Magpie Tales: Graduation Day

Finland, 1968, photo by George F. Mobley

Finland, 1968, photo by George F. Mobley

they let the balloons go
colourful stories
to flow
almost endlessly
on jagged branches
lie defeated
in the tumbling snow
on the jagged edges
of jagged stone

the balloons
were let loose
from the palms of our hands
from the psalms
of our defunct books
so much was left unsaid
on lips
already poisoned
by too much innocence
too numbed by cold

and anyway
with nothing
nothing to say
before we passed
the real tests
and regressed
moved to our caves
let our balloons take our stories
far from us
in sunset skies
and jagged branches
where even the snow had dried
and we wonder
if we ever really tried?


A Writer’s Lair ~ Lappland

When I used to teach Creative Writing I sometimes would have the students troop of out of classroom or lecture hall into a nearby forest or field, just after the first snow had fallen, or at least a good frost, or when a coating of thin ice had covered grasses and branches. They were not allowed to wear coats or gloves, and I’d have them plunge their hand into the snow for a minute, or breakthrough the ice over puddles.

Then I’d tell them to write their last letter to the world. Some would be shivering. But all would write – and fast – creativity used to come crystal clear. On most occasions these student would be using English not as their mother tongue, but as a second, or third language. Most could knock off a few pages in minutes. I would walk around the group that I would scatter far and wide throughout the forest, motivating them by telling them how cold they felt, how their fingers were getting numb (they were) and how they had to get their ideas out on page before it became more and more difficult to write.

I prefaced these sessions by looking at Scott of the Antarctic’s last letter, or a meditation exercise, or other features, before going outside.

When the students read their ‘letters’ at a later date, some of the material was quite emotional.

For those who want to write, have the will to write, need to, have to, breathe to, but still get blocked, there is sometimes no other way than to put one’s self into a position where only by concentrating on the given story and getting it out onto paper brings warmth. Forcing the story that you know is there out of you.

This winter I am heading north again to Lappland, to live as the Sámi did, in a tipi for as long as I think will be beneficial. There its write or..well, there is no ‘or’ in these conditions. Writing is the only way to escape the cold. And the book must come, or defeat stares back, numbing defeat, mixed with the plunging cold. My method is not madness, as you instinctively know – those who know that the novel is not merely scribbled out onto paper, or tapped onto screen over a pre-planned duration of something commonly known as time. You already know the toll. The difference here is to keep the turmoil physical as much as possible, so that mentally, it flows – instead of the normal opposite when writing.

So buy a thick sleeping bag, the kind that can see you to a mountain top in the Himalayas. You will need dried foods, a small burner, a mattress, animal skin or straw, tea bags, coffee, pens and paper, gloves with fingers, a spade – the spade is to ensure the ‘floor’ of your tipi has two levels, so that the cold air settles down at a lower level than where you are. Lastly you will need candles or torches. Candles are extremely dangerous for obvious reasons. There is no daylight for the winter months in northern Lappland. This works to your advantage, but it is often more motivating to write in the beginning of the year, when daylight slowly creeps back for a few more minutes every day; somehow that fits well with the progress of your work.

Try it. Or try it with me. The productivity and creativity reaches record-breaking levels. And yep, it hurts. But is there one writer among you who can say it doesn’t; whatever approach we use to get the best, the very best work out?

Sámi in summertime (source local)

Sámi tipi in summer



My Forest & I

Snow is forecast in a few days…expect a few dark posts in November from here in the Arctic Circle as the long dark winter settles in…


Līgo Haībun Challenge – A Pirate Ponders

When you pass a farm, do you sometimes ponder what your fate would have been, if you’d had your own ranch or plantation, with acres to cultivate, cattle to raise, and of course decimate, but all for the greater good, and all romanticised long before Hollywood made the cowboy the hero of all heroes. I mean, I have not heard of one occasion where a farmer is presented as the villain of the piece. On the contrary, these days farmers are portrayed as perennial victims, with footloose governments playing into the propaganda of agriculture being part of a country’s defense.

But I’ve known some wonderful farmers in my time.

There was Maged, who I spent many a long evening with, among his camel herd, eating dates piles high with creamy froth from a pale full of camel milk, as well as a few nervous but glorious times bareback on a camel, swaying as the camel drifted up and down dunes into the sunset.

There were reindeer herders too, who taught me two highly unusual facts about reindeer herding. The first,  in Mongolia,  that if you need to relieve yourself in nature do not do so near a herd of reindeer because they find nothing more tasty, and running away in deep snow, with flies undone, past laughing Mongolian women standing outside yurts, with a pack of reindeer chasing you, will rank very highly on your list of most embarrassing moments. I know. And it is especially embarrassing. There are specific reasons why it is specially embarrassing, but let us just say that being in that exposed condition in the cold with a sudden fright will not present you in the best light. As for women in a same position I would say there would be a fairly high quota of embarrassment too, depending on exactly when the marauding reindeer are discovered.

The second, in northern Finland, is the reverse. The reputed Fly Agaric mushrooms of fairy tales and such, the red ones with white dots, are not in fact poisonous, but rather conducive to a rather pleasant ‘high’, especially when ingested through a reindeer first, which removes the toxins. The reindeer urine is in turn used as a potent brew, thus the stories of of a merry Santa Claus and flying reindeer, say nothing for fairy tales themselves. I am not sure where the Christmas goat then steps in, in Swedish and Finnish lore, but it does.

But if I had a farm I would have ostriches and rhea birds for the excellent meat, and the odd goat for the cheese. My fields would be sown with hemp and bordered with jute, and I would thus be able to sit at sunset pressing my hemp oil and extracting the odd marijuana plant to replace any desires to discover whether the Agaric mushroom is worth sampling or not.

a pirate dream
swapping seas for long grasses
-a trip on land!

  photo by Ese Kļava

photo by Ese Kļava