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149 pages

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LONGLISTED FOR THE HIGHLAND BOOK PRIZE 2022Reflecting on family, identity and nature, Belonging is a personal memoir about what it is to have and make a home. It is a love letter to nature, especially the northern landscapes of Scotland and the Scots pinewoods of Abernethy - home to standing dead trees known as snags, which support the overall health of the forest. Belonging is a book about how we are held in thrall to elements of our past. It speaks to the importance of attention and reflection, and will encourage us all to look and observe and ask questions of ourselves. Beautifully written and featuring Amanda Thomson's artwork and photography throughout, it explores how place, language and family shape us and make us who we are.



Publié par
Date de parution 04 août 2022
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781838854737
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 4 Mo

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Also by Amanda Thomson
A Scots Dictionary of Nature

First published in Great Britain in 2022 by Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE
This digital edition first published in 2022 by Canongate Books
Copyright © Amanda Thomson, 2022
The right of Amanda Thomson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
Extract from ‘A Man is Assynt’ by Norman MacCaig, written c. 1967. First published by Chatto & Windus in 1970 in A Man in My Position . Published in The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon, 2005). Reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn.
For image credits please see here
For more information about this book and Amanda Thomson please visit:
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available on request from the British Library
ISBN 978 1 83885 472 0 eISBN 978 1 83885 473 7
For Mum and for Elizabeth, with me every step of the way
Prologue: Out of Place
Part I
Part II
Part III
Image Credits
the (layer of) vegetation growing beneath the level of the tallest trees in a forest
snag a standing dead tree. Deadwood is vital for the sustained health of a forest that which catches our attention, emotionally resonates; that which catches and holds us, often momentarily and sometimes surreptitiously
I N THE BACK GREEN OF my mum’s house stand two rowan trees I’ve known since childhood. At first, I’d just be able to reach up and touch the lowest branch. Later, I’d grasp it to swing myself up into the tree. It broke or was sawn off years ago now, and the trees themselves are old and feel frail, brittle. Any time there’s a storm or high winds, my mum worries that branches will break off and knock out the telephone line or, worse, batter onto the roof.
The rowan is a folkloric tree in Scotland; they’ve been used in medicine, to dye clothes, and are thought to ward off evil spirits and protect against disease. At our house in the Highlands we’ve planted two rowan trees, one on each side of the gate leading into the field. If they take, they will outlive us, and at one point, they might provide some protection from the wind. At the back of the house and up a hill is a small stand of four granny pines, which I always think of as our coven, standing watch over the house, which is made of larch. Abernethy Forest in Strathspey is a place I’ve been making artwork about for some years, and it’s where I’m now lucky to live. It has been described as an important remnant of ancient Caledonian pinewoods, and holds the most extensive area of these woods in Scotland. For many, it’s a stunning, heart-stopping place to be.
There’s a lovely phrase about the Caledonian pinewoods of Scotland that resonates with me every time I walk within them – ‘to stand in them is to feel the past’. It’s from a book written in the late 1950s, The Native Pinewoods of Scotland , by H.M. Steven, then Professor of Forestry at Aberdeen University, and A. ‘Jock’ Carlisle. They write: ‘The trees range in age up to 300 years in some instances, and there are thus not very many generations between their earliest predecessors about 9,000 years ago and those growing today.’ 1 To talk about a general timelessness in these forests is somewhat clichéd, but to consider how our very particular human time rubs up with such longevity is something else entirely.
At the back of my mum’s house, right at the border, a conifer looms taller than the house, casting its shadow over the green. One summer, jackdaws terrorised a blackbirds’ nest and the garden was in a constant state of agitation. The daughter of our upstairs neighbours planted that conifer when she was a child, after it had served its purpose as a Christmas tree in their house. She’s now in her seventies.
Early on in my walks through the Scots pinewoods of Abernethy, I began to notice the standing dead trees. They come in all shapes and sizes, barkless and pale amongst the deep greens of the living trees, pockmarked, riddled with the traces of beetles and beasties; some retain their bark, some are lichen-covered. Over time they will fracture their branches, sometimes shear half their trunks onto the forest floor. Such trees are known as snags, and when I investigated further, I found that deadwood in a Scots pine forest is incredibly important for the forest’s health. These trees can stand for decades, decaying quietly, slowly, leaching a gradual and steady release of nutrients back into the forest’s understory. They are home to a vast array of birds and insects, some very rare – specialist saproxylic species, including several types of beetles, wasps and hoverflies – and the lichens and fungi are dependent on these microhabitats – ecological islands of otherness – that dead and dying wood provides. Birds nest in their hollows and holes, and eat the insects that feed on the dead wood. I love the idea that the dead can sustain the living, and it has become an important touchstone for me – how that which is no longer with us can make us who we are and can be a continuous source of strength or comfort.
We see different types of snags all over Scotland. Standing stones and other prehistoric relics dot the landscape and we’ll sometimes come across the remains of Clearance villages and the shells of old crofts and sheilings. Closer to now lies evidence of more recent histories: paths that were once railway lines; factories and mills and churches now turned into housing and offices; an industrial crane that has been kept as a symbol of a city’s ship-building past, that some will still remember in use. But we also have old letters, documents and photographs with, if we are lucky, names and dates and places written on the back. We have the National Records of Scotland and . We drive past places that we used to visit, where people we know used to stay, or we return to places we’ve not been in a while, and something is evoked, or provoked, in us. Such things are testaments to earlier days and moments in our lives.
The snag is one of the understories of this book. It’s also a great word. It can be something that catches our attention, emotionally resonates, arrests and holds us, often momentarily and sometimes surreptitiously. Although the word can have negative connotations, I think of snags as hooks on which we can hang past experiences that remind us of the disparate moments and aspects of our lives that have made us who we are, who we have become. In an old Scots language dictionary, a snag is a branch that has been completely broken from a tree, and I wonder about the continuity and disjuncture from our past that is a part of how our lives move on. I wonder how the dead, the things that are no longer with us, continue not just to influence but give succour to the present. Perhaps that’s always been a concern of mine. The first artwork I made after discovering these Scots pine snags and their significance was called dead amongst the living . It started as a documentation of the dead trees that I encountered in a small area near the house I was staying in, and it’s become about the lives being lived around them still.

Is there a word for the fear of forgetting?

a memory; a reminder; affection. (v) to remember; to remember in a will; to remind; to notice; to take care of; to have a mind to; to wish.
recollection 2
W HEN I WAS A CHILD , growing up in the 1970s and ’80s in a small, working-class Scottish town to the northeast of Glasgow, my mum, gran, papa and I would go for walks on Sunday afternoons. The paths we chose took us out of the town and into the countryside. We’d walk up the road and cross through a gap in a fence beyond what was called the Big Stane, a large boulder that all the local kids would use as a slide, and down over the Couches, (pronounced cootchies ), a hilly moorland that sat between the scheme where we stayed and the Stirling Road. We’d walk along a disused railway track to Colzium Estate – to Colzium House, a formerly grand old house originally built in the eighteenth century that is surrounded by gardens and woods – or to Banton Loch, locally known as the dam.
From the start, family has been bound to my experience of nature. Some birds remind me of childhood, still. When I hear the song of a summer skylark I think of going to pick blaeberries with my mum and gran over the Couches; speugs (house sparrows) remind me of my gran and papa and how they fed them stale plain bread in the back garden; and I remember blue tits pecking through the foil top of the milk bottle left at the front door every morning. I learned to see if rain was coming by looking out over the hills to the north and watching the clouds for the wind’s direction. From our living room, we’d see skeins of geese flying along the line of them, signalling a change of season. Birdwatching as a hobby came to me in my early teens, and to this day, memories of places are often linked to a specific bird seen on a particular day and sometimes to an unusual light or weather.
One of the first bird books I ever got was Highland Birds , by Desmond Nethersole-Thompson. First published in 1971, the unbridled, almost breathless enthusiasm of his writing bemused me, but his vast knowledge and love of the Highlands was clear. I must have got it in John Smith’s, a multi-storey bookshop that used to be on St Vincent Street in Glasgow city centre, which I still remember for its nooks and different stair-wells that took you to odd levels. It was always a destination when my mum took me into town. She’d let me wander and then buy me a book. Nethersole-Thompson took me to places that, to my Lowland Scots self of that time, seemed impossibly distant, to landscapes I longed to discover and a list of birds I craved, and

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