ESSAY Jane Macnamee

NWR Issue 117

The Eider Duck's Mating Call

'The beautiful is the daily face of things lurking behind their commonplace exterior. This journey of empathy is also one of re-enchantment.'

John Lane, The Spirit of Silence: Making Space for Creativity (Green Books, 2006)

I love bookmarks. They introduce another story to the one you hold in your hands. They are a habit I inherited from my mother who would collect them on her various travels, small treasures imbued with tales and textures from exotic places. I’ve kept a selection of them mixed in amongst my own assortment in the bedside cabinet: a laminated arrangement of brightly illustrated butterfly stamps and another of pressed Westland rata grass, both from her travels in New Zealand. Closer to home, is one from her trip to Bavaria with tiny white flowers delicately embroidered on thick black cotton and edged in crimson silk thread.

My current bookmark is actually a postcard I bought in Scotland of a female eider duck, bobbing gently on sparkling water, the sunlight reflected in her striking pale blue bill and black shining eyes. She looks both amused and slightly aloof. I studied the photograph closely this morning as I approached the final pages of its current host – The Spirit of Silence by John Lane. It is a slim volume I’ve taken to reading every year in the same dark winter period. Its subtitle, Making Space for Creativity, is an invitation, in the chilly torpor, to celebrate my urge to hibernate as both natural and restorative.

Lane’s book encourages stillness as a healthy response to the restlessness of the modern age, with its tendency to dismiss quiet inactivity as an undesirable malfunction. It is an inspirational reminder that at times when nothing seems to be happening, and we hunker down for warmth and protection, we inhabit that vital and elusive space, in between things. It is then, of course, in the apparent emptiness, that everything is happening, regenerating, getting ready for spring. Contrary to the noise Lane describes as ‘so characteristic of the casual vandalism of modernity’, it is stillness, silence and solitude which feed our creativity.

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Jane MacNamee is a freelance writer and editor living in Aberystwyth. She has written articles and book reviews for a variety of publications, including New Welsh Review, Resurgence & Ecologist, The Great Outdoors, BBC History, BBC Countryfile and LandScape magazine, on nature, landscape, food and travel. She is currently working on her first book.


previous essay: Everywhere to Everywhere: Edward Thomas, George Borrow and the Open Road
next essay: Effortless Poetry of the Toddler


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