Just over a year ago, the writers involved in Black Nature in Residence met at The Sill, National Landscape Discovery Centre to launch the project. The next week, identity on tyne, the coordinator of the project went into a self-imposed lockdown ahead of the national lockdown that was called a couple of weeks later. Black Nature in Residence has been put on hold since then. Even though we tried to restart happenings in October 2020, things have been taking place virtually and very piecemeal.
Yesterday, as writer in residence for Northumberland National Park, I was able to return to The Sill and walk around the landscape again. It felt good to be back and just enjoy the open views safely.
Hopefully moving forward, I’d be able to continue to explore this vast and amazing county each week leading up to the end of this project in October 2021.
Bring the #OutdoorsIndoors on International Earth Day
Northumberland National Park’s writer in residence Dr. Sheree Mack loves immersing herself in nature. She has learnt to destress through nature and found inspiration for her creative writing in the great outdoors.
Date And Time
Thu, 22 April 2021 11:00 – 14:30 BST
Join Sheree and National Park Ecologist Gill Thompson on International Earth Day to discover how to get the most out of your personal nature experience. From some hints on where and when to find hidden natural delights to practical tips on capturing your own precious memories through journaling, this online workshop will prepare you for a meaningful connection with nature.
For the past month, we’ve been gathering as a group to workshop together. Taking it in turns, we’ve been setting each other writing tasks to create some original work in community together. We’ve been sharing how our residencies have been going as well as discussing what nature writing would look like for us, from us.
Jini Reddy, born in London to Indian parents who grew up in apartheid-era South Africa, and she was raised in Canada, has written about her relationship with nature, She writes, “…back in the UK and sensitive to the mood of the day and the things I’d read and the voices I heard, I worried that I didn’t love nature in the right way, that I didn’t bring my gaze to bear upon Her in the approved way. What made me feel even more of a fraud was that half the time I didn’t even think in terms of the word ‘nature’. More often I’d be thinking of a specific place, some amazing, sigh-inducing landscape or a cool, twisty tree, or a small creature or squawky bird I spotted while on a walk in the countryside or in some meadow or park in my neighbourhood.” Extract from Wanderland, short-listed for the 2020 Wainwright Prize for nature writing.
This extract created a really good discussion within the group around what is the norm, or accepted in terms of nature writing and how our own writing might fit into this or not. I know that I’m not going to be afraid to use this residency to dive deeper in to my own relationship with nature. And I don’t want that separation, of saying the ‘natural world’, as I believe there’s only one world and we are all part of it, and we are all one within it.
Anyway, during our final writing exercise, of just choosing one thing in nature to focus in on and produce some thumbnail nature writing, I chose the curlew. The curlew is the emblem of the park, and apparently the park is one of the best places in the UK to hear the bird. This is what I wrote:
curleee. curleee. ghosts heard within the fog, through the winter, along the coast.
within the mudflats, with downward curved bills, rich pickings for worms, they balance on bluish stilt-like legs.
come spring, look up. catch their white rumps sailing across the sky onto the uplands to breed, we hope.
these mottled brown and grey waders are a keystone species, holding the whole system together.
once upon a time, in abundance, curlews overhead were a signal of a storm brewing.
curleee. curleee. ghosts heard less and less now, as bad weather is already upon us.
Wintering into the New Year, taking it slow to come around to this thing called society, work and the ‘new normal’, whatever that might be, I take reprieve and solace, through sea swimming. If I get irritable, not nice to be around, I know it means I haven’t been to the sea recently.
The other week I managed to get into the sea five times, following the movement of the tide throughout the week. I love when the tide is in the most, at my local bay, Cullercoats, the sea seems much more full and welcoming and powerful. Here in this film, the sea breaches the sea wall again and again as the wind and the new moon, therefore producing a huge Spring tide, rushes into the shore again and again with such power and force and roar. Being this close to the sea, being intimate with her is a blessing for which I am deeply grateful.
Catching a dry day, with bright light, is a rarity during these past few weeks. Today was such a day. I’m not walking in Northumberland yet. I haven’t been there for nearly a year, not since we had our first Black Nature in Residence meeting in March 2020 in preparation to start the project. And then Covid-19 hit.
I would love to be out in the Park exploring, but I’m adhering to the lockdown rules and not traveling far from home. I’m also a bit fearful of exploring unknown territory in the North as I would stick out like a sore thumb; a Black woman in red woolly hat. I worry that there will be other people out, see me as a stranger and call the police. I’m not sure if I would be taken seriously if I said I was slow walking in the landscape with notebook and pen and camera for work. But I would be.
I mentioned this residency to a friend recently and they didn’t know that such a job existed. They congratulated me on doing something I loved, but it made me feel the need to it only explore my nature connection but also a need to elevate the position of writer in residence to others to make sure it is seen and recognised.
A lot of work to be done, but I’m in no hurry as I enjoy the slower pace of lockdown to explore what lies just in front of me with each step I take. Mud, leaves, mixing to mulch, a low lying golden sun, frosty aid and wood pigeons cooing in bare grey trees.
identity on tyne in partnership with Northumberland National Park, Harehope Quarry Project, Durham Wildlife Trust and Northumberland Wildlife Trust are offering the opportunity for four writers of colour to be in residence in the North East countryside.
This in a writers in residence project which will focus on people of colour’s relationship with the natural world; to look beyond the beauty of places to discover the hidden histories within.
Over a period of 20 days, each writer with engage with the specific natural heritage sites as well as the visitors, staff and volunteers, exploring the area’s industrial and social heritage, and how people’s actions and events have helped shape the landscape. Collecting stories and information and experiences.
With additional individual writing time, each writer will produce a piece of written work of any genre of approximately 2000 words to be shared at a public event at their given site as well as a regional cultural gathering with Black British Nature writers.
The aims of the project:
* to provide professional opportunities for emerging and established writers of colour in the region to develop their expertise as well as raise their profile * to promote the development of a relationship with regional natural heritage by people of colour * to remove some of the barriers which prevent people of colour from venturing into the British countryside * to develop a language and share our stories of experiences with nature * to promote the protection and stewardship of the land amongst diverse groups of people
Sheree Mack’s practice manifests through poetry, storytelling, image and the unfolding histories of Black people. Sheree engages audiences around black women’s voices and bodies, Black feminism, ecology and memory . She facilitates national and international creative workshops and retreats in the landscape, encouraging and supporting women on their journey of remembrance back to their authentic selves. She is currently writing a mixed-genre memoir around a Black woman’s body with/in Nature. She’s a podcast host of the newly launched podcast, The Earth Sea Love Podcast, which explores women of colour and their relationship with the natural world. This is created in relation to a much bigger project founded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Wayfinding: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Great Outdoors.
Sheree will be taking up residence in Northumberland National Park in 2021.