Island Blog – Autumn, Our Gift.

I almost didn’t go to the pier today, to sit on the flat rock and to watch the tidal activity. Almost. Waking twirly and feeling it as the day slowed on, I conversed with myself as though to allow such a falter, to give it credence and approval. I will walk the short walk today, I said. It’s fine. I am allowed. But, as I moved closer to the exit opportunity, the rebel in me drew blood and stood in my path. I could see her in my mind’s eye and she laughed me. Ok, ok, I said, I will walk on. She withdrew to allow safe passage. I would so not want to challenge her.

Leaves are turning. Above my head, beech, alder, hornbeam and birch show me tip. That tip into Autumn, that acceptance with a rebel of colour shouting at them. No dying without colour, she says, no dying without that glorious dress of swish and ruby, of gold and speckles, that differentness that comes only now, only as Summer with all her flounce and confidence yawns like a princess and takes a first class flight across the world. There, she can astonish as only she can, lifting tired human minds, human bodies into swimsuits and flowing wraps and barbecues and beach encounters, but Autumn is pragmatic. She speaks to the dying light, to those on the cusp of change, she is change. And she does it well. Even though the storms may come and the light give way to a big dark, she is clever with time, for those who are watching. She is not one to sleep in.

The light lifts as I walk. Although it seems that the sky is closed, all grey and without comment, there is a shift. I can feel blue coming even if I cannot see it and it comes, with dissonant clouding and cerulean blue. For now it is just sweaty and cloying and my frocks clamp my skin. Then home again as Father Sun finds his spot and beams hot and sweaty after a jumper and boot day. I roll my eyes and peel off morning layers, damp down the fire. The temperature flips from nothing much to 27 degrees in a matter of moments. My neighbours suddenly barbecue. It is what we do if we are working with what is on offer, much like Autumn. I like her. She is feisty and determined. She is beauty in the face of death only it isn’t death. Death is forever, whereas she, Autumn is just one of four and playing her part. She is that jazz singer with a whisky/cigarette voice you hear whilst walking home, one that draws you in to hear more. She is nuts and berries, vibrant and wild, offering a harvest that comes only to her. She is preparation for the winter months when we all lose the plot, light endless candles, and pretend we don’t mind the dark and the cold. She is a herald, nonetheless. She is saying, get ready, pay attention, get real about this time, in particular, This Time, for we are all afraid, all wondering, all peering out at a world we are no longer sure about nor confident to walk in.

I won’t do the cheesy and say that this is nothing. It is not nothing. But we humans have survived, lived, loved danced and made a difference over and over for thousands of years. None of us know what will happen next but next is out there and we are right here, right now and this is Autumn. Our gift.

Island Blog – Cusp

I like being on the cusp of change, even as I sometimes am a fearty. This day I walked beneath a billow of grey clouds and thought, well, at least the sky isn’t flat. I’m not great at flat, unless it refers to my midriff, in which case I am delighted. The sun is closed and already lowering in our skies which brings a change of light. Another cusp. As Summer concedes to Autumn, I wonder if they discuss when and how and if there is any resistance or if all the seasons are good students and just know their places. You go, no, You go, No you, or something, or is it silent, peaceful and are the four of them friends? I have met Autumn in the mornings, a thrill of chill, a shiver, a rush to light the wood burner, only to end up with burned skin in the afternoon. In the laze of Spring, for she is lazy up here, I can dress in thunder resistant woollens, mighty leggings and at least four frocks plus jumper and be trounced and bounced into stripping off by lunchtime, only to fall back into shivers by wine O’clock. The seasons are capricious.

It can frazzle me. And then it thinks me. Perhaps the seasons are like us, ditzy and unpredictable. Perhaps they too are unsure of their roles, of who they are are in the now-now of now. Old people in my young days and in my middle age could bore my tonsils loose going on about how long the summers were, how on time the snow fell for Christmas, how floods never flooded and how we never knew what a hosepipe ban was. I can hear myself now, telling a young granddaughter about the ‘simple’ days but I notice and pause and erase and laugh for this is memorical nonsense and so very flat sky.

I walk the same track, the Tapselteerie track and it never bores me for it is always changing as the seasons change. Today beneath the yellow, umber, Payne’s grey and white of the bumpy clouds, the scabious lights up. Peacock butterflies show me wild strong colours and sea-dandelions are so yellow I want to spread their buttery gold on my toast. I peer into the woods and see the green slowly change from lemony lime to deep wine bottle. Summer in there is moving out. The grasses are dying and so they should for we will need them next year. Nonetheless it is a gasp, the watching of it, of their turning. Where sunlight lifted and tousled, danced and elevated these emerald fronds, he is abandoning them now for he cannot reach from his louring face in the western sky. And it is right and it is time and it is preparing us if we just care to notice. Bracken stems copper and begin to fall, to fail. Different birds fly over, birds that will leave us soon for the north, for the south. Go safe, I call out. Come back to us.

Mushrooms and toadstools stand like sentries along the track, big-chested, bullish, almost scary, some tempting and beautiful. I touch nothing. A choir of temptresses, all perfect and come-eat-me have erupted overnight on a tree stump. Hallo, I say. Not interested, I say, and not because I don’t eat mushrooms but because I have no knowledge of the safe and of the deadly. I do look back. They are beautiful. I walk to the old pier and sit a while. The wind is snappy, cooler but the tide is gentle, ebbing but softly. Two herons screech at each other like women at a WI cake sale and I smile, rest on a basalt rock and look out while someone across the sea-loch pushes out a dingy and heads for his fishing boat. I stay as they spin by and wave, heading out to catch dinner perhaps. The coolth lifts me from my rock and I wander back home. I check the fire, bring in logs, close a window. I slide down the cusp and go in search of my boots.

Hallo Autumn. Welcome. In you come.

Island Blog – Mindful Boots

I can smell the frost as I awaken, even through the dark. It slips through the open window and tingles my nose. It is calm out there, no wind, no sounds of an earthly indigestion. I burrow into my warm duvet and listen, but not for long as I am always curious to open up a new morning, to invite it in and to marvel as my eyes widen at the beauty of it. Stags, baleful autumn moaners, challenge each other from somewhere deep inside the woods on the other side of the sea-loch, one that is quiet and settled. Mistwater sprites dance across its surface, lifting into the air before disappearing altogether and the grass yonder is almost white, sparkling crystals, unearthly.

Ice clouds pink in response to the sunrise whilst Ben Mhor rises into the sky, one that promises a clear sunshine day. Later, when the frost has succumbed to the burn of it, I will open the doors and remove a layer or two, to feel the warmth against my bare skin. These are glorious autumn days and I will love them for each of their minutes, knowing they will not last, as nothing ever does.

As each season gives way to the next, I feel a discomfort at first. It seems we go from skin out to skin in or the other way around. A thick cardigan becomes an old friend even if I haven’t given it a second glance for months. I feel the shiver of autumn or the rise of warmth in spring and feel irritated. Suddenly, it seems to me, more clothes or less are required and here was I pulling out the familiar, one that no longer cooperates with the weather. Well damnit! Now I have to think about what to wear, to clad my bones in something pretty (always) but appropriate. I am always resistant to ‘appropriate’ at first. And, then, over the following days, I find a new normal and wonder at my initial resistance to change.

Yesterday I lifted the very dead flowers from his grave. The sun shone bright and there was a friend at my side. I had thought I would feel something but I felt nothing at all. I am not a sentimental woman and he is dead and he is gone and there is nothing of him below the grass but old bones. The sheep scattered as we unlatched the gate and descended the hill, cautious of their slimy green leavings, moving our boots mindfully. It is a good way to move boots wherever it is we may go. It thinks me of life itself and the best way to live it. Traversing the distance between the gate and the grave we chatted of old ones, other ones who lie here, the characters, their quirks and scallywag games, their teasing, their strength of character and we laughed over shared memories.

Change will always come however hard we may try to fend it off. Returning home I make coffee and watch the view. I never tire of it for it is in a perpetual state of change as am I, as are we all. The key is to let go and follow it in mindful boots.

Island Blog 162 Blue Moon

Blue moon

‘A blue moon traditionally marks a time of change and possibility in the astrological world. The blue moon is the first since August 31, 2012, and won’t be seen again until January 31, 2018.’

It won’t be blue, however. The Blue bit refers to the fact that there will be two full moons this month, this lunar month; a phenomenon, and we like those.  For the star-friendly among us, it denotes a time of change, of possibility.  We say that something happens ‘once, in a blue moon,’ as we refer to the rarity of an event.  We, on the island, might struggle to see any moon at all through a closed and soggy sky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going on beyond our vision.

Although I usually avoid anything political or strug-mental (my word) inside my blogs, there is a time for every season, one of which is to be counted, to stand tall for something I believe in.  Okay, I’m not so tall, not so important that my little stand can change circumstances, but perhaps, by becoming one of a crowd of ‘standers’ I can make a difference.

On the island, no business, no charity can survive without extra oomph.  That old ferry boat divides us from access to all the instant supports you mainlanders take for granted.  Every one of us has to work that bit harder, that bit longer, our wits and ideas our lifelines.  Tourists come in the Summer months, in the main, although a friendly Autumn or Spring can bring stout-footed walkers and hikers, lycra-clad cyclists to pump their calves into balloons as they rise and descend our endless hills and valleys, eagle-nest watchers and so on.

So, the work we think about all winter long is distilled into a powerful action once the snowdrops begin to show and what should pass for Spring (but forgot this year) lifts the sun a centimetre or two higher in our skies, to illuminate the snow patches, many of which have only just thawed.

One of these worthy and high-profile attractions is our theatre and arts centre, Comar.  I remember, and many of you will too, watching excellent theatre in the barn in this village, where the idea was birthed and delivered to the world.  The Smallest Theatre In The World.  It attracted thousands of thespians and the excellence of this theatre spread far and wide.

Nowadays, it is bigger business, grown from that tiny seed and tended and loved and fed and watered by those whose passion for theatre, music, dance and art led them to invest themselves completely in its development.  Today, amongst its ranks, chaos reigns.  It seems that some now consider it not an island thing anymore and, in their eagerness to make money, have removed the control of it from the very hands, the talented and caring hands of two men whose life revolved around little else, such is their passion.  Being made redundant is not fun for anyone, but on an island it is tough indeed.  Jobs are few and there are many more months without visitors than with.

I am not able, nor willing to state accurate facts about this situation, but the press is doing a good job thus far.  You can read it for yourselves.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.heraldscotland.com%2Fnews%2F13521125.Equity_calls_for_board_of_Mull_arts_company_to_resign_en_masse%2F%3Fref%3Dtwtrec&h=DAQExViOo&s=1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33728339

What I can do is stand beside these island folk, and I am and I will.  Too often we overthink ourselves into stillness, watching precious moments pass us by because we feel the fear of challenging the bully and we logic ourselves back home where life is safe enough, where we can pretend everything is okay.

Theatre and art and music and dance are quite without logic, and all about emotion, about passion, about the red blood of who we are. The island is like no other place.

Once, in a Blue Moon, we must stand and be counted.

 

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

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It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.

Island Blog 106 A Timely Light

Fungus2

First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who comments on my blogs.  Your responses to my own thoughts, thrown out into the world, come back to me like a soft warm morning full of birdsong.  I write as I feel, looking not for a Well Done, but to touch on another’s life, to connect a couple of dots perhaps, to feel I am not alone, not physically, but in my innermost self, that woman I am stuck with, as she is, with me.

It makes me consider these two women – the visible one and Her Indoors, and the oftentimes mismatch between the two of us.

In the early hours before dawn, I ask myself big questions, such as who are you?  and what do you want of this life? and why do we get in the way of each other?  and why is it we aren’t perfectly aligned in our thinking?  I know it may be a tad late to be addressing these major issues, but I seem to be doing it now and, besides, time is an illusion, whatever that means.

When I meet someone, I observe her intently.  I learn much about her from how she says what she says, her body language, her choice of dress, the pitch and volume of their voice.  I can hear clearly what the inner person is saying, however much talk comes out of her mouth.  Is she really herself or is she fitting in to the shape either she, or others, require of her?  Is her confidence real or built only on the sand of her expectations?  What drives her?  The need to be thought of as a ‘good’ woman, or the need to be true to herself, or a bit of both?  Does she feel she has done her very best in this life, or is there an ache of regret and loss, and how well has she managed to conceal it under bright merriment and high rise cheese souffles?

I often feel there is a wasp in between me and someone of whom I have just asked a personal question.  One like….. Are You Happy?  Oh, I will get a list of all those things she may quickly pull into the room like the success of her children, the fact that the Co-op now sells mixed peel outside of the Christmas period, the arrival of the Redwings to colour up an autumn scene, but she won’t answer me direct.  After all, what she feels about her life is not important at all.  What is important is how she can make others happy, and this the point when I am in danger of falling out with Her Indoors, because I understand it completely and it is surely a goodly way to live, isn’t it?

No, it is not enough, and becomes glaringly clear when the children fly the coop, and she is without purpose, unless she has been ‘selfish’ during the busy years, and taken time to develop and grow her own interest, one that can support her to the end of her days.

When I look back on my own life, I see how fortunate I have been in my choices.  I found a man who has never understood for one second the shrieking sharp-toothed Her Indoors, but has loved her anyway, even if he did have to walk about in full armour-plating for many years, which was wise of him considering my deadly aim.

I think we don’t need to seek acceptance, nor understanding for the inner person, except from ourselves.  The big mistake is to bury her, or him, for this applies to both species, and then to blame an outsider for our own refusal to let light in.

Without light, nothing grows but fungus.