COP26: Extract from Of Stone and Sky

  12 Nov '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn

Merryn Glover is an award-winning writer of fiction, drama and poetry. Her stories are widely anthologised and her plays broadcast on BBC Radio. She was brought up in South Asia but has called Scotland home for 25 years, living in the Cairngorms National Park for half of them. Merryn’s work explores our relationship with the environment, the natural world and wildlife. As the first writer in residence for the Cairngorms National Park, she encourages people from the Cairngorms and beyond to engage with how people and the natural world can prosper together.

To celebrate the ongoing COP26 conference in Glasgow, Merryn has shared an extract from her prize-winning novel Of Stone and Sky. Set on a farming estate in the upper reaches of the River Spey, the story follows several generations of a shepherding family in a paean to the bonds between people, their land and their way of life. In times of overwhelming biodiversity loss, Merryn asks; can fiction heighten our awareness of the climate crisis and can story-telling serve as a call to action to better the world around us?


And what a land! Lying high in the heart of Scotland beyond the fortress gates of Drumochter Pass, the strath unfurls like a green carpet. Its basin is marshy floodplain, but the soil either side so rocky and weather-whipped that few crops grow and only hardy animals thrive. Thus it has raised a tough breed of farmer – like Colvin – who turn the other cheek to the wind and their hands to a labour of love. But for all its stubborn stones and capricious skies – its flood, fire and famine – the strath is full of beauty.

Its artery is the Spey. Winding down through forests and fields, lochs and rapids, this old, old river passes below mountains so ancient they are half worn away. The rounded humps of Am Monadh Liath – the Grey Hills – rise to the north-west, their memories reaching back three billion years, while to the south-east, are Am Monadh Ruadh – the Red Hills – younger and higher. And though both ranges change colour with the shifting light, only this one has changed name. We now call it the Cairngorms: a pile of blue stones.

From each hill, cold springs tumble down into burns that become rivers of their own – Truim, Feshie, Nethy and Dulnain – and lose themselves in the Spey. As she swallows their momentum and their names, her lovely face hides dangerous currents till, wide and swift, she spills into the sea. She is revered for her gifts of pearls and salmon and whisky and feared for her curses of flood and drowning. And whisky. She giveth and she taketh away.

And the people – we who call this valley home – are hungry as wolves, stubborn as sheep, and surviving, like the few wildcats, as a remnant. And though we are ruinous and stiff-necked, yet we are marked by beauty. For ours is the strength of the river, the endurance of the mountains, the bond of the strath.

Ours is this place.

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