4th July 2016
I want to write something with more of a narrative about my first film.
Like, how it starts, how it finished and why I am doing it.
So, why am I doing it?
Craik forest has been part of my life since before I can remember. I spent every single childhood holiday I ever went on here.
It is a place that changes constantly, and has changed so much in the 22 years I have known this place.
Changes in the forest vary wildly between the monumental felling of all the trees lining the road on the journey in, and the gradual, miniscule changes of them growing, animals moving, and daily rhythms of the place.
When I dream about the forest, I find myself in the house, as it was before my family came to live here permanently. There used to be a narrow shelf along the top of the radiator in the hallway beside the front door. It was removed years ago, but when I dream of the house, that shelf is always there.
I find myself wondering if it was a very important shelf, this veneered piece of wood or chipboard that coats got caught on, and objects slid from. If there is some memory involving that shelf that I can’t quite find, so my mind gravitates towards it as something certain, in the hope that I can work out the mystery of some day that could have been twenty years ago.
29th January 2015
What about the walk up to Howpasley with mum and dad the other day? I have fifteen minutes of footage that I shot on the walk up there, and some beautiful images of my parents. I don’t think they will thank me for including them in the film, but they are so incredibly important to my experience of the forest that I can’t avoid it.
They are the ones that introduced me to Craik, who brought me here as a baby, maybe before I was a baby. I could have been conceived here. That thought sticks with me, the thought that my identity could be so connected to this place that I was created here. Is that why I am so drawn to this place? Does it run in my blood, or is it only the connection of memory and beauty that holds me captivated?
31st January 2015
Yesterday I went for a walk in the snow, just after the sun had started to set. I had been walking all day, but I wanted to get some footage of the snow in the dark, and I wanted to catch some of the glorious colours that appear above the horizon just before it’s too dark to film anything at all.
It saddens me that I can’t seem to capture the night for my film; there are so many different types of nights here, from the stunningly bright moonlit ones where the light reflects off the snow and makes the whole place glow, to the pitch-black ones when torches are a necessity, and walking back to the house is treacherous.
There’s a road that was built years ago, when I was a child, but I’ve still never been up it. I goes from a kissing gate near the picnic area, and up a hill, through Howpasley farm. I don’t know where it ends, and I intend to find it on a map one day.
The log piles are covered in snow, with curious crescent shapes over the top of each one, when you look at them from the road.
I spend most of my walks here disobeying the signs that the forestry commission erect, climbing over them and walking or running wherever I please, but I don’t think I’ve ever climbed on the stacks of logs.
They are always strangely fascinating; beautiful, intricate, and structured, but at the same time, they aren’t going to grow any more, they aren’t going to reach towards the sky as if they are searching for something better than the ground.
Most of the wood from this forest will go to be pulped; it will be paper, cardboard, books, junk mail, pellets for burning. These beautiful trees will become things that are ultimately disposable, and recyclable. Then they are replaced, leaving 30, 40, 50 years to wait until it happens again.
If everything goes well with solicitors and land registry, I will be moving away in a week’s time.
I’m not worried about leaving.
I have left before.
Of course, I came back home every summer, and every Christmas.
I missed the gradual changes, the trees blown over in a storm, waiting to see if they were left to rot, or cut down, where new potholes open up and are covered up, the tyre tracks out of the ditches where log wagons went a little too far to one side.
I wonder if I appreciated the holidays that I spent at home more because I was away, or if I was too busy working and studying to pay enough attention. I always hoped for a cold and snowy Christmas, so I wouldn’t be able to go back for the start of term, but it never happened. The last two winters I spent between Semesters were disappointing and rainy; and in my second winter at University, we got the snow there. Someone made a unicorn out of snow, and someone else made a snow penis that was 5 feet tall.
My grandfather found Craik in the 80s, I think, and my dad remembers trees here being planted that I only remember being felled. I feel like a strange mismatch of generations is happening here with memory of the forest, and constant growing of the trees. Trees that could keep growing forever if they were given the chance.
13th February 2015
I’ve been trying to look through some of my old diaries over the past week or so, to see what there is in there that I’ve written about the forest.
I’ve been quite surprised to find that there’s very little that I could find about my thoughts on where I live.
I tried looking at my diaries from 2004, the year running up to our actual move to Scotland.
All of my diaries between 2005 and 2008 are painful to look at, and maybe if I had kept looking, I would have found something really eloquent in there that I could include in here, but when it brings back memories that I thought I had forgotten, and truly wish I could forget them, instead of feeling good that I made it through that time with my sanity and my life, it makes me feel anxious about wether I could fall back into a place I endured a long time in, and I need to push it from my mind in order to carry on.
18th February 2015
On a windy day in the middle of February, it somehow feels colder here than is has done at any time through this winter. I shiver in the house, and wear layer upon layer of clothing, hand-knitted jumpers and supermarket onesies, then finish my outfit with a pair of cashmere fingerless gloves. They wear out fast, but they are so warm and soft and local that they feel justified.
Even the snowy, icy days that were here just a few weeks ago felt warm compared to this gusty drizzle we have today. The wind comes down the chimney and makes the house noisy and drafty, preventing the fire form really roaring and warming up the house.
I find that wind like this creates an uneasiness in me. I associate it with trees falling down, blocking the road and making uncertainties about travelling, out or in, it makes little difference. Most of the time, the wind is simply noise, and it makes the trees outside the house wave in ways that make me wonder how on earth they are so flexible, thrust fifty feet and more into the air, and moving so swiftly between rocking dangerously to perfect stillness. Yet when the weather has calmed down, they are immovable and permanent pieces of this place.
At night, the wind is different. Outside, sounds come from everywhere, the darkness moves around, and blackness tries to devour everything. It’s so dark that anything could be happening around you, anything could be anywhere, something could fall and crush you without you ever noticing.
The sound is a symphony of the sound the needles on the trees make. From all directions, it swirls unpredictably.
From the inside, the wind keeps me awake. I lie in bed and wait for the next gust to make the frames of the windows shift. They don’t rattle, but when a gust hits them, it feels like the whole room is shunted an inch to one side. Raindrops make individual taps on the glass, and I burrow under my blankets and duvets.
I think after years of living here, I have begun to accept the way the house reacts to this weather. I have begun to trust the noises that the wind makes, and which doors it slams in which order when which ones are left open.
The Norway Spruce and Scots Pine that stand by the cottages are the upright exception to one of the foremost rules that is experienced here. They do not belong to any of the pre-determined areas of woodland, and through living between the lines of the map, with a road on one side and the burn on another, they seem to be exempt from being felled. They have been there forever (or as long as I can remember), and I am incredibly glad that even though, as planned, the other trees in the forest will be due to be cut down, these ones could stay forever.
When an area of trees is cleared, sometimes there are some that are left behind. Whether this is half of them or a single row, the trees that were previously sheltered by their friends on all sides are suddenly alone and vulnerable. As soon as any wind hits them, they fall.
It’s only the outer few rows of trees that grow up with the strength to withstand the weather. How terrible it must be to only have sun on the top of your head! To only be able to stand when surrounded by other people that hold you up, and face a certain, lonely and cold death without them. Poor trees.
Three Horse Chestnuts stand in a triangle by the edge of the Borthwick Water, a matter of meters from where the three burns; the Aithouse, the Howpasley, and Northope meet to form the Borthwick Water that flows into the Teviot, through Hawick, to Kelso and into the Tweed, then on to the North Sea.
This point is the perfect distance from the cottages to be far enough to walk to (as a small child), and close enough that once the peaty water had flown over and into my wellies, I could be returned home and dried out.
We were supposed to move into our flat thirteen days ago, and the day we do move does not appear to be getting any closer. I feel like I am writing to a deadline. A deadline that seems to be shuffling further and further away from me. Will it ever happen? Will I ever have to stop writing because I’ve left, or because I have finished? It makes me want to write about the summer here, just in case I miss it and forget, this winter seems to be ongoing, so I am happy to daydream about Summer here.
Summer… Is glorious. Of course it is glorious. What else would it be? This is the time that life is coming out of everything in the forest, there are birds everywhere, birds that I don’t know the names of, but I am sure I should. I do know that there are birds here that are hard to find in other places, that would excite the enthusiastic birdwatcher.
There are midges. In their millions. Billions. Even typing this is making me feel itchy. It feels like summer already!
There are Squirrels. Red Squirrels. The real, indigenous ones. The fluffy, tufty-eared, bushy tailed balls of deep reddy-brown fur that are so incredibly special (and not to mention, cute), I cannot sympathise with the grey immigrants, who eat all the food, fight with the locals, and spread diseases.
19th February 2015
Once the wind has died down, and the hail and sleet done, the air feels clear. Fresh, even. The smell of the forest has returned, only seasoned by the smoke from our chimney.
It looks so good that I want to head outside right now and do all of the things I wasn’t going to do when the weather was wet, but I know that when I do, the wet ground will soak through my shoes.
24th February 2015
Today is one of the days when the world does not know which season it is. The first Daisy of the year was just by the slippery slope footpath, snowdrops cover verges, the fertile smell of the forest is returning. But snow is still falling. The drive back home this evening became whiter as we ascended the valley. The snow must be falling heavier higher up, so spring may not have reached those heights yet.
I walked up through policy wood earlier today, on a hunt for inspiration for the project I am working on. I’m not sure how much inspiration I found, but I was struck by how constantly there everything is, how that whenever I go back to those woods, the leaves, the seeds, the life captured between the trees.
At the top end of the Policy wood, there is a style. I love this style. There is a photograph of my Dad and I, taken when I was three or four years old. I’m wearing dungarees and he is wearing a green hat. He is holding my hand, and I am climbing down the style.
A few years ago, the forestry commission broke through the dry stone dyke and led the footpath through the hole it created, making the style redundant.
Today, I climbed over it.
The steps are green and mossy, the bottom steps disappeared into the grass. I stood on the second step on my way up, and felt the step move. I worry that if I move, the whole step will collapse beneath me. The worry is more about the style’s step, not myself. I am already muddy, and a slip won’t make a difference to me, but to that piece of wood that is older than me. It is now covered in a green carpet, moist and crawling.
I climbed on; the top step is still as strong as it was when I clambered over it as a child. The bottom step has snapped, and I feel sad. I step over it; I don’t want to cause any more damage. I suppose it’s nice that there’s a little ecosystem living in there now, that could be completely unaware of the rest of the world, living outside of their little slice of rotting wood.