Baggage

Sharp tang of jet fuel
In the quick-clouding autumn air.

Redolent of adventure
And unconsidered action:

Black leafless birches and moonlit snow
Above sixty-six degrees;

Creaking saddles and boyhood dreams
Beneath the western pines;

The earth’s bones breaking through rusty dirt
On the dreaming plain.

Fragments of lost lives, long-departed versions of myself
Like the last suitcases on the carousel

Slowly circling, slowly circling
Never to be reclaimed.

 
 

At Gatwick Airport railway station, November 2019

Joik

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He sings for the land.
Not his by title deed
But by ancient rights
Long denied, hard-won.
And he loves it
With a depth and strength
Only centuries
Of labour, lives and deaths can breed.
The song rises in him
Like sap in springtime;
And he feels every word
Like his own heartbeat.
The land, the man and his strange words
Become one,
Like the grey fjord and the ocean
The forest and the mountain
The reindeer and the snow.
And as he sings
There is no ownership
Only belonging.

 

During our trip to Norway, we visited a Sami reindeer herder, Johan Isak Oskal, who is one of the most genuine, inspiring and quietly determined people I have ever met. As well as introducing us to his beautiful animals, he told us about the Sami way of life, showed us artefacts, and treated us to a joik – the traditional Sami song whose sounds and origins have much in common with the Native American chants. I can’t share it with you since he (quite rightly) asked us not to record it, explaining that the song belongs to the land; but it was extraordinarily moving and powerfuly atavistic. Do have a look at his website Tromso Arctic Reindeer – the videos have joiks as their soundtracks. N.

Global warning

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Bare ground frowns
A warning; reproach seethes
In the grumbling river that, in its anger,
Has hurled aside cracked slabs of dirty ice
And made its sodden banks
A desecrated graveyard.
Every unburdened birch
Points accusing fingers as we pass;
Reindeer stand like cattle,
Hemmed in by fence and flood;
While the empty roads
Hiss sinister threats
In the grey spray thrown by passing trucks.

And away in the north
The long night’s slow retreat
Brings no hopeful dawn
But a new and different darkness
We may never drive away.

 

Just returned from our second trip to northern Norway, which has experienced its mildest winter in (depending on who you talk to) 60, 70, perhaps even 100 years. The difference in the landscape compared to this time last year was stark and startling: I have looked climate change straight in the eye, and it is real and scary. N.