Stone Lives

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The above images are available as a postcard © Tabula Rasa 2014

Stone Lives is an artwork that developed from an investigation of riverbank ecology at the meeting point of the Ettrick and Yarrow, at Philliphaugh near Selkirk.

 

Our arrival at the riverbank in an afternoon in late May coincided with a hatch of Stone Flies – aquatic insects emerging from the water to find a stone to air themselves, and shed their final larval form.

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

We were there to explore the river junction through movement improvisation, to understand it better as a complex place and to pay attention to more-than-human aspects. We were three dancers  – Merav Israel, Claire Pençak, and Tim Rubidge – and myself as recorder.  The river was low and we could walk on the smoothed rock, ancient mudstones shaped and sifted by ice and water.

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Image © Tabula Rasa 2014

We had in mind the idea of a ‘passing-through-place’, a concept developed by an Australian cultural geographer, Leah Gibbs:

“So what I’m trying to get at with the idea of a ‘passing-through place’ is that some places may not be permanently dwelt in, but are extremely significant, vital places none-the-less. Permanent dwelling, fixity, longevity, are not the only ways of forming meaningful relationships with places.” (Leah Gibbs, reference 1,  see previous post)

As a newcomer to dance improvisation, I was entranced by the dancers’ swift and playful development of ideas. We all followed suit, when Tim placed a stone on his head.

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

As Merav said, placing a stone on your head is a way to know the shape of your skull. What shape of stone fits you best – flat, hollowed, rounded, long?

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Drawing © Kate Foster 2014

 

And how do you walk? My sense was of becoming a taut and aware line, a line moving between the shapes under my feet and the touch of the stone on my head. Attention is drawn to what is above and below. Tim described needing to adopt ‘a lightness of touch – otherwise the rocks got too rocky!’  With great balance, the dancers developed the possibilities of a stone minuet by circling in the forms of an early and stately dance.

Meanwhile Stone Flies were passing through their own sequences, taking flight after many larval forms. They left husks of themselves on the stones, an abandonment to life. Females were flying upriver, dipping into the water to lay eggs.

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Photo © Tabula Rasa 2014

 

Merav was the first to see them, and puzzle over their presence. She described this later:

I was going in a direction no-one else was, I was skipping over stones for a long time … trying to see how far into the river I could go and still be on land. One of my jumps, was so! that I had to bend over because I lost my balance, then I realised there was lots of stuff clinging to the stone I was standing on. Something I have never seen before, so I had to squat down to have a good look at them. They blended into the stone quite well so I had to try to figure out: what is it I am seeing? There was an interesting shape, I couldn’t figure out what was the head and what was the tail so I had to investigate the structure. I imagined there was a bit of a split somewhere, that could be the tail – though the head did not really look like a head, on the other side. The colours – there was a nice pattern of lines, greys, lighter greys, and blacks, almost like a tiger. It really was the colours of the stone itself, and it did not seem like they were moving at all.  So I wondered if they were alive.  And I saw they were everywhere, everywhere on the stones around me.

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Photograph © Tabula Rasa 2014

This set me on a trail, I collected husks for some days after – keen to find them before river levels rose. I searched online too, learning that of all the insects that live in water, Stone Flies need the cleanest water. They are ecological indicators of healthy streams, flattened and adapted to be able to cling to stones in rapid currents.  Apart from Trout who devour them, they are best known to fishermen, river ecologists and entomologists.  As one source remarks: “they are rather endearing little creatures once you get to know them”.

The fossil record of Stone Flies stretches far back to the Permian, but their adult life is brief.  A juxtaposition of Stone and Fly offers simultaneity at different timescales – a ‘so-far story’ (see earlier post here).

Stone Lives became an artwork inviting anthropologists at an international conference to share a sense of stone, and life supported.

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, tactile element). Tabula Rasa, 2014

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, audio and drawing elements). Tabula Rasa, 2014

 

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Stone Lives Installation at Speculative Ground, 2014 (detail, drawing). Tabula Rasa, 2014

Notes:

This work will be documented further. Support from the University of Aberdeen (Knowing From Inside project) allowed presentation at the Anthropological Association Decennial Conference, in Edinburgh June 2014, as part of a collaborative Speculative Ground Project with anthropologists Jen Clarke and Rachel Harkness.  The conference theme was Enlightenment. Stone Lives assisted an artistic exploration of Land Use. Our contribution  re-works anthropocentirc perspectives with an exploration of multiple aspects of place, articulated through Claire Pençak’s new text on Approaching Choreography.

Reference: Gibbs L 2014,  Arts-science collaboration, embodied research methods, and the politics of belonging: ‘SiteWorks’ and the Shoalhaven River, Australia. cultural geographies 21(2) 206-226

 Grateful thanks to support from the funders and conference organisers:

 

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Mapping the Sounds of the Tweed Rivers

Listeners all over the world can now tune in to the sound of a Border burn, music and voices, through a new Tweed Rivers soundmap created by the Working the Tweed artists.

Location recordings that can be heard on the sound map include electrofishing on the Teviot, interviews with anglers David Mitchell and Ronnie Glass and river experts including Paxton Netting, Tweed Forum and the Tweed Foundation. The soundmap also includes  Borders music from Kirsty Law, Rachael Hales and the Small Hall Band, and environmental recordings made on burns and rivers, including some from World Listening Day 2013.

The project is part of Working the Tweed, and features recordings made by some of the project artists, including Jules Horne, James Wyness and Claire Pencak. The Tweed Sound Map has come from an international collaboration with Berlin-based Udo Noll from global soundmap radio aporee. Tweed Sound Map

Jules said: ‘radio aporee has field recordings from every corner of the world. You can zoom in on a Google map and hear sounds from that place – it’s very atmospheric and interesting. We wanted to give a flavour of the distinctive sounds and voices of the Tweed catchment, to highlight a sense of connection through the river.’Tweed Sound Map

Udo Noll said: ‘The Tweed soundmap is a great example of international exchange and collaboration, and I especially like how sound and recording is used here. Listening to the Tweed map gives you a strong idea of the relation between landscapes, nature and the people living there.’

The idea for project and theme-based maps on radio aporee came from sound artist John Grznich at the MoKS Centre for Art as Social Practice in Estonia, who linked up with Borders artists when taking part in the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick.

The hope is that the Tweed sound map will continue to be added to over time so that it can build up into an archive of voices and river sounds.

To access the sound map, go to www.tweedsoundmap.co.uk

On ‘passing-through places’, ‘so-far stories’ and movement improvisation.

Leah Gibbs (LG), Human Geographer at the University of Wollongong, Australia, in conversation with Working the Tweed artists, Kate Foster (KF) and Claire Pençak (CP).

Introduction

In the project Working the Tweed, we set out to work with different kinds of specialist knowledge. This yields various ways to think about the Tweed Catchment, and make different artistic connections and new kinds of maps. We are thinking through what we, as artists, might offer in engaging with projects that deal with sustainable land-use and the realities of environmental change. We are delighted to be able to converse with Leah Gibbs, a human geographer at the University of Wollongong, whose work concerns the cultures and politics of water. Leah has considerable experience of multi-disciplinary work focussing on land management. She explains her concept of ‘passing-through places’. This overlaps with Kate Foster’s ideas of documenting ‘so-far stories’, and Claire Pençak’s thinking on improvisation as a way to investigate relationship to place through movement.

Conversation

KF: Leah, you have written about ‘passing-through places’, which is an intriguing idea and keeps coming to mind as we plan the Working the Tweed project. Can you explain why you find the concept of ‘passing through’ helpful, and how you came to adopt the term?

LG: The idea of a ‘passing-through place’ emerged from a project I’ve been involved with over the last few years called ‘SiteWorks’. SiteWorks is an ongoing series of collaborative projects, which was initiated by arts organisation Bundanon Trust, and is based on the Shoalhaven River, just south of where I live in Wollongong (south eastern Australia). It involves a really interesting, shifting group of people: arts practitioners, scientists, other scholars, local people, including folk involved in Landcare groups, and other local organisations. The project asks participants to respond to the Bundanon sites on the river. I was thrilled to be invited to be part of it in 2010.

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Image 1: Looking down the Shoalhaven River from Bundanon property ‘Riversdale’, August 2010.
Photo © Leah Gibbs 2010.

As a Human Geographer, I’m really interested in people and place, so when I first visited Bundanon I was keen to learn about people’s relationships with the site, and also how an arts-science collaboration might help us to understand place. I quickly learned that Bundanon is important to a lot of people. But it’s a place that people tend to pass through: visitors to the site, school groups, artists in residence, Bundanon employees, all pass through this place. We learn, and make connections, but we don’t dwell here. The previous owners of Bundanon were the late Australian artist Arthur Boyd and his family. Bundanon shaped a large body of Boyd’s work, and the place is strongly associated with him. But he and his family lived here for a relatively short time. Learning from the archive, it seems earlier settler families also passed through this place.
There has been some recent work done on the Indigenous heritage and history of the Bundanon properties, and this work finds that the main population centre prior to European colonisation was downstream, near the estuary. But the site was still important: people passed through here, often travelling on the river, to get to food and hunting sites, and to ceremony sites.
So what I’m trying to get at with the idea of a ‘passing-through place’ is that some places may not be permanently dwelt in, but are extremely significant, vital places none-the-less. Permanent dwelling, fixity, longevity, are not the only ways of forming meaningful relationships with places.

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Image 2: Across the floodplain, March 2011. Photo © Leah Gibbs 2011.

In addition, in Australia – as in other parts of the world – the idea of ‘belonging’ is highly political. It feeds into thinking about ‘native’ and ‘introduced’, ‘invasive’ or ‘feral’ species of plants and animals, and it goes on to inform management and decision-making about these things. Ideas about belonging also influence thinking and action towards people, particularly in the context of indigenous relations, ethnicity and migration. But belonging is highly complex in a settler-dominated society. Concepts of belonging that are based on fixed notions of permanence or longevity in a place can lead to some very troublesome, racist attitudes and even policy.
So I like the concept of a ‘passing-through place’ for a couple of reasons. First because it highlights the significance of places that may not be permanently dwelt in, but are vital none-the-less; and second, because it unsettles fixed notions of belonging. And it strikes me that challenging fixed ideas of belonging is incredibly important in the context of contemporary environmental change. It’s in this context that we need to learn how to better live with other humans and a more-than-human world under changing conditions.
I’ve written more extensively about the idea of a ‘passing-through place’ and my experiences as a SiteWorks participant in a recent article published in the journal ‘Cultural Geographies’.

KF: What you have said shows how ‘unsettling’ a fixed idea can be a constructive step to take. I am wary when I hear ‘The Story of X, Y, Z’ – all in capitals. Intellectually we might know that many different stories can be told but they do still jostle for position. We seem to shy away from complexity. Happy-endings can appeal – but for whom, where, and in what timescale?
I used a prompt from political ecology to work out how making ‘so-far stories’ can expand my human viewpoint. I borrowed this from the work of geographer Doreen Massey who asks us to think of landscape as an event, as a simultaneity of ‘stories-so-far’.  This is a sketchbook extract, written when drawing a thistle being blown in the wind.

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Image 3: sketchbook extract © Kate Foster 2011

I know that geographical theory takes time and work to absorb, and believe that a rigorous and self-disciplined approach, learning from shared experience, is important. The idea of simultaneity (at different timescales) by-passes anthropocentrism. I set out artistically to attaining ‘ecocentrism’ but I am re-thinking this. I realise that learning about human environmental impact – and degradation – has also taught me more about what it is to be human. This is what I wrote in that article:

Unfinishable as they are, so-far stories may afford possibilities and juxtapositions that escape an aesthetic of despair. Of course the prompt might be anguish or anger, but fury and grief should not overwhelm quieter voices and tender ways of working, in order to acknowledge complexity.

KF: Claire, can you say more about how you use movement improvisation to explore place? Perhaps it’s best to be there with you to find out for ourselves! Does it help to document this kind of exploration? If so, how?

CP: There are several things here.
There is movement improvisation as a way of working that encourages an open, responsive and playful approach and doesn’t require that you follow a series of set steps. There is also the dancer whose body is a passing through place, a transformative place and place of flux. And there is the witness.
For me improvisation encourages thinking on your feet.  It is about responding to and being in relationship to – a person or a place or an object or an idea – at a given time, season and place.
It is a process towards finding ways to traverse, to move around, over, under and through that might offer opportunities to be in a slightly different relationship to place.  By not having to follow proscribed procedures and pathways it permits us to wander off the beaten track.
This way of working could suggest other ways to understand what place might or could be. It would certainly suggest that place is neither static nor singular but is in a state of becoming and is shaped by the interactions that take place there. If the dancer shifts – does the place not shift too?
For me this is a performative relationship.
Dancers are trained for years to literally place themselves and also to traverse, to pass through.
A dancer brings a different way of paying attention, an under_standing* that is corporeal, terrestrial and aerial.  Flux is where they are most at home.
Improvisation isn’t really something to be captured through documentation – it can be experienced, recalled and discussed but doesn’t take well to being fixed as it is thinking in action. The body ‘thinking’ through action.
It can though stimulate images, dialogue, writing.
I like the idea of a companion or witness, as their presence brings a creative eye to the process.
Improvisation is not a spectator sport but collaboration. The witness is there to look closely. They bring their eyes and ears and their presence. They are viewing points and can chose to shift their point of view and their focus of attention and so contribute to the improvisation.
The documentation lies somewhere in the dialogue between the dancer and the witness.

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Image 4: Participants at Working the Tweed Riverside Meeting, August 2013. We were looking under a bridge to find traces of otters using the river and marking territory. Photo © Kate Foster 2013.

This conversation has begun to show how human geography, visual art and dance can interweave. Having glimpsed the insights that geographers can offer, our next discussion will be about why ‘more-than-human’ might be a helpful term that expands on traditional ideas of Nature.

References

http://smah.uow.edu.au/sees/eesstaff/UOW080115.html
http://www.bundanon.com.au/siteworks
http://www.bundanon.com.au/
http://cgj.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/05/17/1474474013487484.abstract
• Gibbs L In Press Arts-science collaboration, embodied research methods, and the politics of belonging: ‘SiteWorks’ and the Shoalhaven River, Australia. cultural geographies doi: 10.1177/1474474013487484 (published online 17 May 2013).

• Massey, D. 2006. ‘Landscapes as a Provocation: reflections on moving mountains. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1-2), pp. 33–48.

http://www.politicalecology.org/2012/01/responses-where-is-politics-in.html

Footnote

* When Claire Pençak speaks about under_standing, she gives it a certain emphasis. Translated into text, using the underscore intends to convey the idea that we stand from underneath – that standing is ‘feet up knowledge’.

Rights: Text © authors, Leah Gibbs, Claire Pençak, Kate Foster, unless otherwise stated. Images credited individually.

Cogsmill Burn – Slitrig – Teviot – Tweed: World Listening Day Reflections

I set off on the bicycle to find the junction of Cogsmill Burn and the Slitrig Water, which later joins the Teviot at the point where the heron fishes in Hawick.

Cogsmill Burn is my closest water way and runs a couple of fields away from the back of the house.

It passes Cogsmill Hall – the pink hall which will soon be pink no longer – and under a bridge – and somewhere between that point and before the pig farm it runs into the Slitrig.

From the road, the junction is concealed. Instinct suggested it was somewhere behind the big gated entrance to Stobs Estate.

The sound of flowing water is audible and a broken down wall offered a glimpse of it, so leaving the bike, it was a scramble down the bank to a shady river – which one, though? I thought the Slitrig, as it seemed unlikely the Cogsmill Burn would have widened quite so much in such a short distance, so upstream seemed the most likely direction to find the meeting place. The riverbanks were lush. I noted hawthorn, beech, ash , rhododendron, hogweed, campion, wild garlic, raspberry and dock.

Slitrig Water Photo Claire Pencak

It was difficult to move through, and the easiest way to make any distance was by taking to the river. I imagined this might have been how the first people moved up the tributary.

After a good ten minutes or so of slow river walking, there it was, the meeting place of the Cogsmill Burn and the faster flowing, more chattering Slitrig Water.

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Listening is a continuous, subtle adjusting and shifting of your weight as your feet negotiate stony riverbeds.

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It is a state of opening up and out through all the senses.  A present tense state of being in complete attention. We might talk about listening with the soles of your feet, the sternum, the back of your neck.

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It occurred to me that it wasn’t the water that I was listening to but the flow, the passing of the water that sounded the stones and branches and plants that it moved over, under and by.

I thought I was hearing voices on a distant radio somewhere but this turned out to be the conversation of a specific combination of river, stone and branch in one specific place very close by.

flowing conversation in the Slitrig

The ‘over there’ and ‘out of sight’ of passing cars travelled to me as sound even though the road was up the bank and the other side of the wall.  I could hear the cars through the wall even though I couldn’t see the cars through the wall.

Dipping a long, slim branch into a faster part of the water and allowing it to be taken by the river whilst still holding the other end, it was easy to sense the rate and energy of the flow which seemed to want to take it with you. This was easier to experience through the medium of the branch than by placing my hand into the river. The energy of the flow could be more sensitively felt when channelled through the branch into the hand and arm and finally the spine, and I thought I could perhaps begin to understand what it must be like to know the river with a rod and line and knew that this was river listening too.

Later in the day I passed the junction of the Slitrig with the Teviot on its way to join the Tweed at Kelso.

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The heron was riverside listening too.

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Working the Tweed at the Border Union Show

Working the Tweed at Border Union Show.

Working the Tweed had a lovely weekend at the Border Union Show thanks to Tweed Foundation, Tweed Forum and the Border Union Agricultural Society, who let us share their marquee.

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We were placed next to a large map of the Tweed which belongs to Border Union Agricultural Society, and made an interesting contrast in scale to the Tweed Catchment maps drawn by Working the Tweed artist Kate Foster.

Kate’s maps caught people’s attention and imagination because they reveal the complexity and density of the Tweed catchment, which is the most dendritic in Europe. As one person noted, it looks just like a lung.

Knowing your River Border  Union Show CP

The maps are one element of Knowing your River, a family activity which encourages us to consider where we are each placed within the catchment and how the Border region is connected through the many burns and tributaries which eventually all meet and flow into the Tweed.

After a slight pause for thought, many people were able to find whereabouts they were located on the map, which shows the fantastic amount of river knowledge that people have in the Borders.

I liked this local river knowledge encapsulated in a verse:

The foot of the Breamish and the head of the Till
Meet together at Bewick Mill.

People used the catchment ink drawing to make a tracings which showed their river journey to Kelso if they had travelled there using the water ways. By adding other details of favourite haunts, activities and memories, these transformed into personal maps of stretches of the rivers. These will all feature in the Working the Tweed exhibition at Harestanes Countryside Visitors Centre, October 9th – 31st.

Jules Horne also collected ‘biological records’ about our visitors, along with what their local river means to them and what they might change if they could.

Making the most of having so many river specialist in the same space, we were introduced  to the art of tying  fish flies by Tweed Foundation, were entertained with lively conversations and stories by River Bailiffs Eric Hastings and Kenny Graham (below with Tracy Hall from Tweed Forum), and witnessed the difference that Natural Flood Management techniques can make to slowing down water as it moves through an area through the Tweed Forum’s comparative catchment models.

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Next weekend we will be at Kailzie Wildlife Festival, Kailzie Gardens.  http://www.kailziewildlife.org/

The Riparian Listener or Knowing the River

25 June 2013, Twizel Bridge to Norham

If, like the aesthete, fish divide perfumes into light and dark, and bees classify luminosity in terms of weight…… the work of the painter, the poet or the musician, like the myths and symbols of the savage, ought to be seen by us, if not as a superior form of knowledge, at least as the most fundamental and the only one really common to us all; scientific thought is merely the sharp point – more penetrating because it has been whetted on the stone of fact, but at the cost of some loss of substance – and its effectiveness is to be explained by its power to pierce sufficiently deeply for the main body of the tool to follow the head.

Claude Levi-Strauss

Artists are often thought of as knowledge producers. This process is flattering for the artist, but it can also become means of dragging artists and artistic discourse into the realm of empirical and scientific thought, which can then see that knowledge packaged and appropriated for various uses far removed from the artists’ intentions.

How can we ‘know’ a river, if knowing means a way of realising or gathering knowledge? Given that our project Working the Tweed will of course take account of both scholastic and phenomenological approaches to knowledge production, one of my adopted ‘problems’, in a research sense, converges on the relative merits of these different forms of knowing. Is a walk by the river, senses alert and mind in low gear (if not absent), as effective a means of epistemological enquiry as a professionally administered scientific survey?

I’d like to think that in drawing on decades of research and practice, my midsummer walk from Twizel Bridge towards Norham, on the Northumbrian side of the Tweed, unveiled as much important and useful knowledge as the most rigorous of scientific surveys, though the nature of that knowledge is less measurable and therefore less easy to represent, or misrepresent, than the knowledge produced by scientific means.

Throughout the year I want to listen intently to various aspects of the river Tweed and its larger tributaries, in this case the mouth of the Till, with a view to establishing a modest typology or nascent archive of a variety of sites and walks where the visitor can engage with the river without suffering too much noise or intrusion. This is less an airbrushing exercise and more a search for the quiet places, which, I’m happy to report, do still exist.

Looking at the map of the Tweed catchment, and knowing the river systems well enough, it becomes clear to me that busy trunk roads run close alongside many of the larger rivers, largely for historical reasons. This particular stretch, Twizel Bridge to Norham, takes the walker off the main roads and away from the noise quite quickly and assumes a trail close in to the river, separated from most traffic noise by large arable and mixed fields, mature and new woodland plantation. Finally, the river valley itself provides fine acoustic cover from all but the more intimate river sounds.

Walking from the car park below the ruins of  Twizel Castle , I took the path along the final reaches of the Till. This is uncomfortable walking at the height of summer because of an overgrown path, stinging nettles and various invasive flora of frightening proportions such as giant hogweed. The invasive species issue becomes immediately apparent – see it, touch it and know it. The path soon veers away from the road, passing beneath the Twizel Viaduct, offering glimpses of the Till, sandy and sluggish in its final mile. With more open views in early spring, autumn or winter this would be an excellent recreational walk with good river listening.

My first stop: facing southwest at Tillmouth proper with the Till on the left joining the Tweed on the right. Two standing anglers upstream and a cottage on the Scottish side having its verges trimmed by a noisy motorised tractor-mower. Rowing boats both sides the Tweed. The occasional vehicle on the B6437 reminds the listener just how far and with how much energy low frequencies will carry. The tractor-mower stopped for around forty minutes, conveniently allowing me to take a long recording, from the wooden bench by the rod-stand, and to digest my surroundings in relative peace. The recording will be archived until we decide what to do with these comnplex and problematic representations. Back to the river, you have to allow time for the soundscape to establish itself. Given enough time and gentle wide-field concentration, emergent properties become apparent, of which more at a future date.

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I’m no expert, but the birdlife here seems to be exceptionally rich, or more accurately the topography lends itself to a variety of species. Almost cacophonous at times, the birds dominate the recorded soundscape with their ceaseless foraging and chattering. The covering of deciduous behind me, in addition to harbouring all manner of unidentified tappings, whoopings and flutterings, echoed the wider field of sound from the large thick horizontal blanket expanse of mature broadleaf across the river, and from the smaller riparian trees along the main channel. I’ll take a chance and suggest that these might be ‘residual alluvial forests’. A fine range of contrasting habitats. Finally the flurry of various waterfowl and the delicious sound of muscular salmon breaking the surface occupied the middle foreground, with insects taking up the nearfield panorama.

Walking downstream to ‘The Rocks’ you pass numerous small wooden signposts marking the beats. The bothy at The Rocks is another fine listening point opposite sandstone crags. This stretch in its entirety offers an excellent soundwalk. Here I spoke with two Northumbrian anglers who told me the following:-

  • Tillmouth salmon fishing costs around £70.00/day but at peak season can cost up to £700/day.
  • An angler caught six fine salmon yesterday (he was out on a boat again today on the same beat). The young lad I spoke to was looking out an orange fly which seemed to be doing the trick. The colour of fly, as opposed to the specific fly, seemed to be the deciding factor.
  • Poachers are rare because the authorities have devised methods of testing for river fish which prevents quick and easy black market sales.
  • Scottish rules (whatever those are) are in force for angling on both sides of the river.

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Eventually the path rises away from the river to  Twizel farmhouse. Some kind of high pressure siphoning from the river is taking place for irrigation purposes, no doubt closely monitored according to the statutory regulations in the Tweed Catchment Management Plan. Either that or I’ve just alerted the authorities and somebody’s about to be nicked.

Of the three paths on offer I descended again to the river towards Norham. Here the path runs high above the Tweed affording tantalising glimpses of the river through the covering of thick wood and luxuriant vegetation. At times the woodland soundscape is Edenic, broken occasionally by startled waterfowl. Some notes and observations: this is a path less travelled, almost completely overgrown in places; no midges – you couldn’t walk this kind of path on the West Coast in comfort; the joy of brushing against riverside oak, too rare in Scotland these days; a series of excellent contrasting listening environments, especially from the small footbridges over tributary streams which offer resting points, in particular the bridge facing the rushing weir before Dreeper Island.

Just after Dreeper Island the river opens out and you’re level with a completely different Tweed, now expansive and slow flowing, more like a large lochain, which soon folds back into various canalisation morphologies. Traces of wild garlic, a riot of songbirds and incongruous but inviting rondavels on the opposite bank at Upsettlington, a meeting place for warring parties during the wars of Scottish Independence.

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Finally on listening points, I’d recommend a stop at any of the bothies along the way, especially the black painted corrugated iron shack upstream of the small weir.

Returning by a different set of paths marked out on the map wasn’t easy or pleasant. What looks like a straight run of open land is actually waist- and even head-high with various crops. Creative cartography is required to avoid damaging the crops, so out of respect for the farmers I’ll refrain from mapping a return course and recommend that during the summer months you either aim for the nearest road as soon as possible or return the way you came. But I should mention to finish that the liminal zones between thick broadleaf woodland and hay meadows are unspeakably beautiful with their secret and intimate moods, as are the random explosions of poppies which pepper the fields of oilseed.

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Next up – soundwalking and listening somewhere around Scott’s View and Bemersyde.

Scaling the Tweed: research drawing by Kate Foster

Upriver, salmon eggs could be hatching just now. I learn that pimples on the fish’s skin become scales with marks that register their growth pattern, like tree rings. In actuality, these are in life tiny and transparent, but to understand them I draw them large and salmon coloured.

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drawing © Kate Foster

The Tweed Foundation collects scales from anglers, and accumulates data that helps interpret seasonal changes in the fishing catch. With a microscope, an expert eye might see that a salmon lived for two winters in the river, with a further winter at sea before returning to the Tweed to spawn. The wider separated bands in the blue drawing (a detail) suggest that this fish made a rapid transition to sea and began to feed well.

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drawing © Kate Foster

Sometimes, there are checks in the usual pattern of faster summer growth, where the circuli stay tight and close.

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drawing © Kate Foster

Very rarely, a female salmon manages to return to sea after spawning, and runs upriver a second time. The Tweed is a long river, and perhaps only one in a hundred manage this. These fish have scales with spawning marks developing from interrupted growth where scales were consumed, reabsorbed for energy to swim upstream.

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drawing © Kate Foster

Typically a spawned salmon, a kelt, will die in the river and the eroded scales will document the exhaustion of the fish’s reserves.

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detail of research drawing © Kate Foster

Having learnt something of what can be seen close-up, I needed to take a step back to take this in. A textbook informs me how they deserve their name, ‘Atlantic Salmon’: they are a species who use ocean currents to drift to cold subarctic waters. Rich feeding to the west of Greenland allows them to mature before returning to their home river in mating mood.

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detail of research drawing © Kate Foster

Towards the end of this first lesson in scale-reading, our careful tutors say that there is currently speculation about future patterns that will be read in salmon scales. Within ten years perhaps, the north pole will be a navigable ocean, allowing passage to the Pacific.

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detail of research drawing © Kate Foster

To reflect on this, I look at recently published papers. With anxiety, I start to draw icebergs on perspex – dotting out the zone that was navigable to ice-hardy ships in 1970. In my drawing the icebergs lessen over time, and tail off at 2100. I wish it was the other way up, and I could draw them more concentrated at the pole, like this:

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detail of research drawing © Kate Foster

Scaling the Tweed started with a close-up view, but also is making me look further away.

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detail of research drawing © Kate Foster

Acknowledgements and thanks to Tweed Foundation. Any errors text and drawings are my responsibility. The research drawing can be seen in the Robson Gallery in Selkirk (see previous post) until mid May.