You Are The River

“We’re all ghosts. We all carry, inside us, people who came before us.”

Liam Callanan

Yesterday I sat outside and closed my hand around a hot cup of coffee.

The smell of the wet mossy ground and mouldering leaves brought me back to being a child, exploring the woods near Inverness.  Attempts to find non-poisonous, wild mushrooms on the forest floor and my gran’s black dog, Dana, sending rabbits scattering from the bracken.

How tall the trees are to a 6 year old child and looking up, how wide the sky.

As the cold started to bite, I finished my coffee, got up and went inside to look for my grandmother’s recipe book.  I had this sudden urge to cook something that reminded me of her, except I couldn’t find the book.  We’ve been rebuilding our house for nearly 5 years now, so things are constantly being shifted around, including all my piles and boxes of books.  I checked yet another box, cursing my chaotic filing methods.  In this box I found a transcript of my Great Grandfather’s WW1 diary and the song book from his choir, with lots of notes he wrote.

Lyrics and music, voiceless but swirling across the paper in a cloud of pencil.

Downstairs I heard the door opening, my mum was visiting, to teach my 4 year old son how to make gingerbread biscuits.  By coincidence it’s my gran’s recipe and mum knows it by heart.  The smell of ginger fills the kitchen as they bake, it reminds me of school holidays, rainy afternoons spent inside, playing dominoes, eating ginger biscuits with my brother and my gran.

I showed my mum the transcript of the diary I found and the song book.  When she sees his handwriting her reaction was like she was greeting an old friend,

“Grandfather’s handwriting” she said to herself, eyes bright remembering.

She knew all the songs in the book and started singing them to us as she looked through the pages.  My dad poured us a dram of banana rum each, this was my grandfather’s favourite drink.  The smell of it reminds me of his livingroom and brings a picture of him to my mind, of him in his chair, partly hidden by a cloud of tobacco smoke from his pipe, teaching me card games.

And for a moment or two it feels like everyone is in the room with us, Great and grandfolks, sharing our biscuits, listening to the songs, tasting the rum.

My gran always said that “when people pass away they never truly leave, they just become harder to spot”. Well, I felt this very strongly yesterday.  I felt like the people we had lost were with us, that they were seen and saw us too.  I felt the important part we play in remembering, preserving or sharing our culture and heritage.

There’s a phrase rooted in Scottish culture, about the passing on of traditions, memories, songs and stories, this one was coined by the collector of tradition Hamish Henderson; “Be borne on the carrying stream”. 

‘Maker, ye maun sing them….

Tomorrow, songs

Will flow free again, and new voices

Be borne on the carrying stream.’

You are the carrying stream, bringing past to present and into the future.  Everyone who has come before flows through you.

Remember this, as your social media feeds fill up with ‘influencers’ perfectly edited Samhain aesthetic photos or adverts for the perfect trinket to connect you to the spirit world.

You dont need a flower crown, flowing linen outfit, or full moon, to connect to your ancestors. Our experiences, stories and languages are in us, in the landscape, and places familiar to us. Memories are triggered by seasons, smells, music and we have the power to tune into these whenever we like.

It’s personal, it’s specific to you and your community, your family.

You are the river.

Inspired by Scottish traditions of remembering, Eileen Budd and Jannica Honey recently collaborated on a piece of film for Samhain called You are the River.

You can listen and watch it on instagram here…

Eileen can be found on Instagram: @eileenbudd

Jannica can too: @whentheblackbirdsings

Eileen Budd is an artist & storyteller raised in Perthshire amid a rich oral storytelling culture. She has been working with museums for nearly 20 years, using storytelling as a way of interpreting and sharing knowledge of history and Scottish folk tradition. Her fully illustrated book ‘Ossian Warrior Poet’ and mini book ‘Scottish Druids’ can be bought here: Eileen hosts regular public storytelling events as well as events with schools. You can keep track of what she’s up to online: and on Instagram: @eileenbudd.

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