Island Blog – I Dare You and Defiance

There’s a natural space in the woods that always looks me in. It’s as if I lose control of my eyes for they slide to the right even if I am captivated by the left where wind-bowed hazels dense the hill flow down to the shore. The gap shows me promise, hope, a further on, an invitation. I know, because I have gone in before, that a rise of scrub grass and big rocks will lead me, puffing like an old Billy, right up to the top only to show me a short down and another challenging up. But today I don’t accept the invitation, not least because of……what, I ask myself and myself as ever has a quickquick answer. Because you are scared of falling and of lying up there in the silent depths of the wood where nobody will find you for days, maybe weeks. I silence her with a sharp hiss which alarms the walkers coming towards me on the track. I feel that overwhelming need to explain that I am not mad (really?) and not a daft old woman talking to myself, which, of course, I am. I roll my eyes and once far enough away from the looking-back walkers and after checking the wind direction, I ask myself why it is that I always have to explain my actions. I yearn, and always have yearned, to be one of those women who can beatifically smile at sudden encounters that encroach on private moments and to not give a monkeys whatnot as to their reactionary thoughts or whispers. I have a long way to go on that one.

Not going in doesn’t mean I cannot pause and send my eyes scooping through the darkling gap to rise and rise again to where the top of the first hill hits the sky. I notice the grass that has fought its way into a piddling light all summer. Now its fronds are bending over and soon they will die their yearly death, kidding on that they are done for good. I smile. I know their root system. I have met that root system in my own little garden. There is way more of that below the surface, below my seeing, than there ever is above ground. The fallen beech tree just within the. wood still sends out leaves, clever limbs reaching reaching up into whatever light sustains the ancient fingers below ground, the ones that garner every bit of moisture they can find, and year after year. It is a long time fallen, this old beech and yet still it blooms. I step in and put my hand on its belly, its trunk, thick as a planet and as long as time. Well done my friend I say. You inspire me.

Fallen I am not and yet when life changed for ever just over a year ago, I can feel a bit fallen at times. Perhaps Nature is teaching me. No, Nature is definitely teaching me. The flower that blooms between paving stones, the cowslip that grows butter yellow and flowers for many days perched atop a big fence post and this beech. It is never about perfect growing conditions, never. I have known so many who seeded, bloomed and blossomed in impossible places under appalling circumstances, defying loss and pain, and who did it anyway. It was never for show, but to shout to the naysayers or to those all settled and comfortable in those perfect conditions, Defiance. Shout Defiance. Shout it. But do something. Shouting alone gives your throat a horsewhip and achieves as little. Choose, instead, to bloom. Go on. I dare you.

Island Blog – The Still People

I walk today, the same route, the ever-changing route, the route that is a right fidget. It never settles, even over a mere 24 hours. The story of this landscape can never, could never be captured in a photograph, a still, for it is never thus. Every leaf changes, every blade of grass. Blue beetles march the track one day and are gone the next. Moss rises emerald and fades dry the next. Water courses overflow, lifting the water plants high enough to drown and then, the next day lower them gently back into the mud. Even natural springs (my absolute passion) falter if rain is cut off for days. I call them sassy. Yesterday we were a torrent. Today we trickle. it just shows how adaptable we are, don’t you think, you moving person? And the otter doesn’t mind, being as flexible as we. Yes, I acknowledge. I agree. It thinks me.

At this point, and at many other points, I am the moving person. I walk through the trees, wander deep into the woods to follow the tracks of night deer, as they stand still. Watching me. I know they are, just as I knew when I passed by a group of humans who drop silent. You just know they are watching your ass and it isn’t always comfortable knowing suchlike. I don’t feel the same way about the trees. They are older, kinder, wiser after all. Even as they are the still people and cannot walk with me, they do inside my mind. This huge beech tree, this spindly sycamore with no room to spread her arms, this alder, this willow. I notice and pause to connect with a fallen larch. You were so rooted and for so long my friend and then you fell. Did you decide that for yourself? I see others who are coming to their end of days with their bark peeling, or that suffocation of ivy determined on strangulation grasping at their bodies, and I wonder when they will simply and perfectly and politely decide to lay down their burden of care. All that growing, that big fight for light, those nesting birds and the endless production of buds and nuts and cones as food for those who, in turn, perpetuate the very you-ness of a tree. This fallen pine is still breathing. Something of the roots remain buried deep inside the nourishing soil, still offering food to flight life, insect life and to creature sanctuary. Wild honeysuckle snakes across the limbs, the flowers not yet beckoning me to a sudden catch of fragrance. Brambles entwine the trunk, snaking like a hug, the promise of blackberries for the autumn birds. I move on.

There are dead trees, stand-ups, arrested in flight. They stopped. Just like that, or so I think. But I know enough to know that this old tree that now looks like a home for a Hobbit, knew fine it was dying. I just didn’t notice. The woodpeckered holes tell me that this old, dead, tree is still offering life, even in death. The mosses that have grown from ground to about breast height, agree with me. Fingering the moss I can see macro-life. Tiny creatures that need this moss on this dead tree in order to survive their own little species. A bumble bee comes in. I hear it and know it is coming to check on me. After all, I am in the natural world now and a visitor. It rounds me once, twice, thrice, nearing at every swoop. I pause, stop my feet. Hallo, I say, Friend. And it is gone. It smalls me. I see how much of nothing I am in this world and how, if I was a bumble bee, I would so need to check out this stomper yomper who has just invaded my space.

On the return flank of this wander I stop beneath an almost fairy circle of beeches. They are hundreds of years old and, so the story goes, planted as a hedge. To be honest, this makes little sense to me, but wait. I am in my this century thinking that every poor planted soul will be trained and clipped and felled and carved into shapes. Back then this would never have been in anybody’s mind. It is, I believe, a sickness. We have forgotten how important natural nature is to our own future. These trees are millions high now, fat bellied and with outlimbs that defy gravity. Crisp cool barked and solid with deeply strong roots, these big boys are, quite simply, magnificent. I see them daily. I say hallo but they, I notice, are a bit distant, not like the chatty hazels, the moody silver birch dancers, the scholarly alders. The willows too, are friendly. But these beeches hold something, a wisdom. They have seen generations pass this way. They have watched fire and flood, death and life, beginnings and endings. They are silent.

I respect that.

Island Blog – Standing, The Silent Tree

The trees are still today as I wander through them, beneath their arms, limbs and twigs. They appear to be waiting for something, or someone. Perhaps it is me. Here I am, I say, you know me for I am here every single day. Not every day, they say in a stilled silence. Not every day. Okay, maybe not every day. Some days are too cold, too wet, too dark, or have been thus for some months. But where are your voices now? I trunch through a boggy bit on the track, my eyes down, focussing on not getting my sauncy boots coated beyond the plumb line. They are still still. The trees. Not a murmur, not a whisper beyond that reproach at the bend where the track moves with the bedrock. Nothing. Rhododendrons giggle each side of me, stupid infiltrators who never did understand their beginnings, their birth home, who think nothing of claiming all the available space and the space not available too. The Tapselteerie estate manager can spend hours, days, chain-sawing these bullies down to their tippytoes only to watch them rise again the following Spring. They push even now through the others, the residents of this wood, between the oaks and the plane trees, the hazels, hawthorns, beech, larch, pines, birches and the jinks trees, those twisting ballerinas of the woods, the hornbeam, who find space that isn’t enough and bend and twist and lift to the light like some women I know.

The light is held this day, caught in the cold grip of loud cloud, penetrating like a voice, holding the room all the day long. I pull on leggings for my walk, boots, fur lined, a scarf, jacket and woolly hat. I notice how I pick the right colours for this walk, blending to match my current frock. How ridiculous. I meet nobody, nowhere, never, or, rarely and if any of the rarelies bother with my kit, they never say. I plan to walk further but my small wee dog stops at the cut off for a short one. I know she isn’t behind me as I push on through the silent trees so I turn. She cocks her head. This walk, she says without a word, is boring today. There are no dapples of sunlight, no word from the trees, no sway of the grasses and. even the tidal flow is being politely quiet. Let’s go home to the fire. And, so, we do.

Back home and still with a million steps left to step, I decide we will clear out more of my dead husband’s stuff. I cannot and will not chuck a lot of it. I want to wait for this flipping virus to die off so that his children can come calm, wander, reflect and choose. I could be waiting another year, I know this. However, I do plan to have his office repainted and carpeted as a child’s room for the familial visiting I hope will come. I sort, clean, lift, drag and box. In this afterworld of death and responsibility, I have been confounded, silent like the trees this day, standing, waiting. In one moment I just know what this son would want, this daughter, how each individual child might, might have connected with their dad, but what do I know? What I do know is that not one of them is easy around this thing, this waiting, this silent stillness. As in this room now. His office, one he demanded and one he never used. Very ‘man’ in my experience. I get it now, now that I remember and understand how impossibly impossible it is for any man to remain himself in the face of birthing his own children. What appeared a dream became a nightmare. I get it. It still pisses me off, nonetheless.

The room is all but cleared for the painter. It is a silly, pointy room with one small window and not enough air flow. It will only ever be good for a child sleepover, a child, or children who do not yet bother with air flow, lack of sleep, confined quarters. At least it is there for them when they come and I am glad of it, even if it is going to take Henry a while to suck up the ancient cobwebs. I touch the grease mark on the wall, once made by my lovely father-in-law for he slept here towards the end of his life. Hallo, I say. Old Tree. Old Silent one. I did love you and you knew that. We winked at each other over bossy controlling heads, didn’t we? You saw me a friend. Didn’t you?

Yes I did, he whispers. The silent tree moves.

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.