A lullaby of salt water, fresh water and ink.

Since Christmas an extraordinary thing has happened. People have joined together, from all over the UK, to support fundraising campaigns to purchase copies of The Lost Words to be placed in schools. Such open hearted generosity towards our book has overwhelmed both myself an Robert. This blog post is an attempt to thank all involved, from the organisers of campaigns to those who have contributed to them. 

There’s a curve in the land where water scooped out a valley. On the left as you face the sea an ancient fort rises. Today I followed the path, down to the stream, and there, after twenty-four hours, yesterday’s stone still sat.

I walked down, as far as I could, to where sweet water flowed into salt, where riversong meets wave fall and there I bent to harvest a bottleful of water. I left a stone in the place where the water came from. A small stone, by mussels and limpets, barnacles and lichens. Soon the tide would cover this curious place, between land and sea.

I had come to this place with a purpose. To leave a spell, in the wild, for a day, a turn of the tide, maybe two, a sea spell, a lullaby, a drowning song.

I wrote it first in pencil on smooth stone with the sound of the sea singing soft in my ears. But though the rock was coloured like the smooth skin of the seal it was too fragile.

I sat in pale sunshine, sheltered from any wind, listening while raven called overhead, and chough danced in the wind and I ground ink against ink-stone, with river-water, and painted a small otter, and while it was drying in the sun and the wind I wandered to find another stone to write a lullaby for a sea child on.


I love how time and tide writes on the rocks. Natural calligraphy. Our spell will be gone, I hope, by two turns of the tide, scoured away by stone and water, sand and time.

I washed my brushes in the swift river, but somehow a small giant escaped onto a stone. Then I rinsed the ink-stone and sat on a rock mid stream while the small giants dried and the sound of the river sang on.

Otters live in these waters. Seals visit these coves and beaches. Overhead a flock of about 50 linnets, voices like small bells flew. I watched the water make patterns with the light.

The sea child’s lullaby is written by Robert Macfarlane. And this thank you comes from both of us, wholeheartedly. You have taken our book into the very places we wanted it to travel, into hearts and homes and now into schools.

This, for ease of reading, is what was written on the stone. I say to you what Robert says to me: ‘to be read aloud, slowly’. I want to write it on the stones where the seals come to pup, with gold and ink, so the sea sifts the words.

Mulling over these words, in this place, sitting on a stone in the middle of the river did rinse my mind of human chatter.


Grey Seal (A Summoning Spell, A Drowning Song)

Go now selkie-boy, swim from the shore,

Rinse your ears clean of human chatter,

Empty your bones of heather and moor,

Your skull of its human matter.

Selkie-boy, selkie-boy, come join your kin,

Eager your kind are to meet you,

As salt sets its seal on your silky skin,

Let green sea rise up to greet you.

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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11 Responses to A lullaby of salt water, fresh water and ink.

  1. Stuart Hill says:

    Thank you to you too, Jackie, and to Mr Macfarlane, for the words and the pictures and for everything they conjure up and magic into being.

  2. Bernie Bell says:

    The wee otter on the stone is……….. perfect.

  3. Thank you, for such utter beauty and for just the words to help quieten the human chatter and for the lost words too x

  4. Thank you Jackie, this is perfect.

  5. Eliene says:

    As I read this aloud to myself, the emotion stirred was strong…thank you!

  6. Thank you to you, and to Robert. Your collaborative book is nothing short of miraculous. I bought a copy, and when I am able to part with it, I shall gift it to our beautiful library in Talkeetna, Alaska, so all may enjoy.

    • Cool! My sister lives in Talkeetna and works or worked in the Library! A long way from England, but we are gathered through Jackie’s wonderful images.

      I think it is wonderful to get the books into schools. Maybe I should try again to get the local library to buy some of your other picture books, Jackie.
      Sandy in Bracknell

  7. Anne Plowright says:

    How beautiful, simply beautiful and perfect and peaceful at this time of the human form being its own worst enemy.
    Thank you, I am so pleased that the loss of words from a dictionary brought both your work together!

  8. Jude Walker says:

    The Lost Words live and breathe now, all by themselves. They are found.
    THANKYOU Jackie and Robert.
    Spent yesterday morning thinking out a Primary-Secondary school link project I’m working on with 120 10-12 year olds, using the wonderful ideas from the John Muir Trust.
    Come to Wolverhampton in the summer and I’m hoping you’ll hear the words spoken, sung… see them signed, danced as they are found by more children.

  9. Vicki Burkhardt says:

    Every part of this – every word and every image – brings tears to my eyes simply because they are all so beautiful.

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