Island Blog – Turmish

My word. I love to make new words. I remember writing an article for BBC Wildlife magazine years ago. Lordy, the editor was a tough nut and a half. She picked and poked and corrected until I was back before the headmistress who expelled me mid A levels. My embers were stoked and, eventually, I burst into fire, my tether at its end. The loch, I wrote, describing a far north body of water in which, apparently, a minke whale was ‘trapped’, poppled with balls of ice. It, the whale, was no more trapped than I inside my polar suit whilst fighting to remain vaguely upright in a slanty gale on a freezing, sleet-blasted hillside, and in February. I had personally watched the whale slide easy as an eel through the narrows as the tide began to ebb, returning for a feast of trapped fish at the next flood. Not once, but four times. Nobody was listening. The fish farmer freaked out about his cages being damaged. I wanted to shake him, tell him we had observed and studied these whales for decades and any one of them would have considered any such bumping or damaging as plain foolish. Big brains, remember and way bigger than the ones we lug about inside our own small and limited confines. There was talk of ‘herding’ a single whale (hallo?) out with a flotilla of boats. There was talk of explosives. We sighed a lot during that week, I can tell you. But when you are up against fear and small community thinking, you are blowing against the wind, expecting it to say, Oh Sorry, I’ll just go the other way, shall I?

Back to ‘poppling’. There’s no such word, she said, the headmistress/editor said. By now I was busy hoping she got absolutely nothing off her Christmas list, ready to fire, to yell, to tell her many rampageous things, but instead I went quiet, deadly quiet, like the eye of a storm. Leave it in. I said, surprised at how commanding I sounded. She said nothing for a beat, then conceded, reluctantly with a lot of tuts and mouth blowing. Today, I find that very word in the dictionary, so ha, ha, ha.

I digress. Today was super wet, wet like a complete soak just going out to feed the birds. I did not walk the dog who is still puzzling up at me as if I have finally lost the plot. Instead, I lit candles, the fire, and watched a movie. Now this is a rare thing for me, to watch tv during an afternoon. In fact, it is rare for me to settle comfortably in the evening to watch a movie. Watching tv is a sharing thing. My African son said that to me this very day as he watched the same movie and he is right. Perhaps this is why I, to date, have not been able to settle by the fire to enjoy a damn good story, beautifully presented, to get lost in someone else’s world just for an hour or two. When the movie is over and I flick the room into silence, there is nobody there to talk to about the experience. What do you think? What did you feel about this bit, or that; him or her; that happening, that twist? Since the bodach is gone, even though, latterly, he was engaged with some soap series whilst I watched a movie, there was no silence when the light of the moving pictures were turned off. There was some sort of conversation, even at the very end when barely a sentence came from his mouth. I had plenty to say, of course and now I say nothing and to nobody. It is a strange time indeed. A time of turmish.

Island Blog – Boots on

I still have my boots on. Normally, I would take them off at the door, but tonight I did not. I walked today in other boots, the ones that suddenly split on me, the mouth of one opening into a challenge, one that, sadly, cannot be repaired. These faithful boots are years old, chewed by a dog, slip soled, thinned and ageing. I respect them, love them enough to keep sliding over seaweed and allowing the seep of ingress. I am old too, I tell them, and they know, they already know because my faltering feet inhabit their walls.

Tonight, after a laughing happy dinner share with my young family, via a short traverse in my mini, I still have my boots on. It is cold. The stars shout of Aurora Borealis, and I believe their shout. I see the Milky Way, the Bears, Cassiopia, more. The dark sky is a symphony, a performance, an invitation. Although I am coming in to the fire and the candles, I know the out there is out there, hence my boots on thingy. I might have to dash out to see this, or that and who on earth would ever want to miss the this or the that of sky talk?

I will take my boots off soon. I know I will because it is almost bedtime for old widows like me. But I will go to sleep hugging the way I was ready to run out into the stars, and I will smile at who I am.

Island Blog – Roots

I watch the sky. Been watching it all day as it recovers from the Big Wind, the cold one full of hail and snow and threats that came to nothing. I know that those threats did manifest in other places and while I watch the sky I think of them, those who had, and still have, to deal with power outage, destruction and the cold coming in as if it felt welcome, which, in my experience, it rarely is. Pushy bugger. I walk through the trees, the today trees, for yesterday they were bent like old women, fighting to retain a gravitational pull. They are calm today, calm with a Phew in their breaths as I congratulate them all for remaining upright in such freezing blasts, holding hold against those gusting spirits with grabbing hands, hands that can uproot an ancient pine, tall as a building and old as time without a single regret. These old folks have roots that stretch beneath tracks, beneath whole expanses of hill and heather, gnarling into fixation but always ready to move on when the threat above is told them in a story. A warning. I noticed the garden birds yesterday, no, the day before, behaving in a way more alert, more dynamic than usual. They always have to watch for the fast dive of a sparrow hawk, but this was different. They were telling me something ouchy was coming. And they were right. I noticed but already knew thanks to Google weather. Disastrous winds, destruction, high risk of death, all the usual overly ridiculous hype, thanks media, thanks news, thanks but no thanks. I have the birds. Back in the Tapselteerie days, I had the cows, the horses. Their behaviour changed as they sensed me into ‘alert’. What’s going on my friends? They might buck or run, slow or hunker but whatever they showed me told me a new story was about to show itself, demanding to be read and absorbed.

It all thinks me. The trees knew it was coming and some of them, like that big pine there, the one holding up a mate who fell, but didn’t quite, some time ago. As it fell, but didn’t quite, it compromised the rooting of the one who held it up. The holder’s roots lifted, became exposed, created an unsafety, a new unknowing, a lesser ground hold. Nonetheless, they stick together. I look and I pause to consider the new root growth that will, for sure, have been implemented as a result of this new challenge. From where I stand, and with my limited human ground level thinking, I see two trees going down, exhausted. But today I reconsider. What do I know of the intelligence of trees? Absolutely nothing. Everything they do goes on underground, a dark forbidden realm to me. But it does think me of roots. I can be afeared of storms. I loved them when I had a husband here, one who was unruffled by pretty much everything including storms. The story in the storm was all he heard, dealing with lifting caravans, rawling boats on spindly moorings, children blown into the trees, dustbins heading for another island, with a calm acceptance and a strong hand to right whatever was rightable. I am a tad unsure about my talents in the realms of unrightable. For now. But I get stronger, less fearful, more ear-aware, hearing the story in the wind, watching the birds, the animals, the trees and leaning into their wisdom and the words they say are always the same.

We have been here before, many times. So have you, you just don’t trust your spirit, your story memory, your inner strength. The world and all its fear mongering has polluted you. Breathe. Let it be. All is well and if it isn’t right now, it will be soon.

Island Blog – Agape

We have wind. Not personal wind but an agape wind, one that loves all, right across the nation and then way down into Englandshire and way beyond. Actually, that thinks me. I know, I know that there is a divide tween Scotland and England, one that was defended and attacked for decades with all sorts of big gallant men, wearing armour or tights, wielding swords way too heavy to hold, lunkering across fields in armour that took hours to affix and moments to penetrate. Horses were a by product, their faithful lives given without permission, and in their thousands.

Moving on. Back to the wind. It rages as I write. The last blooms are like old women I have met, old men too, only men never tell you how it is for them, which, by the way, is infuriating for we women. Just saying. Wind, on the other hand is wild and without care for what anyone thinks about it. It just fires, flows, rants, throws hail and alarming gusts and thinks it’s ok. I am kind of envious of that.

So, this agape wind. Let me elucidate. Agape is wide love without judgement or the need to control. As we watch the new storms coming, and the ferocity, we are allowed fear. Allowed? I cannot believe I wrote that. What I mean is nothing to do with permission. Why do I think Agape? Well I just do. We all know, or are aware of what is happening to our world, the one we had so much confidence in. We still should, for it is not gone, no way, but our eyes need to be on it.

Stories speak the truth. From Grimms (ouch) Tales, to the memories of a grandmother who is happy to speak out, when welcomed. They get lost, stories, buried with the teller. But they are the roots that root us, the ties that bind, the interweaving of agape love. In our island lives, our personal island lives, inside a non stop city noise, our new lonely flat, our new digs, a new school, a retreat, a safe house, a scary landscape. We land like an albatross in Piccadilly.

The storm rages on, but it will fade soon, after a last night of crocodile teeth and the pounding of a prize bull against the triple glazing. It’s just a night or two. So nothing. I think of those out there in the wild raw of life, this cold, the sleet, the judgement, the aggression. And I wish I could send out Agape.

Maybe I can.

Island Blog -Still Breathing On

I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.

Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.

For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.

When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.

Island Blog – Two Ways of Looking

I have weird taste in breakfasts. Where most good folk are chomping on muesli, yoghurt and fruit, I hanker for poached egg over warmed avocado and chopped banana with lemon juice, salt, pepper and herbs. Sometimes I tuck into last night’s leftovers. I don’t have a sweet tooth, in fact teeth play a lead part in my breakfast choice because it takes me a whole lot of work, and time, to sort them out after muesli. I also eat very early, long before the sun is up so that lunch is often required around 11 am. Living alone, this is not a problem at all. Who cares when I eat? Who will notice? Only me and that’s just fine.

There are times, I confess, when I think enviously of those who sleep for 7 wonderful hours and who, on waking, can sip tea or coffee, read in bed, pondering the day from the warm snuggle of a duvet for another hour or so. These people sleep, I understand that, whereas I can manage a few short hours at best, waking into darkness and with no desire to remain in bed for another second. I am way too excited about the day ahead, too curious to see what awaits me downstairs. Did I wash the supper dishes? Did I buy something online, something I absolutely do not need at all? As I rise, I laugh at myself, at those questions. Washing dishes after each meal was a big issue when I cooked meals for large numbers of hungry people, most of whom were in my own family, but not now. One plate, one pan, one knife, one fork. I can barely see them on the draining board. Back in the years of manifold dishes there would have been a crockery crash had I not washed up after every meal. But it does think me because I know how easy it is to not bother as a live-alone person ages. There is nobody here to judge my standards after all. Ah, no, that’s not true because there is me and I am the strictest judge of self. My standards are always in need of improvement, and I have vowed as I watched other live-alones get sloppy that I would never allow that in myself. So, the dishes are washed, the floors swept, the bathroom clean, the rugs bashed to death and if the dog starts to smell, she is dunked in a bucket and scrubbed to a shine.

In short, it is exhausting being me. I often wish I could lower some of my standards, not one of which I expect to see in another living soul. Quite the opposite. Was I reared to be so damn critical of myself, allowing no laxity? Very probably. But surely at my age I could be less driven? It seems that I am fated to run all the way up to the end. I can’t even sit still for long, the dance in me is too dancey. I am curious about what might be around the next corner and I just have to find out, even if it is only another corner, which it often is. This doesn’t slow me down at all and when I think of this condition, this endless curiosity, I can see it two ways. Fidget, restless, too imaginative, hyperactive, or really alive, curious, interested, imaginative, mischievous, fun, inspiring.

I pick the latter.

Island Blog – Watching, Waiting, Wondering

The morning begins well in that I wake up and it’s morning, well almost, still dark but the clock tells me of others who rise at this hour, dark or no dark. I slip into my dressing gown, thank my bed, pat the dog and glide down the stairs. I remember actually doing that once, for a dare of course, on a tin tray and an oak stair case that dog-legged into the room. Not a good plan. I started off well, gathered warp speed and just knew I was about to be sliced like an egg when I hit the sharp corner, all balustrades and newel posts and rigid as if it had rooted into the earth’s core. The wails arose in me, alerting all inmates who were quietly sipping Earl Grey from china cups and pretending they didn’t want another scone. My mama was livid even if she feigned compassion. I could see it in the slit of her mouth, the narrowing of her eyes as she scooped me up and marched me away, my knees bleeding, my face scratched and my mouth yelling out a storm. This morning’s glide was more gentle, my hands holding both bannisters and my cautious eyes wide open for the fall that always threatens old folk, the one that leaps out for a rugby tackle from somewhere in my blind spot.

I descend in regal safety and round the corner for coffee and a peer into the darkness. No moon, but she is coming, the Beaver Moon, tomorrow I believe, although why the moon has to keep to a schedule un-moons me somewhat. I had thought her above such calendar control. I perceive her as reckless, upskittling, wild, and that’s because her full bellied lightshow creates that reaction in most women I know and some men too. I tap tap wait for the light to rise. I iron something, sweep another thing, flip through Facebook, write some notes about what I will do with my day, this day, today, most of which will be scratched out by breakfast once I realise that the ladder to any of them has faulty rungs, most of them missing.

I WhatsApp chat with my best friend and she laughs me and we share all our familial concerns and delights. We have done this for years now and her face takes me right back to her, the way she waggles her head when telling me of something that pains or puzzles her, the way she looks straight at me when she asks how I am. I know why. When I say ‘Fine’ she smirks and challenges, but I will always say ‘Fine’ because mostly, I am just that. However, as the day rolls on, not like chocolate, more like a stubble field and with me barefoot, I am ratty with the dog. It shocks me for I am only occasionally ratty and I don’t like it in me at all. I watch the wind, hear the roar of the whips and twisting punches of it, see it scrape rain across my window and bend the trees like torture, laughing at its bully power. Reluctantly I decide to walk, no matter the rain, the bully punching wind, the darkling grey, the wet underfoot.

To begin with, I stomp. I know I am stomping and the track looks up at me, eyebrows raised. I pause and smile and slow my boots. Then, as I rise into the woods, the rise of the track lifting me from my earthly grump, I begin to see, to notice, to watch. The bare limbs stick out like old fingers, old friends, the ancients who still stay to protect and to remind. Leaves still holding on, copper, gold and blood, tremble in the wind, showing me this face, then that. I hear the tic-a-tic-a-tic of their dance and I stop to watch. Beneath my skinny soled boots, a bronze carpet tongues out before me, inviting. The wind lifts again and the pines sing as the wind combs the needles, the ones that don’t ever give up, the ones I will see all winter long. A stand of ditchwater has been claimed by water moss and I chuckle at the emerald courage of this survivor. Well done you, I say, as I pause to wonder and I swear it shimmies. Tree ferns waggle like random hair tufts all the way up an alder tree, flapping at me as I meander beneath the high stretch of ancient trunk. Geese navigate the sky wind adjusting their positions and I wonder again at their understanding of all this power and of my complete lack.

I will never understand the power of watching, waiting and wondering, will even thwack it away with an irritable flap, but once I step out into it, bring myself to walk, to stand as a part of it, engaged with it, no distractions from it, I return with hope. Where the hell I found that hope, I can not answer, but it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that in my reclusive sadness there is a beckoning, one irritating enough to get me inside my boots and out there.

Island Blog – Keep Going

The Sadness has come to visit. I’ve felt it all week long. At first, I berate myself, tell myself that my inner talk needs a thwack on the butt and a strong invitation to leave. But that doesn’t work. I busy myself with small chores, checking them off my check list, as if I was an early wife with no clue what to do next. But the small chores do not fill the aching black hole, nor do they last very long. I am efficient in my tasking skills and they are all completed by 10am. Good lord, now what? I watch my hands as they thread wool onto a needle, my fingers gnarled as old oak limbs but still they know their way. I rise from my sewing chair and walk through to the kitchen. I could cook something but don’t want to; I could change the sheets but I just did that; I could sweep the floor of pepper brown larch needles that come in without invitation and all the Autumn time. I could. I could. But with the Sadness heavy on my shoulders, as if I was carrying boulders in a rucksack, I am bent down, weary of the weight.

So, what to do? I ask this out loud and rather aggressively into a nothing space, empty and somehow consuming. The Sadness says not one word. Okay, I rise, swing around and face the nothing that is definitely Something. What do you say I should do? Standing there, uncomfortable and weighed down, I feel foolish and it’s not because I am talking to nothing. I smell the metal air and notice the lack of geranium fragrance within the sunroom. I swing round to them. Where did you go? I ask the salmon pink blooms, still salmon pink blooming even now. They just look at me and continue blooming. I do not know what to do with this Sadness, I confess. Just keep going, comes to mind and those are wise words indeed. Be thankful for everything. What? I interrupt rudely. Everything? Even the Sadness?

Well, yes, even the Sadness, because if you keep batting it away when it comes, it will just come back again. In fact it will come back again whatever fixing you fix, whatever you do because you are grieving and there is no end to that state of being. Just think, the voice goes on, is there ever a way to rub out a life, to pretend, now that life is gone, you can just forget all shared history? Oh, well, no, maybe not. I sit with a cup of tea and try not to think because thinking is just white noise in my head, no, not white noise, not ambient, but sharp needles of thought, of memories, switched and twitched and foundering on the rocks of my Now, my silent now, my empty now. Metallica sort of thoughts. I shake my head to clear it but that doesn’t clear my heart and as my head comes back to base, the thoughts scurry back in like ants when level re-levels. All week my wee dog has noticed. She follows me everywhere, looking up, those chestnut eyes wide and questioning. Her normal distant behaviour has changed. She comes to bed when I do and watches me from the floor until I flip the light. I can’t explain her intelligence but I am glad of it, nonetheless.

I walk out, me and the watching dog, in between rain showers, a short one today, too tired with all those boulders on my back. Then I shower and change my frocks. Now, this is a weird one. Showering, for me, symbolises change, as does the frock thing. It betters me, sloughing off old skin, old thoughts, old grief, old frocks. I come home to a warm fire and a darkling sky. I watch the garden fade into night and find a new sense of peace. I am accepting the Sadness. Sit down with me, I say. Welcome. I lay down the boulders and they turn to dust. I decide to let it be, whatever it and be means. I don’t need to understand, nor explain. This evening I think. There are those who just watched their loved one die. I look back up the track I have already walked, knowing they are out there right now, at the beginning. And, although I am thankful I am further into the wilderness, I can turn around to see them coming and I can smile and lift some light, saying Keep Going my friend. Keep Going.

Island Blog – These November Days

It rains here a lot and never mind the November thing. It just rains. We have too many hills and we stick out too far into the Atlantic and we are used to it. But I am hearing from other drier folks that rain has confounded them. It is the way it is in our times. For those of us who know it, expect it, we are prepped. We already have the boots and the wherewithal to counter any walk in any weather. It thinks me.

At what moment did we ever think things were stable? Back to our forebears, when danger was all around, when nothing could become a very big something just when we turned back to the pot of soup, the comfort of a fire, the predicted course of the evening, I question the complacence of nowadays. When we moved to this wild island, we did because of the instability of things. I wasn’t paying attention, just following my leader but I get him now. He knew there was a big change in the coming and he responded early. I’m talking late 70’s so he was wise before his time. In the turbulence of moving, of shifting kids and location, of heading out of the comfortable warm and into the cold was not pleasant, not at all and I whined a lot and fussed more, demanding the same as was before, the safe warm of a southern kitchen, but his shoulders were broad enough to shut me up.

As I walk out this day inside heavy rain, I think. Not cold, should be. Leaves still on trees, almost. Whipping rain yes, abundantly so. The pines are falling, the land eroding. We are here. This is now for us. Will we scrabble for the past or will we recognise our now in these November days?

Island Blog – Fallout

I refuse to fall out of love. Just saying. We need to be in love, always and forever because it thrills us into life and fire and fun and music and hope. There are a million drudge days, ordinary greys than never lift into geese, tired times, hopeless fear, no tomorrow in sight. We all know these. But I am a thrust light in the dark and even for me. I will rise. So will you. It’s not an ‘if you want’ thing. It just comes unbidden.

There are times I hate that thrust light. Times I want to hide shadow like and hope nobody sees me. Then I wake one morning and that damn light is beckoning me towards hot tea and a morning I have never seen before. Life moves us on in a kindly and patient way. It might piss me off but it still moves me.

I refuse to fall out out of love. With life.