In Belonging, visual artist and author Amanda Thomson weaves nature stories with her personal journey. The book opens with ‘snags’, dead pine trees that dot the Abernethy forest. While they are deadwood, they are crucial to the survival of the ecosystem. Thomson is inspired by this and other instances in the natural world. She uses them as guides to explore the interdependence of her life with those of others. Part natural history and part memoir, the book explores themes of identity, belonging and the meaning of home.
As a black gay woman living in the north Scotland, the author frequently finds herself in the minority. However, through her work and her words, she unpacks who she is and how her claim to the landscape came to be. She reflects on her lineage, her cultural heritage, and transposes them with the microaggressions she has occasionally faced. Living in Strathspey surrounded by the Cairngorms National Park, she maps her walks through the natural world, annotates her journey with illustrations and photographs and finally embellishes them with words. This layering of meaning turns the landscapes of Scotland into her personal journal, through time and through her family tree.
As a work of non-fiction, this work holds appeal to all those who migrate. Just like the birds and animals who travel through the seasons, human migration takes on a universal meaning. Thomson takes a migrant’s personal journey and overlays that onto the experience of the host country, enriched by the inclusion of this foreign body. The author’s choice of structure is through the passage of seasons, introducing hundreds of Scots words for seasonal occurrences. Some words reappear in other chapters, like old acquaintances building on the stories of the past.
Thomson adds a final layer to the memoir – the passage of time. And when, in the end, the migratory birds return, the author returns too. This happens to be the beginning of the global pandemic, a time when our collective understanding of ‘being home’ evolved. This reflection of our deep symbiosis with the natural world is a beautiful meditative journey on the big map of life.