I Can’t See by Kathleen Jamie

Over the coming days and weeks The Clearing will be publishing Lie of the Land, a series of responses to the Referendum exploring what leaving the EU could mean for conservation, wildlife and our relationship with the land. Please add your voice by posting comments below or submitting a longer contribution – either in images or words – to The Clearing editors.


I’d like to be a part of this conversation, but I can’t think in a measured enough way. Can’t think, can’t see. I wake up angry. My friends are angry. Conversations soon become angry, aghast, especially with those friends concerned about the wider, non-human world. And those friends who are writers and artists. Also scientists and teachers. And doctors. And parents. And students. Even the bankers!

Because I’m angry I can’t see straight. Literally. By ‘see’ I mean ‘attend’. My relationship with the natural world has been knocked all to hell. After years of trying to train my eye and attune my ear to nature, to notice and make it matter, to know that everything we have and do derives ultimately from the Earth, and to write accordingly – it’s all taken a hit.

Maybe it was too precarious. I go out to the hills or seashore but slivers of anger in my mind affect my seeing and my writing.

This has been going on for a while now. Maybe two years. Long before Brexit. Brexit just put the tin lid on it.

It makes me sad, I know I’ve suffered a loss. We lament all those poor people disengaged from nature; I fear I have become one. One of those who think ‘once we get this Total. Wretched. Mess. Sorted. Then I’ll be able to listen to the birds’. But oh! The birds will be gone.

I speak as a Scot, of course. Angry. Yet another Tory government for which we did not vote, this one worse than the last. An exit from the EU, for which we did not vote. Nuclear submarines will again dishonour our bonny ‘natural’ lochs – we sure didn’t vote for those. Iraq. Refugees. Welfare cuts. Ach.

At least we have options.

I now believe that if we want to promote social justice, peace, equality and environmental protection in these islands then the entity called the United Kingdom must be dismantled. (Some say it’s dismantling itself already, that may well be true. Scottish independence will be a result of its break-up, not a cause.)

When the UK goes, its power structures, global posturing and exceptionalism will go too. That’s fine. (Though I hear what Northern Irish people are saying, like Seán Lysaght, and I’m sorry. No-one clamouring for Brexit gave a damn about the Good Friday Agreement. And I fear that if another independence referendum is called, Scotland won’t give Northern Ireland much thought either.)

Will there be an Indyref2? Maybe. Not soon, I hope, and not a mere reaction to Brexit. The Yes movement needs to be huge, positive, Green, creative and all-embracing, even more than last time, with the SNP playing only a small part in it.

In the meanwhile, I wonder what to do as a writer. What to do for the best. As a poet. As an angry-Scottish-poet-nature-writer who can’t see straight.

(I still love the world.)


Kathleen Jamie is a poet, essayist and travel writer. She became Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Stirling in 2011. In her younger days travel informed her work, particularly visits to the mountains of the Eastern Karakoram (Northern Pakistan) which led to her writing  Among Muslims. Over the last decade, while raising her family, she has worked on shorter non-fiction, poetry and published two books of essays: Findings and Sightlines.

R.M. Lockley (1903 – 2000) photographed the image featured above, ‘Ringing a Chaffinch’, whilst living with his family on Skokholm, the tiny island 4 miles off the tip of Pembrokeshire, where he began a pioneering study of migratory seabirds and established the first bird observatory in Britain. He also wrote over 50 books, including Dream Island (1930), Letters from Skokholm (1947), the New Naturalist edition of Seabirds (1954), and The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), which influenced Richard Adams’s Watership Down.

Read more Lie of the Land articles.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Kevin Gilmanreply
July 25, 2016 at 8:45 pm

I don’t wake up angry. It takes a moment or two before I realise that what happened on that Friday morning was real, will have serious consequences and in all probability is irrevocable. Then the anger wells up. The worst part is the change that seems to have come over my country: almost immediately the most abhorrent views became respectable. The constant repetition of the 52%-48% statistic reminds me that in any group of people there may be roughly half whose attitudes I cannot share, ever. I shall never ‘come to terms’.

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