Island Blog – The Overstory

I walked yesterday among the trees in the Fairy wood. I barely glanced up into her leafless arms nor stopped to touch the bark of the tallest Fir, nor paused to consider the tangle of roots thrust into visibility by endless erosive rains; roots as thick as my arm, conifer fingers, gnarled and scarred over hundreds of years by hundreds of human boots, marching boots, tramping across the overstory with little enough thought. I didn’t look, nor see, nor stop to garner soft peace from the whispers of these gentle and protecting giants. I just took my place in the march. I didn’t pause to consider over what I did this marching thing. I just wanted to get back out of the nipping wind and into the warm.

All evening, staring out at the dark, I considered. The understory thinks me. What brilliant planning, synergy and sharing goes on down there, in a deeper darkness that Night could ever bring? In a clutter wood, where new springlings struggle towards that wee patch of sky, of sun to hear the stories carried on the backs of the winds that dash across this rocky island from all points on the compass, how can life go on? Is there a finite of trees within the human boundaries of this wood? And how do they know not to crowd themselves out of sunlight, water, food – to leap across the track to where that fallen beech has created, in its final death cry, a whole rack of gentle space just asking for a friend. And not only space, for in its dying, in its soft slow submissive return to the earth, this giant is preparing magical layers of nourishment for that seedling to grow strong and straight-backed.

Roots will be under my feet even on this track wide enough for a whacking great lorry. Roots don’t bother with our boundaries and it isn’t just that. I think they conjoin, I know they do, merging and melding together for the greater good, the good of the wood, of the family. Unlike us, separation is not their main thing, not a thing at all. Unlike us, they do not judge by species, sex, type, shape or achievement. They care not what colour your leaves might be, nor if those leaves are bigger than their own. Like us, they need each other. Like us they sing better in a choir, a unison of voices rising into the sky sending harmony, melody and rhythm out to warm a listening heart. They know it. We are only learning.

Life is lived in the overstory. Although the underneath matters a great deal, it is easily hidden from the world. I can do this as well as anyone. I can slap on my smile and pretend just like you do. And there is no wrong in that, unless, unless, either of us forget our tap root and that of others with whom we share our life. The good news about tap roots is that, like the trees, they grow in silence, whether we pay them attention or not. As they grow in the silent darkness of our hearts and souls they find other roots. This meeting is not confrontational, nor constrained by fear but a vulnerable reaching, meeting, greeting; a gentle slow winding together of fingers, a melding perhaps, or a share of time before moving on. We can learn from that time of open curiosity, the lack of fear, the acceptance of another life doing its very best to grow and to grow right.

Today, when I walk beneath those same trees I will be witted-up and open. I never tire of the woods and have walked through and around them for almost five decades but sometimes, like yesterday, my overstory is so shouty that I forget where I am and thus I miss the nourishment on offer beneath those ancient wise giants. I miss the startling gasp of star moss on a rotting trunk, the shelf fungi holding on even as its host crumbles away, the rain-betrayed spider webs cast between a spindle of branches, long since empty of life. I miss the patchwork of sky, the squelch of peat under my boots, that sudden realisation of the understory, always working, always growing, in gentle silence. Today I will see it all, hear the voices of the wood and they will bring me calm and a real smile, no pretend.

Island Blog – Springing

A thrush this morning was definitely springing. When the birds shift into a new season, they make it very clear, a twinkle of musical notes tossed into the milk sky as if this is the day for change. The thrush knows not what weather will be sent his way, could be ghastly, could be mild and calm. Not knowing, however, does not hesitate him, not for one split of a second. he lives in the Now, inhabits it proudly, baring his freckled breast without fear of what may come tomorrow. He will be wondering where the girls are, motivated by a powerful instinct that is the envy of trudging humans who gaze at the milk sky and tut, forecasting a terrible something, one that awaits us just around one of those endless corners. We seem unable to live inside the moment.

However, there are many books written on the subject, many well worth the read. Although not many folk would say that their life is easy, living itself is very simple. We complicate. We fret about the past, fingering through it with trembling hands in deep search of all those things we did wrong and the ripples we created in our wrongness. Or, we grow anxious about the future, staring hard into the eyes of endless what-ifs, seeing disaster at every turn. Invariably it is we who cock it up, or that’s what we believe. Everyone else, after all, is sensible and co-ordinated and works from a spreadsheet, unlike us who can lose a whole car in a shopping mall, or who buys something quite unnecessary, and from China, meaning we would have to go for a personal loan in order to return it.

The trouble with living in the past and/or the future is that we never notice where we are right now. In 60 seconds time, this minute will lie in our past, irretrievably, and our memory of it, if we have one, will not be the truth. Memories are not to be believed, not in the shape we give them. It is how we feel that matters. Only that. So how do you feel right now? Are you noticing everything inside this moment, the smell and sound of it, the touch of it? What does it look like when you stop and really look? And, how does it make you feel? There are as many answers to those questions as there are people but only one of them matters. Yours.

Feeling ‘not enough’ is commonplace. We all feel it at times and some of us feel it all of the time. Enough for what? Enough for the moment or enough for the past to look like a Disney movie and the future as a rosy ripe peach. Well, I have news for you. That is exactly how they both look. I know this because I know the lies in Memory’s mouth and the fear-driven gaze into the future. They are both fools and tricksters. Don’t believe either of them. No matter what I did or didn’t do in my past is right where it should be, dead and buried. From experiences I learned to straighten up and fly better. I still knock into hurdles and people and mountains but I fly like I learned new techniques from my ‘mistakes’. As there is no perfect person alive today I reckon I’m doing pretty well. As to the future, well, what on earth is the point in me getting my knickers in a knot about something that isn’t even here yet? If I keep working on my improvement, keep standing inside each moment with all my senses alert, then whatever this future brings (it never arrives by the way. futures never do) I will be ready to take appropriate action whenever I need to.

For now, I work on bringing myself back into the Now every time the tricksters leap into my head, and they can do that a lot. Go away, I say. Don’t bother me. I’m deciding to stand here in the Now, listening to the thrush singing Spring. On collapso days I might wear myself out with all this deciding to stand thing as the hooligan tricksters are more determined than ever, but if I keep practising it becomes more natural to just Be. I might be hurtling at quite a lick on the outside, but on the inside, the only place we can ever make effective changes, I am inside each moment. Some of them slip by, unnoticed, of course they do. We are all busy at something. But I make a point of noticing and stopping to feel this moment whenever I remember. Actually, I don’t even need to stop, physically, because my head can relish the moment even if the rest of me is hurtling. And the feeling of being present is addictive. The more I practise, the more I bash away the tricksters, the stronger I feel. I can do this living life thing! Life isn’t living me. I am living Life.

The thrush gets it. We have to work harder, but we can get it too. Depends on the level of commitment. If life feels like a huge disappointment, try binning the past and the future. Both are fickle friends. One is a lie and the other grown from fear. If success feels like it has passed me by, then I am being controlled by the tricksters, because the truth is that every single one of us can find the success we long for. Try reading Meant For More by Mia Hewitt. I will leave you with a quote from her:-

‘Success is not a game won by those who do the most, but by those who focus on the least.’

Island Blog – Understanding

As I sit at my laptop and write my stuff, my reflections on this life as a woman, I learn a lot myself. Unfolding scenarios unfold to finger their way into my own ordinary thoughts where my mind seeks to develop and research them. I am curious by nature and there are times I wonder how I knew I was thinking about this or that when all I did was to sit down, lift my hands to the keyboard and begin. I feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, wondering, a bit fearful but mostly curious.

The things I write about are commonplace, regardless of individual settings and circumstances. How each of us live may be chalk to cheese but the deep inside of a mind, the way we feel is generic. Each of will respond according to our circumstances, our expectations, our dreams, our brokenness, but that is where our individuality steps up to the bar. We are all lost at times and in those times there is always someone around who isn’t and who can lift a failing spirit. Some days I am the one lifting, some days being lifted. I used to think, and have heard others say, that at my age, whatever age that is, I should know this and therefore have no excuse for my faltering. This is a great untruth. Faltering is part of each one of us and it never stops, not till the last breath, for we all live with fear and questions. We expect ourselves to ‘get it’ and from then on to ride like Freedom across vast spans of safe ground. This is a myth. There is no safe ground. But there are others around us, all doing what we do, making a go of life, all doing our very best, learning and curious to find answers to a gazillion questions, the answers to which are like smoke in a hurricane. The sea keeps clawing at the shore. She has done so for centuries and she will never cease as long as she has salty breath. We do the same, reaching out our fingers for the answers to life and it seems we will never stop either. No matter what we teach our children, no matter how deeply we study, there is that answer that consistently evades us.

So, we accept Lukewarm and keep trudging. And despite feeling rather beige in her arms we can rest in the calm she offers. Nobody lives long who cannot rest in Lukewarm at times. No work of art is believable if all the colours are crazy loud. And that’s what we all are. Works of art. Individual, unique, a perfect design and there are no copies made. Therein lies a responsibility and oodles of opportunity. The life we have been given is the only one in which we can fly, the only one that will ever be ours to alter or to change completely. All of us feel trapped at times, laden down by the expectations of others, childhood lessons, circumstances, worldly pressure and just plain exhaustion but not one of us is really trapped at all. We might not be immediately able to alter or change things but we can be curious enough to think about what we can do. It may mean one tiny step, and then another, but that’s how you climb a mountain or traverse a desert. That is how you move away and move toward.

It’s not in the answer that understanding lies, but in the question.

Island Blog – Lukewarm

I have never been good at lukewarm. My life is either skyborne or in the underworld, neither of which are middling. But, the lukewarm of life is where we mostly live, all of us. We have exciting tips at the sky and dreadful plunges into the dark but where we seem to level out is in the middle, in between the rise and the fall. We live lukewarm, neither full of joy, nor lost in despair. We spend money, time and effort maintaining lukewarm. It is our safe place, however dull it may sometimes appear. Routines belong in lukewarm, things like breakfast at 8, school runs, trains or buses to work, how we dress during the week, how we cook sausages on Tuesdays, how we this and how we that.

Sometimes, we can arrive at a weekend in a state of euphoria, imagining that this weekend will be different, that lukewarm will sleep in the corner till Monday and that something wonderful will happen. I have heard so may folk say to me ‘I just want my life to start,’ no matter how old they are. I have said it myself. So what do I think my life should look like? Should it be all sky borne? I doubt that is even possible. The last person I read about who reached for the sun saw his wings melt in the embrace of gravity. We are not fashioned for endless highs; how could we sustain such? And yet we long for exactly that.

The times we fly are the times we fly. End of. And there is always an end to flight. The key, I believe, is to learn to thrill – to thrill at those times of new love, of passion, of seeing the sky close up, of feeling that the full moon is an arm’s length away and of saying this. It is enough. I was there. I saw this, I felt this, I know this. And then (and isn’t there always one of those?) to hug that marvellous unexplainable secret to a beating and faithful human heart and to walk into the lukewarm for another while or two. Or three. It is the same for a dive into the underworld. Nobody wants to go there but those of us who have spent time in Hades will tell out that the light inside us is too bright for that place. Somehow we find our way back (even when our light is so flickery and weak that we can barely see) into……yes….lukewarm, that lukewarm that sent us there in the first place. Or so we thought.

The lies we tell ourselves are a whole university degree. We think we are the product of our parents, our broken lives, our bloody lashings from the whips of Fate. We are not. Changing our thinking is not something that just happens. It requires work, reading from those with experiential learning, questing, like all those questers who have gone before, refusing to believe in inevitability.

I do not plan to live a life thinking that I am the product of inevitable. I know that lukewarm is a passive friend, a stable companion in the craziness of life, like a warm bosomed mother who just may get so in my face about all my wildness that I consider pushing her over a cliff…….and, yet, she is my warmth, my level peg, my comfort, my rock. She, who asks me to cook 3 times a day for decades; she who asks that I keep to the routine, get to the bus on time to work at the same thing until I am rising a tsunami of rage at what seems to be such an ordinary life. She soothes me and I hate her/love her. She is always there. She is waiting when I get home, reminding me to buy cabbage and tissues; she insists that I walk the dog and that I change the sheets over and over and over again.

She is Sanity. She is Lukewarm.

Island Blog – The Things I Learn

Himself is in respite for a week and I have moved like a gentle breeze through my home. There is nothing to stop my flow. No words, no sharp tacks splitting the atoms, no extra cleanery tasks, no need to defend; no need for that smile I keep in many jars by many doors. The show, after all, must go on, but when there is no show to go on about, it is peaceful.

That’s the outside of me. Inside, the tensions still rise like the Alps because it is only a week. Weeks tend to end, I have discovered over time. What last Monday offered will revert to the norm when the next Monday comes around. However, I have not just breezed. I have read my various guide books on various itchy subjects and I have learned things. Although it is without doubt the toughest job I have ever taken on, there are opportunities for development in many areas, most of them me. The outside is unchangeable bar the odd set of buffers to halt the Trouble Train and I do employ said buffers often, even though I would rather they weren’t required at all. I know, and have read through all the badly written pamphlets on How To Live With Dementia. I know they are not written with much consideration for the unpaid carer who is, and I quote, ‘required to move into the world of the loved one.’ Well, I am so not going there. That’s what I said 8 years ago and I’m still saying it. Of course, it is undeniably essential to go some way down the path for little bits of time in order to avoid Armageddon, but I have no intention of turning my back on my world in order to become wholly lost in the eternal mists of another.

This, my decision not to step willingly into chaos, causes its own problems, as you might imagine. Just picture it. There’s himself floating back to his mother and his childhood and there’s me, fully grown, fully adult and standing on the edge just knowing that it is not my time for stepping backwards. The balance of this complexity is down to me to maintain, deal with on an hourly basis, every single day of every single month and year and so on. And so on. And that is the tricksy bit. When does ‘so on’ stop? They throw up their hands, all of them, they who know it all. Of course they do because they do know it all. There is no timeline.

So, in this learning thingy whatsit, I meander, stomp, run, march, slow and sit with. My legs are strong from it all. In this gentle week of walks without having to explain where I am going, or of sitting reading from my many guide books without any sound effects from anywhere but Nature and the violin music I play endlessly – ‘turn that down!’ (I should have persisted with violin practice) on my sound system, in all rooms of the house so I never miss a single note or that glorious climb and fall of genius phrasing. Thank God for genius phrasing. Music is my safe place, as are my books, my craft, my writing. And there is something rather wonderful about such solitary affairs. I don’t need another to be with me. I am with me and I am enough, however much those comfy words, when turned into a question, pester my brain many times a day.

I know there are many other carers out there. I know nothing of their circumstances, their lonely hours, their inner questioning, doubts and fears. But, somehow, I know it all. Their situation may be so very different but the feelings around caring are my feelings too. I believe it is absolutely fine to feel fury as long as it doesn’t manifest in an act of violence, even though I know how hard it is at times to resist just that. I also know that those in the work of care are very reticent when asked questions. Everyone wants to be considered a ‘nice’ person, no matter what they face back home. In there, also is the need to protect another’s dignity, the commitment made to the one being cared for (sometimes far too long ago), the need to keep face before children, friends, neighbours, communities.

What I would love to do is to write the definitive “best seller’ (such nonsense). There is only one Best, not three million of them. Just saying. What I mean is that book of encouragement and experiential learning that just might lift some poor soul from the lonely pit; a tale that would tell of how this uninvited guest brought with him a welter of opportunities for someone who lived like Iggle Piggle bobbing across the waves with his sleepy blanket; opportunities for altered thinking, internal reassessment, the vulnerability to seek out guide books and guide people. But first it slams up in the form of a massive wild sea overcoming, such that requires even Iggle Piggle to Wake Up.

Maybe I will, one day.

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – Through the Beeps and Creaks

There are mists in life, and fogs, and cutaways and ditches. There is falling and rising along pathways and new roads. There is mud and slough, rips for ankles and darks for slowing. There is loud traffic and louder shoutings. there are days different for some that turbulence. There are quiet times, but few, to watch a pair of swans fly over, or for one child laugh at an ice cream; to see a sudden burst of green when there is little green left; to hear a kindness offered and received in murmurs. In short, there is life. there is always life for the looking.

Tonight, after a tricky day and after an amazing movie (Red Joan, Judi Dench) I sat at my piano. I rarely do, even though I long for her so often, her glorious white perfect pitch just right there for me, courried in to her sweet safe corner, and I played. I played lovely random music. My fingers felt their way across the notes, through the chords and I just knew that, had there been a roomful of listeners behind me, they would have stopped their chatter and joined me in this moment of music. And I thanked my fingers for not forgetting their way, even when I am sure I have done just that. Even with the beeps and pings of wheelchair, stairlift, heart monitors, fall alarms, all of that and more, there is always music.

And so it is.