Week 9: Words from the Wild – Long Tail Tits and Nest Building 03.03.21.

This weeks creative writing tasks have been inspired by a book called ‘Birds an Anthology’ by Jacqueline Mitchell. We chose a section on the Long Tailed Tit as our extract for this week’s book club and creative writing tasks.

Using creative writing techniques to explore a natural species is a great way of learning facts and attaching a narrative to fact will also help us to remember it. And…. it makes you realise how gorgeous certain species are that you might never have noticed before.

I hope you enjoy today’s class:

Task 1. (5 mins) Long tailed tits are unusual in that they do not stick to one area for nest building. They have been know to build nests in low bushes such as the Juniper and also high up, such as nestled in the fork of a lofty oak tree branches.

Answer this question: if you were a bird where would you choose to build your nest? Would it be in the heart of a hedgerow, or in the lofty branches of an old oak tree?

Task 3: (10 mins) We are going to have a go at personification (giving something human traits) and also creating characters. Imagine two long tail tits. One is an early bird who wants to build a nest in a lovely Juniper bush, the other is a night owl who wants to build their nest high up in the branches of a tree.

Write down their conversation, which nest do they settle for. What are the pros and cons for each area!?

Task 4: (5 mins) The book mentions that up to and around 1700 feathers have been found lining a Long Tail Tit’s nest. I’m sure this will make it warm, soft and cosy. What materials would you use to build a nest? Would you use the soft down of a thistle head, or the cushioned moss that grows amongst grass lawns?

I’m so glad to have discovered more about these gorgeous little birds, I hope you are too.

See you soon,
Best wishes,
Emma

Week 8: Words from the Wild. Taking Inspiration from The Lost Spells.

In 2020 nature writer Robert MacFarlane and fantastic artist Jackie Morris published The Lost Spells, a book of poetry about the natural world lit up by beautiful illustrations.

The poems, or spells, are designed to be read out loud, to bring to life the magic of the natural world. It is a truly beautiful book that I would highly recommend.

This week we chose two ‘spells’ which were Oak and Jay. Jays love to eat acorns and live compatibly with oak trees! This weeks creative writing tasks are designed around the Oak and the Jay as inspiration. I was even lucky enough to meet a 200 year old oak tree as part of my research!

Task 1: This week I used an excellent chart from the Woodland Trust to guesstimate the age of an oak tree. The oak that I found was estimated to be around 200 years old. That meant it germinated around the time that the first ever railway line was built and before the first air flight had ever taken off. Write a letter to the Oak asking any questions you would like to know about what it has observed over the last 200 years, let the Oak know your hopes for the future.

Task 2: Sprouting acorns. Did you know that only one in every 10,000 acorns actually germinates? That makes you realise just how special each tree is! If you could plant one oak tree somewhere, where would it be any why? Would it be watching over a special view? Or in the garden of a special place? See where your imagination takes you.

Task 3: The Jay. Jay’s are part of the Carrion Family of crows. Their staple food are acorns, so where there are Oaks there will also be Jays. Jays also have beautiful blue feathers that are reported to be magical. Write for five minutes reflecting on a special plant or animal that you feel attached to or identify with. Perhaps it is a type of flower that holds a special memory, or a type of bird that you enjoy the colour of? If you can’t think of anything spend some time out in nature and choose something that inspires you.

Task 4: Sketching an Oak Tree. The opening of the Oak poem reads as follows:

‘Out on the hill, old Oak still stands:

stag headed, fire-struck, bare-crowned,

stubbornly holding its ground.‘

(Robert MacFarlane)

Can you find a tree that you look out on, or from one of your walks? Describe the tree using metaphors as Robert MacFarlane has done in this second stansa comparing the branches to a stag’s head which immediately makes you think of the shapes of antlers. In five lines can you compare aspects of the tree to other things? E.g what does the texture of the bark remind you of? What is the shape of the overall tree like? What patterns do the branches form?

See what other spells you can find this week!

I look forward to hearing from you, do email me your words, or leave me a note in the comments.

Best wishes,
Emma

Images of Jays all taken from Pixabay.

Week 7: Words from the Wild 17.02.21

Today’s class is inspired by Way Making – An anthology of women’s adventure writing, poetry and art. There are some sample pages of the book here, for anyone interested in getting a little flavour of the writing.

This week we chose poetry by Imogen Cassels as our inspiration – For anyone that has the book the poem is titled: ‘Last Night I Dream We Walk Up To the Point Again’ .

Imogen uses short stansas, each one a little sketch of a scene. This week we are going to use this as inspiration to work through creative writing tasks from the ground to the sky, creating written postcards of what we see. You can either use my photos as prompts, or use a place of your own to inspire your writing.

Task 1: (5 mins) Under my feet. In ten lines write about what you find under your feet outdoors… if you are stuck take your feet for a walk!! Describe the journey through the senses..

Task 2: (5 mins) Within reach of my finger tips… What could you reach out and touch? Today I met a Robin of who I could have touched – he was within arms reach. I could touch the different textures of the bark on the trees. The new buds appearing along branches….

Task 3: (10 mins) Taking in my view. Now thinking of the bigger picture of a special place, what is your whole view? Tell me what you can see on the horizon, or if you are somewhere enclosed what is your 360 degree view or impression? Use the senses to put me in your shoes and bring the scene to life (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell).

Task 4: (5 mins) Looking skywards. Now lets finish with the sky. Imagine writing a postcard from your special place in nature to a friend. Take a line from each task to create a short piece of prose describing where you are. Finish with a line describing the sky and what type of day it is.

As you can see, I wrote this blog from the woodland. I hope that you find some inspiration in these tasks and I look forward to reading your words.

With best wishes,
Emma

Today’s finds 10.02.21

As I’m still home schooling I had an exciting walk out this lunch time accompanied by two little bears!! We enjoyed looking for footprints in the snow and even found a rabbit print at the edge of our local park!

We were surprised to see that the park was still flooded and that the flood water was frozen. It made it look surreal like a scene from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

Despite the freezing conditions, signs of new life were everywhere, our favourite were the soft silky catkins that were like little creatures and bulbs pushing up through the ground.

Here are the pics:

See you next week 🙂

Best wishes,

Emma

Week 6: Words from the Wild 10.02.21

Words inspired by the full moon, snow and snowshoe hares!
(This is an online creative writing class produced for St Nicks Ecotherapy programme in York. Anyone is welcome to join in on line. At present we are using inspiration from the St Nicks book club to create the writing tasks. If you are local to York and would like to find out more about how to get involved in person please click here.)

Hi Everyone,
This week William and I chose another chapter from 50 Words for Snow as inspiration from our creative writing tasks. This week we looked at chapter 7 which describes the Anishinaabeg people and their words for the moon which are linked directly to the natural seasons throughout the calendar year. For example in different phases of the year the moon might be referred to as the ‘Hard Crust on the Snow Moon’ or the ‘Broken Snowshoe Moon’ reflecting the change in season and how snow settles.

The chapter also discusses how this language would have helped the people to navigate the land and to understand the conditions to expect. This would have been especially useful on hunting trips or long journeys navigating a snow covered landscape where glimpses of wild animals such as the hare would be found fleetingly on their journey.

The following tasks are inspired by the chapter:

Task 1: (5mins) Night foraging:TheSnowshoe hare is nocturnal and feeds at night on grass, shrubs and lower branches in the forest. Imagine venturing out in a wintery woodland at night. Describe foraging in snow. How easy do you him think it would be to find food?

Task 2: (10 mins) The full moon. The literature we looked at this week describes different names for the moon depending on a season. Can you think of a favourite landscape or garden. Can you imagine it blanketed under thick snow and lit up by the moon? Describe what you see. Imagine how the pale glow highlights particular features. What would you name this special effect on your favourite landscape?

Task 3: (5 mins) Snowshoe Hares. Hares have developed large feet that work brilliantly to travel across the snow acting as a natural snow shoe, a design that we have copied to help us walk safely across drifts of snow. If you could develop one aspect of yourself inspired by nature what would it be? Perhaps you would be colourful in Spring, or you would develop super large feet in winter to help walk on snow, or gills to enable you to swim under water!! Have some fun taking inspiration from the natural world to tell me what attribute you would like!

Task 4 (5 mins): During Spring we experience Spring and neap tides , when the tides are unusually high and low. This is caused by the angles of the sun and moon. Tell me about a walk or a view of a beach under moonlight. You can write from a true memory or from your imagination, if you can, include a neap or spring tide in your writing.

I hope that you enjoyed the tasks today. It was too irresistible not to investigate snow a little further!

See you next week.

Best wishes,

Emma

Today’s finds! Melted snow people!!

Hello! I hope everyone enjoyed the class today (see previous blog post). I had a very muddy walk this afternoon, what a difference a day makes – no snow other than the remains of yesterday’s snowmen / people!

Despite it being wet we enjoyed looking at print marks left in the mud and imagining who had made them. We also enjoyed the patterns and colours of the wet bark of a cherry tree and new buds appearing.

I hope you all had a good afternoon too!

Best wishes,

Emma

Week 5: Words from the Wild! Snow! 03.02.2021

(This blog is produced as part of the eco-therapy project at St Nicks Nature Reserve in York. To find out how to get directly involved please click here.)

Dear Readers,

I am writing this on Tuesday, ready to be posted on Wednesday morning. Today we woke up to a blanket of snow covering everything, William and I had seen that snow was forecast so thought that it would be nice to use snow as a theme for our class this week. For those new to this blog – we have combined our usual book club with creative writing tasks to create this online resource to help people to connect to nature from home. This term we have been focusing on poetry but have taken a break from poems this week to explore snow in more detail!

We chose an extract from the book 50 Words For Snow by Nancy Campbell to inspire today’s session. In the book Nancy looks at 50 words for snow from around the world, exploring cultural reference and meaning. Using this as our inspiration and exploring snow through writing you will find today’s writing tasks below this video I took of the snow on the Knavesmire in York to help us get in the mood for a snow themed class:

Task 1: (5 mins) Words for Snow. List as many words as you can to describe snow. Think about how it falls and lands. What is it like when it settles? What happens as it melts? What words do you associate with snow? Is it exciting, or do you think about being cosy indoors? Write down all the words that come to mind.

Task 2: (5 mins) Using our words. In Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks he has researched the meanings of words and place. At the end of each chapter is a glossary of words associated with landscape – that are now often forgotten or unused. Here are some words that I found in Landmarks that are associated with snow and ice: Blenk, clinkerbell, fleeches, frazil, smored, verglas, windle. Without knowing the true meaning of these words can you build them into a paragraph about snow – using them alongside words from the first task? Try to think about how the words sound and what you imagine them to describe about ice and snow. You might like to describe a walk down a snowy path to get you started.

Task 3: (10 mins) In 50 Words for Snow – we used an extract describing ‘Seanáš’ which is a Sami word describing granulated snow. Write about the experience of creating a snowman. How easy is it to find the perfect snow to do this. How does it feel to roll a snowball? What happens if the snow is too wet, or to fluffy?

Task 4: (5 mins) Tracks in the Snow. In the extract that we looked at from 5o words of Snow, the author describes a cave painting that was made 14,000 years ago in a Welsh cave depicting Reindeer. The author reflects on the movements of Reindeer across the land and how at one time they would have roamed across Southern Europe and even New Mexico. Have you ever noticed any unusual tracks in the snow? Today the field was full of dog paw markings. When I visited Austria there were lots of deer and rabbit / hare prints in the snow. Imagine walking across an untouched field on a snowy day. You notice some unusual tracks. Write about what you find and where the tracks lead.

I hope that everyone else got to enjoy the view of some snow this week! I would love to hear what you have been up to. For anyone interested in cheering up the views for other people there is a fantastic window exhibition initiative happening nationally – please see the link here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2021/jan/28/great-big-art-exhibition-invites-locked-down-brits-to-put-creativity-on-show

See you next week!
Best wishes,
Emma

Week 4: Words from the Wild Poetry. Inspired by water and rivers….

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to week 4 of our poetry inspired book club and creative writing class. Before we get on to the theme for this week I would like to share this beautiful poem, sent in by Jane, inspired by last weeks snowdrop themed session. It’s such a privilege to share a love of nature with others and even greater when I receive such lovely words:

Snowdrop

Hope emerging from frozen ground
A speck of green, then white
As spring makes slow return
Following long months of slumber

There may still be snow to come
Much to be endured, again
Yet rising from land unthawed
A speck of green, then white

By Jane

This week William and I chose Dart by Alice Oswald to inspire our walks and writing tasks. There is a tradition for writers to connect to rivers to inspire their work. In Dart, Alice Oswald follows the journey of the river Dart in Devon, recording the people who use the river, wildlife and details of the water in beautiful poetic form.

Here in York we have the River Ouse flowing through the city, with footpaths running along much of the course of the river. In recent days the river has flooded the fields making giant ice rinks on the race course in York and flooding over our local Ings. I’ve had fun walking on the ice, enjoying the sounds and discovering some beautiful patterns and formations. Here’s a short video to give you a flavour, just for fun!

So here are this weeks writing tasks:

Task 1: (5 mins) Write about the sound of water in any form you like. Perhaps you have also been walking on frozen ground or snow? Or you might like to think about rain falling on a pond, or the surface of a tent. Perhaps you have visited a babbling brook or have a water feature in your garden? Try and think of words that bring the sound to life. (Onomatopoeic words like crack, crackle, crunch, drip…etc!)

Task 2: (5 mins) Dancing in the shallows. Alice Oswald makes reference to dragonflies at the end of our chosen extract (we will be reading pages 5 – 6). We often see dragonflies at St Nick’s pond skimming over the shallow water. Write about an interaction of nature in shallow water. Here are some species to inspire you: dragonflies, minnows, shrimp, pond skaters, water beetles….). You can either describe an observation or work from your imagination playing with the perspectives of species.

Task 3: (10 mins) Skimming stones. Last year in our face to face class, I brought in a bag of smooth flat skimming stones to inspire a task. Look at the photos of the river below. Imagine a lovely cool shaded walk in the summer along the banks of a river. You stop to skim stones. Tell me about your journey and the way that the stones travel across the surface…..

Task 4: (5 mins) choose a river dweller such as a Kingfisher, an otter, a beaver, water vole, fish etc. Write about a day in the life of your chosen species…..you might like to describe a particular season for your species. For inspiration you might like to look at the Wildlife Trust webpages.

You might have been surprised that I mentioned beaver as an example of river dwellers. They have actually been re-introduced to parts of the UK and are very helpful to the environment supporting the reduction of flooding and maintaining wetlands in the dry summer months. You can read more about them here if you are interested to find out more.

If you haven’t read Dart by Alice Oswald we can highly recommend reading it. I hope that you enjoyed today’s class. Please do feel free to send suggestions of poetry for these sessions, or any of your own writing. (That goes for members of the public who have stumbled across this blog too). The email is creativewritinganddrawing@stnicks.org.uk you can also leave messages in the comments.

See you soon!
Best wishes,
Emma

Image taken from Pixabay

Today’s finds 20.01.2021 – Allotmenting and Wasp Nest Discoveries!

Hello, I hope you all enjoyed the session on snowdrops this morning 🙂

Rather than including finds of the day I’m going to start including weekly finds – as with home school commitments I’m not always getting out as planned on a Wednesday.

I have adapted my outings to include time at my allotment over the weekends to have a break from screens and my home environment. Last weekend I took an old un-inhabited wasps nest to the plot that a friend gifted me to look at in more detail. The colours and structure were amazing, scroll down for pics of the allotment and the wasps nest. The amazing thing is that the wasps chew on bark and then spit it out to make the paper – just imagine all the plants from the colours that you can see. There were lines of red and iridescent blue! Do let me know what you have been up to too!

Best wishes,

Emma!