Today is our last walk to the Long Nanny estuary. A Year in Beadnell is almost at an end. I have mixed feelings, and so too does Mel. This pilot year of the thing we dreamt up and made happen has been a rollercoaster ride – and it’s not over yet, this is just Phase 1 we’re saying goodbye to.
There’s been wild weather, raging seas, becalming that made it feel as if the horizon would never end, stampeding cattle, curlews, terns, seals flip-flopping from the dunes to the beach, hares (lots of them), anemones, kelp and wrack, barnacles and purple jellyfish, castles and hedgerows, tidelines and harbours. And then there were all the skies and smells and colours: all the ephemeral unnameable things that defy description, things you have to witness yourself to really know in an intimate way.
It’s been a year of mindfulness and openness: every day of our four seasonal residencies we have, as artists and as human beings, tried our utmost to be in-the-moment and experience the Northumberland coast in real-time, and following some of Rachel Carson’s advice on beachcombing and seashore research we have made new friends and begun a profound relationship with this place that will develop for many years to come. This Year in Beadnell, 2015, is only the start.
A couple of months prior to our final hibernal residency we gave our first public performance of works emerging from the project. We’re calling it a “performance” but really it’s hard to tell what it is at the moment: part-slideshow, part-living artists’ journal and part work-in-progress we shared some of our materials – photos, audio recordings etc. – with a lovely crowd at Durham International Book Festival. As part of the show the audience participated in a poetic vocal choir: a new idea I am working on as a way of presenting and performing poetry and Carson’s texts in participatory contexts.
After the performance a couple came up to me and told me about how they had been married, in 2014, on the beach in Beadnell. They knew exactly where Mel and I had been taking the photos and audio at Long Nanny estuary: underneath the same footbridge they had placed a padlock to commemorate their wedding. For the first week of the residency I searched under the bridge but couldn’t find this memento – my problem was I thought they’d said they’d placed a plaque under the footbridge. It took our friend Simon, of Monkfish Productions CIC, to locate the padlock. Thank you Simon. I gave my word to the couple that I’d find their plaque and put it on our log. Finally, I’ve been able to keep that word. During this Year in Beadnell it has become clear to us how important the place is to so many people and for their own unique and beautiful reasons.
For all the environmental concerns and natural-world phenomena we’ve encountered this year it may seem slightly askew to end this pilot year’s journal with something as man-made, hard-edged and metallic as a padlock. However, like images in a poem, the engravings – the names and dates – on the lock and what they symbolise are what really matter. For in the end it is love that will save us. And I am not ashamed to say that love is the only thing that matters. The padlock tells us that two people who love and have betrothed themselves to one another chose this place to make their commitment; and in a wider sense it speaks of the love we have for the planet – and that this will be the thing that changes things for the better.
We live on this rock hurtling through space; we all play a part in its troubles and its flourishings. Carson felt the sea like we feel the blood in our veins and she knew that a deep respect and love for the natural world will be the thing that keeps our home safe. The “sense of wonder” she talked about is the love that we share, or should share, for our planetary home. This year has been for everyone who has crossed our path – those of you who have shared your stories, your hopes and ideas and for those who have supported us by following our blog and social media feeds. It is for you Rachel Carson: where the sea meets the shore we are waiting for you. We wait and learn. We wait and live, in part, because of your words and the lessons they hold.