame around placing selfhood at the centre. This is partly why I am writing this essay, as a response to, and inquiry into, the shame that creeps in. It is a familiar shame, an old shame. Even the wording for the Future Places Environmental Essay and Poetry Prize brings it up in me: ‘This is much less nature and nature writing as a vehicle for personal recovery, and much more about the essay and poetry as restorative acts in the field of literature.’ There is shame, there is also confusion; why can’t the essay and poetry be both a vehicle for personal recovery and a restorative act in the field of literature? In fact, are they not completely intertwined; when the climate emergency has been created by humans, do we not need to look to ourselves to sort it out? To do that is it not important to get our own houses in order, to get our shit together? Kae Tempest writes in their book On Connection: ‘And anyway, what is the difference between self-knowledge and self-obsession? One encourages the defeat of the ego, the other encourages a feeding of the ego. One, a deeper experience of connection to ourselves, which enables a more nourishing connection to others. The other, disdain for the deeper needs of the self, which leads to disdain for others.’

Tempest’s words resonate. Is it not true that connection to self leads to better connection to other human beings and to the rest of the natural world, that this connection is vital if we are to effectively engage with the challenges of the climate emergency with courage and creativity. On a conscious level Tempest’s words ring so true to me, and yet, when I inquire into my own shame around self-connection it pushes back with the vigour of chest-high summer bracken. It leaves me covered with grazes and bloodthirsty ticks. I tweezer off the ticks and scratch at the bites. The itch is uncomfortable, this tension between my belief that noticing, heeding, and caring for the self is important, as is nature and nature writing as a vehicle for personal recovery – if that is what inspires and helps you – and then this insidious doubting that it can’t be right spending energy and time on the self when the Earth and its denizens are facing the extreme challenges of the Anthropocene, when there is so much to be done. The environmental activist and theologian Alastair McIntosh writes in Hell and High Water – Climate Change, Hope and the Human Condition: ‘as well as being a technical, economic, and political problem, climate change is also cultural, psychological and spiritual [...] for all that I love scientific method, its honesty and its explanatory power, I believe that it has allowed modern humankind to indulge too easily in the arrogance of forgetting that our own inner realities also shape the world.’ Surely, in order to effectively engage with climate change and biodiversity loss, we would do well, as a species, to attend to these inner realities that can shape the world.

When you are close in like this,

and Ruadh slips off your tongue

I can dare to remember
the threat of snares laid
among the innocent trees,
I dare to remember how you left me,

skin bursting in bites of steel,
throat frozen, mouth foaming crimson.

You get an inkling don’t you – familiar stranger,
of the agony of abandonment?

Between turns of ingrown rage
I get an inkling too,
of how sometimes exile is the only way.

You left me for the chase,
the taste of other women,
men, trees, beasts,
for blood and bark and pheromone, for the potent draw of wounds

that won every time.

One of those fifteen golden eagle territories, visible to us on that July day back in 2018, happens to be in the glen where Lucy and I do our collaborative exploring. In 2018 there was planning permission granted for hydro developments in that glen, one of which was very close to an active eyrie. I was devastated by the proposed developments; I am very pro green energy, but there needs to be wisdom and delicacy employed in where these developments are sited. To my shame – there, that word again – I did nothing. My heart was breaking, and I was deeply concerned, yet I didn’t write a single letter of objection. I verbally expressed my concerns to a friend in Scottish Natural Heritage – now NatureScot – the government body who I understood to have had the overall say in the planning permission. Beyond that I did nothing, absolutely nothing. I had my reasons for not taking it further, they felt important and valid at the time, but now I am not so sure. The consequences of the hydro development were that for the last two seasons the eagles haven’t succeeded in breeding; they were seen trying to mate but were too stressed by the construction work – the dumper trucks, the endless flashing lights and sirens – to even lay eggs, let alone sit. When we don’t stand up for the things we love, or stand up against all that in Walt Whitman’s words ‘offends our soul’, then that too is an abandonment of self, a disengagement. Brené Brown, professor, author and shame and vulnerability researcher, says that shame makes us believe that we are bad, fundamentally different from feeling that we may have done a bad thing. She suggests that shame erodes our ability to change, rather than support it. Novelist and nature writer Melissa Harrison says that the way she chooses to use her time and her voice is to ‘engender connection and delight’, she adds ‘this is an incredibly overlooked and powerful feeling’. She does this not because she thinks ‘everything is going to be okay – the opposite really’ – but because ‘without that sense of delight and custodianship and love, we’re fucked.’

I understand a little.
I have hunkered down, I have waited.

I see fox now, how she weighs the seasons

soft-footed, outfoxing,
but is killed, again and again – cubs ’slow starvation,

senses pierce the dark,
hope snuffles against musky earth.

Under April showers this welling of sadness

settles at new levels,
allows something else;
from the sun comes the hailstone,

from the rock comes the smile,
from the lungwort comes the longing

to hold, to be held, to be whole.

I badly want to touch you.

The freshly poured bronze was warm to the touch. The raw sculpture was a bivalve shell; ‘It is called Sky, and is made to be held,’ said Lucy. On the inside was an impression of a single feather. Lucy told me that its meaning is ‘like, when on a bright day you have looked at the tops of naked branches against a bright sky, and then you close your eyes and see the of the branches translated behind your eyelids, including floaters, parts of your own anatomy. How what we ‘see’ is inseparable from ourselves.' ‘Sky’ is one of three bronzes that will make up the sculpture ‘Metanoia’ in the ‘Recovering Ground’ exhibition. Lucy explores through the elements of sky, water and earth the humbling effects of discovering, and rediscovering, our shared language with landscape and the rest of the natural world, including self, and the gravity that our actions and beliefs have on shaping the world. In the podcast ‘Landed’, part of the ‘Farmerama’ series, Highland farmer Col Gordon inquires into a statement he came across that rocked his world: The small family farm is a colonial concept. This challenged his lifelong beliefs, and led him on a process of discovery in which he explores earlier human relationships with the land he has inherited; the Gaels had a completely different understanding of land relations, one where land was held in common and where people saw the landscape as something they were part of, not as an asset to be parcelled up and owned individually. Through inquiry he feels he is decolonising his view of the landscape around him. He is inviting in new ways of seeing and being. Similarly, Lucy’s sculpture ‘Metanoia’ is about her feelings of positive repentance towards her relationship with the rest of the natural world, as she feels the reciprocity in the relationship with the landscape around her, and becomes aware of the one-sidedness that had been inherent in her art making until now.

See how the colour of me runs off your tongue like rain.

In this spell we stroke each other into a tree,
hawthorn – heart tree – unmistakably.
Each curve, gnarl, whorl, exposed root,
contour of bark, telltale of moss
a story of eroticism, of form, of life.

There, in the living wood I see the Ruadh of winter fox,

of trout spots, of red-deer flank during the moult,

of eagle in dying light, in rising light.

I see the beauty of humanity –
the tenderness in fingertips
the faithful rise and fall of rib cage,

hearts feeding longing and fire
into kin and cultivation, art and hearth.

I smell smoke. Hawthorn burns hottest.

Eyes deep in reflected flames
the tide calls to us,
draws us along stars of upturned roots,

through air cut by snipe,
past the heart-blur of duck flying off water,

pulls us to the river mouth,
confluence of fresh and saltwater.
We lie down by the high tide mark,
its utter integrity –
the rolling together of
oak and berry, feather and kelp.

I badly want to touch you.

The day after the bronze casting, on that last day in August, I drove five hours north. I was on my way to help a friend on a cooking job on a deer stalking estate in Easter Ross. I was still in a bad place around the golden eagles up Loch Etive not nesting, the eagles that I had done nothing to help, and I was questioning my beliefs around that situation. For so long I had blamed the landowners: Why aren’t they doing more to care for the environment, for the eagles? A system of inquiry, developed by American author Byron Katie, was helping me to question those thoughts, even turn them around; My question Why aren’t the landowners doing more to care for the environment, for the eagles? might become Why don’t I do more to care for the environment, for the eagles? Before being so quick to blame others, we can turn the gaze inwards, do some housework on ourselves, then the lens we look out of through to world is cleaner, less distorted. It’s not easy this detaching from firmly held beliefs, but it is possible, just as farmer Col Gordon showed by digging deep into the statement ‘the small family farm is a colonial concept.’

Of course the world needs more action ‘upstream’ from governments and large corporation, from people holding power, the world needs it urgently, but as Byron Katie says, ‘change has to start with one person, you know, if you’re not the one, who is it?’ People all over the globe are being that one, taking responsibility for their own actions and inactions; writing, singing, painting and sculpting them, laughing, dancing, crying, teaching and sharing and acting through them. We can take tiny steps, we can investigate our own practices and beliefs closely. We can do that with compassion, which is much more likely to lead to positive change than feelings of shame or blame. We hold in our hearts and minds the generations to come after us. We let the scales fall from our eyes. We always have a degree of choice; as Victor E. Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist, philosopher and Holocaust survivor said: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.’

The Lodge where my friend was cooking was stunning. Opulent, beautifully maintained, set against the backdrop of hills covered in flowering heather and a clear, still freshwater loch. The news was full of the people of Afghanistan, of the recent Taliban takeover. As I explored the house I thought how tempting it would be, in this serene place, to turn my gaze away from the hard stuff, from the bombings and the hopelessness and the pain, form the terrified and broken-hearted women and men and children. At the top of a staircase I came face to face with a taxidermied wildcat, it filled the windowsill. I was transfixed, not even a dust mote moved in the sunlight that poured through the glass. This wildcat, in air smelling of lilies and cut roses, in front of that view of purple hills, was frozen in a hunting posture, tail and head lifted. I resisted the urge to turn away even as I remembered that other wildcat, the one Martin and I had killed in a snare - albeit mistakenly - in the early days of our hill-farm tenancy. That wildcat, for all I know, was the last in its line in our area. We’ve never seen another. I looked at the wildcat in front of me. My body tingled with the electricity of this other, frozen in time and space; I felt very awake with the memories, the feeling of responsibility, the sadness as I pictured that other cat, strangled by wire, the cat that was colossal and beautiful. Martin and I never set a snare again. We had set snares because we’d thought that was what was expected of us; we hadn’t questioned it, even though, to both of us – even before the wildcat – it had felt wrong. We had abandoned ourselves, and by doing so had done harm.

To recover ourselves and to recover ground, to let ourselves recover and to let ground recover, and the whole of the natural world, we need to be in conversation with other people, and with the natural world in all its manifestations. We also need to inquire into our own beliefs, and beliefs held by those around us and further afield. Barry Lopez says in the essay Love in a Time of Terror that his walking off into the Australian desert was not so much an exercise in trying to improve himself as a naturalist, as it was an

effort to divest himself ‘of the familiar categories and hierarchies that otherwise might guide his thoughts and impressions of the place’. We need to pay attention to our own guiding beliefs and listen carefully, to remain vulnerable and open to change. As David Whyte advises in his poem Start Close In: ‘to hear another’s voice, follow your own voice, wait until that voice becomes an intimate private ear that can really listen to another’. We can’t fix everything by changing nothing, and sometimes, changing the self is the most useful, even radical place to start. It may not be easy, it may be messy, but we can’t make the proverbial omelette without breaking some eggs, and it might just lead to clarity and joy and healing and hope.

Clasped in bivalves,
we open in a golden helplessness of delight,
we glitter, pecked to life by barnacles and beauty.

Laughter blossoms, blisters,
explodes between the sinking hills.

I badly want to touch you.

Stay with me now,
call me by my name, again and again
until I sink to sinew and decay
until maggots rove my rotting flesh
until I am a mass
heaving cheerfully to humus,
until I draw in the iridescent beetle,
until bluebells thread me with bee after bee

and we sing back our space
in the undivided nature of things,
until we lean in, wavelet by wavelet,
and we dare, lightly, to touch.

‘Ruadh ’the Gaelic for ‘dark-brownish red/wild/fierce/rough/strong’

In July 2021 we accompanied Scott while he ringed another chick from the same eyrie. She was a feisty and fit female, and we named her ‘Breeze’ for the Argyll Raptor Study Group records. In 2019 the parent birds hadn’t been in good enough condition to mate. In 2020 the chick jumped too soon from the eyrie during a thunderstorm, and had sustained neck injuries it didn’t recover from. It was such a relief to see this year’s healthy chick on the point of fledging. ‘All in all’, Scott tells us, ‘it’s been a great year for the goldies’.

It is September now, Scott was out on the Ben Cruachan ridge yesterday doing flight path survey work, Martin happened to be there too, gathering sheep below him. Eagles were visible above which Scott identified as ‘Breeze’ and her parents, all well out of their own territory. I am curious about the porous boundaries of the eagle territories, like the porous boundaries between self and other, between human and the non-human. I let myself imagine what the eagle trio might have seen yesterday: the patterned remains of summer shielings, the burns running through; foxes and deer disturbed by the gather; ptarmigan beginning the Autumn molt; Scott and Alfie on the ridge, shepherds and their own dogs below; ribbons of sheep converging from the hillsides into one fluid-edged stream.

All those beating hearts.

And back at home my own heart straining, as I help our youngest pack for university, he too is now ready to fly the nest.

If the eagles were to head due west, just a few miles, they would see the large area of peat bog, known locally as ‘The Moss’, that my father has spent the last three years restoring; a place now glistening with pools and thirst-slaked peat and teeming with water-life. The sea is just a wing flick away, and I imagine future generations of eagles here – survival permitting – seeing a very different boundary between sea and land below them; the acid of the peat turning to salt as the sea rises inland flooding houses, neolithic cairns, the wildflower meadows where by then, my father’s ashes will have been scattered. Will the human generations coming after us – survival permitting – move the beehives bit by bit ahead of the sea, will they, in Barry Lopez’s words, ‘be able to say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures’, including themselves, ‘fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?’ Will they, like the Gaels who went with their cattle to the high summer shielings, understand that the land has feelings and a soul.

Whether they have the love and strength required to embrace fearlessly the burning world depends largely on us, now, and how successful we can be in nurturing what environmental activist and author Joanna Macey calls the ‘connected self’. She writes in her book Active Hope that ‘recognising ourselves as part of the living body of Earth opens us to a great source of strength [...] we stand at an evolutionary crossroads, and we, collectively, could turn either way. Our own choices are part of that turning [...] When our central organising priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world.’ Personal recovery through a connected sense of self with the rest of the natural world is vital, but only in as much as it contributes to a healthier more coherent whole in terms of humankind, and the choices we collectively make. In Natalie Goldberg’s book Wild Mind – Living the Writer’s Life she quotes a vipassana meditation teacher: ‘You meditate by yourself but not for yourself. You meditate for everyone.’ Goldberg goes on to say: ‘This is how we should write’. This is also how we can live. Rebecca Tamás in her essay On Watermelon envisages a future in which we attend to equality for human people and nonhuman beings and landscapes: ‘We human beings love comfort, and such a radically different world may not be as comfortable as as what we, in the west, currently experience. It might, however, be a world with many forms of thinking available to us – of joy, of freedom, of pleasure, of community, of self-worth, and of love. Love for things that are nothing like us, and which may not love us back.

‘Thou’ will be the first visible sculpture in the Recovering Ground exhibition. Why is it called ‘Thou,’ I ask Lucy. ‘Because it’s not an ‘I’, not a ‘you’, not a ‘she’, not a ‘he’, not a ‘they’, not an ‘it’. The sculpture’s deeper meaning is ‘now is the time for living.’ ‘Thou’ is an impressive eagle-like bird. It stands over one meter tall and is made from driftwood, bogwood and found wood from the forest. Lucy has also incorporated gesso and corrugated cardboard into the sculpture and its talons are water gilded with gold leaf, as is the orb suspended from its beak. ‘The orb represents the soul, being held, because now is the time for living, and when it’s not’, Lucy says, ‘the eagle will drop the ball, so ... make the most of it.'

Make the most of it.

It is up to us to decide how that goes while we still have a place on this planet. How might we constantly keep feeling for that balance point between doing the work to change ourselves – to break the cycle of present and past traumas in order to become more effective compassionate denizens of this world – so that ultimately we can forget ourselves, and get out of our own and the rest of the natural world’s way; as Victor E. Frankl writes in Man’s Search for Meaning: ‘The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is and the more he actualises himself’. In Lucy’s creative vocabulary eagles are the carriers of our soul, the question I am left with, is who do we need to be in order to be the worthwhile guardians of theirs?