A Keening for Myself

Slowly I find myself leaving. I take last walks to say goodbye to certain places which is a ritual I carried out all my life. I am woven together with threads of this place, my body holds her water and blood and my bones are made from her bedrock. Then slowly, without any movement, I shift between places. One foot is here while the other has crossed the ocean onto another continent. I am back to encompassing both worlds. Leaving is painful. It’s not muted by knowing I can return at any time. It’s an awareness which brings into focus the pain of those who left and knew they’d never return. Violently uprooted and ripped from the land. To be born of generations upon generations who lived and died on this soil to then be cleared away, eradicated as if they were vermin, swept aside to make way for the more profitable sheep.  

 

An Irish storyteller describes that those who left for America were grieved for by the family that remained, a term called “cumha” which he describes as grieving for the living. For those taking that journey out of desperation, choice or by force of law, it’s not hard to imagine the grief for those leaving didn’t even know that they would survive the journey, they didn’t know if they would ever be able to return and if they did return it is highly likely that many friends and their parents would be dead. 

 

Each time I leave I go through my own keening. Cumha is a type of keening which was carried out for the living in Ireland. For those who left due to personal, some through choice for others the only option available, there were generally those who mourned their decision. 

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The Cailleach - Holds the most ancient of all rituals, that things must die in order to be reborn

I grieve for leaving family, for missing out on daily life - the little things. I grieve for missing unknown sunsets, of missing a fleeting view of great sheets of rain which look like great figures walking through the landscape. I grieve for not seeing the final stop of the swallow, the finally shrill of the swift before they too leave and head south for the winter. 

 

‘I grieve for missing unknown sunsets, of missing a fleeting view of great sheets of rain which look like great figures walking through the landscape’

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Does the swift and the swallow grieve their leaving? Is Scotland home where they make nests and raise their young? Or is it Africa where they overwinter and have fewer responsibilities or is it the journey between both places? 

 Does the land lament the changing seasons - longing for the promise of spring or the hibernating quality of winter - dark dreams with a promise of rebirth. 

 

 “Perhaps your place loves having you there. It misses you when you are away and in its secret way rejoices when you return. Could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? That it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? Perhaps your favorite place feels proud of you.” (John O’Donohoe).

 

As my mind returns day after day to the wild beauty of the shores of certain beaches or mountain slopes - does the beach miss my bare footsteps with someone who is utterly enchanted with it? For I am indeed charmed by the place. I have been put under its spell. It has claimed me, woven myself to it. 

 I finish off my packing, gathering my parts but I know there will always be a part of me in the machair overlooking Balnahard beach watching stocky Razorbiils (a monochrome puffin) and listening to the drama of the oystercatcher family unfold. Part of me will always be on Carman Hill, cooried into the grass enjoying the soundtrack of the summer and the trill of the Skylark. 

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Asking the Old Ones for a Blessing - at the Well of the Holy Women on the Isle of Eigg

I’ll be in a twilight state for the next few days as I unpack a small library of books, a small mountain of stones and a small tree worth of twigs. I’ll reread notebooks and rediscover drawings and weave myself back into the world, a world that for me will always be a twilight place - somewhat here and somewhat there. 

 

What is it that grounds you in the face of the loss of species, the level of social and environmental injustices and all that is unfolding with climate chaos? 

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References: 

Lally, J. Brighid, Keening and a Time of Crisis. 

O’Donohoe, John. 2003. Divine Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. Bantam Books, London.