Assynt and the Ecological Cycle

I’ve just returned from a dramatic week on the North West coast of Scotland. It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this blog, in fact eighteen months, so let’s get going again! I’ve been doing a fair bit of birdwatching which has taken me the length and breadth of the country during those months but also had some heart problems, which resulted in open heart surgery earlier this year. This, coupled with lockdowns, has made it a difficult last few years for us all and we are still a long way from getting back to whatever ‘normal’ is now.

Blogging was central to my work in years past and helped me to access and track my journey through the maze that is modern living. My work rooted me in the processes and spaces that I believe in, that make me who I am. It reaffirms the simple yet profound reality that we are all ecologically one. My images attempt to explore this oneness through observation and immersion. Where we are heading fervently worries me, can disable both the mind and body to inactivity, a resignation that we have tipped beyond the place of return. We have separated ourselves from the ecological cycle, for centuries plundered the world of its natural resources and its peoples. We have probably already reached a point where the best we can hope for is mass extinction of much of our flora and fauna and a severe and irreversible loss of habitat and diversity. At worst we are heading towards an existential threat that carries with it unthinkable times ahead – a gloomy prospect indeed!

My work is, I suppose, inward looking to become outward looking. I believe we can make a difference, halt our slide somewhere before it is too late, slowly revert to sustainable living and a respect for the ecological cycle. To achieve this we need to acknowledge this oneness that we are, to understand the connectedness of all things. By immersing myself within the processes that shape us I can reinforce these beliefs, hold on to a positivity that looks forward. It is in this spirit that I approach the world and through my work try to show this connectedness, the processes that make up the ecological soup, the remarkable and beautiful place we live in and celebrate its remarkable diversity and resilience.

So to Scotland, a place in no way immune to much of the problems that beset the rest of the planet, a place that has seen massive devastating changes over the centuries – destruction of the Caledonian forests, mass migration from ‘the clearances’, extinction of endemic flora and fauna, vast imbalances of land ownership and land uses to name but a few. But for me it remains, in places, still elemental, a place you can once again touch and feel the ecological cycle and your own place within it, both significant and insignificant at the same time.

There were two of us on this trip up north, myself and the artist Brendan Stuart Burns. I’ve known Brendan for over thirty years and we taught together back in the 90’s on the Art Foundation course in the ‘Glamorgan Centre for Art and Design’. We work and travel well together, having a very similar ethos relating to the ecological cycle and to the way we see the world. We can switch, effortlessly, from travelling companions to working within our own zone when we step out into the landscape. We push each other and keep a momentum going when at times it would be easier to sit back and take the ‘foot off the pedal.’ So we get a lot done, use all the daylight hours, work regardless of the weather (in fact at times we actively court heavy winds and rain). We have spent many hours working together ‘separately’ in West Wales, Ireland and Iceland but this was our first time together in Scotland. I knew it well from many past visits over the years and was sure that Brendan would gain a lot of primary source material for his paintings, which he sells through galleries in London, San Francisco and Auckland.

Brendan loved it and It didn’t disappoint for me, it never does! It was a delight to get back to working beyond the birds, once again looking at the processes that shape our landscape. Of course I had the 500mm with me at all times and had some encounters with typically Scottish birds. Great-Northern Divers seemed to be in most of the bays, some holding on to their breeding plumage. A flock of 100 plus Twite frantically feeding in the winds, Black Guillemots, Great Skuas a Golden Eagle and a first for me, a Pomarine Skua. First and foremost though on this trip it was the immersion into the landscape that was pulling me and over the next few posts I’ll look at what each day bought.

 

 

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