Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – Through the Beeps and Creaks

There are mists in life, and fogs, and cutaways and ditches. There is falling and rising along pathways and new roads. There is mud and slough, rips for ankles and darks for slowing. There is loud traffic and louder shoutings. there are days different for some that turbulence. There are quiet times, but few, to watch a pair of swans fly over, or for one child laugh at an ice cream; to see a sudden burst of green when there is little green left; to hear a kindness offered and received in murmurs. In short, there is life. there is always life for the looking.

Tonight, after a tricky day and after an amazing movie (Red Joan, Judi Dench) I sat at my piano. I rarely do, even though I long for her so often, her glorious white perfect pitch just right there for me, courried in to her sweet safe corner, and I played. I played lovely random music. My fingers felt their way across the notes, through the chords and I just knew that, had there been a roomful of listeners behind me, they would have stopped their chatter and joined me in this moment of music. And I thanked my fingers for not forgetting their way, even when I am sure I have done just that. Even with the beeps and pings of wheelchair, stairlift, heart monitors, fall alarms, all of that and more, there is always music.

And so it is.

Island Blog – Turn the Year

Christmas past, ghosts too. Let’s leave them there. As the date slides into a new Gregorian chant, let’s learn the words and, more importantly, sing them together.

In church last week we sang together in a thankfully lower key. Organ music is set on tiptoe and no mistake. Most of us growl our best growls as we spin out the poetry long set down, words of hope and belief, of community, of love and of pilgrimage. We can only manage a growl when faced with choirboy elevatory requirements versus ageing vocal chords. However, last Sunday saw us with guitar and a musician to work its strings, and we could all manage all the notes. Such a relief. It thinks me.

As we stride, stumble, dash or need dragged into a new year, we need each other in order to make one strong song. What could our song be about? Shall it disparate itself into individual strains that make a cacophony of disharmony, or shall we stand and wait for each other, just stand with a hand held out and the new song tinkling across our vocal chords? I know we love to be islands, we love to be just who we are, a person pumping blood, and not just a number. But, and here’s the thing, we can both be ourself and one of a number. The number is not important. The whole is. without a considerable number of individuals, there is no whole. We are not made, nor meant to be single, even though being single is just what we are meant to be.

If we could expend less energy on trying to change everyone else and more on changing our own self, this unity of song would come naturally. If I have no desire to change you in any way, then I am easy around you. Why wouldn’t I be? I have no agenda, no issue with how you live, with who you are. All I need is your voice to swell the choir and you may well give that happily if you don’t feel judged by me. And, in letting your voice join with mine, we make a different music. We share the words and the melody but we are still singular, both of us. We can stop comparing, envying, criticising, rejecting, dismissing each other from our choirboy seat of elevation. We can forget being better than each other and learn just enough to join in the new song. In this broken world, there are no breaks too bad to repair. What damage is done, is already done. It doesn’t mean we stop working towards a healthier planet, for we must, out of respect for a world that has protected, fed and nurtured us for centuries.

Everything, they say, has a vibration from a slender of grass to a biting east wind and every vibration affects us. Like music, like song, in stories, laughter, tears and warming soups shared on a cold December day. At work, in traffic jams, at the top of the tallest pine, in the mouth of a newborn house mouse. Let us learn to listen and to hear so as not miss a single moment of such an opportunity to stand together and sing out our life.

Island Blog – Christmas Cometh

And so it does. Every year, about the same time, and we are never ready. Why is that? I know folk who prepare from June, not that I could possibly do that whilst clad in cool frocks and with bare feet and not thinking cold nor Christmas for one single second. I would have been tutting around the garden hysterics, arguing with recalcitrant weeds #indigenouswildthingswhathavebeenhereforcenturies, plus thinking of a freshly made salad and a chilled glass of something French. But amidst the sunshine days there are those who are already storing things up in their understair cupboards for this time of year, laughing, no doubt, at those of us in enough of a panic to possibly require restraints.

So, I am wrapping and lighting candles. Growling, also, at the so-called warm white lights on a string that promise to stretch for half a mile. Although they do, indeed, stretch said distance, the warm white lights are more the colour of a face approaching a vomit attack and I am not pleased. However, the thought of ripping them down for the bin men to remove bothers me because I am a woman of substance and there is a load of plastic in this purchase. I hear of whales with half a Tesco’s inside their poor struggling bellies. They die. Obviously. And I want no part of that, if possible. Not that I am smug, because I do throw plastic, but in the face of no-idea-what-to-do-about-it I can only do my best; tie knots in bags so they don’t blow crazy across our world, caught in the endless winds like kites, only to drop in all the wrong places, just as an innocent baleen maw opens wide for krill and, instead, swallows kill.

However, back to Christmas comething. I have no tree this year, thank goodness, as himself would never navigate its span safely. Well, he would be safe, but the tree would list and collapse after one circuit of the chair and I so cannot be bothered with that. It would be like an insult and we don’t need to have that sort of thinking nowadays. So, I have strung baubles that date back to the 70s across the window and twinklywinkly lights everywhere that is safe from wheelchair hazard. Mostly the lights are telling me the truth. They are warm white and look fablious. There is just the one that irks green.

On Friday one family arrive. On Monday two more. The family who live here and who have just birthed a third girl, whom, in the absence of a name, I have called Threepio, will return when they return. Christmas promises to be burgeoning with grandchildren and four of my kids. I am cooking nothing bar the bread sauce, the cranberry sauce and the Christmas pud. Actually, I haven’t cooked it. I bought it, and now I have to somehow sink grease paper wrapped 20 pennies into the belly of it, because my kids are so traditional. An empty Christmas pud might as well not arrive at all.

But the family will, arrive, gales and ferry permitting. And I am thankful. It might be chaos, it might be noisy but it will be so real. I wish all of you a wonderful Christmas and want to thank you for reading my nonsense and for always being there.

You mean so much.

Island Blog – Hope for Change

There’s a hum I hum when things infuriate or frustrate me, when I meet a bump in the road. It, the hum, begins in upper case and probably in B minor, my favourite key and the one that fits best between clenched teeth. These bumps in the road are not just there for me, but for all of us at times. Of course, there can be no actual bumps inside this house because, if there were, himself would be tipped, all ungainly, from his wheelchair and then I would be tasked with the job of lifting him up. Neither of us want that. Once he is down there, gazing at the cobwebs, the seat of the wheelchair is as far away as base camp, Everest, or it looks like that to me. So, no bumps allowed.

However, actual bumps are not what I’m talking about. I mean bumps, as in ‘stops’ in the running of a life; things that go wrong without asking if it’s ok to go wrong. They could be little things or huge things, but, either way, they alter facts. Life herself makes a subtle shift in a new direction and it is easy to get left behind as she turns away. Standing by the roadside is not taking anyone anywhere, so we are expected to accept this shift and to turn with Life. We can do this in B minor, with clenched teeth, or we can take on the major key and loosen our jaw. I am actually sick to death of loosening mine. I have done it a zillion times and will, inevitably, be required to do another zillion times before the fat lady sings the whole flipping song. But, being sick to death of this required repair work on my attitude is not all that helpful. I get indigestion, for starters, and then cross and then crabby and before I know it, the bump has become a Monroe, one I will really struggle to climb.

Rebecca Solnit (another favourite) said that ‘Change comes, not by magic, but by the incremental effect of countless acts of courage, love and commitment.’ And I believe her, however fed up I may get with all these acts of courage, love and commitment, required daily. I may be an official unpaid carer but so is everyone else. If we don’t care, we might as well walk into the sea with stones in our pockets, for life has no meaning at all. The danger in our country now, perhaps across the world, is apathy, not caring, giving up, shrugging at the gift of Life and making no effort to engage with our fellow humans. With Christmas coming, many are thinking of others in a wonderful caring way, but that mustn’t stop come January. If, like me, the opportunity to improve my attitude comes at you daily, hourly, minute by minute, then we are the lucky ones, for we have no choice in the matter. We cannot be outfoxed by a bump in the road. I have learned and still am learning that I can make or break a situation with my attitude. I can make someone smile, or make someone cry. I can lift and encourage or cut down and break. That power is immense and we all have it. The choice is down to us. We may not be able to predict a new bump in the road but if we have decided not to make this broken world any worse than it already is, we can find our way around the bumps with laughter in our eyes and loving care in our hearts.

That way lies hope, change and the first few lines of a new song, one we can all sing together.

Island Blog – I want to be Lizzie

When I was just a young girl, in trouble, as usual, I wanted to be Lizzie. Lizzie had the life I didn’t have. She, never in trouble, was an only child, a beloved and cherished daughter, allowed her own sway to a great degree when I felt I held no sway at all. I was the eldest of five, four of them girls and one boy, the closest to me in a birthday sense and the one I had tried to eliminate for years, without success. He was, and still is, a survivor. And, now, I am glad he lives on, as he is a rock in my turbulent ocean.

Lizzie was allowed to eat her beans on toast on a little table in front of the Woodentops, or whatever was showing at tea time, as I was when I visited her. Her parents had only her to concern themselves with, to indulge and to encourage; only one to buy school shoes for, so that she, unlike me, could negotiate the style, where I could not. My school shoes were boats with laces, blooming out before me every time I looked down, making me smart with shame. I could have taken a wall down with one kick of those awful things whereas Lizzie could wheedle a slightly pointed toe and a slant towards style. She had no need to take down a wall because she had none in her life, or so I thought.

Later, at secondary school, I wanted to be Elaine. Elaine was sporty like you wouldn’t believe and I ran out of puff in just a few minutes. She shone on the lacrosse field, the netball field, all fields and I was always put in goal. They said, the team, that my face was enough to terrify any attempt at scoring. Not sure that was a compliment, although I laughed with them at the time. Elaine was a farmer’s daughter, free to swing from a terrifyingly high rope slung from the rafters above a massive pyramid of shucked grain. We flew through the sky and jumped into the grains, sinking but not too far. My dad would have had a blue fit at the danger of it, but I was on fire and returned home with a wild sense of freedom. The proximity of danger always thrilled me, from pointy-toed winter lace-ups to pyramids of grain and no set bedtime. However, arriving home with that wild sense of danger and freedom did me no favours. I was horsed into a bath and all my clothes washed with an accompaniment of loud tutting and, strangely, no more invitations to the house of Elaine.

But, now, in my late sixties, I am very thankful to be who I am. Had I been either Lizzie or Elaine, I would have missed being me. I did for a while. For years in truth but now I am glad to be me. It thinks me. There are many of us who waste a lot of time and energy in wishing we were not ourselves. Others have more, do more, succeed at more. And, yet, in looking so hard at what others have, we forget the individual gifts we have been given, and, believe me, we all have them. They are unique to us, to me, to you and we are the only one (forgive the bad grammar here) who can give back to the world, one that needs exactly what we/I/you have to give. In a world where we can feel like a number, we must turn away from such thinking. Just because we feel like that doesn’t mean we need to buy into it, to accept it. Because we don’t.

To notice is to be aware. To be aware is to be alert. To be alert is to be powerful and to be powerful never means over other people. It asks us to be powerful over ourselves. Now we’re talking.

I am glad I am not Lizzie. I am glad I am not Elaine. Neither choice would have been sustainable and I can never live another’s life. I can only live my own. So what is my own life? Am I a number or am I an aware, alert and powerful woman inside my own shoes? It’s a good question.

You answer it.

Island Blog – Jiggetty Jig

Home again, home again, etcetera, and I am just getting into the swingle of it here. Agreed, the slap of cold did hit me head on (and foot on for I had omitted to pack stout boots for the chilly ground), but welcomes always warm and they certainly warmed me. Now on the island and with a fire lit for the day I am thankful for having a home at all, let alone such a cosy one.

The furniture within has re-arranged itself, as I suspected it might. When the Old Dragon (me) is gone long enough, himself will make things the way he wants them. In the case of chairs and other well-placed items of comfort, they are all pressed against the walls of the house and looking rather startled. I decided I would not be willing to spend my evenings against a far wall, two miles from the fire, but it took some negotiating and a lot of justifying with just a tiny mention of the fact that I live here too and that I am important, to pull my (somewhat relieved) arm chair back into the mix.

The reason for the changes is to more easily facilitate the wheelchair, the chariot, upon which himself will glide (endlessly) through the rooms. Naturally, a turn or two will be required on this restless pacing, hence the rejection of the startled, and rather upset, sitting room furniture. I lifted two more chairs upstairs to join all the other ‘unnecessary’ furnishings, such as lamps, tables, ornaments, free-standing artwork and so on, apologising as I went and wondering how much more the beleaguered office can hold without crashing down a floor. Everything, you see, has to be ‘safe’ for himself and, besides, I am done with picking up, dusting off and repairing things precious to me as he fells them and continues his glide through the days.

I find it doesn’t bother me so much now, if at all. This house is now a certified safety zone with easy access to pretty much all he needs. So many things that worked before can never work now without an accident and we don’t want one of those. The heart monitor beeps. The fall alarm glows red on the desk reassuring me that those kind voices somewhere in Scotland are one press of the button away. Sometimes himself presses by accident when no accident has occurred and I suddenly hear Lorraine or David asking if everything is ok. I tell them it is, and so sorry, but they are always kind. God’s angels for sure.

From 40 degrees and no plans or to do lists or prayers to keep myself together, compassionate, my eyes off the things that irritate, to the island and Christmas marching ever nearer. I turn up the tunes and wonder where my fairy lights are. As I burrow into the dark cupboard that holds everything else, I smile. Fairy lights found, but they are not going to be the brightest this Christmas because I shall be twinkling too and my batteries never go flat.