Skybound - a Journey in Flight ~ Rebecca Loncraine

'The loveliest places of all
are those that look as if
there's nothing there
to those still learning to look'

'Deserts for Instance' - Brian Turner (Elemental - Central Otago Poems)

Skybound Choosing another book from the shelf of Journeys that I plan to do from my armchair this year, and 'learning to look' at new places is becoming a real treat. I'd no sooner travelled back in deep time searching for Doggerland with Julia Blackburn and Time Song than I decided I was ready for a bit of vast open sky and my hand settled on a proof copy of Skybound A Journey in Flight by Rebecca Loncraine, published by Picador and sent to me aeons ago.

I knew a little about Rebecca ...that she had taken up gliding when she was at a crossroads in her life...the end of a relationship combined with  surgery and treatment for breast cancer and finding herself living back with her parents on the family farm in Wales. It is here, where the love of her family holds her secure through all the gruelling treatment, that Rebecca decides to replace the narrative of battle, fight and conquest and all its associations of violence, with one of surrender, gentleness and vulnerability. 'A quiet attentiveness to the present moment and an intense intimacy with the world' gave Rebecca what she needed, a toughness and the strength to endure.

There are no rights of wrongs about this and one of the things I learned, when I managed the Cancer and Serious Illness forum for an online parenting website, was that finding the way that works for any individual is what matters.

In recovery and  finding a connection with a nearby gliding club Rebecca decides to give it a go and learn to fly...

'Where the ground has a tendency to close me down, to fence off my emotions, the space up here gives me room to breathe. The sky is big enough to hold any amount of grief...'

Assuaging the grief of her diagnosis, and with it perhaps all those thoughts that her life could still be cut short, and seeing her home territory with new eyes, offers Rebecca new perspectives. There is a sense of freedom and achievement, a fillip to self-esteem and confidence, plus distractions and diversions from the travails, along with opportunities for travel and adventure that will eventually see her set off for four months in New Zealand gliding over the Southern Alps.

I think you probably know what's coming don't you, because I don't think I have ever forgotten the emotion of my first visit to Offspringette in New Zealand in 2016, and my first view of the Southern Alps with tears streaming down my face and more uncontained excitement than was good for me (or the person sitting next to me).

The Southern Alps

Elemental ~ Brian TurnerMy attention was first snagged by Rebecca's single quote from the poetry of Brian Turner (above and I have added more of my own choosing to this post) which could only intensify my enjoyment of Skybound,  because, whilst in New Zealand in 2016 and cycling the Otago Rail Trail (yes me, really) we had stopped at a remote village store in Oterehua. Happy to dismount for a while we were having a browse when I spotted Elemental - Central Otago Poems by Brian Turner. The book weighed a ton (or so it seemed) but persuaded to buy it by Offspringette it went into my bike pannier and did the rest of the trail with me. I'd read it each night as we moved along the trail and think about the place, the actual very same place where I was, and know that whenever I picked the book up again in years to come it would remind me of that amazing visit. 

'Once in a while
you may come across a place
where everything
is as close to perfection
as you will ever need.'

'Place' - Brian Turner  (Elemental - Central Otago Poems)

I'd like to think that Rebecca also read Elemental and felt some of this joy and peace too. I found much perfection during this my first visit, not least the full moon over Kaikoura...

Full Moon at Kaikoura

Based at Omarama (we went through there too) Rebecca slowly gains confidence in her flying ability in an upper atmosphere made unique by the mountains and proximity of the sea. I can't pretend to understand the technicalities of gliding beyond being awestruck at how it is even possible to get up there and stay up there, but I really enjoyed reading about it with its moments of elation and some of acute fear verging on terror..

'Learning to fly is like asking the universe a question: asking it to let me go into the world to live and soar with joy and the possibility of death. It is to ask to be graced with grace, filled with emptiness, to arrive and never arrive...'

And as Rebecca flew so I (at a different time I think) had walked or driven or cycled, because she mentions so many of the places that we passed or wandered through, her seeing them from above, me from below...

Aoraki (Mt Cook)

Aoraki (Mt Cook)

'On the slow wing beat
of a curious falcon
my wishes belonged
I rose and spiralled
on thermals
and the mountains smiled all afternoon.'

'Flight' - Brian Turner ((Elemental - Central Otago Poems)

Lake Hawea...

Lake Hawea

Lake Tekapo...

Lake Tekapo

The Franz Josef Glacier...

Franz Josef Glacier

...where I left this tiny cairn for my Mum, my Dad and my brother...

The Cairn

It is whilst talking to a flying colleague in New Zealand, who has lost his daughter to breast cancer, that Rebecca (despite having been given the all clear from her last scans) senses and is confronted with the potential impact of her own death on those nearest to her..

'There was no escaping the soul-wrenching loss; all he could do was learn to live inside it...'you line it with flowers so you can visit there...'

And all I can hope and pray is that her parents Trisha and Tony have been able to line that place with flowers too, because sadly on her return to the UK Rebecca's cancer metastasised and, following more gruelling rounds of treatment, she died peacefully on September 17th 2016. It is to her parent's credit that they fulfilled their daughter's final wishes and brought Skybound to publication...

'She leaves all those who knew her run through with legacies of grief, but her legacy is such that she would be pleased...'

And how pleased I am to have read this book. It brings with it, as books like this, read at this time of year, are bound to, a deeper understanding of my own parents' grief at the death of my brother and also perhaps some insights into his thinking throughout his eighteen months of treatment for leukaemia. He would die on March 15th 1975 and yes, his place is now 'lined with flowers' and I will be thinking of him today as every day.

Perhaps the final word should rest with Brian Turner, whose book Elemental I have revisited alongside Skybound with the balance of some very happy South Island memories. I'm so pleased that I decided to buy it and carry that extra 1lb 4ozs along with me, and also that I have read Rebecca Loncraine's beautiful and lasting paean to the skies and a life fulfilled ...

'Maybe heaven is a place
in the hearts of those
who respected and honestly
liked you a lot,
an earthly place
with brightness behind you,
surreal skies above
lighting the best way home.'

'Heaven' Brian Turner (Elemental - Central Otago Poems)

Aoraki rainbow



[Author: dovegreyreader]

Tags: Books, Wales, Rebecca, New Zealand, South Island, Picador, Tony, Kaikoura, Southern Alps, Aoraki Mt Cook, Trisha, Brian Turner, Dovegreyreader, Offspringette, Otago Rail Trail, 2019, Skybound, Omarama, Doggerland, Rebecca Loncraine, Julia Blackburn, Oterehua Happy, Place Brian Turner Elemental Central Otago Poems


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