Island Blog – The Other Side of Things

Walking, I know Spring is coming. She is right behind me and before me and that is quite an achievement. For the last few days I have walked in a different way. Slower, more present, less turbulented by inner thoughts, thoughts that were back there, at home; thoughts of what this and what that and where is this thing and do I care? I realise as I walk that the natural world is able to spirit itself into my senses, alerting them and altering them. My feet and my body are both discombobulated, momentarily. You can tell I love long words. Oftentimes I must needs dash to my dictionary in order to explain the word that came to me, unbidden, unbound, as a challenge. Ok, it says, you dragged me up from the depths as I slept, as I have done for many years and now you must define me, explain, make me fit into your sentence. The last time I breathed air I was with Dickens, Samuel Pickwick, the Brontes or some other dudes who fashioned long words into marvellousness.

Walking, I notice my boots. They are fur lined even if the fur bit is a tad thin. I bought them in Shetland in the best shop ever, many years ago. I had gone there because my son asked me to join him. Oh such a beckoning. Who could refuse such a welcome. He was training fish farmers on their boat licences and he asked me. Me. Me. Whilst he trained in February waters in the wildest of seas, I wandered the streets and found this boot shop. My thing. I turned in and met an open warm space and just me with two boot assistants. The lighting was warm, the space open and in I went. They are still my favourite boots even after all this time and despite a random dog pinching one whilst I was respectfully barefoot in house and chewing its peripheries, I still walk with them. I tell them, you were born in Shetland and you think this walk is difficult? And we continue.

Beneath the trees I hear spring birdsong and the wind, the wind sings me a different song. All winter I have heard the fierce ice winds burning the skeletal trees with a stripping menace in their various voices, mostly north and east, but this song is different. It is softer, a bit. Today I don’t hear the snip clack of broad leave wind blow. No. I hear the soft wave pulse of wind in the pine needles. There are no leaves yet to snip or clack, but they are coming and I feel it today. I see kill on the track, a dove I think and I pause. You were here, I said, you and the hawk that took you down. Life and death, my favourite cycle. Sunshine dapples the spreads of space, spreads that will soon enough be taken over by bracken. Let us love it, this space, this looking beyond whilst we can. I see the sea-loch. I think of the oyster farmer down there, the fishermen out there and beyond ‘out there’, who now cannot find a buyer for their catches and who are flipping scared.

I see an old fallen beech. You’ve been down a while my friend, I say. You fell like a starburst and I remember when you did. We were still at Tapselteerie. You fell five limb wide, and so politely. In the night. You could have taken out a whole village with that spread but you didn’t. Such is the kindness of nature. And, now, you may well warm new hearths, or you may melt back down into the earth that birthed you. Its is no longer in my hands to decide that for you. But I do see the wild honeysuckle that winds her tendrils over you broken body and she smiles me. Your skin is silver and pocked and so very wide. You stood for hundreds of years. Salut, my friend and thank you.

It thinks me of death and dying politely, of Popz who did exactly that, and I know that this evening will be a tough one for the missing that will overwhelm me on my return home. And here it comes like a sledgehammer. No amount of thinking happy thoughts, or of dragging up those upbeat wisdoms stops the tsunami. Well, if they can’t then nor can I. Best go with it. I eat something whilst listening to dancey music and try to bop but my legs refuse to engage. I drink one too many glasses of Ribena and just know I have made things worse. My sleep is poor and sketchy and I wake at 4 am with a lead balloon in my belly. No point turning over you stupid idiot for sleep has left the building. It is dark as soot out there and there are many miles to go before morning opens her eyes. I shower, dress, make strong black coffee and sit with my slit eyes and my lead belly and my regrets. I don’t cry, cannot cry, for there are no tears left after last night’s flood. I miss you, I say, you old goat, you stubborn, immovable, controlling so-and-so. And I have so many questions I will never get answers to such as What is this thing with a plug at one end and a doo-hic at the other? Why are there three drawers of wires that look up at me, dazed when I pull them open? Who the hell are you? That’s what they ask me. I close the drawers and can hear them muttering to each other, the yellow ones, the black ones, the grey ones and that single pink one which is probably the only girl in the camp. Good luck to you, I call over my shoulder as I leave the room, and, I continue, just for the record, I shall be throwing the lot of you into the wheelie soon enough.

Sorting through his effects, that’s what brought this flood thing on. I have been sorting all week and it seemed like a good idea to clear, organise, clean, label, name as best I can, and then to divide the mementos by five children, five more who know about the missing. But in handling what he held in his own hands has risen up many memories, many feelings in my heart, confusing emotions, doubts and anxieties as I worked. Feeling guilty for he never shared his ‘things’ when alive, I keep going. I remind him of the times I asked him to share and I remember that rigid look on his face. No, he would say (or shout), these are MY THINGS! Not any more old man. Not any more, and I am almost done, bar that huge collection of shirts and tees, jumpers and sweats. I have no idea what to do with them, not yet. One day I will.

Today will be a slow one and I will stick on my smile, brighten my face with make up and tell myself the game is on once again. One day at a time, don’t think too much, just keep moving. It works even if it is all pretend at times. I think of others who ride this roller coaster with me. Hallo to you. We’ve got this, you know. We may fall but we get up again. Spring is coming, the light brightening, the pandemic losing its power over us and we have so many reasons to be grateful and happy even if somedays it takes a miners’ headlamp to find a single one. Keep going friends. Never stop long enough for the doubts, fears and anxieties to catch up. Fight them off and laugh at how easy it is. Laughing, just one guffaw, can send them all into space, such is the mph of laughter. Try it. I plan to.

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