Island Blog – Till Tomorrow

The seals are calling today. I hear them as I round the point but I can’t see them. Their eerie crooning comes on the breeze, one, two, maybe three of them. I stand to listen, allowing the song without words to enter my body, my mind, my soul. It shivers me but in a wonderful way. I cannot live without the sea and all her friends. She lives inside me, her tidal ebb and flow, the pull of the moon, today a pink fingernail hanging like parenthesis. The seals sing on, the lift and fall of their melody something unreal, ghostly. I am not surprised that such music terrified sailors back in the days when they feared falling off the edge of the world and felt the dread of scurvy. Safely rooted here on the Tapselteerie track and inside the knowledge we have today about seals and their singing, not to mention the confidence that neither I nor anyone else will ever fall off the edge of the world, I smile and linger. Taking the song home with me I wonder what they are saying. It will be for a purpose, that’s for sure. There is no sentimentality in the animal kingdom. Every sound, every move is about survival.

I meet nobody on the track. It is just me, the turning trees, the dying bracken and sunlight dapples. Birds flit and flutter, busy on the berries now red as blood and just asking to be eaten, the seeds spread only by travelling through the digestive system of the birds that respond. Scabious host peacock butterflies, blue, red, purple and of such delicate beauty. Harebells, heather and many bullish seps, big enough to shelter a small rabbit from a rainshower, flank the track. Leaf fall carpets the woodland cut-through, red, gold, brown, butter yellow and copper and I see nature’s artwork laid out below my feet. A cooler breeze today I think. Autumn is moving in, but softly this year.

The last visit to the sea takes us down a steep slope and across crunchy seaweed. It sounds like I am walking on crisp packets. Last week this weed was stodgy soft, greened up again in the high tides of a full moon. Be patient, I tell it. High tides will come again soon when that fingernail gets above herself and puffs out like a balloon, causing many of us sleepless nights and itchy teeth. It will wait. It knows how to wait, has done this waiting thing for thousands of years, after all. I heft my old self onto a tall flat rock. After himself died I did no hefting at all. I just stood like a dwarf before a giant and longed. Now my hefting ability is growing balls and I am thankful. I am no good at dwarfing. Although I am shrinking, it is normal but I know that it is just my body, not my mind.

I sit in the sun and watch the water. A Merlin erupts from the bow-backed shore hazels behind me in a startle. He lifts and floats across the narrows to scoop up into a distant tree, startling a heron who lifts with a screech. Ordinarily, the wee doglet would ignore a heron but as it lifts, it screeches and that screech bounces back from the far rocks creating an echo. She is startled, the doglet, and barks back. In turn, her bark barks back at her, once, twice. She barks again, certain there is another dog around even if she cannot see it. I clap my hands to stop her and the far rocks clap back. Good Lord this is turning into a situation. I am aware that the folk in the holiday cottage are at home today and I don’t want this echoing percussion to upset their peaceful afternoon. I heft myself down and whisper a farewell to the sea, the Merlin, the heron and the echo rocks. Was I to speak it out loud, the whole echo thing would kick off again.

Till tomorrow, I breathe. Till tomorrow.

Island Blog – All the Hurts

Thinking about this today, as I did, and not just today, I have realised that as time goes by, minute by minute, step by painful step, across days, weeks, months and years, the hurting softens. It’s like a blob of washing soap that melts into a bowl for washing dishes. I blob in, fire up the hot water and watch the blob loosen. As the bowl fills, the water and the soap conjoin, presenting me with a dilute. They are both still there, but somehow they have created a new environment. After all, I don’t wash dishes with just the soap, nor just the water, but together they create me a new environment, one that allows a transcendence. From dirty dishes to clean ones. It is just like this for hurts and time. Together, they make a solution.

Although I (and everyone else it seems) thought that now that a year is over, a year during which I live on and my husband of almost 50 years does not, I find myself confounded by upstarts of anger. He did this, yes he did. He put me down, yes he did. He controlled, yes he did. They flare like sudden flames and stop me in my tracks because what I was actually thinking of was more about whether I would iron my frocks or clean my fridge. These confounds trouble my feet, so I might even stumble as I flit through a doorway. They smack at my heart. I invite them not but they come anyway. Half way down the stairs once they hit me and I could barely breathe. Thank goodness for the geriatric banister thingy. My water slopped over the glass and I shook my head to realign my eyeballs.

I don’t want this, I said, out loud to no-one there. I want all the good memories to come back. My mind nodded. my body stayed quiet. Ah, I said, I get it. Mind has memory but so does body. I am tempted to write “and ne’er the twain shall meet’ but I won’t. Nonetheless it is true. Body does have memory and hurts lodge in muscles, in veins, in arteries, in bones. I know this, have always known this, and there is no hiding. We can control our minds, sure, with endless daily and exhaustive self-control, but the body is a wayward and a truthful thing. It will remember like an elephant. By the way, I am now, me and my thinks, almost at the bottom step. And I realise another something. I must listen to my body memories, even if they are painful, even if they tip me off my path. They are not complacent milestones, sunk into the ground of the now. They are djinns that leap out at me begging for recognition and release. We all have them but only the brave (that’s me) stop and turn to say Hallo, tell me your story.

In a world that, apparently, controls us, nobody wants to, nor acknowledges, body memories. If someone is showing signs of distress in a situation that appears like nothing much to others, that person obviously needs medication. Oh flipping dear. I am thankful for all the organisations out there now who stand firm against such illiteracy. I am hoping with all my heart that anyone who feels marginalised because of hurts will find the courage to contact those who really care and who can actively help.

I reach the ground floor. I look back up. I hear you, I say, over my shoulder. But I am down here now and moving on. I thank you for keeping me safe but now I am a different woman. You will always have a place inside me because you are the truth. I look at my bare feet, my toes. Well done you, I say, as, together, we swing through the door into the kitchen and flip on the kettle for strong coffee.

Island Blog – Skitterlings, Venus and Mars

A skitterling of sparrows erupts from a dense thicket of rhododendrons as I wander by. I was in the harbour town this morning by 8.15 for a few errands. The sun blinds me on my drive, rising fierce and dominant into a vast expanse of blue. Earlier, like at 5 am, a wispy mist danced through the forest across the sea-loch as the tide slacked, paused and began to ebb beneath a gibbous moon and Venus. Hallo Venus, I said, even as I wondered if it was, in fact, Mars. It is a mistake to mistake Venus for Mars but the other way around just makes the heavens laugh. Venus is just fine with that mistake. She never got on well with Mars anyway and she likes to watch him huff and disappoint, as his ego flops somewhat.

The ground is hot to the tough, the air almost still but not quite. There is a quiver in the ferns, a wiggle and I feel sorry for them, the ferns. That one fat stalk holding a gay abandon of green fronds is compromised when the breeze hits it. All I can do is this rigid left to right thing whilst you fronds dance your dance, feathering the wind and sometimes I wonder if you are reaching for your freedom. The fronds chuckle. I can hear them and chuckle too. I walk to the old pier as I always do. Sandpipers call out in alarm, curlews erupt from the shore, an oystercatcher too. Herons screech at each other and I am tempted to tell them they both need counselling. The wee dog suddenly growls, turning towards the dense overgrowth behind me, up there on the rocks. If I was in Africa, I tell her, I would be very afraid. She keeps growling and heads for the dense overgrowth. She won’t go in. She’s a great big jessie after all. We sit awhile, watching the birds watching us, the oystermen at work and the tide ebbing away. Soon it will have its mind changed once again and the endless widdershins of a greater tidal flow will decide what these underlings must do, these inlets, these sea-lochs, these beaches and promontories. They are not in control but we don’t tell them that because nobody wants to hear such a truth.

Home again and music on and then an invite to dinner with my beautiful gift-daughter (Such a more truthful name than ‘daughter-in-law’ and way less of a mouthful) her sister and the three wee skitterling daughters, precious children, out future, our delight, my future, my delight. I did think of himself as I walked. I did. I thought I would never be so free if you were here. I thought, how much you are missing, even though you wouldn’t have joined me. I felt a Venus uplift, guilt at that uplift and then I laughed, not at Mars, of course not, but at the fact that still this separatist thinking lives on.

Island Blog – A Tawdry Spin and Miss Rose

When standing before my minute but ferocious execution teacher, Miss Rose, I might have matched her height even though I was twelve and she many twelves and counting, I was diminished by her power and knowledge. She was so confident, standing there just above the floor with her fingers pointing, her arms working, no fear of taking up space. I wondered, even then, if she had wanted to be on stage. She would have been someone noticed and that’s for sure, but back then beauty and elegance was all the fickle world of theatre wanted unless you wanted to play Bottom. Nowadays, there is more room for character actresses. I say Actresses because Actors could get away with no end of compromises to their body and still be taken for a chance. Let’s see how you act. Not so women. I am happy it has changed. Back to the point.

El-oo-si-date! She annunciated at me from behind the desk that dwarfed her, her whole body shouting at me. Not a shortened ‘oo’ but a loooong one. I did that, forming my lips into a ridiculous fish pout. Better, she said. Go again. I also remember the word snow. You must round on the O, she said, like this. And did the O thing with her own shaky old lips. I heard her, wanted to please her, wanted to be the best. I noticed I was standing on tippytoe as if my height could alter anything. Relax your heels, she said, without looking. She just felt what I was doing and could hear it in my voice. Even then I was marvelled. How did she know? Well, she was passionate about her work, that diminutive woman in a sensible frock that never showed her knees because knees meant something dodgy, like an invitation and she was of a generation that thought that way, or, at least, her parents did. Did she have parents? I could barely imagine them. Was her first name Rose, or her surname? I never knew, never asked. I just brought my heels down and practised enunciation for hours.

I did win the elocution cup. I recall the thrill of it, that being called up to the stage, a grass stage that Shakespeare would have known well, the parental audience flanked in rows that spread all the way back to the headmistress’s office with its big light-wild windows. She, the headmistress was also both diminutive and powerful and all her dresses forbad knee escape. Did they have knees these women, these women with all the heart longings and losses and confinements we know today but now have the ok to talk about, as they did not? I may forever wonder that and in that wondering send back a great big hug. But with that freedom we now have, that chance to speak out and to be taken seriously, there is still the old cover-your-knees thing in our thinking. Who among you has not wanted to step out in something a bit different to the ‘brown’ functional clothes you once wore? Who has not wanted to show her knees and more? I understand why so many young women go crazy with their clothes for a night out, I really do. There is something blood red and fire inside each one of us that is so easily extinguished for ever.

Oh, the point……trust me to forget that. Rein in you blood red and fire woman with knee issues.

I walked the doglet to the old pier, the skeleton and I know that the old sea dog is now just that. I wonder how it is inside that coffin. Of course I do. So much not to bother about in that safe case. Just let go. The old pier, my husband, is diminishing now. He would have hated that, but he is not here to do the hating thing. He had a big problem about letting go. I pick up a feather, divided into white and black, and wonder which bit of Goose this came from. Not a wing feather, not a kill, just a shed. Ok. We walk on, the doglet watching my every move, ahead of me, looking back, behind me, following up, always there, always right there. We pass Scabious flowers and watch honey bees (who’s?) and two peacock butterflies, blue, eyed-up, blood red, letting me watch the beauty of them as they go about their work. The tide is outing, the oystermen at work across the inlet. We sit awhile and the doglet keeps vigil. Actually, I ignore her keeping vigil thing because it is relentless. Every single sound alerts her to ‘vigilling’. I begin to swing back to my watching, curlew, gulls of many a hue, oystercatchers, a seal, the flip of an otter, the indecision of the tide. Still she alerts. Turning, eventually, (a tawdry spin) I see a young woman coming across the seagrass. She hesitates and I welcome her. We talk. She is French and on holiday. She wants to explore. Can I guide her someway? I do, with my heart right in it. She smiles, thanks me for my ‘direction’. She understands me, she says, because my English is proper.

God bless Miss Rose.

Island Blog – Fractal Dance and Twee Storms

I leave my little home and swing right onto the Tapselteerie track. There are no cars parked in the wheen of a passing place so that means no walkers unless they arrived on foot. Good. I love solitary walking. As the sea breeze lifts and luffs around me I get a faceful of wispy down, seeds from the rose bay willow herb, white, soft, fractal. I don’t take a deep breath as the cloud floats around me and away into the sky. Thistles are also setting flight their hopes for the future, and this down is hardier, more able to land with a modicum of precision. The cloud down can blow on for days, weeks, at the mercy of a capricious breeze, ever changing its direction over this land of rocks and tides and capricious breezes. I have found cloud seed everywhere, inside the house, in the bird food bins, stuck to the washing on the line, in my knicker drawer. I’m not hopeful for them. I catch some seed and study one. Aeronautical perfection with tiny limbs, one weighted and with a tiny barb for holding on. The seeds spin like tops through the air, catch on clothing which then travels home with the wearer only to be shaken off in a new garden. Nature is genius.

The Tapselteerie track is dappled mosaic. Sunlight creates a masterpiece beneath my feet, a work of art. As I walk over such beauty my eyes lift up through the canopy of hazels to a mosaic of cerulean blue, bright green and icewhite, then back down to golden hexagons, polygons and all the other gons laid out before me like a star studded carpet. I hear long-tailed tits somewhere in the density of woodland, warblers and the prrrt of a robin’s warning. Two herons flap and screech at each other on the shore, vying for territorial rights. They lumber and flap, crashing into bowed-back hazels as if nobody ever taught them how to fly with elegance and precision, as if they still have dinosaur blood coursing through their veins and the wing thing is, well, awkward. The tides are both very high and very low just now because of the full moon, the Sturgeon Moon. The full moons were named by the ancients, called to reflect the season. How sensible. Not like the naming of hurricanes or storms which always scoffs me. A twee name for a disturbing natural eruption of astonishing energy tells me much about how our current culture really isn’t taking life seriously at all.

The tappsled seaweed is flung across the rocks in a sort of gay abandon. Gold and copper, black and emerald against the black of the basalt and I wish once again I had brought my phone for a photo. No matter, myself says. You can just take it in through your eyes, feel it sink into your body, your mind and your heart and by the way who on earth goes for a walk in the wild with a phone? Good point, I concede. My sensible self, my let go and shut-the-hell-up self is often right. She is all about just enjoying the moment or, if the moment is a shit storm, then not enjoying it at all and just waiting until it moves on to the next moment. It’s a good ethos.

The oyster farmers are working across the narrows now the tide is low enough to walk across from one side to the other at such tidal times. Their puffing tractors work the shore, the men in full body wellie boots as they tend to the cages. I wonder what they need to do and how hard the work might be, probably is. In sunshine weather it must be easy, in sharpening bite-cold, not such fun. The oysters are the best I have ever tasted and we can enjoy them anytime we choose. The shucking shed is big and green and sometimes I can hear voices floating across the search as the men and women work. I can hear laughter, jokes shared and it reminds me of working on our farm way back in Norfolk, way back in the 1970’s when I first learned that being part of a ‘waulking’ team was the warmest and happiest I ever could be.

Deer can swim over the narrows and we did warn the new owners of Tapselteerie once we heard they were deer fencing the estate. Don’t bother, we said, the deer swim and nobody can deer fence an entire rock-solid shoreline. They didn’t heed us. I remember wondering back then if my heeding skills might be due an MOT. Now the fences sag and flop anyway and the deer go wherever they please. Once I watched a stag leap said fence, startled by me. My heart was in my mouth as I watched him head for the impossible. I envisioned broken limbs, damage, wounds and general disaster. What actually happened was that he cleared the fence but his back legs caught, bringing down the whole thing as if it was matchwood and string. Once the clanging and puffing and snorting and leaping and heart-in-mouthing thing was over, he stopped, looked back at his awaiting hinds, all shivering and silent on the ridge above him, above me. I drew respectfully back quietly, my eyes down. Make no eye contact, I remember that lesson in Africa and it makes sense to me. No eye contact, no challenge, no threat. With nervous steps, the 3 hinds descended the ridge, stopped once to look at the not-looking me and the not-looking dog clamped under my arm, and then elegantly flowed over the matchstick fence, up, up and away into the trees.

These sunshine days are a gift. The winter is long enough, loud enough, scary enough with twee named storms causing danger of death which is very real for some. We have lived with storms and disturbing natural eruptions for thousands of years. The problem is dissociation. Instead of connecting with what is way bigger than us, way more powerful, we are hiding. And, thus being fools. I know I am fortunate, living high enough on these old rocks to avoid flooding and all the horrors that brings to bear and I am glad that my husband was overly alert to nature’s power along with her gifts. He taught me to be vigilant, to be aware, to make sudden decisions based on what was plucking at his gut and not what we heard on the news which, sadly, is often too cautious in its decision not to cause panic. If we as alert and intelligent human beings felt confident enough to decide for ourselves, what spirit would come to life! What powerful and intuitive choices would be made, what influence that might have, and how many lives could be saved! These are not questions.

All this on my dappled seed blown walk today. Let us, people, learn things, like CPR, like what happens in a tidal flow, a flood, a storm. From what direction? How much build up is there, considering the friction, drag and density of that tidal flow. Tidal spiders, taken into account. The earthly tides flow widdershins but not always. I am not saying that everyone needs to know what the tides are doing but I am saying learn something. You might live in Glasgow or Stevenage. No matter. You will be affected by the tidal flow and the altercation that is going on between the heavens and the earth. And it is real. We must teach our children. We absolutely must.

Island Blog – Transverse

Not the same as Traverse, but pretty similar in the depth of itself. One, the ‘traverse’ thingy is about zig-zagging through difficult terrain, the other from the Latin (I was so good at Latin) referring to a beam that supports two other things that require supporting. Sounds like a marriage to me. And the Traverse bit is what we do inside a marriage because, let’s be honest, when the first fire of attraction has fizzled out like a Catherine wheel or a rocket and it’s cold out there and the embers are dwindling like embers do, we are both facing ‘traverse’.

I think we all expect a fairytale. Although I might be tempted to respond that there is no such thing, I cannot. I am definitely a believer in fairies, in magical, in angels and all the other dodgy beasts on the other side of that coin. At times it can feel like I am down with the dodgy and then something, or someone, lifts me into the world of ‘happy’. I have lived long enough as a fairy with dodgy pulls to know that this is life. This is my ‘traverse’. If you relate, then you will know. The problem we have is the Blame Ground. Ach, I know it well. It is bloody and rocky and without water for many miles. This ground can claim you, sorry, me. It can seduce.

As I am now wandering in the traverse, those endless miles of absolutely nothing and a load of absolutely somethings that bite and nip and trip and flounder me, I find myself seeking out a transverse, that lode bearing beam that links, that makes impossible possible. Okay it is with hindsight but who says I cannot achieve this now? Maybe that house on the hill that we built, the one that stayed standing but flooded us out, can live again. The more I age and the more I look to the future of the next lock keepers on life, the more I let go.

And as I do, even as I cannot see any future, I rest and just watch the sunset, the gift of it, gilt, and backing with a full moon, antsy and blue and commanding, and I chuckle.

Time I did.

Island Blog – Not like a suitcase or a door

Today I wake in the lime green light of absolutely not dawn. It thinks me that the Morning is pregnant, nauseous and letting me know. I groan. I want the buttery light that tells me is it at least 4.45am. Then I can close my eyes quick quick like a camera shutter and count the minutes all the way up to 5 which is the time chickens, babies, outside four-leggers and garden birds leap into life. Then I will perform what laughingly passes as my own leap, although I need to be cautious and one can hardly leap cautiously. T’is an oxymoron. But this lime-green morning light groans me. I had awoken oft in the dark because that flipping Barn Owl was having a party all alone on the telegraph pole, screeching insults or whatevers mere feet from my open window. I got up and gave it my best glare but all it did was that 360 thing with its head whilst its feet remained affixed to the pole. I won’t yell, I whispered, nor throw my Ponds cold cream jar at you but only because of your astonishing beauty and this irritating sense of privilege I am feeling that you chose my pole on which to screech like an old fishwife.

So passed the night and now I am flagging. Actually, if I’m honest, I flagged all day so that at this hour of the very long assemblance of hours I consider myself a high achiever in the world of flagging. I didn’t do nothing, though. Not at all. Doing nothing is so not my thing. In fact, I sometimes wonder if my not doing nothing makes me too busy to allow internal troubles to make some sense. It’s like I am ‘busy’ shutting out anything painful when I know only too well that ‘we’ must allow the pain a voice in order to heal. I tell myself that and myself usually snorts. She knows that understanding something we have read, and that makes perfect sense, has to travel a different route to actually click. I sweep the floor, very sloppily. I answer an email and work some more on one of my ridiculous fantasy landscape tapestries. This one is particularly ridiculous but I have thought that before now as I work without pattern or design only to find a rather lovely scene enfolding before me. My eyes are squint from sewing today and the rain is non-stop. I eat breakfast at 5.30 and lunch at 11.15. I am like a tortoise preparing for hibernation, going slower, s l o w e r s. l. o. w. e. r. From time to time I whack myself into startlement and we do something like go for a walk all coated in rain repellent plastic. Well, I was, but the doglet, newly shaved, was not and she decided after all of 14 feet that this was enough thanks and I’m off home now. It took me 15 minutes to get all this clobber on. Well, that’s okay. Another fifteen minutes to take it off and that makes 30 minutes which is half an hour which means the day will soon(ish) be over. Thank goodness.

I go back to thinking about the thinks I avoid thinking. Let them come in and overwhelm, says myself. No, I say. I cannot allow that. I don’t want to let that tsunami in, that one that has multiple shipwrecks inside it, smashed and broken, ruined and unrecognisable. I want to do this closure nonsense, putting everything, my life, my experiences, my marriage into a suitcase and to shut the lid. I want to slam and lock the door firmly on the past and turn away into a new life. I don’t want memories dribbling through the cracks, hissing like venomous snakes. Who the heck does? And yet, and yet, my long fingers keep reaching back through old times, to how it was, to who I was and they are the fretful fingers of an old woman looking for something she will never find. Answers.

I suspect it is natural to quest for such, for answers. I often ask myself why. Why I did this, why he said that, why she made that awful decision, why secrets secrets secrets were kept so hidden. There is a big unrest in the desert lands of Unanswered Questions. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a day with himself to get those answers and yet (and yet) I know he would never reveal a thing. He didn’t when he was alive for almost 50 years. He was obviously quite the thing about not answering difficult questions. So how do I get to a place of acceptance? I suspect there is no fast track answer to that one. Are we all mysteries to each other, I wonder? Perhaps we are and perhaps this is a normal human state, one of intense frustration right up to the end. Is death a marvellous escape? Do those who know they are dying feel a wonderful sense of relief that finally, finally, they are excused from the Accountability Class? It sounds rather kind when I think of it that way.

But life right now is like being stuck on a telegraph pole but without the 360 head turning ability. I have that screech voice and I silence it. I say I am great, fine, well, busy. We all do, I guess, in the hope that something will click at a deeper level, that my brain will believe it and invite my heart to take it in, to warm it, to beat it into new life. I know, I know, it is early days, but it is also a year, no it is over ten years of watching his secret self slowly leave the room whilst remaining in it, noisily. That is a long long time.

An irreverent chuckle comes to me in my turmoil. I have an image memory of people who won’t go. You make it obvious that after ten hours that your come-for-coffee invite is wearing very thin. They rise, eventually, but keep talking. You head for the door and open it. They stay where they are and keep talking. Now a freezing wind with accompanying rain is drenching both you and the floor. Still they talk, flapping hands and saying giggly things like ‘Oh we should go, you’ve been so kind, we stayed too long…’ You shut the door, well defeated. You didn’t offer lunch, having clocked that these good people are having so much fun that their going home just might feel like back to jail and you are not unkind even if you didn’t offer lunch. You finally get them out the door and close it quick quick. The short distance from the door to the gate suddenly looks like the road to Zanzibar. Inching, inching, inching, hearing, and enthusing about this cousin, this new baby, this new purchase, you get them through the gate.

Waving them off feels like heaven.

Maybe I will do that with my long staying unanswered questions.

Island Blog – The Man Who Stole

We got through it. The one year anniversary of a significant death. My kids, sorry, our kids, all apart from each other and from me, marked the day in the way that mattered to them. Walking in the wild, finding the sea, talking to old fishermen on a pier, watching a river flow. I felt like my belly was in turmoil. All the day long it churned and rumbled and I wasn’t hungry. Well, not for food. For what, then? Don’t, please don’t, think ‘Closure’. There is no such thing and it is such a dreadful cliche. It’s almost as angry making as phrases like ‘He is in a better place.’ Oh, you think? How do you know?

My lovely daughter-in-law (an awful title when you completely adore the aforesaid), and I picnicked on the grave. Not quite on it, on him, but to the side, respectful like. We spread a blanket and poured tea from a flask, and munched on lobster sandwiches, as you do up here as easily as another in non-lobster-land might munch on luncheon meat or jam. We talked of much and many, but not a lot on the dead dude. Funny that. Lots of people drove by as the hilltop graveyard is very visible for anyone driving, cycling or walking the switchback road. These folk see us from the minute they lift the hill and we are in their view for at least 6 minutes as they curve and loop and swing and climb out of sight. We were visible, we on our checkered picnic blanket, our mouths open in laughter at some daft joke shared. We sat for an hour and talked about the other graves. One very wonky one, just a wooden cross with a name on it, the cross that I swear is moving in on my husband because the last time I came this cross was further aft of amidships. I wonder if it’s lonely, if nobody ever visits, comes to pay respects, to honour, to mark a death. Perhaps. It sads me. Other stones tell the story, fix a life lived between two dates and add a little something that meant a lot to those left behind. It feels like that person meant something, mattered, was loved.

Many years ago it was common to see families picnicking in graveyards, as they came together to celebrate their dead, or someone else’s dead. There is a something in a graveyard that beckons. I know what it is. Stories. Stories allow imagination. I wonder who Alfred MacDoodle was, how he was, what he meant to his children, grandchildren, friends. He played the violin, no, he played the fool, he cooked, he was a teacher, fisherman, magician. In a graveyard I can let my mind fly like the birds that flew overhead yesterday. The air is hilltop fresh up here and the looking is endless. Islands dark the sea, so far away and yet so clear. The sealine butts against the sky, some, what, hundreds of miles away, more? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I am here and looking and so is my imagination, so is my memory. He, the dead one, knew those waters better than he ever knew me. He could navigate those waters in any and all states better than he ever navigated me or his children. Such is who he was, who he is now, held fast in memory, like a fossil in stone. An imprint on the world and certainly an imprint on us.

We, who apparently are ‘left behind’, which sounds very lame to me, can weave any story we like now. The Corrector Of Facts is buried 6 feet deep and awaiting his grave stone (Covid delay). We can tell you he was wonderful or awful. We can recount his achievements or list his faults. We can present him as The Whale Father or the Absent Father. We can highlight the lack or illuminate the abundance he brought to us all. We are free to go and not free at all because he, this dead guy was so important, so revered, so bloody impossible, so powerful an influence that we cannot but bring him with us from now on.

And, for me, he was no whale father, no father at all. He was not a recording engineer, not a hotel owner, not a pioneer, not a sailor. He was the man who stole my heart.

Island Blog – The sharper the knife

Two days to go. Then it will be a whole year since himself breathed his last. It is hard to believe and yet easy. I cast back to the days between then and now and cannot remember a lot of it. Many days were just a slog, a pointless slog and many other days were full of skips and puddle jumping. I notice more now that Time is my ‘bidey-in.’ I notice puddles, their shape and size and the way they grow, claiming more ground as that primary element argues with another one. I notice the way Spring comes shyly, nervous of pushing out too soon, just like me. I notice petals, watch them fall and wonder how they choose that very moment to do so. I see the turning of the beech leaves and just have to stand beneath them. I hear sounds more clearly, some sharp-slash ear offences, some soft and landing like, well, petals. I am aware of what I touch and how it feels to my fingertips. I notice a founder in those same fingers when I attempt to unpackaged packaging, or lift a heavy pot to the hob. I hear the sound of water coming to the boil in a pasta pan even from the next room. The tic, tic, tic of a clock is Time telling me she is here, as if I didn’t already know that. I can taste the snap-smell of his plaid shirts, the only things I haven’t yet moved on. They no longer smell of him and how could they? Everything was washed and double washed many months ago. I think I might make a patchwork soft mat from cuts of these shirts. They were so his ‘fashion’, a hanging on to the days of being a lumberjack in Canada so many years ago.

Years ago. His life by many stories was a long one. A wonderful one, he said, and often. Funny how we are never satisfied, never able to agree with ‘enough’ when it involves waving a final farewell. I know he didn’t want to live on. Who does in the late throws of dementia? I wouldn’t, for sure. He went happy and peaceful. That’s it. End of. Well, maybe it was for him. But now I feel like a pioneer facing a wilderness. The land endless before me goes right up to where my eyes meet the skyline and I have no map. I am not afraid, not lost, not in despair, no way. But this is so new to me that I confess to a bit of circling and a lot of hiding behind rocks. I go out, I keep a clean and tidy house, I feed myself well, I love music, I write, sew, dance (occasionally), walk every day and, as far as I can tell, house a lively brain. I have humour, mischief, a sense of fun and many good friends.

All this does not minimise the wilderness, that vast maw of sand, rocks, emptiness and maplessness. A load of ‘esses’ for sure. The way it alters, changes my language, my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith. I have faith, I have belief in something for me even if I don’t know what the hellikins that means and I have fun learning a new language. This, in itself, is perusable. Although I am, I confess, a lover of good strong language, words can escape me. I am thankful for Roget, a bible for writers. My battered copy is always beside me so that when I cannot find the right word, the one that accurately describes what I want to say instead of just ‘trending on twitter’ jumps out at me like a sudden-ness and that is okay. I am allowed, I tell myself, to lose the words I once found so easy to lift into the light because most of what I found so easy to lift into the light has been cut away, just like that, in a single not-breath.

I was reminded by my lovely daughter-in-law just yesterday of the final breath moment. She loved her father-in-law and he loved her. Her eyes lit up and her face lifted as she told me something I had forgotten. Remember, she said, as you all sat beside him watching his faltering breaths? Go on, I tell her, trying to find my way back to that moment. Well, she says, he took a big gasp breath and then everything went still. You looked at each other and began to move. This is it. The big man is gone. Suddenly, he breathed again, a big draw of earthly air and you all laughed, turning back to him. The next breath was his last, but that moment, he, the one who always had to be the centre of attention, claimed his right to it one more time.

‘The sharper the knife, the less you cry.’ So they say.

Island Blog – The Best View

Heavy rain, like water bullets, straight down rain, none of this fluffing fallshift of soft water dash against my face. This was a wetting. I watched the opportunity for a while. I considered my cloaking, my ineffective coveration, my footwear, and pulled back. I pulled back long enough for even the Pull Back to raise its eyebrows. Are you going or are you planning to spend the day lurching towards the window like a catapult with old pants elastic?

I don’t like the old pants bit and it stirred me somewhat. I stand taller. Ok, I say, I am offski. Before the old girl in me can catch up I am footed and rainproofed and attaching the wee dog to her lead. Door open. We are out. Good grief! This rain is pelting like reproval. It is so straight down I turn to yell (and regret it) Bend Somewhat! It is either deaf, the rain or determined. I sigh, open the gate and head for the wild place. The track is jiggling water in potholes, the rain-off sloughing like a serpent down into anywhere that’s down. Water always seeking the sea, the river, the outfall, the easy way to go. I am not doing ‘easy way’ but I am not water, I remind myself.

As I wander, because I like the whole wander thing, even in the rain, I observe. The chestnut tree is hanging low, branches so huge and so powerful are bending. I look up and say hi. On and more trees, bowed in fragility and yet still so strong. The wind rises and rises puffing and luffing, lifting, playful. It wonders me as I see massive wood limbs holding life-giving leaves, reach out way too far from the body, from the mother trunk. And yet there is power there, control and the fabulous knowing that that ancient trunk is holding you, holding and holding.

The leaves are already turning, I see the beech leaves twisting at the edges and giving in to copper. I hear the woodland choir, led by the wind. At the shore, where I walk every day to remind myself of not where we began but where so many hundreds, thousands of others began their beginning with us. The chance to see whales. I can smell the excitement even now as I wander in a past land, through gorse, popping seeds and noisily, where the seaweed lays across the out-tide rocks, copper, flaxen, lime, blood and where a heron squawks at me and lifts in lazy flaps; where oystercatchers fly above the tide, turn to me, catch the sudden sunlight and turn into fluttering pearls; where the chance of seeing some wild thing lifts a head above the water in an hour’s watching. We yearn for the wild encounter. We always did and we always will.

Let the seasons be. They are not as we once knew them, predictable and uniform, to a degree. They are wild now, and free. We have a hand in that but it is not the hand that gives up, that turns, that lifts in latent anger. It is done. We are here. We can dance through them, adapt and welcome. We can be a part of what is happening now or we can whine and criticise from the sidelines of life. Eish…….don’t do that. Engage. Join me in the frontline. We’ll get the best view.