Stories that bring the world together



Posted on 03/05/19 in Landscape and Nature, Writing

Cairngorms Staff Away Day

Staff away days can be notorious for press-ganging resistant folk through ‘team-building’ exercises like tying Betty from accounts to intern Joey’s back and asking them to leap-frog across the Director in a muddy ditch. Or, just when they’re all filthy and furious, getting them to role-play conflict resolution while onlookers keep score. You might have endured one yourself. Or even organised it. But have you ever been at one that involved writing poetry? The thought may be more excruciating for you than any number of Tough Mudders or office pantos, but hats off to Grant Moir, CEO of the Cairngorms National Park Authority, for giving it a go:

“After reading Merryn’s blog and trying my hand at a Cairngorms Lyric via twitter I thought it would be great to get all the staff at the CNPA to do one. We met for an all staff away day at Glenmore Lodge on the 3rd April which was practically the only snowy day of the year. As an icebreaker (quite literally) I asked all the staff to write in 10mins a Cairngorms Lyric. The rules were explained and everyone really got into it. The results really show the absolute love that folk have for the cairngorms, the nature, wildlife and culture. It was great to do something a bit different.”

Cairngorms National Park Authority staff writing Cairngorms Lyrics on staff away day
10 minutes for a masterpiece! Photo: Grant Moir

Grant then dropped me a note: “Merryn, I have 58 Cairngorms Lyrics from staff! If you could judge the best one that would be great. I am donating a bottle of whisky or gin to the winner.” To be fair, he had asked me first and I was delighted to agree and even more so when I read through the poems. What an astonishing collection of images, emotions and personalities shone through those short pieces, and what a magical way to get a feel for the big and varied team that make up the Park staff.

The genesis and rules of The Cairngorms Lyric are explained here, but in essence, it is a new poetic form invented for the Shared Stories: A Year in the Cairngorms project and is made up of:
– 15 words
– an element of nature
– at least one non-English word

Handwritten Cairngorms Lyric by Charlotte Milburn
A signed original by Charlotte Milburn

Reading all 58 poems was a dream, but trying to judge a winner was a nightmare! I spread them out on my living room floor, re-read and re-arranged them several times, left them there for several days and dragooned my husband into reading the short-list (a marital team-building exercise). I was struck by several things. One was how powerfully many of the Lyrics expressed the sense of the Cairngorms as home, as in Charlotte Milburn’s above and the one below.

Crawling up the A9
Brown turns to hazy hues of purple
I am hame!

Kate Christie
Swans on Loch Insh with Feshie Hills behind.
Swans on Loch Insh with Feshie Hills behind

Several participants took the opportunity to express more political views about the environment, but the issues are sensitive, so I can’t print them here. There were several that enjoyed the opportunity for humour, and some couldn’t resist a little dig at the process:

Snow is falling on Glenmore Lodge.
It’s cold and wet.
Is that it yet?

*Slange or sláinte is Gaelic for ‘health’ or ‘cheers’. Perhaps that writer would have preferred leapfrog. Or something else entirely:

Snow is blanc, squirrels are red.
How I wish I was
at home in bed.
Deep snow at Glenmore Lodge
Glenmore Lodge on the Staff Away Day – Photo: Grant Moir

I loved the number of pieces that captured a strong, fresh sense of the natural world:

The osprey in a stramash of water and feathers as it landed the fresh salmon.

Donald Ross
Battle scarred, bleak hills
slowly greening, growing, gathering
a cloak of wild on the woods – healing.

Emma Rawling
Scots pine trees on hillside in Glenmore
Scots Pine re-growth at Glenmore

If I’m not careful I could end up typing out all 58 of the CNPA Cairngorms Lyrics, because I enjoyed them all so much, but I will settle now for sharing my favourites. This one perfectly captured a Scottish mountain-top experience familiar to so many of us.

Coorying behind a cairn
Cold wind hurtling
Eyes squinting
Lashes filtering snow
Grimace, Brace, Go…

Nancy Chambers

I loved the riddle in the following Lyric and the memory of happy summers with my own kids. Can you guess what it’s about?

Guddling about, searching, hunting.
Concentration, competition, down on hunkers.
Satisfaction, blue tongues and lips.

Emma Stewart
Man and children picking wild blueberries in Scots pine forest
On the Hunt – photo: Emma Stewart

Finally, the winning poem stood out for me right from the beginning and stayed at the top of my carpet line-up for the three days. It is reminiscent of haiku in the vivid image of the opening line and the ‘cut’ in the middle that suddenly broadens the perspective: a fleeting moment of bright birds in their antics is set against the ancient time of the wood. Wow. A breath-taking Cairngorms Lyric.

Redpolls and siskins upside down in the birkin branches;
In the forest many lifetimes deep.

Carolyn Robertson

Why not have a go at writing a Cairngorms Lyric yourself? If you do, send it in to us for possible publication on the CNPA website or our end-of-year anthology. Click here for how to do that.