Black Nature Workshops: writing sample

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:

Curlews     

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. 

SeaSwim

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.

Slow Walking

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.

Niveen Kassem

My love and deep connection with nature has been with me for as long as I can remember. Growing up in my bonny coastal city in Syria meant that I was lucky enough to spend the Summer on the beach- swimming, cloud collecting and listening with curiosity to seashells whispering to me. Sometimes I would use the flat fan-shaped seashells as chalks to draw my dreams on the wet sands. Being near the sea is a life line- water gives me life and eternal joy.  

Over the years I have developed a special connection with the natural world in and within the marvellous and vast landscapes in Syria. Visiting the mountains and being amongst trees was very inspirational and soul nourishing, and there I developed my love for writing, musing and drawing on tree leaves.  

Now that I live in England, my love for musing on leaves has grown and developed into something special- creating leaf messages to gift and send to family and friends, and the process fills my heart with joy and happiness. 

In 2021 I will take up residence in Northumberland Wildlife Trust. For this residency I would like to explore Northumberlandia, its history and its landscape sculpture. I would also want to explore my internal landscape within proximity to nature, and record my feelings and observations in writing and visual journaling. Further, I would love to chat to the locals and interview some of them to collect stories about their relationship with their natural heritage. Throughout this residency, I would generate creative works (writings, photographs and mixed media journaling) in response to collected stories, my own observations and my interactions with the locals. I will share all my creative work on this page. 

I am very excited to be part of this project and I look very forward to immerse myself in this experience.  

Sheree and identity on tyne, thanks heaps for providing this wonderful opportunity to explore my connection with nature. 

Jola Olafimihan

Mangoes, dragonflies, trees and Clay. Those are my earliest memories of nature. Although I grew up in cities, I have always been surrounded by nature both merciful and torrential. As a young girl growing up in Nigeria in the 90’s, living surrounded by butterflies, birds and trees, gave me the release I needed in times of stress and worry. It still does today. Eating traditional sweets and catching falling mangoes from our garden and just having a blast outside is something that reminds me of the richness I was surrounded by.

Living in the UK really changed my exposure to nature. Cities are less green, gardens smaller, I rarely saw butterflies. I waited 10 years to see my first wild hedgehog. Access to wild unrestricted nature was far and expensive. It became even more difficult to deal with mental fatigue and stress. Then I moved to Durham. Durham, an old small city with such beauty, it made more sense to choose this place for my future studies. I walked around more, day and night, bathing in the shadows of trees, chasing the local rabbits, reconnecting with the soil and just getting lost in nature. Taking the longer more scenic route to university, made me feel lighter and less blehhh.

My first time writing about Nature was brought on pollution. The pollution of land, river, air and ocean, brought about by human activity in Nigeria. Seeing the effect oil spills had on our environment birthed my first publicly shared poem. When I was much younger, I’d create imaginery creatures that worked at night, replenishing nature whilst we slept and would then sleep in the day time, whilst we worked. However, this poem was different, it hurt. That pain I now use to fuel my writing, activities and creations.

At age 22, I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer. My life was thrown into a spin. My life now included journies between the hospital and my home. I was weak, exhausted and sick but I longed for Green and sea. My first trip out with friends whilst on chemotherapy was physically exhausting. However, mentally I was fired up. At the end of my chemotherapy cycles, I was invitend to a week long trip to the Lake District by Climbing Out. It was an amazing experience. I conquered my fear of bottomless water and jumped off a bridge, twice. It felt amazing to be surrounded by friends from the hospital and made some new memories.

After that, another lull, until Sheree. I met this amazing being who loved earth and beamed that love to others. She brought access to nature to black women like myself, who felt disconnected because of our lives and experiences. I became stronger with each new walk, with each journey, I started to reconnect. My senses where returning. Enjoying the texture of soil and plant, creating a new bond and friendships, and writing again.

I was beyond excited to be invited as a Writer in residence. Plus with an organisation in a place that made me love and bond with British nature, the Durham Wildlife Trust. There is much I have to learn but I can’t wait to see myself evolve as a writer. Even though Covid-19 has slowed things down a bit, it’s allowed me to discover new ways to reconnect. Through this residency, I hope to show the bond we have with the earth, mentally, physically and emotionally. I also hope it inspires more to reconnect and heal through exposure to the Green, Blue, Red and colour diversity of nature.

Black Nature in Residence

The project:

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

Introducing Sheree

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.