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Image courtesy Janis Mackay
Nature Writing is the most accessible creative course part of Health of the Sublime in the Mearns.
It meets online on Zoom Thursdays 2:30-4:30pm 16th February -30th March, 2023. If you have never used Zoom, we will teach you how to safely and you will be fully supported to do so.
Nature Writing is taught by award winning author Janis Mackay. She is a gentle, encouraging teacher, and deeply experienced in giving workshops. Each session has two exercises. We begin with a brief check in to see how we are all doing and then usually with a poem based in nature by a famous author layered on an image and take our inspiration and write for 10-15 minutes. Then we share what we wrote, and it is from this sharing that confidence and skills are built. Then we do the same with prose from a different famous author, and again write for 10-15 minutes, and again share. All sessions focus on your personal experience of nature, often recalling a recent walk you took, or perhaps something from long ago. Numbers are limited to ensure the safe, encouraging, treasured space that these sessions hold. And, it's free! Here are some writing samples and thoughts on the course from previous participants:
I am Sheila Lanning. I am a Gentle Exercise leader for the Mearns and Coastal Healthy Living Network. I have recently been involved with the “Nature Writing In The Mearns" workshops led by Janis Mackay, as part of artist Carrie Fertig's Health of the Sublime in the Mearns project. I have no experience of writing, other than previously at school and maybe now a shopping list or a “To Do” list. I love reading and always like to take on challenges and trying new things. I’m slightly dyslexic, so wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be taking a writing course! Well! I enjoyed every minute and surprised myself. The short exercises of writing for 10-12 minutes each week, listening to other folks pieces about nature, finding new authors, meeting new people, being enveloped in new words, expressions and language has truly been a glorious 7 week journey. Janis was so encouraging and the whole experience felt very safe and comfortable. The course was conducted on Zoom- so I didn’t even need to travel anywhere! And it was free!
Last week, when the temperature was soaring and everything you tried to do was an effort, I took a walk along the banks of the river Cowie at Minerwell Park. Under the dappled shade of the trees the water gently flowed, crystal clear, cool, refreshingly replenished and joyously never-ending.
How different it was in 1998 at Hogmanay. What a nightmare that was!
Stonehaven had experienced horrendous weather. Storm force, gusty, squally winds that you could almost believe might whip around your legs and send you toppling. We’d suffered a longish stretch of cold icy weather, when the ground had remained frozen, in fact deep frozen for seemly eternity. When the rains came, they were not received well by the hard solid ground. The rain came and oh! boy! did it arrive. With a force that was hard to imagine unless you’d experienced it.
The river broke its banks. The water – so much water – came as an unfriendly torrent, over the banks, across the road without caring where it went, what it carried with it, what it destroyed in its path. The wind howled; the bare trees groaned. The rain plummeted from the skies with no mercy. The river was no longer a contained gentle pet but had metaphorized into an angry lion roaring as it found new land to call its own and stampede through the once serene parkland chasing onwards to the sea.
Ged Adams, Stonehaven walk leader
Hi Ged here, one of the walk leaders from Stonehaven. I was lucky enough to attend the nature writing course being lead by Janis Mackay, a published and award winning author. As someone with no background in writing, apart from rather boring reports from my previous life, I have to say it was a great experience. Being lead and inspired by Janis to walk through a set of thought provoking themes our small group always came up with some fabulous work and all typically written within 12 to 15 minutes. I would point out that we all produced our pieces with no thoughts of it having to be something special, on the contrary, it was important to be simple and rough and to be an outpouring rather than a polished product. I would highly recommend this experience for all. We never know until we try so don’t be shy! I hope you enjoy a short piece/s I produced during our course.
The pungent rotten sea shore, the whiff of boyhood adventures, family and being loved.
Waiting watching whining gulls, beauty with beaks, sadly maligned, mistrusted and mis-understood. But, be still and watch them gracefully ride the wind, and marvel at flight.
The tourist gardens prepared with so much care and love, by the unseen army, bringing effervescent beauty to all,…who care to look! They do make a difference.
The bright blue sky, diving seaward is everywhere, but so often hidden, between ice cream, chips and phone screens.
The squawking squabbling seabirds fill the crevices as their fluffy balls are being fed, being fed, being fed.
The fat full bellied seal lazes on the soft swell, smiling at the humans racing.
Hello, I’m Sandra, and I’m a volunteer with the MCHLN garden group – and help to keep the flower pots looking good at Laurencekirk Railway Station. I’ve dabbled in nature writing – nothing too serious, but through the Lemon Tree Writers Group, and the Mearns Writers Group I’ve submitted a few pieces over the last couple of years. So when I heard about the nature writing course on Health of the Sublime in the Mearns I saw it as an opportunity to meet other people, as well as to write about nature in the Mearns, in a safe environment where we’re all flexing our writing muscles together and giving it a try. Our tutor (Janis Mackay) gave us a gentle, weekly, introduction to different types of nature writing plus writing exercises which we all did – and it’s amazing to see what people can write in ten minutes when we can simply focus on that one thing! It’s a great way to get your creative juices flowing. We’ve been asked to provide an example of what we wrote, and here is mine.
This year, I’m getting there ahead of them. They’re no getting my plums this time.
So, in the morning coolness, I pick like fury. Hesitant at first in case the wee blighters have already got there before me, I speed up, my tentative reaching amongst the leaves towards the crop becoming more assured.
My bag slowly fills with delicious purple round-ness.
Finally done, I head indoors to de-stone my harvest, popping the quartered plums into the pan, adding the sticks of cinnamon and stars of anise - the foreign scents filling my kitchen as the pan heats up.
Once the plums start to soften, their cut edges blurring, I turn off the heat, and dream of winter mornings when I can unwrap the de-frosted bags of plum compote and dream of summer - with nae wasps!
I'm Carrie Fertig, project leader, and although I mainly write grant proposals, having Janis as a teacher was just too good to pass up, so I took the course as a student! And I loved it! Such a safe place to really take risks and know that you would get valuable feedback, not only from Janis, but from the other students on the course. My confidence in my writing definitely increased and I loved getting to know people through their writing. It was such a privilege to take part.
Come with me
Wouldn’t you like to sup
from the ruby blood of the devil’s tooth?
A mushroom enticing as a first kiss,
promising sin, death, sweetness,
the gorgeous unknown.
I know a place, I’ll take you where
these dripping jewels grow next to
the sure poison of it’s purple neighbour;
fat, puffy, an older hippie
hiding yet blatent in it’s lilac coat.
I could be a violet marshmallow.
But to lick the leaking blood
seemingly of barley clear toy sugar
from white flesh
all the better to show off
the red gleaming droplets
rubies glittering the snow.
I will take you.
The forest reveals its wonders
time unfolds secrets
repetition breeds love
rain opens the below
the hidden becoming visible
baiting you on
to drink in the wonder
to sip from network
to let tree lie
like a corpse
Not at all.
Health of the Sublime in the Mearns has received generous funding from Creative Scotland.