During 2020, I lost both of my parents and we scattered their ashes in the burial ground at Brigflatts, close to the Quaker Meeting House they attended, near Sedbergh. I also became a grandmother for the first time in January 2021, though, at the time of writing, I have still not met little Isobel, who lives abroad.
One of the stones in the burial ground at Brigflatts bears the name of the poet, Basil Bunting (1900-1985), who wrote two poems linked to Brigflatts. The first, Briggflatts (his spelling), was autobiographical and written in 1965; and the second, At Briggflatts Meeting House, was written to mark Brigflatt’s 300th year in 1975.
Basil Bunting’s poems focus on memories, regrets, the transience of life and the need to be aware of and appreciate fleeting moments in our lives. Some short extracts:
“Stones indeed sift to sand, oak blends with saints bones”
“Look how clouds dance under the wind’s wing and leaves delight in transience”
“A mason times his mallet to a lark’s twitter, listening while the marble rests, lays his rule at a letter’s edge, fingertips checking till the stone spells a name, naming none…..”
My walk connects two cultural locations (Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House and Fox’s Pulpit), but also links with the poetry of Basil Bunting and the skill and sounds of Craig, the stonemason at work. It also connected me with the memories of my parents lives and their links to current and future generations.
Prior to our walk, I watched the stonemason carving my parents’ names on the plaque in the burial ground, hearing his mallet tap, tap and I was conscious of Basil Bunting’s words. I kept these and other lines from his poems in mind as we walked.
George Fox (founder of the Quaker movement) spent much of his time walking in nature, so I felt drawn (despite having inherited an increasingly creaking hip), to make the circular walk of body and mind, from Brigflatts to Fox’s Pulpit and his just happened to coincide with the Artful Ways Project.
For many years, I have kept a small visual diary in which I record things which attract my attention each day, so I decided to make a little folded book, based on the walk. I also took photographs along the way. I made a picture as well. This and my little folded book represent my thoughts about roots and branches, the earth, stone and air. The things which are fixed and the those which are fleeting. Memorials, observations, thoughts and regrets. Words and memories that crumble and decay. Both are intentionally earthy and simple but may yet lead to other work in future. (I’m taking my book club friends to Brigflatts next week, for a short walk and to discuss the Basil Bunting poems).
Answering the three Artful questions
Culture and creativity
These have always been central to my life, as I trained and worked as a gallery and museum curator. I’m always fascinated by the many ways that human beings see and record the times in which they live. I believe that culture and creativity have important roles to play in representing the continuity, complexity and resilience of nature and human life.
During lockdown, I missed being able to see exhibitions and live events and to share these with my family members. However, I did quite enjoy having slow, quiet time to contemplate and appreciate the simple and important things in life. Like Basil Bunting, creativity has been an essential means to express my own feelings of love and loss and to develop a stronger connection with the environment.
I feel that collectively and artfully, we can all demonstrate and encourage greater awareness of our relationship with the environment and with each other, through the connections we make and through the different ways of seeing and understanding our surroundings and each other.