Nooks of Ease and Sanctuaries

Most of us find coincidences cool or meaningful, sometimes silly, but we do get a bit of a buzzy feeling when strange ones occur. This is because our brains love patterns and making connections. We sometimes react to coincidences by ascribing meaning to them because they feel so powerful. These patterns can also make apparent the interconnectedness of our world.

The day after I finished writing my last post, which was mostly about football, an unlikely subject for me, I went to Edinburgh to see two theatre productions. Coincidently, during one of the performances, the subject of football came up which seemed to be equally unlikely given that the performance was a words and music piece called Wind Resistance by Scottish folk singer Karine Polwart. 

After thinking, ok, well I must have written a cliché, and feeling bad about it, I decided to instead write this post to explore why Karine Polwart also chose to speak about football in her moving and unusual show.

When I purchased the tickets, I knew the theatre piece was “about” or, better, inspired by, the migration of pink-footed geese and would have a focus on nature and the land, but shortly after the show began I realised it was so much more than that. 

Karine Polwart creates layers of storytelling, song and music, images, sounds, personal memoir, ecology and subtle politics, all performed with beauty and humour. She opens the show by “drawing” a map of the area that inspired her, Fala Moor where she lives. I say drawing, but she draws it for us in our minds by her movements on the stage and her descriptive words. She crouchs down low, moves like a river, flies like a bird, points upward and shows us Fala Moor. And we are there with her. It’s beautiful.

It is the natural world and the history of the moor and stories born of the moor that Polwart uses to create this poetic musical essay. There is a motif of birth and care, stories of life and death all of which illustrate the need for community and love and protection for the Earth. Polwart delivers everything with perfect balance, and so expresses both the beauty and pain in these stories without leaving the audience fighting for air.

We learn about Soutra, a medieval hospital that once existed in the area and how the monks used herbal remedies to care for the sick and infirm and the poor, the story of the birth of Karine Polwart’s son and the death of a friend through childbirth. Woven throughout, we hear the true love (and death) story of her old neighbour Molly’s parents in both spoken word and song. 

And, of course, Polwart speaks and sings about the migration of the geese from Iceland and Greenland to Fala Flow. She makes sure to mention that this moor is an SPA or Special Protect Area under EU legislation. She takes this fact no further, but we understand the implication. In her unique way, we hear about how the geese use wind resistance and “nooks of ease” and “aerodynamic sanctuaries” to aid each other over the length of their long journey, how every goose takes a turn. “Stepping up, Falling Back, Labouring and Resting”.

This is where the football comes in. Alex Ferguson, coach of a winning Aberdeen team in 1983, used the v-formation that creates the wind resistance as an inspiration for his players to work as a team: to look out for each other and work together, but also to care for yourself and others in rest. “Remember the geese”, he used to tell his winning Scottish team. And those are the words Polwart chooses to end her utterly mesmerising show.

Like any good artist, Karine Polwart makes us look at and see ourselves in all of these stories and, in this case, in nature as well. One may say that it is just me living in an echo chamber, surrounding myself with people and experiences that support my own thinking and beliefs or confirmation bias, but I think there is only one echo chamber and in it, if we quiet down enough, we can all hear the same sounds. Sounds that speak of beauty, love, pain, death. This is no coincidence, they are our shared experiences.

Karine Polwart’s repeated words that describe the actions of the altruistic geese on their hazardous migration are actions we can also take to help support each other. We can and should take responsibility at some point, create moments of ease and structure sanctuaries when others are tired from labouring, struggling to make it and they will be there for us too when we need it.

Stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting. Stepping up, falling back, labouring, and resting. Stepping up, falling back, labouring and resting.
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If you can’t get to see Wind Resistance, there is an album available and videos on YouTube that discuss the project with views of Fala Moor.  
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I’d like to briefly mention here the other equally, if not even more, amazing piece of theatre I experienced in Edinburgh, Tabla Rasa, written and directed by Vanishing Point’s, Matthew Lenton. It was striking how similar these shows were in terms of themes and the combination of music and storytelling. The production uses the haunting music of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, interpreted by the Scottish Ensemble, together with the story of a friendship and loss, delivered with depth of emotion and humour by Pauline Goldsmith. Marcus Sedgwick's book, Snow, was an inspiration to the director and he included passages of the book which perfectly dropped into the magic. The show explores the importance of the oft-overlooked role of care-taking, the power of art in healing and comforting and what it means to be human. The combination is devastating. Its run is over for the moment, but hopefully it will be brought back in another venue soon.
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