Island Blog – Ma, Him and the Canyons of my Mind

Ok so yesterday was yesterday. In looking back I always ask myself, What do I learn from the day before? I am quite unable to just let it go without a considered and mindful consideration. It has come to me, puzzled me in its intensity and thus has a message. I won’t miss that message. Although the terrain through which I inched my snail-like hours swung between a tricky wade through old porridge, a vast empty desert that scalded my skin and burned my toes and an endless stretch of bog with pummets of strong grass and sinkholes to trip me, I knew I had something to learn, to understand.

It has only been 12 weeks since he abandoned me to me; since he fled the nest and left me with a thousand words in my mouth and as many questions. Although I can now choose white lights over those miles of coloured ones, choose where I put this chair or that little table, choose when I walk the dog and where I walk her without having to say where I am going, I find such a freedom both heady and terrifying. All those little things we said, like Look at that! or It’s our granddaughters birthday on Monday, or Shall we play scrabble? Maybe it was Do I feed the orange tree or shall I wait till next weekend? Now there is no him to say it to, even if, latterly, I got little response. The warm being that was there and not there was still there, was here. I remember my old ma saying to me when I furioused at her for his lack of interest in me ‘At least you know he is there.’ I didn’t get it. Dad had died a long time ago. But I get it now.

Today, this day, the day after porridge, desert, bog day, I feel an acceptance. I know that I spend a lot of time in the canyons of my mind, wandering like Alice sometimes and like a refugee on the run at others. I am looking for a new land, after all. I know it will be there one day and that this ‘wandering’ is very important. I will not stay fixed like one of those old Scottish stone markers still planted and dating back to the days of Rob Roy, my forebear. One says 25 miles to Oban. In a car it is half that. Walking the ups and downs, traversing the bogs and avoiding musket fire en route meant more miles on foot. It meant something once, a reassuring marker and guide but nowadays it is obsolete and I know this is important to ‘get’. Fears nowadays are not of musket fire, nor of sudden ambush from the reevers or royal soldiers, loyal to the king, but of the inner enemies that live inside a mind. I work to challenge my mind, to stop as I wander through its canyons and to notice, to notice. Birds of prey flying high means something is dead beneath. A song bird means trees and fruit are not so far away. A scampering rat means there is a predator around, something with a higher shelf life. Geese, swans and ducks mean water. Distant laughter means humans.

This may sound a bit weird but I have know since childhood that I live in many worlds. It compromised my dreams and confounded me as a young girl. Now, in my evening life, I get it. And in that knowing comes responsibility. I need to pay attention and to learn, even when I sometimes feel fed up with all these learning requirements. I never know what any day will bring but I have chosen to notice and to pay attention. Sometimes, when I meet someone and look into their eyes (not in a weird way) I can see they also live in many worlds. I also see that this world has managed to tame them and I am sad. My ma always said, after we chatted about the fact that I was born in Westmoreland which has now become North Yorkshire at some human’s whimsy hand, that I would have been burned at the stake had I lived in an earlier time. She didn’t really get me and no more did I, but latterly when we had time together she was open to my ‘nonsense’ in the fondest of ways.

So I walk on through the canyons. They do not meet my eyes as I look out of my window. They are not in the conversations I have with friends or passers-by. They are not in legal documents nor in the discussion about what grave stone we should erect for himself who fled the nest and left me to me. But, and this still astounds me, he ‘got’ me. It infuriated the bejabers out of him often when the worldly requirements were required, but he did say I was his spiritual guide and that I was the one he came to when, on rare occasions, he could speak of his own porridge, deserts and bogs. And sometimes he would walk the canyons with me.

I’ll rest with that.

Island Blog – The Maker of Days

This day woke me at 3am. It happens sometimes. I know it isn’t morning for the light. It’s a night sort of light and greenish, weird. The morning light is like a hand outstretched, a golden warmth, even if it comes with a cold wind and a slamming of rain against the window. It has a different voice. The one at 3am is discordant, like a jay or a crow.

So who decided this day for me? Not me, for sure. I would make all my days happy, given the choice. Or I would, at the very least, explain myself when presenting a day to someone, were I in charge of it. I would explain that, in the great scheme of days, there needs to be the odd one or two that are shit. But that is not how it happens. The shit days come like a slap in the chops. They explain themselves not, nor do they forewarn. You go to bed all chipper from a day spent in productive this and productive that and go, trustingly, to sleep. Then comes the morning, or, in this case, the not morning, the green impish twister of an hour that offers nothing. Even if ignored it chatters on, fiddling with your legs until they twitch, and your head until it can take no more and must arise for herbal tea.

I am not the Maker of Days and I am glad of it. I think of it as a job given to some failed wizard who has been relegated to the outer circle of Middle Earth. I see him alone in his poorly assembled cabin in the middle of nowhere with no mates and no chance of a hot chai latte, with an outside latrine and a fire that refuses to draw. I see him lonely, pouring over his charts and drawings by candlelight, for he has a big job to do. There are millions of us waiting for our Day prescription, every 24 hours and all across the world. He can never sleep.

Tomorrow, I know, will be a gift. Tomorrow will be a good one. How do I know this? I know it because this is just how it is for me. One day wonderful, one day shit. They alternate and have done for many years but I only noticed the pattern recently. No matter what I do, nor how I think, nor what I eat, nor who I speak to or don’t, the pattern stays in place. On the days that are wonderful, I can see forever. I notice everything as just everything. On days that aren’t I see that everything crumbling or menacing and loud with it. I see fear and destruction in things that seem laughably simple on wonderful days. I doubt I am alone in this. It doesn’t matter what I do or don’t do, the Maker of Days is stuck in his rut and it will be as he designs.

This day, this day that began at 3am with a weird green impish light and twitched my legs and refused me sleep, I know I am greater than the Maker of Days and I told him so. I pushed through chores, played music, spoke with a friend, got through to lunch. I ate well (home-made beetroot hummus, salad, oatcakes), rested and read. I sewed, fed the birds, chopped and barrowed in a stack of wood, swept floors and changed a bed, loving the fresh snap of new sheets and the final result of a pretty and welcoming bed for guests, which may have some waiting to do.

On my walk I watched the flip and snatch of a wind that reminded me of a pre-menstrual woman. All over the place. The luff and fist-punch of the wind this autumn is surprising. Hail meets rain with no lessening of the slam dunk. And, yet, it isn’t surprising at all., It has always been thus. It is my widow walk that elevates each single thing, each slam dunk, each moment, each day. I know this and I am impatient for it to be done. You listening, Maker of Days?

In my imagination I wander into the interior of Middle Earth and right up to his bothy. I know I would do this, in reality, were it an option. He is not scary. He is a fallen wizard, remember? I would ask him questions, sit by his fire, share stories and laughter and then go. He cannot change, not with that sentence over his head.

But I can.

Island Blog – The Light On Ordinary

When I was a small child, barely able to see over the dining table, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings looked like a range of hills, some jagged, some round as parliament mounds. Slices of roast beef became cooled larval plates and vegetables a compost heap, like the one my dad forked and raked into submission, until the new additions joined the mass of grey. It was only when I had climbed onto my chair that I saw how ordinary it all was, and how temptingly delicious ‘ordinary’ can be.

I recall sitting to ‘Listen With Mother’, only Mother always fled the room having seated us and was long gone before the welcome music had stopped. I remember being immediately drawn into the story as the teller’s voice led me away from the pestilential; my woolly underpants, my too tight shoes, my nails bitten to the quick and beyond, my disappointment in life. I dreaded the end music. I waited, my heart on pause, as the story slowly came to its conclusion, the teller’s voice falling back to its final chord and my underpants reminding me of to disseminate. When I heard the music heralding the Archers, or, worse, the Shipping Forecast, I knew I was doomed, for that meant bedtime and darkness and utter loneliness. Until, that is, I picked up my book and moved immediately into a story not my own, a story fashioned from smoke and stars, wild water and silent red skies, of adventures and choice and freedom.

I am the same now. I do not choose woolly underpants, nor do I bite my nails to the quick and beyond, but I do feel a clutch in my heart when Steve Wright says, It’s time to go, and plays the end music. It is all about being thrust back into the so called disappointment. At five to five I leap up to turn off the radio. I do this because, I now realise, I don’t want that same pattern to repeat itself; that slump back into ordinary; the moment when I need to lift my reluctant self back into my life, when I must leave the story or the music behind and do things like cooking or bathing whilst wondering what on earth I can do to shorten the long hours of evening.

It was the same throughout the latter years of caring. Initially, when himself was still mobile, when he still enjoyed going out for a meal (our favourite thing) or playing scrabble beside a feisty woodburner and surrounded by candles and talk of what we would do tomorrow, I had no such slump when Steve Wright said, It’s time to go. It meant nothing. It was just a wee reminder that dinner might like to be prepared and that a warming bath with scented candles awaited both of us. I didn’t even mind his derisive snort at the festival of light I had prepared around the rim of the bath. For me, it meant stories, stories flickering on the ceiling, the plash of water as I moved, the shadows like creatures from another world, all showing me hope and choice and freedom. I could barely wait to get into bed for all the reading I would do throughout the night.

Latterly, as he sickened and regressed into childhood, he wanted a supper of mulch at 4.30 and was ready for bed two hours later. Then I found little interest in cooking for one, for myself and absolutely no interest in the evening. He sat, headphones on, engaged on WhatsApp with who knows who or watching Casualty, something at which he would have scoffed away before, as mindless tripe. Now, alone, it thinks me. I connect again with the child who imagined a mountain range at eye level when it was just a plate of food to everyone else. It reminds me of the young wife and mother I once was who suddenly realised that life is ordinary. It reminds me of just a few years ago, when, pre-dementia diagnosis, I actually still believed things would change for the better, like in books but with me as the heroine.

Is the alternative, then, a slump into the ordinary? Hell NO!

To my delight, this child who saw mountains that became roast potatoes is alive and kicking within. I find her in the books I read, that curious child who longs to wander through the pages of a story. I ask myself, is this me hiding from the world? Perhaps. I ask, Am I going slowly mad, reading two books a week? Perhaps. Who will deny or confirm? Not I said the goose.

Well, that’s good enough for me. In stories, in books, in reading, I change my thinking. I learn, through novels, a new way to see an old thing. I find that ‘ordinary’ is not such a slump; but that ‘ordinary’ begs my light to shine from within and thus it lifts and lift until my ordinary is your extraordinary. Here’s my hand, I say, reaching down. I can pull you up and here’s a book. What book? you might ask? whilst grabbing my hand to avoid falling into the abyss. Oh, I reply. the one you need for now.

I read for survival and for pleasure. The well written word is more glorious to me than jewels; scratchy nickers and long empty evening, lose their power as do lost dinner dates and the ending of things. The light I find in books is endless and there is not ending in endless, for as long as people live and breathe and write, there will be stories upon stories upon stories, like a feast; like a roast dinner that looks one thing at eye level and quite another when ‘ordinary’. I have hauled my way up rocks and over mountains, through floods and deserts and only because I read books and books have always lit my way.

And as long as I live, I will keep that light on. I have ten grandchildren, and two step grandchildren and they all read and are ripe for books. That’s twelve potential families moving out into the future. Now that’s not ordinary at all.

Island Blog – Wind Rock and Stories

A huge bag of wood arrived today, just as it began to rain – again. I love the sight of all those split logs, fine and red and full of stories. I had heard the chainsaws for a few days way out across the sea-loch inside the forestry depths just knowing that my huge bag would be craned over the fence in a couple of days. I drew my trusty and rusty barrow out from the garage and began the transfer from bag to wood store, feeling each log and enjoying the way I simply know how to stack, which log to place where with barely a second’s thought. The pile rose as I considered the stories held within that precious wood. The importance of trees, that’s what I was thinking as my hands held each log, each log of stories. These pines will have only lived for 50 years, t’is true, prior to felling for the warmthly needs of the likes of me, but it reminded me of the huge beech tree I saw at the weekend. It had fallen across the track, all the many tons of it, and politely, as big trees always seem to fall, thus making sure nobody is squashed. The victim of wind rock.

The lines on this big soldier spanned hundreds of years and the bleeding sap made me sad. In death there is a bleeding, even if you are a tree. I touched the newly hewn bare face of the trunk and could feel the stories run up my arm. Even if I am too stupid to actually hear the details of these silent stories, I know they are there held within the warm mother trunk and protected by her coat of bark. What had this tree seen in its time? The estate was formed in early 1800 so, chances are she observed many things. Grand people coming and going, carriages, horses, escapes and arrivals; farm workers on carts with ribald in their mouths and a flask of something stiffening. Children off to school, beautiful sons and daughters off to grand parties, old women out to tea and a gossip and sturdy clan chiefs kitted up for a skirmish. All of that, for this tree stood at the gate to the big house and would have been the envy of the other trees, relegated to a yearning life in the bleachers.

Aside the track, bracken stands tall, copper filigree on burnished stalks. It looks beautiful in death, unlike in life when it suffocates the ground and harbours myriad blood-sucking pests. Few birds today in the bare trees, beyond a few long-tailed tits whipping off doomed buds and a pair of jays, screeching horribly at each other from one side of the wood to the other. Jays always surprise me; a dreadful scratchy call, like fingers on a blackboard and then they fly out, a rainbow of fabulous colour. A line comes to mind. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It takes me back to my youth; beautiful men and women, all sparkles and smiles and convincing words, and without a story. I met a few of those. At the time I was so embroiled in the minutiae of young life, I didn’t pull back to see the bigger picture. I do now. As I watch a female sparrow hawk take a blackbird right outside my window, I see her beauty, her colours and the ebony black of her eyes. I hear the cries from her prey. I am not cold to this. It physically hurts me, but I know the story. She is as hungry as the blackbird. Her life is all about precision and focus, unrelenting focus, day after day for life. Now that is a story.

Back to the tree. I think about it. Some will look at this mighty giant, now sawn rudely in half and bleeding, as firewood in a couple of years. Others will feel great sadness at the loss of yet another tree. And I? I will keep walking by to hear the stories it holds, even as it dies; even if I cannot tell them out, I can hold them within and, somehow I know that this matters.

Island Blog – Alice and Me

I have noticed this. In the morning, when I awaken, could be 4, could be 5 and sometimes a glorious sixer, I think new thoughts, like a child, and all those thoughts are interrupted by questions. What is the morning like beyond those blackout curtains? What will the weather do, what will I do? What shall I wear? Do I smell coffee #obviously not? Where’s the dog? That sort of thing. All fresh and spontaneous and floaty, newish, new, light as air. These Alice questions follow me to the bathroom as I wash and brush and take a look in the mirror. That grounds me. Oh, hallo Old Wise Fool, I whisper with fondness. I have no idea why I still whisper, but I do. Decades of early whispering gets stuck in a woman’s DNA.

I descend the stairs, avoiding the stairlift chair. Let me tell you about that. A week or so ago, my little grand girl was chair-lifting herself up and down. All the grand girls know the rules. One at a time. Ask permission first. She had gone through that process. I, on the other hand, being Wise and Foolish, had not checked that the duvet cover, draped over the bannisters, was clear of the workings. She ground to a halt, my little grand girl. Oh, Gaga, she said. I’m stuck. I should let you know that when they call me thus, they refer to Lady Gaga and not the alternative meaning. When I called the engineer of chairlifts, he was most kind and said he would pop over shortly to sort the twist of thick material now almost a part of the cog mechanism, so melded it was, and is, still.

As I descend those same stairs, I notice that early thoughts don’t all come with me as if they know they are dream thoughts and know their place. The Alice in me meets the day about half way down. The day before has its own residue, and rising. We meet for conversation. It’s like I grow up every morning, from dream child to sensible old woman. Sometimes there is a collision. Other times, a collusion. Either way, it is new each morning.

As the day grows and develops, bringing with it a list of things to fill in, such as lawyer’s letters requiring originals of every important document, plus my own ID, for goodness sake, as if nobody knew I had stuck with this man for almost 50 years, and, as if I might be a sudden nobody, I drink coffee and move on. Each day brings its accompanying thoughts and fears and doubts. Overwhelmed, often, I remember the Alice on the mid-stairs and breathe. I can meet her there anytime I choose, and I do. It thinks me, about thoughts. They tend to gather as the ordinariness of a day crowd in like a noisy rabble, set to confound and dissemble. I go half way up those stairs, just below the strangled chairlift and sit. Hallo world, I say (not whisper). I am strong, wise and paying attention. I can do this. I’ve got this. It will pass. I’m not sure the world likes that much.

When I go to bed, I pass Alice mid-way and crook her in my arms. My thoughts are a circus. In my thinking I bring her, fresh young child, upstairs as a gift to my night. Even if my head is thringing with a million thoughts, she, on the stairs, half way down and half way up, is still fresh as a daisy, that beauty that rises with the sun and closes as it sets. So simple, so fresh, so free. I have dealt with lawyers, probate, funeral expenses, ID requirements and also ran. I am ancient by the time I trudge to bed. But she is not.

And she is me.

Island Blog – Someday Blues

It amazeballs me how anyone so practical and unsentimental can swing from joyous to dark subterranea overnight. But it sure happens to me. Perhaps, and this will bring on an eye roll from those in the know, it is a lot to do with bereavement and grieving. Grieving……an interesting word and not one I thought I related to, for I am not grieving, or I thought I wisnae. The thing is that words are semantical. They mean different things to different folk. Grieving, to me, feels like endless tears and slippers on all day long; it means I don’t eat or wash or bother with anything much or anyone much at all, and all of that is not me. I bother a lot about caring for myself. It is all a matter of pride and performance to me, whether or not I meet another soul for a whole week. I am not awash with tears. In fact, I have barely managed a baker’s dozen since he died. It isn’t that I am a cold fish, not at all, but after being right beside him for over 10 years as he slowly fell to ruin, I suspect I have gone through most of the stages of grief whilst he yet lived.

Today I awoke with it. Subterranea. I knew it the minute I attempted to open my eyes, knew they were slits in my pale face and that they would barely widen no matter what the day held for me. I lay back and considered the fact that I was not really in charge of myself at all; that something else was playing out its own drama on my inner stage, something I could not name but did not like one bit, as I did not like one bit certain girls at school, and for no obvious reason. Certainly not something I could explain nor would it be a discourse I might enter into, should someone ask me what or why. So what is this flip and doodle of days? Why, when I believe, or tell myself, that my craft is finally harbouring safely in a dock of my own choosing, does my ship ready about and head back to sea where chaos reigns and the weather is lord of all?

I sigh. I have no answer to any of it. This is why I walk out in the fairy woods, wander (slip and skid) across the rocks on the shore and spend hours watching the sky change, change and change again. It seems to me that all I can do for now until this painful rollercoaster finally runs out of juice, until the music stops and the fairground moves on to somewhere else, is to move like an observer and not a player. In the morass of legal requirements and paperwork, of photocopies and of rifling through filing cabinets in the (vain) hope that himself kept at least some semblance of a paper trail, I will eventually find completion; not of me, but of his dissembled estate. Some order from his chaos. I hope so, and, if I don’t, then this will meander on for years and incur great costs, enough for lawyers to choose a 3 month winter holiday with wide smiles and a loud wahoo.

I am lucky, nonetheless. Our children are right beside me. They understand legalise as I do not. They gently guide and sort and support through this process of ‘enveloping’ up a life, a long life of decisions made; of carelessness and devil-may-care; of the wildness of just living and blow the consequences, consequences that now fall to me, to our children. A part of me gets it. A part of me remembers that man, the man I chose and the man who spent the next 42 years infuriating me as I grew up as he decided not to. In a long life shared, and with hindsight, it is easy to look back and to be wise, but I cannot. I remember not paying attention to things that required exactly that. I remember enjoying the crazy. And here is where I find contradiction. Had I been more engaged, braver, more determined to be the grown-up I purported to be, would the memories have changed? Would I have been able and willing to join in the wildness of his life, if I had been the schoolmarm in the relationship? Probably not.

So, as the days flip and doodle, I must keep on searching for a paper trail; keep on searching for the answers the probate lawyer seeks; keep on calling on our children for their support. I must, also keep walking in the wilds, watching the sky light change and change and change again, until the time comes when this is done, as tidy as it can be whilst accepting that I was concomitant to his way of living, and then to celebrate the chaos of those shared years.

I must engage with the sunshine and with the someday blues, both.

Island Blog – Feeling the Bones

As I walk beneath the coppering beech trees, the bare bones of ancient larch, the garnets of gold on this tree and that, like halos, I become suddenly aware of my body. Paying attention to this I can feel each muscle ripple and stretch, contract and stretch again as my legs take me down the track. In my mind’s eye I see my bones, my skeleton and it makes me laugh out loud. I think, What if someone saw me like this? All flowing frock and skinny bones. I hear the creak and grind of ball and socket, the constant movement deep inside my skin, my protecting armour. I think of all that movement, that silent and secret life of very important organs and other bits of gloopy squidge that mean the bones can keep me going. I stretch my bare toes inside my furry boots, consider each one and its unique purpose. I feel the stones beneath my rubber soles and notice how that foot, those toes, work together without me doing anything conscious at all. One toe less and I would be wonky chops for as long as it took my brain to catch up, to readjust, to set me level once more. I flex my fingers, the only part of me not moving, as they hang limp inside my warm fingerless mittens. They curl in repose and are colder than any other part of me. I lift one hand to my face and study those gnarled old digits which have worked hard and for many many years at all sorts of different things. These bumpy looking sticky-out appendages can play soft and soothing piano. They have held newborns and adults in times of joy and times of grief. They have obediently frocked me up of a morning and then deconstructed me at bedtime. They have made tea, dinners and beds. This finger has pointed. Often. In anger, at an astonishing sight, at the openly merry mouth of a welcoming cafe in a rainstorm. This thumb has pressed, eased and held down string for knotting. So many important actions I simply took for granted.

Moving on through the canopy of beech and alder, hazel scrub and ancient pines I notice a newly dead pine, tall as a building and now naked as a skeleton. A peppering of holes tells me of woodpeckers and unfortunate bugs. The spine is almost white, all sung out now and suggesting firewood. The tide flows noisily out followed by a shriek and cackle of gulls, snow-white against the smoky grey of a raincloud. Earlier I had watched 3 otters fishing in the sea-loch, when the tide had stopped to draw breath before turning back to Mother Atlantic. Flat water. Otters like flat water, I have noticed. I suspect it is a more peaceable hunt for them.

Still aware of my body moving, still feeling and noticing, I realise I haven’t done this before, not quite like this. I didn’t set out to notice. The ‘notice’ just came as if something had changed outside of me drawing my attention. Staying with the moment and allowing it to take control I consider what this body, this mind, this vital combination has achieved through life and what it is achieving now. Perhaps as we age we grow more aware of such things, whereas in youth we just expect everything to work without question. Perhaps. Does it matter? No, it does not. What matters is simply that I respond to the gentle nudge of awareness and that I engage with it.

I am happy to report that the walkers I did meet on the track were not horrified by a skeleton in a frock and furry boots and I am glad of it. This special and powerful invitation for an inner dance was for me. Just me.

Island Blog – Alone with Poppy

Me and Poppy watch the sky, she, in Popz’s marvellous chair that electrically lifts a human to standing point, and I in mine, that doesn’t. Mine is an ancient Orkney chair, all oak seat and rush backed, sturdy as a woman in a storm. I am fond of this chair. it wisnae mine, not really. My mother-in-law sat in it, her rightful place, although it dwarfed her, the wee round midget that she was with enough authority to clear a car park of hoodlums in seconds. I am not she, but I did learn from her and, from her, inherited my current seating.

Like her, I am now alone in this 1830 stone built home. Like her, although she never said, I feel the expanse of walls around me. I see the fields of carpet, the stretch of old floorboards. Like her I hear the hum of ancient plumbing in the night, random, unexpected, like burps. Like her, I study my old gnarled fingers and feel the tweaks as I try to sew and, like her, I say damn you old age! I will not give in easily.

We watch, me and Poppy, the cormorants on the rocks, their curved necks so telling. They preen and prink, black silhouettes from where we stand. Further along the track we find long tailed tits. I hear them and stop. When I stop, Poppy does too, alert. But she looks ahead, along the track whereas my eyes scan the trees. They are here, somewhere. And then I find them, picking off the new shoots from the birch and hazel. Of course they are. No tit could tackle a hazel nut. It would have to be this, the young shoots, the ones that bravely come out even knowing the next frost will kill them dead. The birds are on such an error of choice. They flit, dance, and are gone.

Last night we heard the darkling migration of swans. It woke us both, Poppy barking, me shushing her. Although we could not see a thing, we both moved to the window. She jumped up on the sill and my eyes scanned the black dark, knowing it was a fruitless attempt. We stopped. We looked. We heard them pass. Who knows how many but it took some minutes.

Well, I said, shall I make tea? Her huge eyes watched my face. Neither of us was going to settle immediately. In silence we descended the stairs. I know I am alone, but I am not lonely. I also know that this dog, this Poppy, is a helpmeet even if she has no clue what I am looking at, nor why. She just responds because she is tuned to me as I am to her. And, for all the time I have her, I am thankful.

Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. I have been more lonely in a crowd, in a gathering, in a family, in my marriage than I ever am now. And, yet, it is new ground. This is it. This is for real.

I am glad I have Poppy.

Island Blog – Me, the Swan and the Marvellousness of Life

Walking this morning over tree-fall of burnished gold – larch pins, beech and rhododendron leaves, wet and flat on the peaty floor, I see change all around. It seems to be happening daily. Water, still, in stands, rain-heavy. I remembered tadpoles, watched them clutch and fiddle about, only yesterday it seems, when the sun was high and warmth promised. Now, greasy and black, it looks subdued, tempered, level with the sky, reflecting nothing. My eyes cast upwards, as they always do beneath the magnificence of ancient trees. Beyond the skinned branches there are clouds. There is sky, a sky that looks so much further away than it did in the summer. Back then, it felt close enough to reach, to pull down some blue for myself, but if I shouted now, there would be no echo. My voice would be lost in space. The sky has retreated.

There are no fruits left on the rowan nor the blackthorn. The blackbirds have seen to that. No mistle thrush this year, no redwings swinging like ribbons through the woods. Only big black crows, buzzards, owls and seagulls. I feel a missing. Just once I heard the long-tailed tits working the nuts and fruits but caught no sighting. I remember times they danced with me along the track, unafraid. So close, those little survivors with tiny bodies and great long tails and with voices so easily recognised. Hallo, I whispered, so as not to startle them (I have no idea about Tit hearing tolerance) and they skittered about above my head as if I wasn’t there at all.

Coarse dead grasses flop drunkenly after last weekend’s gale #hooligan that screamed and crashed and threatened roof tiles and my peace of mind for two long days and nights. The first of many. The first I have got through alone in this solid wee stone-built home. During the worst of it, in the pitch black of an island night, I thought of sailors, of the animals out in this slashing hail and rain that fell like steel rods onto a goodly and patient earth. When I walk through the woods I can feel the ground move beneath my feet, as if I walked on elastic. This is how this land survives. It moves and bends with the winter’s boots. You will not break me, it says. You can change me but I will not break.

Returning down the track I see a single white bird right in the middle of the sea-loch at full tide. Too big for a gull and not a goose. Geese are never single and nor are gulls. I peer and watch and move forward. It is a swan, a Hooper, a visitor on its way to warmer climes in the south and already travelled all the way from Iceland or even further north. Now, wait a minute. Swans mate for life. Swans travel together. Why is this lone proud creature sitting mid loch? I hear its voice, haunting, echoing across the water, but it doesn’t move. Closer, I see it is looking out to sea, its neck stretched, yearning. I stop and wait. It calls on, gentle, soft, persistent. I look seawards and see nothing. What? I whisper. What are you doing here at all, all alone and with winter about to grasp us in her icy mitt? Suddenly it flaps itself into a run, lifting on great white wings into the air, heading west and out to sea.

And, then, I hear them. Miles and miles up in the faraway sky comes a huge skein of Hooper Swans, their voices responding to this left-behind loner. I watch in awe as they move overhead, as the left-behind rises and rises in pursuit. They move fast and they are high, so much higher than this single swan but in him or her I can sense determination and the adrenaline of pursuit, the drive for survival, for familial connection. This swan has lost its mate. That’s for sure. You don’t see a single swan. But it knew others would come. It knew that this was the route south. All it had to do was to stand out, white against black water and to be patient. And there stood I, clueless and wondering.

As I watched it fly, rising and rising and rising again, the skein disappearing so quickly, I whispered Go on, Go on, Go on, my brave friend! And, turning for home with a last look at the empty sea-loch, I saw the marvellousness of life.

Island Blog – Taking the Biscuit

My album is out. Who would have thought it? Edge of the Wild is a compilation of my own songs, worked into magic by my musician/music producer friends at Wild Biscuit (www.wildbiscuit.com) who came up with the idea and then gentled me through the process. I was scared, lacking in confidence and quite certain I had no song left in me. They knew I was wrong and they were right.

It took 3 years to bring it all together. The demands of dementia care meant I could only work with them in fits and starts, short stays and intense effort on all our parts. Staying with them in a delightful farmhouse in Argyll was the perfect place, not least because I met the piano to outsmart all pianos. I could not believe the beauty of this big grand and it seemed to me that all I had to do was to come up with melody and lyrics and the keyboard did the rest. My fingers, creaky after years of no dance with ebony and ivory, were set free. They seemed to float across the keys all by themselves and I hardly had to look or think at all. It was a taste of magic, and heady. For periods of 2/3 days with many days in between, we focussed and recorded. I know the talent Wild Biscuit brought to the process as I was guided firmly but gently up and up and up till my Achilles heel was suitably stretched and my tiptoes elevated me higher than I had ever been before. It was exhausting and exciting, rising me early each morning with more stories to sing, more ideas to explore. The dynamic between Wild Biscuit and me was electric.

Now it is done. Now my album Edge of the Wild is out in the world, on Amazon as a CD or download, on iTunes and on Spotify. (https://open.spotify.com/artist/69ZRY6E6uKAcUmD8G5cF4Y?si=_rlES-ADR8OGIg5s8s7-Cw) I am proud. I am a singing granny and I wonder how many others can say this? Had Wild Biscuit not approached me all those years ago, saying ‘You have a voice, woman. The world needs to hear it.” I might have died with my songs still in me. Thanks to them, this is not the truth.

I invite you to listen. Each song is birthed from an experience, a memory. I recall each of them, remembering how I felt at the time, how the outside of me belied the inside of me. I hope this comes across. Many may relate to each songstory, and to you I say Hallo. We walk our own paths through this extraordinary and complicated life but there are meeting points all along the way where we can share, laugh, cry and find the ‘brave’ to move on.

We all, if we are honest, live on the Edge of Wild. Our dreams and hopes may dash against the rocks but I have seen enough boats pull themselves back to safety, enough courageous people turn their backs on those rocks, to know that it is never too late to make a songstory. I don’t mean everyone needs to make a singer/songwriter album, but I do mean that for a life to mean anything at all, those songs need to be sung and that will take introspection and jack boots.