We love our Wild Women conversations so much that we decided to make a space here for all those wonderful ideas, passions, inspirations and insights to be shared.
Think of it as a conversation around the cauldron, a gathering space for women to spin together their stories, songs, howls, and hopes. Each thread that is spun becomes part of a world wild web, connecting wild women around the globe. We have been spinning together since 2018!
We aim to post one blog a month from a member of Wild Women or a Wild Woman Guest. There isn't a set theme. If there is someone you would love to see invited to join us as a Spinner in the Wild Woman Web, please give us a howl to tell us who and why.
...and don't forget, as well as our 2021 Spinners, you can find lots of wonderful, wild threads from our Web Spinners 1 - 28, including Jackie Morris, Jini Reddy, Kathryn Aalto, Jo Sweeting, Tanya Shadrick, Zena Edwards, Jhilmil Breckenridge, and many more.
Welcome to the Wild Woman Web!
Victoria (Founder, Wild Women)
April - Thread Spinner 32 -- The Lonely Isle -- Cal Flyn
March - Thread Spinner 31 -- These Lengthening Days -- Alice Tarbuck
February - Thread Spinner 30 -- Honouring Our Ancestors -- Raine Geoghegan, M.A
January - Thread Spinner 29 -- Home: becoming a naturalist in residence -- Stefanie Rixecker
By Cal Flyn
During the writing of my new book, Islands of Abandonment, I spent 24 hours alone on an abandoned island in the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and John O’Groats. Swona was inhabited by nine families at the start of the 1900s, but in the years after the First World War many left to make new lives on the mainland, or abroad. One family, the Rosies, stayed on for many decades. The last of the Swona Rosies departed for the nearest inhabited island, South Ronaldsay, in 1974.
Swona has remained more or less abandoned ever since, their cattle—and latterly, the descendants of their cattle—left to roam free across the island. Rose Cottage, the last inhabited house, has fallen into dereliction. Seals and terns and puffins have made the island their own.
Dropped at the crumbling pier by a local boatman, I was advised to spend the night inside one of the empty homes lest the cattle, now wild and distrustful of humans, trample my tent in the dark. Surprised and chastened, I explored the island, which at first felt strange and eerie and exciting, and then increasingly uncomfortable.
The Marie Celeste atmosphere of Rose Cottage — tablecloth on the table, tins in the larder, copy of the Press and Journal announcing the election of Harold Wilson on the side — left the distinct impression on having stumbled on the scene of some long-past disaster.
Outside, what once had been a tractor sank into the earth, rusted solid. A handsome wooden boat was pulled high from the water, but its stern had disintegrated to matchsticks. Behind the double gabled byre I found the cadaver of a cow stretched out across a slab, its bones bleached blonde and the flesh melting away.
I felt a creeping horror, and felt in my pocket for my phone — to call my partner, at home in Edinburgh. But it was long dead. Its battery drained away after the two nights I spent camping on South Ronaldsay, waiting out a storm.
I headed north towards a rocky headland and a ship’s beacon, leaving the ruins behind me. Sea views, I thought, would be soothing. But soon I stumbled into other creatures’ territory. Arctic terns had established a colony on the rough ground; at once I was surrounded by screams and clicks. Tiny birds with sharp pronged tails and needling beaks divebombed me until I fled. Great skuas lunged at me as I passed. I hugged the coastline, and set of a caterwauling among the seals that basked in the rocky bay.
This was no longer a place for people. Had I been in company, this pillar-to-post circumnavigation of the island might have been funny. But, on my own, my nerves were failing me. I felt shaky and strange.
I have worked a lot with horses, and know well the change in their behaviour when one takes them out alone. A normally calm, steady gelding might become nervous and twitchy, rolling his eyes at rocks and trees he passes every day in company without issue. Now, I realise, I know how they feel.
They are ‘social animals.’ That is, they prefer to live in groups. So, I think, are we. We might travel ‘alone’, work ‘alone’, live ‘alone’ in a house. But it is very rare to be so entirely without human contact, even for a 24-hour period. We too are social animals. I hadn’t appreciated that before.
When we sell horses, there are stock phrases we use on the adverts. ‘Good all-rounder.’ ‘Easy to box/shoe/clip.’ ‘Hacks out alone or in company.’
That last one: it’s me. I realise it now. Take her out for an hour, she’ll be no trouble at all. But she still needs a stable mate, a herd of her own kind.
Someone to talk to. Someone to wave to. Someone to draw strength from. I was an ass to think otherwise.
Cal Flyn is an award-winning writer from the Highlands of Scotland.
She writes long form journalism and literary nonfiction. Her first book, Thicker Than Water, was selected by The Times as one of the best books of 2016. Her highly acclaimed second book, Islands of Abandonment, is out now in the UK, and is shortly to be released in the US, Netherlands, Italy and China.
(image Cal Flyn - credit Nancy Macdonald)
By Dr Alice Tarbuck
I was born in March. March is the month of crocuses and stirring. It turns the heart to spring, but doesn’t the snow show its face, some years, as a little bite in the heel as we run into the light. Reminding us the Cailleach is still sweeping, stamping and muttering, not yet ready to shrink down into a stone, that will hold Winter’s cold safe inside it all year.
March is the month of waxing fat. It is Ostara. So many festivals in the pagan year have teeth, have cloaked darkness and long nails that draw ice and suffering down windows, but Ostara tells another story. Ostara is the brimming hopeful dawn of spring, who unfolds out of Winter’s hand, radiant and growing. Ostara, as a goddess, is a dawn-bringer. She is linguistically a friend of Aurora, of the first rays of the morning sun. She is growth, abundance, the hare with its magic trick of fertility. She is the becoming of every green thing.
As a goddess, Ostara may, of course, be an invention of the Venerable Bede, but who are we to doubt the truth that sits inside her, the networked connections she makes outward. A goddess is like a forest, a network of care. A deity is nodal, all web and weave, and covers vast tracts of land, of history and of aspect. How else can they be? Can we not meet them, in the same way that we can walk to the snowline, gazing up to the peaks above, and not know the extent of its spread, or its continuous depth?
And who could, having sat in the cold cave of winter unrelenting, not find inside March’s lengthening days the seed of a goddess, anyhow? A growing and lengthening that feels like it might be strong-thighed and supple. Today is the final full moon of winter, and it is strong. I can feel it in my body, threading silver through my blood, pulling at the water of me.
At this time, at my birthday time, my skin starts to be the alive thing it has ceased being throughout winter. I long to get cold, the wind feels mischievous. I put my face in dew, even though the dew is half-frost. I turn tarot cards and my thoughts and eyes turn outward again. My skin goes from being that-which-shrinks-backed to being covered with receptors. Just entirely furnished over with seeking. I want velvet and tree bark, I want skin and teeth, I want the prickle of the hairbrush and the song of sugar on the tongue. I want, want, want, and that is Ostara. She is the throated joy of doxology, of the praising of the day that rises for us. Whoever she is, I hope that this March she comes to you, in the warm breeze or the last spread of snow, in the final frost or the cherry blossom, and offers you the fulness, the light, the renewal, the hope.
Alice Tarbuck is the author of A Spell in the Wild: A year (and six centuries) of Magic, published by Hodder. They are an award-winning poet, and teach Toil and Trouble witchcraft courses with Claire Askew.
(Image credit - Jamie Drew)
Text & images by Raine Geoghegan, M.A
Malvern Hills, Worcestershire
It’s a cold January day. I am sitting at my desk. In front of me, a candle is lit and on the low window sill are photographs of my family, some living, some not. The starting point for any piece of writing is usually charged with a little trepidation. I ask myself. ‘Which thread do I want to weave?’
As I gaze at the flickering candle I sense a feeling of deep satisfaction as I reflect on my path over the last twenty five years. It was then that I first fell ill with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, having already been registered as disabled after a serious fall down the stairs. Change transforms our lives and that includes change that we may not welcome. My path has been one of deep loss but also of renewed hope. Having been forced to give up my work as a dancer/actor/theatre director and workshop facilitator I turned to writing. At first I wrote short invocations to the Divine Mother which were later recorded and put onto a CD. I wrote poems and prose about the illness I was experiencing, the intense fatigue that floored me over and over, and pain, how it burned, how it fizzed in my body. In November 1996 I wrote in my journal:
‘How do we begin to take steps to heal ourselves when we hit rock bottom?
We breathe. We look at what we can do, not what we can’t.
We take one small step, then another.
We invest in our future by planting seeds of hope and courage.
We do it our way and we keep it simple.
We hold the intention of becoming whole and well in our hearts.
We stop trying to control everything instead we learn how to trust our mind, body and soul.
I also turned to my ancestors for help. I remembered a workshop that I had attended on ‘Healing the Ancestral Line’ some years prior to my accident. I came to understand that healing was reciprocal. I healed them and they healed me. The more I engaged with my ancestors, questioned who they were, what they did, how they looked, the more I sensed an energy that strengthened me. It healed me. It didn’t take away the illness or disability but it transformed them into something that I could live with, accept and learn from. Writing too had a transformative effect and helped me to make sense of the world and my place in it. I began writing about my Romany family in 2017 after my mentor suggested it. Once I put pen to paper I couldn’t stop. I wrote a piece about my Granny Amy who was a very strong Romany woman. She was a flower seller and walked for miles. I lived with her and my Grandfather for a number of years and remember her bringing the flowers into the hallway, the scent strong, pungent, filling the house as if it were one huge flowering vessel.
blood orange dahlias
soaking in water.’
(From Up Early)
As I wrote I was aware of a flurry of memories.
‘It’s 1963, I’m seven years old./ My sister and I are sitting on the floor gnawing on pig’s trotters./ The fire crackles and spits./ Coronation Street is on the dikkamengro./ Granny’s going on about Annie Walker’s hair style and Bet’s low cut blouse.’
(From Pig’s Trotters, Coronation Street and a Noisy House.)
Within a few months I had written over thirty poems and monologues. By re-connecting with my ancestors and speaking with relatives I uncovered a rich treasure of stories, beliefs, all manner of things. I plucked memories from thin air and dug deep into the earth to find buried secrets. I came across objects and belongings, like my Mother’s gold hoops and sovereign (balanzer), Gypsy pegs, (faidas), old peg knives, (churi’s), and I heard about the talking stick, (o pookering kosh), used to perform a ritual for the dead. This I didn’t find but a close friend carved one using a branch from the blackthorn bush. I set up an altar and placed family photographs on it. Sometimes I would pick up a photograph of someone, study it, then speak with that person, ask him or her questions, make notes, a sort of stream of consciousness writing. If I didn’t have a photo I would re-imagine what they looked like, how they spoke, how they dressed, what sort of habits they may have had. One such person was my Great Aunt Tilda whom I had heard stories about.
‘me great aunt tilda, now there was a character, a funny old malt, she was me dad’s aunt on the lane side of the family. she always wore men’s clothes, dark coloured trousers, shirts, waistcoats, a black stadi with a gold ‘at pin on the side and a little purple feather.’
(From Great Aunt Tilda, A Funny Old Malt).
Another character that I didn’t know but heard so much about was my Great Grandfather, John Ripley. He came through to me loud and strong. I heard how he was born under a gooseberry bush. I pictured him being born and the family fussing over him.
‘I was named John Ripley, after me dad. The ‘ead rom came down and blessed me, he tied a little bag of rowan berries round me neck to ward off the bad mulo and to bring kushti bokt.’
(From Under a Gooseberry Bush)
Writing about my ancestors has been a way for me to re-connect with them. When I read my work at poetry events I am filled with a surge of energy that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Even if I am feeling exhausted or unwell prior to the event, as soon as I begin reading I come alive. In honouring my ancestors I have been gifted with renewed optimism and hope. I wear my Mother’s gold hoops and I remember my Great Aunt Ria showing me her gold, a symbol of prosperity and wisdom.
‘sovereigns and gold chains/ hanging from her neck/ rings through ears on fingers/ at night/ she places them in an embroidered bag/ slips it under the mattress/ she sleeps soundly/ as the gold warms itself/ longing for her soft skin/ and light.’
(From Aunt Ria’s Gypsy Gold)
Romani words (jib) – Dikkamengro – television (looking box); Malt – woman; Stadi – trilby hat; Rom – Head of the Gypsy Tribe; Mulo – spells; Ksuhti bokt – good luck.
Poems published in ‘Apple Water: Povel Panni’ and ‘they lit fires: lenti hatch o yog’ with Hedgehog Poetry Press.
Raine Geoghegan, M.A. is a poet, prose writer and playwright of Romany, Welsh and Irish descent. Nominated for the Forward Prize, Best of the Net & The Pushcart Prize, her work has been published online and in print with Poetry Ireland Review; Travellers’ Times; Ofi Press; Under the Radar; Fly on the Wall; Poethead and many more. Her pamphlet, ‘Apple Water: Povel Panni’, was launched in December 2018 and was listed as a Poetry Book Society Spring 2019 Selection. ‘They Lit Fires: Lenti Hatch O Yog’ was published in December 2019, with Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her first Full Collection, ‘The Talking stick: O Pookering Kosh’ will be published with Salmon Poetry Press in March 2022. Twitter @RaineGeoghegan5
(All images reproduced by kind permission of the author)
Text & Images by Stefanie Rixecker
Akaroa, New Zealand
For some, familiarity breeds contempt. For others, it yields appreciation, connection. I am in the latter camp, perhaps because the first twenty-six years of life involved 30 moves across three countries, three continents. I loved being peripatetic, discovering new places, new people. At some point, though, a longing for “home” surfaces, even if home is no longer a place of birth, or ancestral connection.
Although I still have fond memories of northern hemisphere January - a month of beginnings, setting goals, planning the year, playing in the snow – I also remember it as a time of reflection, awaiting the release from winter’s darkness and the promise of a warmer sun. So, these past twenty-seven southern hemisphere Januaries offer quite a contrast. Here, it’s a month of abundance when summer’s bounty unfolds in the splendour of berries, stone fruit and homegrown veggies. It’s a month filled with sea spray, long, hot days at the beach or on the water, and cool evenings listening to the sea lap the jetty. It’s a month of roses and geraniums alongside the bright hues of summer natives, notably pohutakawa and southern rata in resplendent reds. “It’s summer!”, they shout.
The month is filled with fun, friends & family, boardgames and swim races alongside long, languid lunches of homemade fare. Some days bring calm early mornings, perfect for a solo kayak on the harbour. With summer comes the joy of reproduction – fledgling native birds, seal pups alongside precious Hector’s dolphin calves. Soon, too, the treat of Orca bringing their young into the harbour to hunt stingray and dazzle the locals. These are southern hemisphere rhythms in Akaroa, Aotearoa (New Zealand).
Akaroa has been in my life for the past twenty-seven years, since I first set foot upon Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud. For many years, I visited annually and had the privilege of sharing a family bach (humble holiday house) for sporadic, yet always significant visits. These past five years have seen an even greater connection through building my own hut and bach, places for reflection, connection and writing; weaving place and word, crafting natural and cultural history.
During this same period, I wove strands of life together – an academic career, a precious family, relationships in and with the people of this place, an understanding of the layers of history that continue to shape this land and its people. Throughout this time, half my lifetime now spent in one place, Akaroa got under my skin. It is more than a singular place or site. Indeed, it is better expressed in Te Reo Maori (the language of the indigenous people, Maori) as tūrangawaewae – a place to stand; a place of particular empowerment & connection; my foundation; my place in the world. In short, my home.
I now visit most weekends throughout the year, and in January I stay for weeks on summer holiday. This month feels like a portal to another world, time in suspended animation, one day bleeding into the next. The blissful feel of “summer holiday” is here, rain or shine, even with the weekly visits throughout the year. January is a special time, familiar and fleeting all at once.
The village of 700 permanent residents swells to upwards of 1500 with holiday makers and bach owners settling in for the summer. And still I take the same walks through the local cemeteries: Anglican, Roman Catholic and Dissenters. The names on the tombstones are the same, familiar characters of another era occupying the present, connecting history. How can one grow tired of these familiar souls who walked these hills, swam this harbour, shared this space?
Nor do I find contempt on the familiar pathways through the Garden of Tane, a now scenic reserve covering hectares, originally created in 1874 when the Canterbury Provincial Council set aside 5 acres. It includes many exotic species, some planted to commemorate the great peace after World War I and again World War II. The 1960s saw this space grow and cared for by a farmer and environmentalist who re-introduced native plants. It fell into disrepair upon his death and only in the early 2010s has it again been re-invigorated by locals. I’ve walked these paths for twenty-seven years, across planting trends and stages of neglect and newly found love. No matter when, these paths call for another visit.
Here, it’s easy to find cheeky pīwakawaka (fantails, Rhipidura fuliginosa) hopping from branch to branch, twittering a cheerful tale. And within seconds the calls of the korimako (bellbird, Anthornis melanura) chiming in unison celebrating their continued return. The whirring of feathers, perfectly timed through tight branches, can only be their feathered signature. This feathered whirr contrasts with the deep thrum of the kereru (wood pigeon, Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), working to keep its svelte, curvaceous body in the air. More recently, this walk also includes tui (Parson Bird, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), their clicks and calls adding to the korimako increasing holiday chime. These birds had all but disappeared – indeed, tui weren’t here when I first visited in 1993, and korimako were quite rare. Thanks to human intervention – predator trapping and tui re-introduction to the Peninsula – the dawn silence has turned into a dawn chorus of native birds declaring their return. No contempt here, either!
Akaroa Harbour is the result of volcanic activity between 11 and 6 million years ago, leaving two overlapping volcanic cones. The valleys were flooded as sea levels rose approximately 6000 years ago, connecting land to the Pacific Ocean. More recently, Akaroa was noted in the “top 5” destinations in the world for cruise ship holidays. Since March 2020, it’s been quiet, though, with all cruise ships banned as Aoteroa closed its borders due to the global pandemic, COVID-19. This has removed all international tourism, with no tenders running to and fro while the ships are anchored, creating a much quieter harbour with significantly reduced traffic for humans and wildlife alike.
This year has seen a success in breeding for the endangered Hectors’ dolphins (Cephalorhyncus hectori), the world’s smallest dolphins endemic to these waters. To date, six mothers with calves have been spotted - four more than last year with the potential for more yet to come. Indeed, later this month, I’ll be onboard a research vessel to spot marine mammals and assess water quality. No contempt in these familiar moments either. Rather, recognising the importance of routine, data and monitoring connects the familiar with the dissonant, thereby pointing to change and action.
It’s in seeing the every-day, the familiar, that we can also notice differences – improvements and setbacks. These help map our place, the places and spaces we share with wildlife. Being connected, understanding, expecting the familiar, all help us to see patterns and set expectations. If and when these familiar patterns change, they can give us hope – like the continued naturalisation of tui on the Peninsula – or raise concerns - like the 2nd year of blue penguin deaths due to low food supplies in December. Understanding the familiar and appreciating it means connecting with changes and determining when and how interventions can benefit.
And so, I reflect on twenty-seven years in one place, not my natural home, yet now my naturalised home. Becoming of a place requires time, focus, connection – a commitment to place, the familiar. While I now call Akaroa my home, my place to stand, I also know that I am still becoming a naturalist in residence.
Stefanie Rixecker was born in Germany and has lived in four countries and on three continents. After attaining her doctorate in the US, she worked in academia in environmental policy & management for 25 years, attaining a full Professorship alongside publishing numerous journal articles and book chapters on environmental issues, including climate change and environmental justice. She’s a sought after public speaker, having delivered over 100 addresses worldwide. More recently, Stefanie actively moved from theory to practise, and now leads the largest regional government organisation in Aotearoa - which has responsibility for environmental management of freshwater, biodiversity, natural hazards and climate change impacts, amongst other key areas. Her current passion is learning to bridge academic prose with nature writing; her photos and favourite quotes can be found at her Twitter site @SRixecker.
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