As well as looking back at past film and television, the Natural Scotland on Screen project also wanted to create something new as a lasting legacy beyond the 2013 Year of Natural Scotland.
Scottish poet and novelist Sophie Cooke was commissioned to write an original poem inspired by film from the Scottish Screen Archive and the themes of the Year of Natural Scotland. Sophie watched many hours of footage, then helped select the final clips that would be edited together in this single short film.
The result was Byland. Sophie hopes the poem – and accompanying film – will help to tell the story of our changing relationship with nature.
Salmon all swam wild and every wee bit soil was farmed.
You got your living from the ground, or
Cast nets for it upon the water.
Your living was hard, slight
Like sunlight in the winter thinness.
A coaxing, from land that might forget
What you’d put in. Bets on where free-running fish might rest
Under blank covers that lapped against your boats.
There were so many of you, spread out
In vanished townships - behind the foam-stone walls,
Whitewashed, your beds stirred heavily with ankles.
For you, nature was the world. It was your work
To know this place – your place – if it was
Highland, Borders, somewhere in between.
To know it, and do what was needed
You made your choices, raised your tools, took
Your chance on the timing. Fine chancy folk.
Chance was no fey danger, but part of you
Part of nature. You slipped your hand into the clock
Like into the cow’s birth passage,
helped bring out what was coming.
You did not try to pull out more than the calf.
You ate off wooden plates with wooden spoons
And risked another catch, another harvest,
From the soil, from the sea, as they passed you,
Ticking towards their next hour.
A human wheel with iron notches pushed you
Over oceans, or into tenements, which was new.
You grew old in a land of ice-cream and rickets
Where chance was not a thing that you could work with,
but things that happened to you,
so your place
Stopped being a place you had to read, and know.
It was only other folk you had to read, now.
Nature was gone from your world:
primped out of all recognition
in regulated flower-beds,
or else sly and low, when you saw it –
Things that grew between the lines
And lived where they weren’t supposed to –
Rocketweed slitting seed all over the railway track,
Foxes crossing the drying green, rogue lilacs busting from the cracks
Of blackened buildings. Mice and rats.
It didn’t seem to look you in the eye, this refugee from reality.
So you began going back, to the old places,
to look at it the way you used to, when both of you
gave and took from each other, and chance was part of it, it
was all in the timing, like a glance between people
who make a different world for a moment
by exchanging certain parts of their hearts.
You travelled long distances, singing towards it,
You stopped at new-made service stations
To stretch your legs and use the conveniences.
You arrived and you said, ‘It is grand to be back.’
You looked and you saw how pretty it all was.
You didn’t need anything from it,
So you had no fear of it. It is become a mirror
to reflect your cleverness, or
inspire feelings of comfortable awe.
It is an obedient face;
Undangered place. You do not count on it
It's a rare thing, this
looking glass that gives the impression
of independence from nature,
only, it hangs by a hook
on nature’s great forbearing wall.
You know it, as you photograph yourselves beside it.
Old part of your heart opens up, like a hatchling jackdaw -
waiting to risk at the sky, to take and to give;
live with the wall you can climb, if you see it,
climb over, every day, to a bed and a fridge;
every day, climb back, with work and guesses.
Wake, every day, in a place where you like to begin.
© Sophie Cooke 2013