My name is Morag, and I live near Edinburgh in a lovely little Victorian flat with a lush garden surrounded by trees and birdsong. When I’m so ill and immobilised that I’m stuck indoors, then I only have what I can see from the windows.
Its like living in a zoo, but the animals comes to look at me in my cage. Urban squirrels, foxes, sparrow hawks, goldfinches, blue tits, chaffinches, bull finches, great tits, coal tits, sparrows, robins, dunocks, wrens, blackbirds, starlings, magpies, crows, bats, bees and butterflies, they come right up to the windows and in many cases come straight into the flat too. Ducks, owls, geese and herons fly overhead, and there are kingfishers, seals, otters and mink within spitting distance. But hedgehogs, badgers, toads and frogs are (so far) noticeable by their absence.
I’ve been ill all of my adult life, with very varied levels of mobility and ability, but in my head I am still a totally independent and fast-moving outdoors adventurer. One who is, however, once again trapped indoors, feeling like a fragment of a former person. However, I am still an artist, I am an artist in residence – in this garden.
In any state I am and always have been happiest in, on, near or under the water. Thanks to my mum, who swam in the sea even in winter, who launched me into water and taught me to swim soon after I was born, I’ll be forever a water baby. Lochs, sea, rivers, streams, even ponds are my life force and I crave them every minute. A monsoon fills me with joy.
The more I have to stay still, the further I travel in my imagination. The quieter I am, the more detail I see and hear and smell, the more I attune my pattern recognition. I know these plants, these trees, these birds, these bees, these squirrels, the meteorological changes across tiny little bit of sky. I can’t share the pain, frustration or isolation, but I can share perception, fragments and glimpses, a passion for nature, communicate observations and illustrate details.
I also hope this finds people who want to share their piece of nature with me by inviting me inside it – both virtually and in life. Let me be the artist in residence, lend me a bigger horizon, somewhere with more sky, the company of old trees, the sound of water, and surrounded by wildlife. It’s not impossible; there are smooth forest paths, smooth canal paths, wheelyboats, boat houses on rivers, remote yet accessible cabins, canal boats with ramps and even (thank you RSPB Loch Leven) wheelchair accessible bird-watching hides overlooking a loch. I don’t know if that is a swimming loch, but I’m keen to find out.
I had to move from swimming distances to floating, bobbing about completely weightless and supported in water so icy that it numbs the pain and brings immense serenity. I’m delighted to see that ‘Wild Swimming’ has become so popular, and that it is recognised for its magical and medicinal properties. The return of demand for the lido makes me burst with excitement, and support every efforts to rescue all those still salvageable.
So this blog also documents my journey back to the water, my search for a way to find a window with water in its view, or, best of all, me in the water with no glass between me and the world. If I am to spend my hours sitting still and lying down, then I will find a bed in the trees, a bed on the water, and I will find a view that lets me see every inch of the sky. A boat bed!
Oh, that sound of waves lapping a wooden hull and oars creaking rhythmically in the rowlocks, sea birds circling and calling overhead, with puffins, seals and dolphins punctuating the water alongside…
window view from a previous beach-side but land-locked home
Scottish Coastal Rowing has also exploded in popularity. I had to slow from running, rowing and racing to solely coxing and navigating, which can work well, but only in an inclusive and accessible club, especially one that values having a dedicated and experienced cox, or else I have no chance to spend those precious top health days on the water with other people or really feel part of the group. I’m very happy to be a passenger- photographer if I have a pile of cushions in the bow.
I used to review wheelchair access along the coast and at literary events around the city, which was sometimes depressing and often caused injuries, but that’s a whole other blog. I’ve come to realise that there is more to it than a wheelchair ramp and a welcome sign when it comes to fulfilling the concept of equal access (though that is a vital starting place). Equal inclusion needs to be actively enabled and then actively maintained. Whether via a workplace, festival, community club, event, local council or organisation, a resounding yes should ideally be the answer to these three questions: did you feel welcome, did you feel valued and were you included without a fuss or intrusion, and not as a special extra but really as one of them. And that includes any changes they needed to make: there should be an air of making changes because changes were needed, not that they’re making these changes for YOU.
I will find an accessible route to another work placement, art-nature residency or a postgrad opportunity by a loch, river, harbour or shore, maybe where the accommodation is in the boat/ boat house and my sitting there quietly is a bonus, not a disappointment, just as my fluctuating mobility and health is accepted, not suspected. To apply you usually need to demonstrate ‘taking part’ in the art world, demonstrate achievement, collaboration and attendance that mainly fit a very narrow ableist criteria, like managing the stairs or the mountain path to the venue, attending something two days in a row… so it can become a Catch-22 situation.
In the meantime you’ll find me here in my own urban coastal art residency, watching, photographing and writing. Fascinating things happen in this garden, in the sky and in the woodlands and sea it beyond, the glimpses of it all filters through me and then manifests into 2D. Then hopefully you’ll see me in the sea again.