Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Translation

Geese woke me this morning. It seems they are quite unable to go anywhere at all without engaging in a loud conversation, as if, their vocal chords are wired to their wings. It’s 4 am, I said, but they ignored me, honking on as they skimmed past my open window to land with effortless grace on the water. It’s all but flat, the water, and the far shore reflection of striated rocks, adorned like bridesmaids in butter yellow lichen, shivers – a slight surface rebellion, probably the translation of a tidal undertow. It makes the rocks look like they’re shimmy shimmy shaking. Perhaps they are. What goes on beneath the surface is only a guess, for me, but the body of water understands itself and knows from long experience how to communicate.

I eat breakfast, change bed sheets, clean up, ready for a new day, and all the while, my thoughts flow along, mostly unchecked by me. Sometimes a hand goes up. We need more blue milk. Or, I must water those little seedlings. Those thoughts alert me, ask for immediate action, or they might float off into the, now clean, ether to become part of a cloud and thus lost to me. Weetabix without milk is a crunchy thought, dry, not the same at all. Seedlings will flop and die of thirst. So, I must make a note of both and right now. Other thoughts circle a bit before they flee and I bring my brain to bear, make it listen, make it follow through. Sometimes that’s a mistake. By employing my logic I can see a seedling thought die of boredom. This thought doesn’t want to be fixed, arrested and imprisoned by me. It just wants to stay as a thought and the only reason it circled at all was to say Hallo and to hear Hallo back. Hallo, I say, and off it goes.

In these times of slowdown-lockdown #not meltdown, thoughts are busy. I suspect thoughts are busy in everyone’s head. All of a sudden there is time for them, space to circle and float without being batted away like bluebottles. It serves us well to allow this space to widen, to deepen, until we can learn, not to organise our thoughts, but to conjoin with them, for they are ours, they are us. The translation of these thoughts might, in the busy past, have been misleading. Reacting immediately, without due process, to a thought can lead us to making poor decisions. We don’t need to do that now. Now, we can spend time with them, get to understand the craziness inside our minds, see that every thought is there because of who we are, because of what we do, or what we did. This way we teach ourselves to reconnect with the whole body and it feels good.

Although you will never know all my thoughts, as I will never know all of yours, we will both be able to see a person who has reconnected with their undertow. It probably takes a lifetime. All the great thinkers who understood the power of this reconnection, of creating a synergistic relationship with their own thoughts, are ancient by the time they ‘get it’. Right now we have this gift, this opportunity, to consider understanding our own selves a bit better. If we can allow our thoughts just to be thoughts, to say Hallo when they circle awhile, they will flow at ease, no matter what.

The geese are diddling about on the field now, chattering incessantly, picking at the grass, preparing for young. Later, when the chicks are ready to swim, they will lead their young across the sea-loch, on a day when the water is a mirror, when it looks like they are paddling through the sky, when the undertow is at peace. I will watch them and I will smile as thoughts float through my head like will o the wisps.

Island Blog – A Secret Garden of Change

When change or improvement of standards are required, they nudge me, bump me, sprawl me until I turn to acknowledge their existence. I don’t really want to make friends with any of them to be honest because change, or improvement of an existing way of doing things, requires effort and action and the only person who can effect said change or improvement is little old me. Me, who, btw was quite happy not changing for ages, dammit. But these infuriating bumpers, nudgers and sprawlers will not give up. They know, smartarses that they are, that they know a better or, worse, a new way to do an old thing. However, I have to admit that on consideration I can see their point. There is always a better way to do anything, everything, always. Pretending I am not interested just sharpens their wits so that they bounce and trounce me from around corners that were just corners before – nothing lying in wait for me. It’s like hide and seek except they are the only ones hiding and seeking. Okay, okay, I say from where I have landed all ungainly and definitely cornered, okay. I’ll do it.

Now the work begins. I must deconstruct the doing bit of this thing, embark on a new spreadsheet #myanathema, write a list of do’s and absolutely do nots and this is the hardest bit. Absolutely do nots are so well established in my neural pathways that it is going to take the wiles and the wisdom of Captain Cooke to navigate new passage and I’m already yawning. However, I do know what comes next for I remember this embarkation process of old. Change is a procedure and can drag on for months. What it does not do is arrive for one sleepover with an instant solution in its pyjama pocket. I don’t get handed a miracle, complete, accomplished. Oh no indeed. What I need to do now is to relocate the secret garden, find the key and walk myself inside. Once within those walls that hide me from the world, I must open my mind, be still, reflect, consider and above all, not come out again until I know what I need to do next.

In order to effect change, to add gravitas to a new way of seeing and doing an old thing, or even to not do that old thing anymore, there is an uncomfortable period of self restraint. In small matters such as biting someone’s head off every time they slap their lips together whilst eating toast, or turning into Miss Trunchbull at every spill of milk, or a big matter like eating a whole cake for lunch every day, thus putting on 3 stone in a week, there must be a time when self control, diversionary tactics and a plastic smile must be applied appropriately. Whatever it is, we all know what we need to do but not always how to do it. The steps towards refinement of a person are so personal that there is no official manual to follow. And some of don’t fancy refining anyway, which is perfectly okay by me. I am not one of those people. I most definitely fancy refining but it still irritates the bejabers out of me. Just when I think I could not do this thing any better, those nudgers, bumpers and sprawlers who, obviously, don’t have enough takers for their grand designs, arrive to trip me up and, with my eyes rolling back in my head, I am eventually given no option but to turn around and acknowledge them. Again.

When I have finally conceded defeat and am still and reflective inside the secret garden I always wonder why I resisted to the degree that I did. Surely everyone loves to be better, kinder, more sensitive, compassionate, interested – curious to find out how they will feel as the process of effecting change reveals that which was hidden before. It’s like an Alice adventure. Wandering through the fruit trees, noticing the delicacy of petals, their vibrant colour, hearing the birdsong, the bee song, the rustle of soft breezes combing the leaves on the tallest tree, looking up at the wide, clear sky, all this stops me, halts my breath, slows my mind. And it is healing me too. From here I can see the old thing, the old way, as definitely passed its sell-by date. Why did I not see that out there? Well, I’ll tell you why. Out there, running like a hare on fire, doing things out of habit, routine or because my mother always did it that way, leaves no room for my imagination to rise above zero. I might think everything is tickety boo but that is my illusion, my delusion. Inside the secret garden of change I can see that now. I can breathe at my own speed, hear my breath, feel my heartbeat. I notice, that’s what I do, in here, waiting, reflecting, accepting. Out there I could run into a herd of elephants and not see them until we collide.

Everyone has a secret garden and everyone has a key. That’s the wonder of this human life.

Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.

Island Blog – A Chance to Bloom

As I walked yesterday along an empty track, empty of people, I mean, life is springing into beauty. Nesting tits dart in and out of the gaps in the drystone walls, primroses leap like sunlight from beneath the old pines, bumble bees scurry into their mossy burrows and the sparkles on the sealoch popple diamonds, as if a thousand fireflies fly low across the surface. The air is crisp and blue and, above the sky, we are healing. Who would have thought it, thought this? That, just by not driving everywhere, flying, catching a train or a bus, we could, in one week of lockdown see a noticeable repair job going on the in ozone layer. How utterly remarkable and what a surprise. We can mend our world, if we take serious note and if we all decide we will not go back to how we were.

Going back to normal is something I have never got my head around. It is actually impossible to go back to anything at all, never mind ‘normal’. Although things may well resume in a way similar to that which we once knew as normal, we ourselves have changed. The process we have encountered, gone through and learned from has made new neural pathways inside our brains. These pathways are opportunities for change and new growth, for a new bloom to flash revealing light in our eyes. Understandably, those who need us to ‘go back to normal’ will be pushing for our business once this is over and done, but we are not sheep. We are big brained humans with a collective and deep need to protect our world.

The wildlife abounds, the waters are cleaner, effluent free and offering safe habitat for all species. Including us. Although I am one of the most fortunate women on earth, to have this wild place to wander through daily, I still know we all really want things not to go back to normal. Not to go back at all. How we turn this desire into action is way beyond my thinking. I found it hard enough to do that with five kids pulling on my apron strings, never mind a whole flipping world of apron string pullers. But I do know that it takes one, then two, then a street, then a village, then a town, a city, a country to make an impact on the whole. There is always a point in making personal change and it never fails to affect someone else. They say that if you want to receive love you first need to give it. And, much as it has irritated me in the past, I believe it to be the truth.

We have been gifted a reprieve, new steps to dance, a chance to bloom.

Shall we?

Island Blog – Time Travel

We used to say, far too often, that we don’t have time; time for play, for children, for looking long and for listening to the sounds around us. We would bat them all away, either as wistful longings, or as irritating bluebottles around our sandwich filled with jam. Now, Time is abundant. We have days, weeks, months of it and this might feel like a stripping of self, for some. Even the ones who longed for what they saw as personal freedom of choice are now looking about in perplexy (my word). What on this goodly earth am I going to do with myself, and, never mind myself, all my children and that partner of mine, now that all props have fallen away to reveal a vast wilderness that stretches right out to where the sky calls a halt to it?

Good question. For some of us this time is a balm on the cuts and bruises of our life. If everything and everyone from out there is not allowed entry and if we are not allowed exit then we are going to have to do all those inner workings, both physical and metaphysical. Sounds dodgy to me. I hate cleaning out cupboards for starters and does this mean I need to poke about in that tangle of resistance, regret, guilt, fear and apathy, those undelightful aspects of the completed me that I have buried in the cellar for decades, cutting off their source of light and only considering them when they instigate some snappy remark to leap out of my mouth, or an unwise action to move my hands as if I was a robot and some dark lord worked the joystick?

However, I am discovering some goodly things as I poke about in the grubby cellar of my mind, not least that there are fewer undelightful aspects than I had heretofore thought. Not only that but these aspects are afraid of me. As I shine light on them, acknowledge their presence, they cower back into the shadows. I feel rather chuffed about this and wonder why it has taken me so long to come down here. There’s enough room for a dance floor, with seating, and I could get someone to rig up a sensitive lighting system with a glitter ball au centre. I would need to clean first of course. As I walk around on the long-abandoned ground I am reminded of events in my past, just flashes, but clear as if they just happened. Looking at them again, after all this time, I see how my memory has distorted the truth of them. Those wrongs done to me were, in part, my doing too and the ogres and witches I remember are currently snivelling at my feet.

‘Come on’, I tell them. ‘Let’s go back up into the light and spend some time sorting each other out. I don’t need to hide from you anymore even if you do smell a bit funny. All that darkness hasn’t done you (or me) any favours. I wish I had admitted you existed years ago, now I come to look at how weak you really are. Although I do remember how you came to be, in a vague sort of way, like when I was mocked, ridiculed, rejected, wounded, ignored or abandoned, I don’t need to hold on to you anymore. Now that I have time to live, I want this life to be transparent, especially to myself. If I acknowledge the aspects of myself I don’t like much (like you lot) and bring you into the light – now that I have all this time – I can understand the way you came into being, and then I can release you.’

Perhaps, as our lives have hit the buffers we can all reflect on our cellar selves. Perhaps, as the ozone layer repairs itself, we can consider a different way to live. Perhaps we can repair too.

Now that we have all this time.

And, ps, cellar rhymes with stellar.

Island Blog – Keep Your Dreams

In these times, it is easy but not comfortable, to begin to believe that the dreams we had before this enemy came among us are right now diffusing in the winds of change. They are not. We need, more than ever to catch them and to hold them close. What any of us wanted to achieve, those lifts of magic in our hearts, from heading up a corporation to being better at being who we are have never had such gravitas, such depth, such height, such a chance.

As I plant seeds, in the dark of the compost and soil and la la mix to make it as perfect as possible, I consider the dark. Seeds don’t need light to germinate. They just need time and patience. Once the shoots appear, things change, as we must, if we are the one who cares for this precious new life. And that goes for dreams too. We may be fedded up with the whole waiting game, we may lose faith, we may trouble ourselves with fears and doubts, but if we can just hold tight to those dreams of new life, breathe, walk, notice EVERYTHING around us, the cycle of life, Mother Nature’s gift to us, year on, and, if we are careful, year on again ad infinitum, carrying our dream like the most precious possession we could ever, will ever, own, then our future will rise and flourish and flower and give delight to so very many others.

Let’s do it.