A’ Dùsgadh na Gaoithe / Waking the Wind

Waking the Wind; Finding the Folklore of a Fragile Ecology

By Raghnaid Sandilands, published on 26th May 2023 in Bella Caledonia

The exhibition A Fragile Correspondence opened last weekend in Venice, one of the eight collateral events for the 18th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia at the Arsenale Docks, S. Pietro di Castello, Venice. Commissioned by the Scotland + Venice partnership and curated by the Architecture Fringe, -ism, and /other, A Fragile Correspondence responds to Biennale curator Lesley Lokko’s theme of The Laboratory of the Future by exploring the nuances connections between land, language and the climate emergency. Here we hear from Raghnaid Sandilands who was part of A Fragile Correspondence.



‘But we heard the song and we found the gold.’ Katherine Stewart

‘Language is an old growth forest of the mind.’ Wade Davis

The forest landscapes of Strathnairn, on the south side of Loch Ness, are a mix of conifer plantation, community owned native forest and old-growth birch forest. Higher, in the foothills of the Monadh Liath, there are fragments of ancient forest with root remnants of birch and Scots pine deep in the peat. The Gaelic names carry knowledge and resonance, named by those for whom the living world was more alive and in times when ecologies were far richer.

My exhibited piece is a stitched map on linen that traces the shapes of Doire Gheugach (branched grove). An ancient growth forest, out of sight and far from memory, its name long since excised from the maps but, there was another time when these forests were known and named…

Today overgrazing by deer means that any new growth is hindered. They are casualties of an ecosystem out of balance and their real time vanishing is a slow white flag surrender.

This map records the branching organic shape and its particular and vital colours made by the forest’s birch, heather, and lichen. The colours have a vibrancy; might that they stir some folk memory or other, light the eye and lift the heart. Mending the thread to the linen is as an act of care and the map is a record of connection as well as an invite to see.

Language and its creative expression through song, lore and naming are colourful threads by which we can mend ourselves into the fabric of a place.

They invite us to know a place by its depth .

There is an old Gaelic story, old mostly forgotten, whose narrative arc follows that of the sky above my head. It belongs to Strathnairn; I can see sites in the story from my door.

In correspondence with this landscape, for this essay, I would like to speak to some of the ways in which finding and retelling this story have been an expansive exercise.

To read Raghnaid’s essay, in which she tells of her journey to help conserve these ancient woodland ecologies, see the link here


Photo of approx.1000 year old birch bark, Strathnairn. Credit: R. Sandilands


Feartured image shows ancient woodland in Coire Gart (corrie of the enclosure). Credit: R. Sandilands