Island Blog – People and Things

I can’t shut my suitcase. Most of what is in there is irrelevant. Sun cream, malaria stuff, tapestry wools, gifts and a few clothes. In fact, the clothes give the least resistance being soft and foldable. Laying things out on the bed for a few days prior to the panic pack has soothed me. It doesn’t look like much stretched over the length of a human plus width but now, now, I try to contain it, it becomes a monster. I sigh. I shout. I begin again. Chuck this, forget that, only one pair of shorts because I can wash shorts overnight and they will be dry in minutes. I can even leave them out overnight, but that wouldn’t be wise. Who knows what creature might huddle within a fold or a pocket? Creatures out there have stings and teeth and attitude. Ok, less frocks. I always wear the same one or two anyway, the ones that allow no body escapes which works well with the culture. I never saw any African escaping from a frock.

Back here, Autumn twiddles her fingers. The starboard shore of the loch shows me rocks and kelp rising into a well fertilised grass field and then on, up and up, to the felled forestry that leaves a landscape of ghosts, ridged, bland, dead, for now. Ben Mhor is a cloudhead, it’s sharp peak lost in what looks like Einstein’s hair.

The tide flows in, moving from flatwater, that in- between time when nothing moves at all, then bursting into action. I can see the waters flow, feel the fish slide in, know that the gulls will come, that a seal and an otter will become one with the flow, their eyes on supper.

David and Linda walked by just now and I beckoned them in. 50 years they have been coming without a single break. Once, in Tapseteerie days, they stayed with us and we became friends. This evening, the evening when I am travel-anxious and considerably less frocked up, we talked of birds and skies and other marvellous things and I am glad. A dip into what appeared as flatwater suddenly lifted into action because of their visit. It told me this.

In the real truth of life, we only ever need people. Things will follow, but things will only ever be things. People, on the other hand, are never ‘only’ anything.

Island Blog – My Old Friend

The sea-loch is so still as to be a mirror to the sky. A loan of sheep wander along the very edge of the far shore showing their tapselteerie reflections so that they look like more than a loan. From here, they seem to be walking on water. Above them, banked in between the hills and following the high-rise hill road, a whispish mist leans against the hillsides, hiding bits. I can see so clearly how the ancients thought eerie. These mists can float over water when two colds meet, one greater than the other, arguing for place. I know that if I turn away, and then return, the sun will have played peacemaker and sent both back home to think again.

The day blooms into warmth and sunlight after rain. This time of year is almost fiction. One minute you know exactly who does what and then all it takes is for lunchtime to call and you look again and are left in wonder. Right now, it is almost time to cook supper and yet, and yet, the sun calls and the shadows are timely long and it seems rude to turn indoors. Everything shouts for just another minute of this glorious retreat, this promise of a red sunset, a red sea-loch, a lone seal lit up like a Christmas bauble and the twist of a turning tide.

But needs must. I am nearly packed for Africa and the broccoli needs cooking for himself by 6 sharp. I have laid out, packed, unpacked, packed again. Does anyone else do this? Will it be too heavy, will I have the right kit, should I just take one of everything? I have to return to the cold, remember, and that needs a wee consideration or two. Leaving everything I possibly can think of in place for my 2 month absence means diddly squat. I will have forgotten something.

And, then, I think this. The tide will still turn. The light will rise and it will fall. The rain will come and the sun will heal. And all of this whether I am here or not. Whether I am long dead or very much alive. Whether, weather, whether.

So, broccoli already late, I am heading out to watch the sun turn the sea crimson. I won’t be seeing her for a long time. She’ll be fine. She knows her way, my old friend.

Island Blog – On Love, Dust and Difference

I watch the sea. The sea is my friend. A lone gull floats by on a slip wind, calling to no-one I can see. The hills stand as they always have, silent, bedecked with the end game of summer, a clear rise and fall against the tissue paper sky. The water ruffles against the breeze and lays down flat once more. Flowers nod like wise old women, their heads still high, not ready, yet, for the fall. But we all know it’s coming. The sea looks cold today and even though I know it is always cold, it can still tell me different on a warm summer’s morning when a higher sun lifts a music from its salty face in hues and tones that will not return till next year. The garden birds have changed their diet, abandoning some of the feeders I had to fill twice a day not so long ago. The siskin and goldfinches have already gone and the swallows are preparing to leave, abandoning this sky for another where the sun bakes the ground to a sandy crust by 5 am. This is what I see and what I see is a fact. Anyone standing beside me will see the same thing. However, interwoven with this visual fact are my feelings about what I see, and my feelings are, in turn, driven by my storyline, my history, my incomplete bank of memories. Turning our backs on the sea, we might describe a different picture. It is thus when we look at ourselves, when we look at others, for you will see me one way and I will see me another way and that ‘another’ way will flip and somersault like a circus performer depending on my currency of feelings at any given moment. Any shifting moment.

Sometimes I can feel as tall and as solid as a pylon. At others as transient dust floating on a passing breeze, going nowhere in particular. I don’t know how this happens because if I look down I still see my human shape and beyond a change of trousers, I am still me, the me you see. But inside this form there could be a right flapdoodle going on, as if an entire migration of birds just clattered up from my gut and found themselves trapped. It is extremely uncomfortable at best and very tempting to push these feelings away in a mad rush to do something that takes my mind off me. However, I have learned that my feelings are gifts, the happy ones and the horrible ones. They come from nowhere, after all, catching me off guard every time. But they come for a reason. If I let the feelings flow through and around me, just notice them, name them even if I cannot explain them, they will teach me. If, as in the past, I lay the blame for them on another or swish them away, denying them further access, they just bury themselves until the next time they feel like flight.

So how I see you and how you see me show only one side of the whole. We can judge, often too quickly, another person and be almost entirely wrong. The ancient wise ones knew this eons ago. They studied their findings, wrote about them and left us guidelines by which we can live in a more balanced way, if we so choose. Or, we can spend money we don’t have, running endlessly from this shiny thing to the next until we really do become dust. We can run from feelings we don’t like by explaining them in relation to the world. I need to change my three-piece suite, that’s the problem. I always hated it anyway. When I change my job, my life will be perfect, as it will be when I leave school, move house, leave a relationship, have my hair dyed blue, lose weight, buy a puppy. Although doing these things can certainly lift a flagging soul, it isn’t a long term fix, even if we are certain it will be. Laying blame for our discomfort on another person, or thing is simply our way of avoiding a jolly good poke about inside – the chance to sort through our incomplete memories as we sort through old clothing for the charity shop. And to recognise that the way we remember something is only one side of the whole.

In the process of clearing out my mental cupboards, once I finally give in and get on with it, I find a cartload of junk. I am not right and you are not wrong. My storyline needs changing and the only way I can let that process come about is to really understand and accept that this view of mine is not yours, nor is yours mine, and it matters not one jot.

I remember one wise man telling me that the only calling we have in life is to first observe another, all others, and then to do whatever it takes to uphold their dignity. Although I liked what he said, very much, I didn’t really understand it, nor did I now how to live like that. Opinions flutter like birds inside my mouth and I am certain that I am right. But who on this goodly earth am I to think I can judge you on anything? What might I learn just by watching you in silence, allowing my feelings to flow and stilling my own storyline as I consider yours?

I call this love, pure love, something to strive for, something elusive and incomplete in all of us, but something, the thing, the only thing we can give without losing anything at all.

Island Blog – Back is Forward

Even now, if and when I bake a cake, I look for a hovering child to lick out the mixer bowl. Those excited faces lined up, one adventurous child, perhaps, hefted onto the counter, legs dangling, arms in easy reach of first dibs. But nowadays there is no child to fill the gap in proceedings. Only me, and I don’t lick. It thinks me of how a practice, a process, can be so affixed into a mind that it defies the truth of Now. And it isn’t just cake bowl licking memories that can stop me in my tracks.

As time moves on bringing more wrinkles and less children I am often caught up in what once was and is no more. The whole process of letting go is natural and normal to us all and, yet, there are times when Time now collides with Time then and they become as one. It can happen as I notice my reaction to something someone says. I may feel a sharp gasp shoot down my gullet or a tear rising, the wind roar of it in my ears as its fingers reach back in time to grasp a moment, a memory and the feeling attached to it, one that hurt a thousand years ago and one that has not forgotten me.

Links to time past can take control of my adult self without ever asking my permission, nor caring whether or not I give it. It is as if I am not in charge at all. Although I know there is a wide space in between an involuntary response to such an encounter and my subsequent choice of action, I can get lost in the mist of it for a few moments. It’s a wasteland, my wasteland, a vast stretch of nothing and rocks. When the argument begins between how I feel and what I will do about this or that thing that just happened, I can feel like that bit of dropped-stitch knitting all squinty frayed and shapeless. My adult brain tells me to let it go, but my memoric child screams at me to fight back. To whom shall I listen?

Ideally, both. In recognising the attachment cord I can follow it back across the decades. I know this. Now what? The words that hurt a long time ago, perhaps regularly delivered, came from mouths long silenced in the sleep of death. They did not mean to hurt me, says the adult. Oh yes they did, says the child. However, in allowing myself to be controlled by this cord to the past, I am going nowhere, not learning, not moving forward. I hear wise people talk of forgiveness and compassion but those two calming friends are both out to lunch. What is left is anger and frustration. I can do nothing about the past, but I can do something about the now in my adult state, if I want to move forward, that is.

In seeking to achieve a happier more confident state my first sheet of homework must be on my self-worth. Had I been taught it as a child, given affirmation and time and support and encouragement I might not be so vulnerable to this particular attacker – the one that tells me I am not good enough by a long shot. I know people who enjoyed this as a child without them even mentioning it. I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voices, watch it in their reaction to whatever life sends them. Learning how to change is something most of the world doesn’t want to bother with. Instead, folk run from it. I did that too, once, when I thought that if I did more for other people without regard to self, I would suddenly be happy, be self-confident, strong in myself, in who I really am deep down at the core. It doesn’t work. But it takes a lot of courage to decide to study my innermost self, that murky depth of ‘not good enough’; all those critical voices I sought to bury for ever that refuse to stay buried for long. I must face them down and then, detach. But that is not the starting point. In order to reconnect with the criticised child, I must re-build her. For me to move forward she has to come with me. I cannot leave her back there in her struggle to be listened to and really heard. And I can learn it all in books and in studies if, that is, I have the courage to begin.

Maybe I’ll lick the bowl myself, next time.

Island Blog – Shrews and Smiles

Yesterday, as I sat in my garage, a shrew scooted along the wall and into a hole. This is not new, neither me sitting in the garage, nor an encounter with a shrew. I sit here because I can hide from anyone walking by whilst enjoying a wonderful view of sea-loch and faraway hills through the open maw of the garage. And, it’s usually raining. It also gets me out of the house for a minute or two, away from the cares of dementia, its insistent demands and worries whilst I sip my coffee and consider life, both specific and general. I can go into my imagination out here among the plant pots and the rusting implements, the fishing rods, long seized up, and the tins of old paint.

The shrew slinks at speed across the expanse of concrete floor. Hallo, I say quietly, so as not to blow its eardrums. It isn’t alone this time. A second shrew crosses the line. Aha, I say, you have a mate! This would explain the stripped leaves on my gladioli and those unearthed and nibbled hyacinth bulbs. Can we have a word about that, please? I don’t mind you living beside me but shouldn’t there be, even roughly drawn, a code of mannerly respect between us?

Nothing happens for a few seconds and then two more shrews appear. These two are smaller, less afeared of my presence and they are playful. I watch with a wide smile on my face as these two shrewlets gambol and chase each other, rising on their hind legs to bat at each other, then tumbling together just like exuberant children. I hardly breathe, wanting to see more, to feel the heart lift that bursts up like a surprise, something rare and precious, a few seconds of pure delight with the power to change my face from furrowed to as wide as a sunshine sky as my worries turn to dust.

It thinks me of what is important in life. They say it takes more muscles to frown than to smile and yet, how easy it is to choose the harder workout. Furrowed by whatever stuff goes on inside someone’s head, it is ‘normal’ for a face in repose to give out the wrong message. How many times have I commented on the faces of doom inside a passing car. Watching other faces in a queue or in a cafe, mouths downturned, eyebrows pulled into a single line, eyes fishlike, throats empty of laughter, I consciously lift my own features into just enough of a smile so as not to look like an escaped crazy and to remind myself to feel playful.

I think it is simples, the reason why we look so miserable half the time and it is all to do with the pictures inside our heads. If and when we allow all those things that tie us down to take charge, they will move in with the speed of a shrew, set up camp and start a family. You can revisit that head from time to time and wonder who turned the lights off. Well, you did. I did. The trick is to live with all the worries as just worries, all of which need putting on a list. Once listed and numbered each one can be addressed and marked “done’. Those that can’t be fixed should be let loose into a force 8 gale, preferably one that has no plans to change direction. These worries are too big for me to deal with and if I can’t deal with them through my own power then I have to accept and let go. As the list gets smaller, whilst I berate myself for not taking action sooner considering how simple it was to turn one all-consuming worry into a situation sorted, I find a smile. All that time wasted when I could have been in the garage talking to shrews or making conversation with the face of misery in a cafe, or even giving a huge grin to the faces of doom inside that passing car. It is amazing how dramatic a change can be initiated by the gift of a smile, and, once I have given that gift and returned to my worries, I find them hiding under the sofa, blinded by the new light inside my mind.

When I was a child, I thought like a child. Now I am a woman who still thinks like a child. I recommend it. It doesn’t solve all of the problems but it sure does give those facial muscles a rest.

Island Blog – Soup

Yonks ago I made a big pot of soup. Sweet Potato and Red Pepper. My old ma made it once when she came to stay, saying, what can I DO? This to a woman, her daughter, who copies her parrot fashion when anyone offers to help.

Nothing Ma, I said gently, removing the bread knife she waved about herself, the tea towel in her other hand. She wasn’t having any of it. Despite my response, she took herself off to the fridge for a rummage, returning with the ingredients she needed, and she set to work. By the time tummies rumbled, the soup was ready, gently simmered and whizzed to death. There was a happy warm joy around the kitchen table that lunchtime when the outside of things were mostly wet and windy.

The pot I had made was far too much to keep in the fridge, to keep from a fermentation process, one that has always driven me wild with fury. Quietly, and without a word of warning, something delicious just turns like a season. From salival anticipation to an olfactory recoil overnight. Everything does it, eventually. Even us. So, I froze it, the whole caboosh and forgot about it. This lunchtime I managed to finish it with help from a friend or two and felt like I had outsmarted it. Ha! I actually said to the bright orange mixture after a smell check today. Gotcha! I did, momentarily, wonder at the excitement levels in my life, recognising that to feel such elation, to do that little dance in front of my fridge, to thrill that I had won one over on a pot of soup probably means I don’t get out enough.

As I walked the small dog this afternoon just before yet another gale blasts the holy crunch out of our already sodden island in the middle of somewhere, I considered soup. I let the strands of a soup thinking process spread their fingers across all of life, never being the sort of woman who can just think one thought, like a soup one, and leave it at that. I walked alongside a friend for a bit, then off and up and away into the woods and along the shore line. The wind was already snatching at the trees, pulling off those already turned, and flighting them into a sky dance, trembling the grasses and pushing the bracken down across the path like an unruly fringe. I thought of all the different ingredients in a soup and in nature, in a season, in the turn of all seasons, inside a human heart, a person’s life. Each individual addition is of importance. Without one, the whole is compromised and, very possibly, rendered tasteless. A rotten red pepper in the soup or a lack of salt, of herbs, of pepper would change everything.

In my life, each decision, each choice, each direction or directive I select changes everything. A harsh word is like a rotten pepper. A bland face, set stoney with a mouth as downturned as a boiled prawn affects not only my soup but everyone else’s. Be careful what you say and how you say it, a wise old woman once said to me from inside my head, which is where she has made her home. She can really irritate me sometimes but no matter how I try to bash her on the head with my internal broom she has no intention of leaving. If I am experiencing a poor relationship with one day, she gives me no leeway for projecting blame, on anyone, of anything. She demands a perfect soup, made with love and without a rotten red pepper in sight. Before I even make the first journey downstairs of a morning, she requires me to check my credentials. By the time I reach the bottom I am usually in shape. During the day, someone else’s rotten pepper may be thrown in my face, but even then retaliation is disallowed. She is way too perfect for me to be honest and I do retaliate but she has taught me there are ok ways and not ok ways for such.

Once, way back as a young and angry wife, I lost it, completely. Himself had said something so utterly outrageous and in such a mocking and dismissive tone and with such authority and arrogance that, without a sensible thought in my head, I picked up the boiling soup pot, affixing the lid firmly with my trembling thumbs to throw it at him across the room. As I tipped the pot back over my head, hot soup burned my back. This didn’t stop me. I wanted him to feel this pain too. I hurled with all my strength and the result was spectacular. He dodged it, of course, but the far wall got the lot. Soup ran down in runnels. The table was coated in it, the vase of flowers re-coloured in an instant, all ornaments, cutlery, paperwork, chairs, stools and flooring ran red as if a giant had been stabbed right there in my kitchen and was bleeding out. He laughed at me (Himself, not the dying giant) and left the room. It took me days, weeks, to clear it up from the sprachle of it. I still don’t find it funny but my action did teach me the value of, not only soup (there was no lunch that day), but also that I seriously needed to practice my aim.

Island Blog – In the Wild

This afternoon I walked. The rain has finally stopped, for now, and the sun is warm beyond the cool wind. In pockets of windlessness I stop and stand. Just stand, and whilst I do this just standing thing, I look around me. This rock, upon which I live, drains easily, our blessing at times of extreme wet when, in other places, flash floods bulge against the feeble boundaries of our homeland, compromising good folk at the very least, rendering them homeless at worst.

I notice cornflowers in what used to be a dank, dark, confinement of poultry, the ground as black as a bog in a bad mood and about as useful a member of the eco system. The land, now cleared by new owners, has light enough to revive it and there has been a whole summer for this process to evolve. Cornflowers! I remember way back in Tapselteerie days, a snail mail bit of information coming to me. It could have been the newspaper, or perhaps conveyed over the CB radio (Lady Q, Lady Q, are you there?). I forget. But I do remember a heart slump when I heard that corncrakes need cornflowers and that cornflowers, like so many other wild species, are threatened by those who buy plots in romantic places, on a whim whilst on holiday, and then divorce.

There are two, no three plants. There are others there too, ones I cannot name, but these flowers must have hidden beneath the poultry bog for decades, just waiting for someone to lift the scrub and get shot of the birds and their flodden shelters and wire cages. I wanted to laugh out loud, and would have, had I not noticed the nice lads arrive back from their day out at the, now, holiday cottage with a view to die for. I waved instead and kept going. Along my walk I looked down at fallen birches, lady trees, exhausted after rainfall and foolishly light rooted. Allowing for the fact that these birches have grown spindly as starving models for some years, hooked only talon deep on a rocky hillside, I thanked them for growing at all. They are brave, plucky, and will have offered some bird a nest and the chance to fledge her young. Now, they will be dragged and chopped and stacked to warm the owners of the estate, perhaps telling stories, as they spit and flame up in the last throes of dying, to anyone with ears to hear. Knowing the owners and their intuitive little family, I have hope.

A walker, lost and looking for her husband plus dogs. He has gone in search of an otter sighting. I guide her to the two possible places, having established, first, the description of his journey to her. I know this place so well. Any landmark, once questioned and developed, will tell me where a visitor might have gone. Over 40 years loving this rocky peninsular, I may not have learned the google map or satellite or even the ordinance survey location of this quarry or that pier but if someone tells me of the place they really want to find, I can guide them. Dogwood, ceps, foxgloves, wild thyme, cicely, giant hogweed, scabious, thistle, harebells, campion, mountain arens, bog myrtle and heather all rise to say hallo and I say it back. Soon, but not yet, the cold will snatch. The snipe will lie in fallows of brushwood, the owls will hoot through the night and the light will fight the dark.

But not yet, not yet. Mother Nature will fold her skirts slowly. And, for now, I can enjoy brambles thrusting through pretty much everything with barbed fingers offering sweet delight; I can laugh at cornflowers that have found light after so much darkness; I can find a late poppy, red as blood and fragile as a woman’s heart and I can stand and watch them all, breathe them in as new breath, marvelling, once again, at the beauty of this gifted life.