Harriet Fraser
Featured Writer

This is the first poem I wrote, connected with the Sense of Here project. It is composed from notes made on the day that Rob and I walked in a wide circuit around the central point of the whole project: a sycamore tree. The walk, which we did on December 9, 2018, took us around 6 hours.



in a piece of evening
the year radiates from a tree
while the air, quickening,
finds my throat
and feels like snow

I breathe what might have been
hear the river the only way I can

the ridge’s shadow cuts a dark line,
folds a single moment above moss and glaciers’ signatures,
threaded streams, blistered rocks

my senses keen to the wind
and in its passage everything is changing

Coniston Old Man, Swirl How,
Easedale, Harrison Stickle, clouds

water plaits its way down the valley
hides itself in bog
and mirrors the revolutions of ravens

are we lost?

questions flow over bright green weeds
like children choosing between damage
and the sunny side

land beneath us, sky above

I hang my thoughts as silhouettes
behind the sun
and wait




I love looking at maps, and when I walk in the Lake District I’m always curious about the naming of places. This piece came about as I thought about some of the names for landscape features that are specific to this place, and the way that we care for it.


Language of the land

long ago we scraped names from the earth as we walked
we kicked the hard edges of ancient rock with ‘Ca’ and ‘Ga
until crags appeared
followed our unleashed voices down loose stones
and called them scree
any hint of M stolen by the wind

we sank our bodies into pools that felt like velvet
and stopped to feast where water’s greys
and blues and greens tumbled
in a blur, and called it foss

higher up, where wild wind slaps a hard land
we settled between tight walls of water-cut rock
and uttered gill

and on it went
where eyes and feet
had navigated land,
tongues and lips tried out its shapes
and laid its names in maps

and then we spelt out small things:
ash for the grey late-leaf tree
bumble for the bee
bluebottle for the buzzing fly
and birds named for their call
for the way they move
peewit, curlew, kite

but in the forming of names with our dangerous mouths
we bit too hard, crumbling those things we loved,
sending them from sky and earth
to the claustrophobia of books
where the taste of names is sorrow

crag = a rocky outcrop
scree = a spread of loose rocks on a hill
foss = waterfall
gill (ghyll) = a thin strip of land where water has gouged out rock
ash = ash tree (Fraxinus …)
bumble = bumble bee (xxx)
bluebottle = (a species of blowfly)
peewit = oystercatcher




In August 2017 the full moon was called a ‘Blood Moon’. Around the northern hemisphere, people were keen to see it and catch the scene on photographs. I headed out to a limestone scar on the eastern edge of Cumbria, where a lone hawthorn grows, hoping to watch the spectacle.


I came to watch the moon rise red

the eastern sky is bruised
broiling clouds slam into a black horizon
// wind gnaws at my face

in the distance: thunder

I wait for sight of the moon
with the wind, the rain, a single hawthorn
// and the passing of time

thunder retreats
and the last of the day’s sky
// settles into the tarn

I stay with the tree, lie back

a spider is making her web:
up and down, up and down
abseiler, up again, and round
she is a dark globe
// dancing in air

darkness thickens

there will be no blood moon tonight

instead there is a canopy of moths,
a hare running through grass, the bleating of sheep
and, arriving from the dark, the silent owl
that hovers above my head and stares at me
then dissolves into night




Written in the valley of Kentmere during a twilight visit to the fields to check on the ewes, right at the beginning of lambing season


Notes made while lambing

stilltime between day and night
lambs slide
from belly to grass

she tells me how to know:
a yow alone in the lee of a wall
will birth soon


after sun’s sink
summit silhouettes
muted black as a swaledale’s head
wall in this womb-dark land
beneath the prolapsed bruise of sky

out of sight:     foxes

here:                newborn twins

she shows me how to tell:
feel here for the swell of first milk
they will be ok


a yow fights for breath
blind human fingers feel
for life in dark hope
bring a wet arrival to the earth
as frost creeps in

she’ll fetch them to the shippon:
they’ll not stand a night outside


nine hundred to lamb
this is just the start

*a shippon is a type of low-roofed barn




In Utah, in 2019, Rob and I visited Pando, a forest of aspen trees that are all identical clones of one another: 80,000 stems covering more than 100 acres. The forest has been here for 14,000 years.


in the gold of autumn


among the whispering leaves
stories of sky and the inevitable


of another winter

beneath ground
and in each short-lived leaf
there is a knowing of life
stretched across

fourteen thousand years


in the hundred-acre embrace of a single tree
a butterfly catches the sun


as if it is an aspen leaf

rising not falling


against the high blue
five geese, black wings wide
breathe their heart-deep music

heading east




I throw this one in as a topical poem – something I wrote at the beginning of the nationwide lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19.


The Last time I Saw the Girls

That night the rains made lakes and rivers rise
and the wind tested our mettle.

There were phone calls of apology
roads flooded – too risky to come out –

but some of the girls made it
and filled the room with smiles,
topped the table with food and flowers.

We talked of work, of children,
the trouble with politics, the thrill of art
and wondered at so many rains, for so many weeks,
the rage of fires on the other side of the world,

the fragility of life.

Late on, a few more blew in
just to say hello, but within an hour
there were see-you-soon hugs:
they left before the road was lost to water.

For the rest of us, sheltered from the rain and wind
that rattled at the door, time stretched
around conversations and cake –

one a.m. and we’re swapping clothes
trying on each other’s cast-offs
shirts and trousers, posh gowns,
jumpers, jeans and coats,
long-loved clothes shaped by stories
and the kind of shoes you wear only once

and we’re all having a birthday,
celebrating ourselves and our togetherness,
laughing at the old days, making plans
for what’s next.

How could we have guessed

that we’d all lose our jobs
and live with fear of human touch,
that this night would be the last time
we could share bread and breath,
or how soon our minds would turn to death?




In August 2018, Rob and I were invited onto a small sailing boat to join a team of geologists, and sail along the coast of northwest Scotland. This is an incredible coastline, marked by the contours of jagged mountains rising above a crinkled edgeland of lochs and bays, cliffs and islets. There are areas where the oldest rocks on the planet are clearly visible, pushed up along faultlines. This is one of the poems that emerged from that trip.


Thinking About Time

a week that’s mostly about sailing
isn’t really enough time
to get my head around time
when time is measured in so many ways

three thousand million years in grey lichened gneiss
ten thousand years in an inch of sandstone
or a day captured in a metre

geology stretches time, shrinks time
counts a wide and deep time
in signatures of long-gone rivers
lines of pressure, melts and folds

time in rocks buffering the sea’s slosh
laid before our measured speed of wind and knots
the time of stomach’s emptying
the time of tides
and the time it takes to settle
in a new element
in a small floating space
held between a rolling hitch, a bowline
and a wind-rushed jibe




I’ve always liked walking, and loved long-distance hikes. This poem grew out of a reflection on a time of chronic illness, when I no longer had the strength to walk. Thankfully, that has passed.


I walked

I walked at first because this is what I was born to do
to go beyond the boundaries of the breast
I walked to grow
I walked to discover
I walked to seek a home

I walked when my spirit had been wounded
I walked to pace out grief
I walked to stamp out the shortcomings of reason
I walked to test the marrow of my feelings
I walked to shed my feelings
but they held as tight to me as skin, so
I walked with them, as my companions and my guides

There was a time when I walked with pain
on some days my walk became a slow stooped drag
the end of the street too far
I made time to stand with an ancient beech every day
I breathed with it, through the green of summer and the rust of winter

I didn’t know if I would walk freely once again
months passed
a year
some things healed

I walked, slowly
I walked towards questions I never knew I needed to ask
I walked towards answers, which sometimes came before the questions
rising as naturally as grass

and gradually I walked more
I walked into mornings
I walked through dusks
I walked at night to meet my moon shadow
I walked in storms to taste the wind
to listen to the rain
I walked through mud, through rivers, through snow

I found my home, or made my home
(surely it is both)
I walk now to know my home better
I walk to walk

I walk
I walk