I can be with someone, out walking for example, and I can spot a bird I don’t recognise, singing like a choirboy, right beside me on a fence. I stop, feel my heart rise to the skies, gasp in wonder, stop to watch and listen.
Look at that! I whisper, but there’s nobody to hear me. ‘Someone’ is completely uninterested and marching on apace. Initially I feel disappointed, then sorry for their blindness, then understanding. Some of us feel akin to the natural world, others, my dear, don’t give a damn, but there is a place in between those two that interests me – the place we can all find ourselves at times – locked up inside our own circular thoughts so completely, it is nigh on impossible to see beyond the skull because eyeballs have flipped and are pointing in.
It’s not a good place to stay. I’ve been there many times, and it’s ok to flip/check/flip back, because we all need to re-locate our inner list of rules and regs from time to time, but it is most unsafe to flip/lock/remain. Thinking too much about the very small inside of our very small life can turn a goldfish into a great white within hours.
When I was in flip/lock/remain, I remember I would notice animals wherever I went, only they were all dead. I counted 6 deer corpses in Glen Coe, once, plus dead sheep, lambs and even a dog, hit by a car. By the time we arrived I had mascara everywhere and a red nose, and could not explain why it hurt so much. Now I understand that, at a deep level, emotions are rising and bringing with them the chance to let them go for ever. We bury things we don’t even know we bury, and then, a small thing can be the trigger that flips us back to look outside ourselves again.
The series Islands on the Edge, recently shown on tv was superbly put together and clear in its message that we and animals can and must learn to live together in harmony. That doesn’t mean we’re the chiefs and they’re mere Indians. Good harmonies require humility and more listening than talking, as any singer or musician will tell you. We may be in a rush to get home, but this road was built right through an ancient deer path, a lay line. It is not the deer who cross our path, but we, theirs. Do we consider that I wonder, in flip/lock/remain with deadlines and headlines and mobiles on loudspeaker?
When I travelled last to Glasgow from Oban on the train, there were many of us, mostly tourists. The queue was a long slow snake and tempers frayed. Inside, where the head, neck and shoulders of the snake, twitched and tutted and puffed and muttered, I couldn’t see the ceiling for blue smoke and half-finished complaints. Outside was mildly happier as most had already bought their tickets and those who hadn’t were young and munching snacks and wired to music equipment. The man behind the single ticket booth was calm and soft-spoken but he can’t have missed what was going on and I was glad there was a safety grill between him and the snake. I bought my ticket and we shared a chuckle and still the train sat waiting. It wouldn’t go without you, I wanted to say to the hot squat of visitors, some perched on cases, others leaning against the recycling bins and most of them down at the mouth.
Suddenly a duck, a female, waddled out from under the Jurassic park gates, there, obviously, for crowd control, and came right up to my foot. Hallo, I said, bobbing down, and held out my hand. She pecked it, sharply, and I burst out laughing, looking round to share the complete craziness of a confident duck waddling into a crowd at a train station. Nobody even smiled from behind their blank faces.
Flip/lock/remain, I thought. I was still duck-chuckling as I took my seat, so very happy to be alive.