28 Apr Along the verge
Along the verge: exploring marginal spaces and their role in linking communities and their ecologies – March 2019 to March 2020
The project was developed collaborating with, at different stages, Rag Tag and Textile, Edinbane Community Company, Radio Skye and Plantlife as well as several specialist groups on Skye.
The verge accompanies us along our travels through the landscape, often unnoticed and undervalued. It is a remnant of the commons, land which we used to walk and work as a fundamental part of our lives. Recently the verge has become a place of refuge for previously common plants, described by Richard Mabey as Britain’s largest unofficial nature reserve. It is also somewhere where we are creative; with structures such as honesty boxes, homemade signs, inventive expressions of political views and with guerrilla planting. There is a constant duality with this Cinderella space1; it is both an ignored range of habitats where nature can flourish as well as a highly controlled area of managed landscape. This liminal space is both an edge, a boundary, often contested, as well as a link, connecting plants, habitats and people.
‘Along the verge’ was a year long project running from April 2019 until April 2020 on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Beginning with a series of walks, then into making and sharing sessions and finally into a mapping phase the project explored the verge, it’s plants, it’s cultural connections and it’s metaphorical echoes in wider society. Each stage involved people in different ways and through close noticing, sharing facts and stories, collaborative working and making together we developed conversations around and evolving from the verge.
With close observation of our local verges we become more aware of shifting baselines2 around us. We become more mindful of our deeply entangled and interdependent relationships with the natural world. The verge provides us with a cultivated wild on our doorsteps, as ‘the wilderness is everywhere….but at the same time.. the whole world now is cultivated’3. The verge is a chameleon, a place of possibilities it is both/and.
1 Cinderella space – word coined by one of the participants in relation to the verge
2 shifting baseline – scientific observation of the loss and reduction of species over time, our baselines, our normal is different from that of our parents
3 ‘The cultivated wilderness or what is landscape?’ by Paul Shepheard
the verge is –
a cinderella space
the virtual fabric of the community
Britain’s largest unofficial nature reserve
the verge marks –
the edge of freedom
the agreed symbolic consensus of the edge
cultural fragments of past landscapes
the verge allows –
the wild and the controlled
space for expansion
a change of viewpoint
Poem by Caroline Dear using phrases from the project
Throughout the year the project ran a series of verge walks both with individuals and with a variety of local interest groups, ranging from the Skye Cycle Group to Edinbane mothers and toddlers. With close observation through hand lenses, noticing and naming plants, sharing stories about them and about the places we were in, we allowed conversations to develop specific to that day, that location and the people present. Conversations were sparked by the particular, flowed to the universal and then back to the particular. Stimulated by the fragility and tenacity of plants, the ‘wow’ and wonder of nature and the layered stories behind plant names we found moments of being together, ’spots of time’ as Wordsworth expressed it.
One verge walk conversation
chatting to my neighbour
about growing food
fifty years ago
evidenced on Skye
1815 year of no summer
collapse of the roman empire
5 years of no crops
4 horsemen of the apocalypse
saxons, angles as refugees
squatters in roman villas
1385 black death
evidenced in cathedrals
aware of our own precarity
we are not growing enough
Some quotes from participants –
‘Walking round the verge with you has really opened my eyes to what is there. Since then I have been looking at things more closely’
‘It’s a bit of a forgotten space that gets trodden on or passed by without much thought. A ‘Cinderella’ space?’
‘it is so good to be given permission to have this time to look and be – it is so unusual to get this in our lives’
‘It was really good to enjoy the being here, the looking rather than the outcome, normally you are heading to a place, or trying to do a thing when outside but it was refreshing to be outside without an agenda’
Along the verge worked with two separate groups over a series of months, encouraging collaborative working and developing participant agency. One group was a charity helping people with mental health difficulties and the other was self selecting based around the location. The two groups worked in parallel creating two collaborative weavings and a series of texts, poems and anecdotes around the verge. Our conversations explored different views around the subject of the verge as we worked with our hands, making rope from grasses and plants gathered from local verges. These ropes were woven into the weaving which marks, metaphorically, and as a physical object, our interconnectedness and interdependence with each other and with the natural world upon which we depend.
Some quotes from participants –
‘This is so wonderful – it is so rich it feels like I am plaiting the verge’
‘it is so exiting seeing us all do the work together and create something out of this time together, it seems as if it comes out of nothing – we really all did work together’
‘it is very inspiring, you feel like you are doing nothing, but it is really useful, just allowing people to be and to talk, I have learnt from you how good this is’
‘it’s made me think more about the words we use and the deeper meanings behind them’
The mapping phase consisted of selecting and distilling the multiple strands of the project into a series of accessible ‘maps’; a zine publication, an exhibition and a radio programme.
The zine, VERGE:notes was published in an edition of 50 with a copy given to all involved. It combines images, poetry and text to illustrate overlapping of ideas around the confluence of the verge.
The exhibition, ‘Along the verge’, planned for April 2020, now postponed til September, consists of the collaborative weavings and rope, written texts, embroidered linen, photographs, packets of local verge seeds and some handling samples. The weavings are framed with a backing of Scottish linen dyed with indigo. Linen was selected as it used to be grown and processed locally and indigo was chosen because this is how the local landowner made his money, and is the reason the village, where we were meeting and working exists.
The radio programme, ‘Along the verge’, has also been delayed and will be broadcast on Radio Skye. The programme links the voices of different peoples’ experiences along the verge; from Meg Bateman reading her poem ‘The Year’s Flowers’ about noticing the year through observing the flowers change along the verge, to hearing about using the verge as close focus to recover from an accident, to understanding the concept and building of a ‘blessings box’ placed on the verge anonymously for people to use without judgement, a food bank without eyes.
Sample quotes from participants:
‘being part of this project is doing me a power of good, it has made me realise that I can try other workshops and creative things so I want to say thank you’
‘enjoy the journey, it is all about the journey’
‘I am enjoying my verge so much’