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An extract from 'On a sense of (s)p(l)ace'
When we are born our sense of self is tied to the bodies that surround us. The folks we consider parents or parental figures. We feel a visceral connection to them, they feel so strongly a part of us that we cannot imagine our place in the world without them. As we grow, we form other attachments. Little strings of connection between us and people, music, moments. Little strings that form webs. Webs that structure and hold suspended our senses of self. Later we anchor ourselves to lovers, friends and experiences. The older we get, a sense of emotional geography emerges. A personal cartography of all the actual physical places that embody our experience. The house we were raised in. The tree we climbed. The tree we fell out of. The house where we realised we no longer belonged.
The default orientation to this is that these experiences and moments happen to us, at us, that we have no autonomy over the creation of our own emotional geography. That the sense of home and place in our personal cartographies are born out of a fateful reckoning. But what if we could be proactive and fashion our own sense of home and place? That we could carry this inside us, our own personal estate that we protect and nurture and that couldn't be taken from us.
When I was a child I used to dream of secret gardens. Night after night I would imagine that I had lucked upon an opening in my parents' prosaic garden, a wormhole that I stepped through, 'Alice' like into another world. A world similar to mine but much better.
My secret garden was less about a potential physical space but more about a space opening up inside of me. A place where I felt more myself, away from the tyrannies of childhood and the daunting prospect of young adulthood I was safe and free to dream. In this garden I was a concentrated self, a pure essence of my spirit – in the garden I was 'me'.
I've lived in Shetland for many years and experienced the wild landscape as if it were a dear, challenging friend that facilitated growth. In fact I felt married to the landscape and more connected to it in a way that I didn't with the island people. I found many private spaces and places that felt like home including a friend's semi-cultivated garden – Lea Gardens. This special place has at times felt to me a secret escape – an unbelievable lush imagining in a landscape which can sometimes feel unwelcoming. Lea Gardens are a horticultural triumph and a delight to the eye in every season. They're a place where one can be more of one's self – concentrated and mindful in the here and how. What is a garden if not a place of endless possibility? What is a garden if not a sanctuary, a place that restores, renews and reveals new ways of being?
Lea Gardens is an extraordinary place. A poetic testimony of how one can create one's own environment in horticultural grammar and metaphor. A creative intervention in the Shetland landscape that sings and speaks to us of how we can embed ourselves peacefully, respectfully and playfully into the landscape. How we can endeavour to dialogue with nature in a way where we draw out the accent rather than clip its joyful cadence and its contribution to the natural, open song of the North.
Here the garden's textures, layers, stillness and activity all offer space to ponder beauty, the seasons, the cycles of life and a place for self restoration. A sacred space to suit yourself, reflect and to look inwards and feel home rather than looking outwards, looking and yearning for home. You are home, you are here and in this moment the Shetland curlew's song is mine. The heather, moss and undulating hills and skies are mine.
I am not particularly religious, but I do feel a spirit connection with nature. To the curlew and the bonxie. The sparrow and the wren. The sea and sky are reflections of my ever changing mind and mood. Trees offer sacred sanctuary. Flora and fauna delight the heart and eye. All feed and uplift my spirit. I am a nature girl. Despite the fact I have lived in cities for most of my childhood, I am truly at home when in natural and rural spaces.
I was born in India, but raised in the UK. When I returned to India for the first time in my early twenties, I was struck by how viscerally I connected with rural India. India is so diverse – there are many, many aspects to India, each so different. For me, returning to the place where I was born, Punjab, and visiting the land of my ancestors, the pind, rural Punjab, was a revelation. Everything made sense. How I felt so at home with nature, in all its forms.
I understood that the heart of me was a country girl. That although I loved the city and city life, on many levels, cities were like mistresses who drew me away from my true love, my true self, my real life. I have felt nurtured by both cities and the country but in one space, I felt I had head and heart space and in the other, I often felt unable to discern my own want and thoughts from others. Cities were inspiring, entertaining and exciting but were for me a place of bamboozlement. They provide a diversion from myself.
Interestingly, what I miss most about cities are people and the best of what humanity can make: art, music, food and community. I don't have that human connection in remote, rural island life, but what I do have is head and heart space and a pure conduit to nature. In the natural world, in wildness, I feel my true size and imagine I have a more accurate perspective on life. Recent years spent split between Shetland and Glasgow's Southside have proved fruitful. Last year I was proud to be part of the community that actively stopped a UK Immigration and Borders Protection agency taking one of our neighbours. That May day on Kenmure St will never leave me and has been banked as one the (s)p(l)aces in my heart that will never be displaced. I feel emotionally tethered to the truly gallus and green locale of Pollokshields in a way that I never thought any city could seduce me. The Scotland's Shields and Shetland Islands have shaped, nurtured and uplifted my current neuro-pathways in these days of flux, and I am forever grateful for this.