BurnedThumb

Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


walking the territory


  • The Tipping Point

    bramble bush with pale, red and blak berries. Dappled sunlight.

    It is peak bramble time, jam-making, pickling, apple cake and plum crumble time. The first geese are here, and the last housemartins are lining up to leave. The bird population in the garden has changed – the sparrows are mostly in the fields just now, so the blue tits have a chance at the feeders. The magpies are mostly bothering something else in the woods, there are starlings along all the roof tops, and the robin is noisily staking out his winter territory in the hawthorns over the burn. The temperature has dropped ten degrees over the last week, and I’m about to pick the last tomatoes and move the lemon verbenas and the scented leaf geraniums into the greenhouse before the frost. I’ll be stripping out the spent annuals, and sowing the seeds I’ve saved to jump start next summer’s flowers, and I’ll be making pot pourri and some dried flower arrangements to give us scent and colour through the dark days.

    Because next week is the equinox, one of the tipping points of the year, and we’re heading for winter. I’m having a tipping point of some other kinds too. I seem to have shifted from ‘learning about’ this new territory, to ‘getting to know’ it. I am aware, not only of new facts as they come to my attention, but how they impact things I already know. I understand more about why some plants are thriving and some aren’t, how taking out all the stones from the front garden changes not only the drainage, but the feel of the soil, and I can hear when there’s a new bird in the garden. It feels like a more mutual phase, as the garden responds to what I’ve done – and not always in the way I expect. I had no idea the marshmallows would grow so tall, or how much shade the lilac tree casts.

    And in writing, too. I’ll be in the house more than the garden, in my head more than the world. I’m out of the note-making, researching, puzzling, planning stage and into the real words on the page. Unwilding is still very short – less than five per cent of the total, but there are actual words! And more importantly, as it turns out, the next poetry collection has begun to happen. It is tentatively called The Midsummer Foxes but it is also going to have bees, weather, music, herbs and the moon. I have always wanted to do a ‘four elements’ collection, and this may well be it. I am embarrassingly excited about it!

    left, a ceramic eggshell with gilded edges, middle, and arrangement of dried grasses, right a porcelain egg-shaped trinket box


  • Returning to the Light

    snowdrops coming up through snow

    If it seems like a long time since I posted here, it’s because it is. There was Christmas and New Year, with its cold and rain and merriment – we did have a very merry Christmas this year – and then my daughter who has a complicated bunch of ailments, had an attack of the one we had taken our eyes off, and she has been very ill. It’s a bad time to be ill, but her support services have been there for her exactly as we would have hoped. Things are slowly improving, so I can now think about other things, as the days slowly stretch, and there is a bit more brightness about.

    Although it’s been very cold today, it’s been sunny and we’ve been thinking about the garden. All my seeds for this year have come, and I’ll be setting up the propagator for chillis and tomatoes at the end of next week. My Christmas present tiny greenhouse is here and we have been clearing the site for it, which gave me a chance to spot the new shoots of fennel and wild pansy, to hear the birds – suddenly noisier – and see how much the bulbs have been growing.

    tulips daffodils and auricula - plus emerging willowherb and hairy bittercress

    Mostly the garden seems to have come through the cold, though there is one lavender that looks to have succumbed, but I won’t really know for sure for a month or two – last night with its temperatures down to -6 came as a shock! Outside, there are hazel catkins out beyond the haggard at the back of the house. All the burns are full and running fast, even the ditch beyond the back fence, and a lot of the grassy places are waterlogged. Robins are getting territorial and once the fireworks at New Year finished we began to hear the strange mating calls of our local foxes.

    There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

    I have a full editing list for this year, too, which looks very promising, and a poetics project on the verge of becoming real in a couple of months which I hope start some good conversations. Throughout the pandemic, the possibilities for decent poetry conversation have been limited, and I have so missed it, but I hope that we are finally coming back into the light!


  • That Spring Feeling

    Wren on a pot of ivy

    The birds are teasing me this year. Wrens and blue tits have checked the pot out several times, but they are just eating the spiders and moving on. There are plenty of birds actually nesting here though – blackbirds, tree sparrows, robins, blue tits and great tits, chaffinches, and wrens – though where the wrens are I don’t know. There’s a male singing from the top of the birch tree and it’s already seen off two blackbirds and a couple of sparrows, but I can’t see where he goes. In fact the amount of (non-human) fornication and frolic in and around the garden has been unbelievable. Pigeons have been pushing each other off branches and rooftops for weeks, and there was a pair of wagtails chasing each other across the bridge.The frogs were late to the party, arriving only two weeks ago, but they were extremely prolific, and the tadpoles are growing nicely in spite of the frost and magpies who are nesting in next door’s big cypress tree, and all the other creatures who are likely to eat them.

    In spite of the frosts all this week and the sunshine most days after it, the ground is very dry, but the primroses and anemones have had a very good spring

    wind anemones

    and the woodruff and tulips are just coming into their own. There are bumble bees pollinating the gooseberry and redcurrant blossoms, and outside there is plenty of wild cherry and blackthorn flower. The trees are greening and the orchard is gearing up for its annual blossom carnival. The last of the pink-footed geese headed north on Tuesday and the chiffchaffs are here. I haven’t seen swallows yet, though some people nearby have, and the ospreys have arrived at the nearby reserves.

    Because of the housemove, I haven’t sowed too many seeds, and the garden is on care and maintenance only, but there arelettuces germinating in the greenhouse, and some annuals so the place doesn’t look too bereft once the bulbs are over. As the herbs begin to bulk up, I’ll be taking cuttings to take with us, but otherwise my effort is going into longterm planning for the next house, the next territtory I’ll be walking and getting to know. This tree has shaped so much of my perception of where I live now, it will be very odd to have different trees and birds. I notice that when I look at locations for potential houses, I always check for the nearest river!

    A big willow tree in a field, Abbey Craigs in the background

    Spring is hitting the poetry too lately. I am beginning to take bookings for when life opens up again, and there are two readings (one in June and one in October) and a potential workshop which I’ll talk more about nearer the time – no firm news about a launch of The Well of the Moon just yet – there is a lot of backlog to clear after all the chaos of the pandemic, but there will be more news as soon as I can share any. I am so looking forward to being out in the world again!


  • High Summer in the Territory of Rain

    three starlings on a telephone wire, adult feeding a juvenile

    This post is likely to be a bit image heavy. Though I haven’t taken any photos outside my garden for what feels like months, there seems to have been a lot going on. The birds have all fledged in a rush, and the garden is full of baby starlings, gathering up the others of their generation like a graduation, chasing each other all over the garden, trying out anything they imagine might be edible, and creating a racket like a playground. They were preceded by the blue tits, who were first off the block, but very soon joined by goldfinches, robins, and this week, blackbirds. The swifts are back on the other side of the river, and swallows on our side now, so this week I hope to fulfil an ambition and take a video of them swooping around a particular bend in the river where they seem to congregate just before rain.

    elderflower in full bloom

    This is a particularly interesting bend of the river, because it is full of wild flowers – all the haggard herbs in my Charm poem grow here, and if you go at nightfall you can see bats, and especially because this year, we were in time to go out at sunset (10.30 here just now) to see the long-eared owls. They have nested here for a few years now, so we were tipped off that they had fledged and were about to disperse. We saw three, two young ones and an adult, flitting between the branches of the willows and ash trees, and calling to each other. You can hear it on the RSPB website here:

    The garden is in full leaf now, and I have begun to harvest herbs – thyme sage and elderflower for drying, chives and mint in the freezer. The first berries are almost ready

    gooseberries, almost ripe

    and soon I’ll be taking the last picking of rhubarb. The tomatoes are showing the first flowers and the aubergines and peppers are growing every time I look at them.

    Our village is quite pretty, and it is also very close to Stirling, so during lockdown, we have actually had more vistors than in the time when a neighbour over the river described it as being ‘like Sunday every day’ here. But it hasn’t been too difficult even though our footbridge is too narrow to pass anyone safely, and we have to ask people to wait if they see someone already on it. (Some don’t, but most do). But the effect of being more aware of the wildlife does seem to have affected us too. One night our neighbour’s security light was activated by a hedgehog crossing their lawn, and otters have been seen frequently in the river – though not by me. I haven’t seen the kingfishers either, though I am assured they are here.

    iris sibirica

    The pond has had something of a disaster, as a mysterious plague hit the tadpoles, after we had topped it up with tap water. I don’t know if it was too chlorinated, or if it was very cold and was a shock, after all the hot weather, but there are very few tadpoles left this year. The water irises are thriving, though and we are hoping our water lily will flower, in spite of all the duckweed.

    wild roses

    We are in phase 1 of easing the lockdown in Scotland. It seems very slow and measured, compared with the rate of progress in England, but there does seem to be a sense of ownership of the process, with most people continuing to bide by the rules. In phase 2 we will get to visit each others’ houses, which means it will be possible to visit our Glasgow family. We are all waiting to see whether our grandson will even remember us!

    Wishing you all the joys of sunny weather, summer fruits and family meetings!


  • Frost in the Territory of Rain

    fuji compact camera and canon digital
    meet the beast

    This is the new camera. I’m calling it the beast because it is so much bigger than I thought it would be. And, beside it, its little sister, the compact. One unexpected spin off from getting the beast is that the manuals tell me so much about getting the best out of little sister, and as she is much more manoeuverable, she will be going with me most places.

    There are things that the beast can do better, however. Yesterday we went on a walk along the road out of the village to take advantage of the mist and snow on the hills, and to try out the paces of the zoom lens. Some of the pictures were quite interesting:

    snow and mist on the Ochil hills


    large bare willow tree in the middle distance


    distant castle

    We haven’t had a bad winter so far. There were some frosts but a lot of mild and overcast weather. We haven’t seen so many birds at the feeder because there was enough food available elsewhere, and even the ducks on the river have been few in number, though I have seen goosander, goldeneye and an occasional teal now and then. On the plus side, though, I’ve heard more owls this winter than I remember before. As the temperatures climbed a little and the days lengthened after Christmas, birdsong and territorial behaviour kicked up a notch, especially among the sparrows and starlings. Growth started in the garden, with early flowers and hazel catkins, and buds visibly swelling on many of the perennials, and I thought of clearing away the dead leaves from around the emerging plants.

    I’m so glad I didn’t now. All that has come to a halt, with this beautiful cold snap, bringing the first real snow of the winter. It was down to -6 last night and it hasn’t reached zero yet, in spite of blazing sun. Coal tits, blue tits and great tits have joined the sparrows and pigeons at the feeder, though so far none of the riverbank species have joined them. And out in the fields, winter visitors are becoming slightly less shy.

    two roe deer does in the long grass

    I reckon these are roe deer, because you can see conspicuous white rumps. Red deer have paler patches, but they are not so obvious. They are in a field close to the road, apparently quite unafraid, though they seemed to be aware of us. In winter they come much closer to the village than in summer when they can almost disappear into the trees and reeds where the river winds away from the built up areas along the Hillfoots.

    Although I have poetry to write and a new collection to edit from an author I have admired for many years, I’m a little distracted this week. I’m very excited about the potential of this camera. And as you can see, the #derangedpoetess thing is still going.

    camera case with #deranged poetess badge

  • This is the Territory of Rain

    It is king here

    all the waterand it is showing us who’s boss.

    burst banks drowned benches drowned treesFortunately yesterday was dry, and the tide was shallow. But there’s more rain to come. For the moment at least,

    all living is by negotiation

    with flows and falls of water.

    Not to mention, moving about. I hope you are all dry, warm and safe



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