Monday 1 March was the first anniversary of my Going North from Longstanton for what would be my last time as a Cambridgeshire resident. Before the word “pandemic” had really lodged in my heart, and certainly before I – and probably a million others – had happened upon Coronapause. I just knew I had to get back to Dhruvaloka ‘Place of the North Star’ in Brora.

After a bit of a holiday here, my husband left our little car with me, and on 10 March 2020 he went back south on what turned out to be one of the last trains-without-masks. All winter2019-20, I’d longed to be back here in the open bowl of hills, river, loch, Brora ‘Arctic Tern Beach’ facing the Moray Forth. Bridged by rainbows and board-walks across the streams that I call Diana’s Delta, Fara’s Burn, Dipper Burn.

Arched too by the flight of Oystercatchers, Curlews, Greater Black-backed Gulls, Sanderling, Ringed Plover. And where the easterly winds deposit the corpses of Razorbills, Herring Gulls, Gannets, and even a Puffin or two.

The Arctic Terns are the iconic summer migrants here, flying all the way from the Antarctic each year. They are a symbol of Brora’s famous Golf Course, where sheep and Highland cattle wander on community grazing. So do litter-droppers, and here too carelessly discarded domestic, marine and harbour waste gathers on the shore.

My near-daily practice seems to have settled as beach-combing, litter-picking, treasure-hunting, muck-raking – call it what you will. Sometimes it is fascinating; sometimes it’s disheatening. Just occasionally I find others doing the same, and that warms my heart again. Yes, today, 1 April, I made a new friend and we stood chatting about this and that and rubbish, in the sun, until her dog Max decided he’d waited long enough and good-naturedly knocked me over into the warm sand.

Just before Christmas I was welcomed into Caithness Beach Cleans (a robust volunteer group even further north). No longer does there seem to be a regular year-round counterpart in Sutherland. I don’t have the energy to organise one, though I would support anyone who did.

I know several other lovely souls who gather and re-purpose waste of all sorts, and who reduce food waste through community Food-share Schemes that have been a life-line during Lockdown. And because even introvert hermits need to connect and belong within groups, albeit at the fringe, I’ve joined Planet Sutherland. And via that, the Higland Good Food Conversation. And Highland Triratna Buddhist Sangha, who have welcomed me open-Zooming-ly.

Do see my previous blog post , which also features the iconic Mountain Avens Dryas octopetala. This little flower I have loved ever since I first saw it on the Durness limestone soil around Smoo Cave on the North Coast, not far from the John Lennon Memorial Garden.

Other flowers are alternative icons for me, especially Twinflower Linnea borealis, which I first saw on an excursion in Balblair Woods, arranged in 2018 by a Highland Council Countryside Ranger, who showed a select group of us an even more select trio of special plants. And on that excursion I met a new friend Karen, who is now one of my regular writing companions and collaborators. We hope to be writing again soon, in Brora and Rogart.

I’m only touching at the edges here of what my year in northern Lockdown has held. Like so many, I ‘ve felt anguish, fear and isolation, though I have also felt held and loved and inspired and delighted, connected over the airwaves and thoughtwaves (and sea waves to friends in Moray and further south). And surrounded by remarkable and interesting neighbours, who view my gentle madnesses with tolerance and some affection.

I’ve danced in my pyjamas, sung with abandon, campaigned, been on shamanic journeys and retreats all over the UK, enjoyed a Burns Night, and held two retreats “here” – all over Zoom. Played my new drum (who is called Magic), co-written poetry, shared it in other groups, and submitted some for publication .

I’ve made new friends both online and also safely distanced on the beach (except from eager dogs, who have given me my tactile necessaries). I’ve been lucky enough to rekindle old friendships from childhood and schooldays.

And I’m privileged to witness other people’s grief as they have said their long goodbye to loved ones. And to celebrate the lives of some of those people, by writing eulogies and other tributes, and taking part in farewell rituals, individually and in groups.

And perhaps by late summer I will be ready to journey south to hug my many friends and family in England too, although I am determined to do that in my own good time, easefully, with as little anxiety as I can.

Meanwhile I love that I am blesssed with such a network of international friends, students and fellow travellers, centred here in Brora where I have found my home.

WordGathering

How many words can you get out of the letters of “celebrating”? that is: a b c e e g i l n r t

Why not write them down on a page of your ThoughtBook?

Among those you may find several words ending in -ing, many of which are present participles of verbs, for example “gaining”. You could group those together.

(Have you ever spotted that such -ing words feature in many of the titles for numbered posts in this Lockdown series of writing our way whole: # at home? We have had wasting, trying, starring, already in 2021, and curlewing narrowly missed the New Year, belonging with a 2020 series that included shaping, orientating, running with the hare and resisting, rekindling and remembering.

Tell me, which is your all-time favourite? Are there any particular exercises which you’ve been back and revisited? Have you considered sharing some of the useful outcomes with us here?

Check out how some of the “found words” appear in the next exercises

(You could look back at previous posts in this series if this is your first time doing BrainDump or Golden ThreadWork – both are demonstrated in here)

BrainDump

Today I am being

Sometimes I feel that I am reeling

Lately I have been beating

I feel I should be relating to …

I wish parliamentarians would table an amendment to …

My eternal triangle might consist of …

I may soon hear the bleating of …

Golden ThreadWork

In the time-honoured way (a year and counting) here are some Golden phrases, each including a “found word”, that you can take for a walk.

He chose to linger at the edge of the pond for ten more minutes until ...

The tingle extended to the tips of her leaves and ...

Gilbert and Sullivan were prone to ...

I have no desire to be a 'celeb' if ...

I have no desire to be celibate when ...

Small and great, wonderful and ...

They were irate by the time ...

Or make up your own!

Celebrating the past year in appreciations

Celebration isn’t all about parties, balloons, champagne, or success. As the past year has taught us, we are asked also to celebrate those whose skills and generosity have helped us to survive, and to celebrate those whose lives have now ended, some much earlier than is “fair” or “reasonable” or “to be expected”.

And in our own lives there may be surprising aspects which we can choose to celebrate: maybe our resilience or kindness to another, or a quality or behaviour unimagined in ourself until the Pandemic of 2020.

So, at the beginning of April 2021, may you feel moved to complete these phrases:

Today I am grateful for:

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