Island Blog – Rain, Alice, Getonwithit and no Cat

This morning as I rise from my sleeping quarters at some ridiculous hour I decide that enough is enough. From the moment I stumbled into the bathroom I knew it at gut level. This day is going to be my return to Getonwithit. I know the place well, have lived for lengthy periods of time within its borders during my long life and it offers considerable sustainability and protection. Its gardens are beautiful, long expanses of emerald grass tonguing into the distance, borders fragrant and blowsy with blooms in every colour of the palette; pretty arbours and trellises of clambering beauty, falling like waterfalls to brush against my cheek as I wander through. Birds flit and flutter among the shrubs and trees, butterflies of every hue, bees and other winged buzzy things sip nectar from open-mouthed blossoms, backlit by the nurturing sun, their stripes and wing patches painting magic on the garden canvas. I can wander all morning here, sit to rest on a garden bench whilst my eyes go deeper into the foliage to see more and yet more of nature’s life. In the evening I can watch the light fade to dark, the sun dip beyond the horizon, feel gentle sleep nudge at my edges.

The trouble is that my stay is limited and never long enough. The double trouble is that I am the one who decides to leave, my edgy gypsy wandering mind becoming bored of all this wonderfulness, for no reason the rest of me can explain, and clamouring for the bark and bite of everything harsh and difficult. From simple not-thinking to complex over-thinking. I blame my parents.

So, this morning I considered a few things. Swinging from Getonwithit with all its simplicity to Questions Without Answers is a waste of my resources. The key is to think Child. I had forgotten her, the wee Alice, the one who keeps falling down habit holes, sorry, rabbit holes, and who accepts a smile without a cat as if that’s completely normal. I find her. She is sitting on the stairs, half way up, half way down and I almost ping to the bottom in a tripcartwheel. I start a bit but I am happy she hasn’t abandoned me, me with my edgy mind. How patient she is, I smile to myself and myself rolls her eyes. Children, I remind myself, get on with it. They may not like the things they are ordered to do. They may not like living along the lines of a rule book they had no say in, but in the main they find fun in their lives. That is what Getonwithit shows me when I am there and this morning I am going back. Myself eyes me, knowingly.

It rains today and blows a hooligan. Stripes of heavenly water cut my window panes into slices and the wind batters the seedlings. Petals flee, birds scoot backwards and walking folk look like kites as they pass, their waterproofs flapping out behind them like wings. Dogs drench, woodpiles sigh and soften, the sky frowns and dumps on us. I can go back to Questions with no Answers, to a droop, to gloom, to the whom I had allowed myself to become recently, or, and this is my choice, I can remember Alice and fun and Getonwithit. So I do, we all do. Me, the dog-about-to-drench, Alice, and the rain, join as one this afternoon as we walk out into the wild, lowering beneath the wet beech leaflimbs , dodging the puddles, smelling the rain, the lovely scent of newfall . And there is a smile in the branches as we wander.

No cat.

Island Blog – Avoiding Collisions

The big window is speckled with raindrops, held in stasis and they glisten. I look through the children’s doodles, the glistening raindrops, my eyes moving into the garden and the brave early flowers. Grassland flows down towards the sea-loch and up the other side, up and up until I find the clouds, a tangle of them, I think at first, and many shades of grey. Watching most closely I can see the layers. Up front, the cobwebby dark fast moving clouds, see-through and spitting rain. Behind them the fat blowsy white ones, lazy, taking their time too respond to a rising wind. They are weighty with knowing and in no rush, not see-through at all, like old professors who know they have a job for life. Further back, the clouds that don’t seem to move at all, flat like naan breads, backlit by a little flash of sun, and beyond them just whispy white sky, acres of it. Acres. How many layers are there? How far back, up, across do they stretch? For ever? I see these levels as closely bunched, micro managing their individual trajectories, but I am wrong. There is only accord. Room for all of us, they seem to say, effortlessly avoiding collisions.

The birds are more than ready for me this morning, one of cloud and cold rain. Many goldfinch, greenfinch, redpoll, siskin, sparrow, blackbird, robin, hawfinch, thrush, starling and rock dove. They line the fence, balance on shrubs, flit and flutter like music notes blown off the stave. Time to reel them in before the wind speed confounds and the rain turns weighty. I fill each feeder as the braver musical notes play around my feet, my head. Two goldfinch watch me from the inside of an ornamental maple, red now, red as good claret. The second I leave, they are down like a swarm of bees. As walkers pass by they rise back into the air, flitting between the feeders, between the shrubs, between each other, to land down again the moment the coast is clear, and all the time they chatter. Some feed young on the fence, some feed themselves, and in all this flitting and lifting, fighting and feeding, rising and landing, there is perfect precision. We know what we are doing, they seem to say, naturally avoiding collisions.

This land is walked on, now, by many more feet. The ferries are booked, the accommodation scrubbed and ready. In the air around us, anticipation, anxiety, excitement and fear layer up, cloudlike . We are grounded and can only go on, steady, determined not to hide away any longer. Peeping through fearful curtains, opening doors that squeak from lack of use, scrubbing doorsteps, we emerge tentatively into a world that barely recognises itself. Who am I now? Who are you, now? Do we still know our way around each other, feel the same way about this, about that, about all the important things that ran strong within us but whose names I have forgotten? My sense of import has changed, my value rating. Has yours, and, if so, will we know each other, have anything to say in this changed world? We know we must brave up and out for we are not moles or worms to need the dark because we have no seeing eyes. We need the light, crave the light, the sky the birds the clouds the sun the tidal moon shift and the story-carrying winds that blow from one side of this planet to the other and back again. We need each other, even if the otherness has become a hesitation when we meet once again. Like all other members of our natural world, we can adapt. We are not going back to normal, an eye-rolling ghastly grammar-makes-no-sense contradiction of a sentence if ever I heard one, because that ‘normal’ is light years behind us now. There is only forward and we are all unsure of our footing. Let those of us who refuse to bring the past along with us hold fast to not having the faintest clue about what happens next, what the ground is like, what clouds will come, what shape the future. Burn the old book that speaks of separation, segregation, prejudice and domination. That book needs to go. It has been outdated for many many years. We might write a new book together. Meantime let us step out, step in, step through and around, consciously avoiding collisions.

Island Blog – Liftlight, Cobwebs and IT

Dawn awakens me with birdsong and light. I know it is dawn because I know what it is like to wake to the moon pushing her way through the peripheries of my blackout curtains. She, the moon, presents a greenish light, a weird eerie one that has me turning over with a sigh. I love the moon but there is a time and a place for moon loving. Dawn thrusts like an opportunity, an hurrah, and it is loaded with birdsong. They are waiting for me, oh so patiently, them birds, perching on the fence, flitting through the shrubs and little trees, so very patient. They don’t mind if I am late. They just keep flitting and perching and watching me. When I go away, no, when I once went away, when going away was just something anyone could do without fear, sanitiser or a mask, I harboured manifold guilt about the birds. They would never get fed if I was not present as the feeder. What would happen? Would they all leave for ever, die, show such grief at my absence that the whole familial line would fail? Well….no. The birds are fine, resourceful and forever on line with their instinct, resourcefulness and strength. T’is only I who think I am IT. IT for my husband, my kids, my in-laws, my mum, my dad, the birds. My IT-ness has always been who I am and I really don’t know how to lay that woman down. Being IT for myself feels deeply weird. I suspect I am not alone in this deep weirdness.

I watch a sea eagle slide through the blue. It looks like play to me, and maybe it is, although I doubt it. When all you have to think about is your next meal, your eyes will always be sharp and focussed. It is huge, even from way down here, down on this little track with the sun on my face and the stones beneath my feet. I, unlike that big bird, am held in place by gravity although I do remember flying once inside a dream. I just knew I could fly when I needed to and I did need to because my IT-ness feathered me up. The dream is still clear in my memory. I was walking in a wasteland, the afterland of apocalypse, the landscape grey and dead. No flowers, birds, animals, no life at all. Just me. The dot of colour in a monochrome world. I came to a ruined tower, its face missing, just one tall wall of stone remaining. A man, a monochrome man stood inside what was once the belly of the tower. He wore formal dress like a butler. His face was grey, he was grey, his nose long as a beak, his eyes ebony marbles. You won’t save them, he said. I followed his eyesl. I could see the sky, sunless, offering nothing, and then I found my children, all five of them hung from coat hangers at various points against the stones. They weren’t hurt, just hanging there. Defiance rose in me. Oh, I will, I whispered, my voice croaky, full of dust, and, I lifted off the ground, flying easily up to unhook each one of them, as if I had always known that I could. I felt no surprise, just determination and the certainty that I was the IT who could bring them to safety. Then I awoke.

Taking a little detour, I wander deeper into the wood. Cobwebs catch at my face like tiny tickles. I laugh out loud as I try, and fail, to pull them off my face. It thinks me. These cobwebs are completely invisible, skinny lines of spider silk that stretch across an impossible distance, between two ancient pines. Do you jump across, I ask, or do you start on one trunk, run back down it, cross the space in between and then scoot up the other? Did I just destroy a morning’s hard work? The cobwebs back home come to mind, those black clusters of dust motes and other floaty things that froth my corners and hang about my paintings, moving in response to me as I walk through the house. Mostly I don’t notice them, until I do, at which point I grab my soft cobweb catcher because now I see them everywhere. I don’t want to upset the spiders though. We need spiders. Listen, I tell one female huntsman as she hangs all legs and attitude, with her cocoon of babies held firmly in her jaws, you are welcome here but your housekeeping skills are not good enough. We need to have a word about it. She says nothing, although I suspect her eyes are rolling. I am not so good at housekeeping skills myself, although I was, once, when I was IT for others, for those with whom I shared my home. Since all have now left me, I am less interested in such mundane matters. Since lockdown nobody will see anyway. I could walk about stark naked for all anyone would know. I could do anything at all because I am not IT anymore. Then I remonstrate with myself. Yes you are. You are IT, now, for yourself. I wait for the thrill of this to lift me. Hmmm. This is my first summer alone. Ever. And it is going to be a daring bold adventure once I relocate my wings, my lift light, my IT.

Island Blog – Mindful and Busy

Today I was very busy being mindful. The Buddhist in you might be rolling your eyes at that. Busy and mindful don’t tend to go together, after all. Perhaps, if I break the day up into bits and bobs I can divide that sentence up. I was busy. I collect my hoover boyfriend, Henry, for the second day in a row. I can see he’s startled but chuffed too. How come, he asks, as I wheel him into the light of the sitting room? You smell better, I reply. The last time we met, before the day before thing, I had excoriated him. I removed his internal organs and emptied the contents of his stomach into the wheechie bin. ‘Wheechie’ because capricious winds come in the night and tapselteerie my bins all over the place without, it appears to me, a modicum of guilt, no apology and no resurrection. Very poor manners. Anyway, once completed and with a new stomach liner in place, I dropped many drops of spike lavender essential oil into the filter. This is how Henry smells so much better now. We work together, him with his powerful suck and me being busy around corners and underneath things that have an underneath until the downstairs shines like new.

Next I sit to sew more patches for my 16th wonky chops baby playmat. A boy this time. I select my blues and greens, my sea colours, flowers (boys need flowers), dinosaurs and Peter Rabbits, and set to. Listening to Pema Chodron on audio book as she guides me through my own betterment, I work for the rest of the morning. Then I whizz up the left over wild garlic leaves and make a gloriously green garlic butter, one that could knock a bull elephant back at least half a mile. Sausaged up in baking parchment it now sits fragrantly in my fridge, cooling its pants. I don’t mind my fridge smelling of garlic. In fact, I could eat garlic at breakfast and now, thanks to all these lockdowns and those masks, I can, without a single botherment over how my breath might be received. I lug my basket of washing up to the hilly line and fight with the big cotton bedding as it fights me back. I am almost felled by a blue striped double duvet cover as the capricious wheeching wind punches at us just I tippytoe the material over the yellow plastic wire. I win, naturally, although it is hardly a dignified process. I have a word with the wind, of course I do. Make your mind up! I snap. Are you coming from here, or there? One or the other would be respectful. The wind just chuckles, scoots off into the safety of the pines. That’s the busy bit over.

I grab garlic for lunch and a cup of earl grey, fragrant as I imagine a Japanese garden to be, even if the tea doesn’t come from Japan. (or does it?). Then I take myself upstairs to my bed, redressed now in a rather smart off white and settle to read for an hour. I doze and am awoken by the doglet who wants her walk. This is the mindful bit. As I go through my little garden gate, I consciously let go of all my busy thoughts. That lovely sense of space and clarity lasts for about ten paces, as a rule, so I have to keep pausing and clearing (busy?). I suspect I am a babe in the work of mindfulness but I have no plans to quit trying. Birds slide the sky, sparrow hawk, buzzard, sea eagle with their usual followers, hecklers, the go-away-ers, brave birds these finches, tits and other small feathered warriors. They don’t like the big guys. I stop and watch the sky action. Much better than any movie. Walking on I see the horse chestnut has leaved up since yesterday, its open palms lifted, drinking in the sun and buffeted by that flipping wind. Long grasses from last year tipple and shiver, the sun backlighting them corn gold. Lord Larch is in full shout now despite his broken body. He is tall as a giant and the emerald of his needles shock a gasp against the cerulean sky. Lady Larch, who is way more together than he is but being in an old style marriage has never ever bloomed before him, even as she could. Her limbs grace as a dancer, and I want her to turn, to show me the full and glorious swing of her fulsome skirtage. She is magnificent, but am careful to big him up first, the crusty old fellow, because, as I know only too well, if he thinks she is more admired than he, she will get it in the neck once me and the doglet have moved on.

Primroses stud the woodland banks like tiny jewels, violets too and the star moss is really showing off like a daylight constellation. I hear geese erupting somewhere down on the shore, then quietening again. Curlew, oystercatcher, a robin that flits along with me but says not a word. Bumble bees turn a willow tree into a performance. Street musicians. They don’t bother with me as I stand beneath the branches and stare up at their busy bottoms. I close my eyes, let the hum become all I can hear or want to hear. Moving further along the track, now latticed with tree limb shadows, a moving mosaic beneath my feet, I hear the wind rifling through the massive old pines, sounding them like an ocean. In my ears too, this wind creates me an ocean and there I am, on a rocky beach with my spirit animal, my white wolf, my Luna. We sit on a big flat rock and just be. Just be. The waves, like mornings, like seasons, like day and night, keep on coming. A regular percussion, reassuring, calming. To know in all of this impermanence, the impermanence of a human life, there are things that are permanent. For now, anyway.

Heading back home, the track changes. This is a drive-through track and thus topped with grey shards of road stones, unreal, not island. But I am glad of the ground beneath my feet even as I prefer the natural pulse of a ground that knows itself, that knows it is home. I walk beneath two unlikely archways, trees on either side whose branches have reached out to each other. An alder with a larch, a pine with a cedar. I pause beneath both and look up, say hallo and thank you for your beauty and your shade, a gift to me and the panting doglet. The blue is arresting, the sky fixed and looking right back at me. I know it. A plane going somewhere leaves a contrail and I watch the capricious wind pick it apart, dissolve it. The sun is warm on my face and I breathe in its warmth, mindfully. It has been a very long winter.

Island Blog – Rain Light

I walked today with my eyes open, as best I could in the slanty rain showers. I need to see, and everything, not just the odd one or two things of spectacularness. Actually, if I look with intent, a great many things take on such a quality. Marching past, thinking ‘rain shooting up my frocks or stones kicked inside my boots to irritate my bare toes’ I can easily miss something I should not miss if I want this walk to mean anything more than a mere mindless exercise for both myself and the Poppy dog. She, needless to report, has no issues with frocks or stones in boots and I am glad of it, for her sake.

Lifting my mind from the aforesaid, I steady my gait, slow my footsteps, turn my face to the rain and all the skinly benefits it has to offer me, for I know it does, I can feel it prickle and stipple my wrinkly face, making it really quite lively. My mascara will not run, and if it does, I won’t mind because the feel of this heavenly water is so much more refreshing than the slosh of chlorine controlled tap water. I look about me. The leaf mulch is like burnished copper and the stems of strong-backed bracken think me of bare trees in a fairy forest. Rose Bay Willow Herb (such a mouthful of a name) stems are of similar beauty. I wonder when they will all finally fall to earth. Perhaps never. I forget.

Moss coats the trees. Beech, Alder, Sycamore, Hornbeam, Oak. All of them gleam and glow, luminescent, elvish, the tiny moss tops holding the droplet diamonds. Thousands of them, on closer study. The sycamores or plane trees patched like the necks of giraffes show me burnt siena and umber. Some trees are bald and the rain has shone them into beacons of light, like wraiths among the living, standing without breath. All sung out. The flash of a Jay overhead, the greyling light illuminating its colours, the translucence of its wings in flight. A buzzard hums the air, holding it, balanced to perfection, almost still as punctuation. Poor rabbit, I think, or mouse. You will see nothing coming as you scurry from cover to cover, always hiding, hiding for a lifetime.

The track is puddled, the extraneous rain pitching down through little gullies, down, always down, as freshwater will always down to the mother sea. The loch popples, tiny drops peppering the surface whilst beneath, salt meets fresh and the inevitable collision shows me a frothy curve of resistance and attack. Sticks lie here and there, thrown perhaps for laughing dogs with play in their mouths and dance in their legs, abandoned like dropped kindling on the path of a forager. I remember each Autumn walking up here on dry days to forage for kindling. There was something wonderful about knowing who lit my fire. Buying bags of split wood never felt the same. I like provenance, stories, meaning behind things. I felt the respect owed and due as I lifted, carried and then lit my fire with something from the woods of Tapselteerie. So much of my life lived there. It matters. Thank you, I breathe, as I lay the gathered sticks, marking, in my mind, the tree they fell from, the one still living, or the wraith that once flowered and spread, following the seasons and just begging to be noticed.

Almost home and I hear the chatter of a very busy household. I can see the evergreen shrub shaking with all this noise and bustle. Hallo Sparrows, I say, but quietly so as not to disturb or alarm. I toss up a prayer of thanks for their safety in concealment. I like that they can live together this way, as I absolutely could not. A commune never attracted me but sparrows seem to love it. They are safe for now, for this time when the sun, barely able to lift his head over the horizon offers a shortling day in which to feed or to forage. T’is the season, I tell them, as I walk by and they, having paused at my footsteps, in an alert concern, relax and chatter back to me. I know how to move around birds; slow and with a soft, reassuring voice. In the mornings as I fill the feeders, the birds come close, even the male blackbirds and that was my best delight for they are the biggest panic merchants I have ever encountered, screaming alarm at the slightest twist in proceedings and frightening all the other birds into bushes and over fences, their little hearts beating like a drumroll, and oft for nothing.

Another day passes. This one with rain light in its eyes. I meet those eyes. And I see.

Island Blog – Just For Today

I can do anything just for today. I can think what I like, just for today. Today is all I have in truth and tomorrow never comes anyway. Everyone knows that. So how will I inhabit this day? What will I decide to do or think? How remarkable it is that I can choose these, no matter what ‘luck’ does or doesn’t come my way. Inevitably, there will be moments that happy or smile me, and moments that seek to trip me up, to send my frocks a flying. Feeding the birds holds both. I am happy and smiley to feed them even as I absorb a cloudful of rain and feel quite whisked about by the horizontal blasts of a damp wind flipping my hems. Chopping wood smiles me and I like the comforting crack of axe success as the big log splits in two. Lifting the log basket tells me my stomach muscles are in good working order and I am thankful for that.

Radio Two plays me happy encouraging tunes but the news is pretty dire. I choose not to let it bother me. There would be little point in bothering, anyway, as there is diddly squat I or anyone else can do about it. However, there will be an opportunity for me to do something for someone else, to lift their spirits. All around me, faces are doing their best to smile out but I see the worry in their eyes. I don’t know what disappointment they may be dealing with, what despair has taken root in their hearts and minds, but I can offer a welcoming smile. Smiles pass through windows after all, saying a great deal without words. I am looking out as they are looking in and we can share that moment, that distant connection. Just for today I will think of someone to call and then I will dial their number. Even if they don’t answer, I can leave a cheerful message of upliftment.

Just for today I will do 2 things I don’t want to do. One of them might just be hoovering. Or it might not. I know that Henry is lonely in the cupboard under the stairs and it’s dark in there and this knowledge alone might spur me into hoover action. Might. I make no promises. After all, there are other things I don’t want to do such as wiping out a kitchen cupboard or digging up the dahlias for a winter dry out. It’s a bog out there, slimy and heavy and I will need to be quick-quick in order to catch a dryish moment between showers. I could do my exercises, which aren’t mine at all, to be honest. Someone else designed them and mostly I ignore them as much as possible. It seems such a waste of time, stretching and bending and rotating my shoulders, but I hear it’s good for me at my age to keep supple. Or, I could sort out the mound of legal paperwork that comes when someone dies, something I have managed to ignore for quite some time. The thing about doing something I don’t want to do is the feeling of personal success once the task is completed. I will focus on that, turn up the tunes and get the heck on with it.

When my mind strays to the gloomy, I will notice and take action. I have become quite good at noticing and taking action. This is something to do with a refusal to allow misery in. I have let misery in oftentimes during my life and I can tell you, it is a most unwelcome guest. It doesn’t come alone either. Misery brings self-pity, despair and loss of self-control. Well who on this goodly earth wants any of those lurking about inside their head? Not me for sure. Although I cannot control what happens to me, I can always control myself and my attitude. Sometimes I get frustrated when a person refuses to see that no matter what happens to them they can choose their reaction to it. But, I remind myself, I only understood it when I found I was seeing mud instead of stars through the bars of my life, and, besides, all of us learn new truths at different times. It is not for me to preach but only to uplift and encourage.

Just for today I will follow a programme. I will waste no time in moithering. I will be decisive and prompt in whatever I undertake. I will not moan, grumble or show irritation, no matter what goes wrong. I will be happy all the way through the day. I will decide to take time for myself even though this is rather irrelevant nowadays because all time is my own. There are no distractions, no calls to arms, no interruptions beyond the tring-a-ling of my telephone. However, there is much to be said for 30 minutes reflection and rest. I would have killed for 30 minutes reflection and rest not so long ago, after all. If I stop whatever I am doing to spend 30 minutes somewhere peaceful, such as on a wander into the fairy woods, my thinking will change as I stand in marvelment beneath the bows and branches. So much bigger than me. So much older and wiser. So much to say without words. Look at us, they whisper. Aren’t we majestic? Then I will bring that majesty home with me and it will filter through the house, lifting, uplifting, freshening the air. It may take me the afternoon to dry out, but I will have achieved much more than dripping skirts and the onset of trench foot. I will have made myself get up and out and into what is solid and strong, loyal, beautiful and ever-changing, qualities I want for myself.

I know that some folk think that when things go wrong, they are doomed, either momentarily, or forever, and that my way of being, of thinking, is just nonsense. Perhaps it is. Perhaps I am deluded, mad, even. But if I have learned anything of value in my life it is that to focus on what isn’t, what cannot be and what isn’t there, is just plain depressing. Looking instead at today, just today, and deciding that I will see whatever happens as an opportunity and not a stumbling block (poor little me), tells me I have complete control, not over the events but over myself and my attitude. And that feels just fine.

Island Blog – Animation

This night my African son tells me he is going out for dinner with his wife and her folks. I know the place. Its all sand drives and security controlled, a sort of housing estate but without living too close to anyone else. In the mornings and evenings, they watch giraffe, zebra, warthog and a million rainbow birds who come by in their search for water and possible food. The local shop sells wild animal food pellets and, although none of the above agree with feeding wildlife, it is tempting. It means the animals stay awhile and I get that. Did it myself when I was there.

On the ‘estate’ that flanks a big croc busy river, lies Kruger park on the other side and fenced high. From viewpoints we can see elephants, leopard (if we are lucky), crocs, hippos, kudu, giraffe, zebra and so much more. It is quite intoxicating. They seem so near and so safe and yet not one of them is either. There are a few restaurants, all a big sandy drive away, and some offering eventide views of the big five coming for water, for it overlooks a freshwater pool (when there is rain, which is not often). Some restaurants are nestled in the bush, and the sounds of cracking branches and birdsong, like we never hear in the UK, interrupt and cause us to look here, or there for a catch of rainbow or the big butt of a rhino just minding her own business, for we are are on her territory.

It thinks me. It has been a very long time since I felt that flutter of anticipation, knowing I was going out for dinner; what dress to wear after a shower, what boots to wear, what perfume? Like an electric pulse but not one that hurts. If I knew in the morning, it fizzed me all day long. If, as was often the case with me and Popz, it was 30 minutes warning but nonetheless the electricity fizzled. He might say (way back in the day) What’s for supper? I might say Ah I don’t feel like cooking tonight and he would respond immediately with Let’s go out and I was hooked, line and sinker. We have…..had…. superb restaurants on the island, brilliant ambience and excellent chefs and I knew he was driving so I could just enjoy my wine. We went oft in the summer months. I loved that. Needless to say we didn’t go out (for some time) once he became compromised with what he could eat, the amount of voice ‘noise’ he could bear and the whole faff of driving out when he was really ready for bed. It happened like a season. Slow, gradual, almost not noticed.

Looking back I remember the wild times. The suddenness of action. Pick up your bed and walk, kind of thing. I got really good at looking marvellous in minutes. I can do it now, but now there is covid and fear and all restaurants closed and the ferry a threat and, although I thank this isolation time for the chance he and I had to re-connect as friends, I would choose it gone.

Once, on my chance for escape, when day time carers were enough for him, I took myself to Glasgow, to the river and to a flat on the quayside. It was a few minutes walk to about four excellent restaurants. In the morning I wandered out to choose my place for the evening meal, the lights, the buzz, the life. I had no problem at all booking a table for one.

I wonder if I will find this place again, this animation, this lift of independent life.

Island Blog – Silence, a Woodland Choir and the Moon

It’s raining today. It should have rained for the funeral, spilling into the next day, the day we sent his wreath out on a rip tide, and on into day 3 when we all cried and hugged and farewelled in sunshine. So it is perfectly okay for the rain to rain today. In fact, it must be a relief for all those Cumulus clouds, pregnant with 1.1 million pounds of water, the equivalent of 100 elephants. Thank you, I tell them and get soaked, as I wander down the Tapselteerie track heading for the woods.

There is a wind blowing. Nothing whooshy that might tip me over and send my wheelie bins into Lucy’s garden, but just a woowoo sort of wind, warm and damp. It shivers the woodland canopy, making it sing. All those leaves twiddling, catching the air on their dying surfaces, lifting it into sound, into music, into song. I am walking underneath a choir and the piece they are singing is delightful. My moving feet create the percussion in dry spots where the fallen leaves and stalks are dry, and a marvellous squelch where they are not. It’s danceable to. I don’t, however. I never found it easy to dance in waterproofs. I am more of a lycra/bare foot sort of girl when it comes to dance.

I stop to stare up at the vanishing point, where the trees appear to bend towards each other in their final moment before touching Sky. Clouds move without argument, pushed by the wind and birds tilt and skitter among the fir trees, picking at cones, chattering to each other. Flit, chatter, chat, flitter. The wood is alive with life. And so am I. For I am not the one who died, the one who had marvelled at this natural magic for 77 years, captivated by that over which he had no control. The one who now rests in the goodly ground he tended, planted, developed and cared for all his life.

The sea chops, ruffled by the wind, catspaws. The rain on my face is soft as I push into it. Lichen abounds on the trees lining the track and star moss fills the ditches, sparkling with droplets, a diamond catch. Back home the fire warms the rooms even if the towels still aren’t dry on the kitchen pulley. I am resisting the autumn re-light of the range, holding on to the full tank of fuel, for the winters here linger longer than in other places. We can have snow at Easter and the cold finds its way into every crack and cranny for many months. By the time I have exposed my arms to sunshine, the rest of the country is tanned bronze. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Seasons here are magical, natural, and the land beyond the busy tourist season is left to itself, not needing to submit to human will nor to compete with the sounds of vehicles, sirens, bells, elevated voices.

He loved all of this too. Peaceful is the way to live, he said. And, in the end, peaceful was the way to die. A perfect circle, like the moon, the moon who decided his every single day. What she says, goes, he said. Tides, weather, wind, rain, all of it. Even the Father Sun backs down when she decides to rise.

Sounds like a fine plan to me.

Island Blog – Poppies, Tides and Hugs

There is something deep about a hug. Like an ocean flowing over, through and around you. It won’t drown you because you can breathe underwater. Enveloped inside big strong arms, feeling the pressure of warm fingers, the familiar smell of home. I am home. You are here. You and I are, for the length of this hug, as one body. My love flows to you as your love flows to me, right down to my very core, fizzing along my capillaries and through my muscles and over my skin like the first sip of champagne. When we part, the tide has turned. From slack water to ebb or flow. Birds lift in anticipation, fish swirl in the depths, sensing a change; seaweed flutters in confusion. Which way now?

After months of slack water, these son-hugs turned the tide. Tall, strapping men, fit and healthy, warm and soft, gifting love and support, hugging. They have to bend down a bit for a hug with me and even further down to hug their wheel-chariot dad, but they can flex and stretch, rise up again effortlessly, as once we did. Buried in their chests I breathe them in, remembering. Not so long ago they dandled on my knee, fed from me, squealed their delight, screamed their anger and now look at them, fathers themselves with knees for dandling their own little ones. How fast life travels, how fragile it is and yet how strong. How long is a life? There is no answer to that. What matters, it seems to me, is what we learn during that life through observation, sail correction, through the anger and the joy, the near drowning.

Moving through a morning of poppies, I feel the inner shift. Tomorrow, if the wind rises, these crimson wide-open petals may be ripped and stripped. I saw them as buds at 6 am. By 7.30 they showed me a cadmium red mandala. By 8 they were face-up to the sky, black mouthed, anticipating insects, their petals combing the breeze like silk. To seize the day, the moment of lift, as they do, teaches me. To show me life is beautiful, fragile as poppy petals, strong as sons, and, most of all, to be truly lived, no matter how long or short. No matter at all.

Island Blog – The Circus, Night Fairies and Life

I have baked a honey cake and drizzled it, put a wash on, changed a bed, dressed, applied slap, made a cauliflower cheese for supper, wished a grand-daughter happy unicorn birthday, swept the kitchen floor, prepared a salad, ate breakfast, fed the birds and the dog, danced to Ronan Keating’s new single and it is now 7 am. There is something manic about me, I am beginning to believe. Residue automatic morning-ness from when the tourist business was up and running, endless children, many of whom I didn’t know, also up and running, and food food food required by hundreds kept me cartwheeling from first light. Half the time there was little point washing up as meal demands bunched together like giggling girls on an outing. I whisked, beat, baked, stewed, roasted and steamed mountains of produce. It thinks me I am unable to step out of those running shoes, even now, when days are slow and gentle, mostly, with the exception of the odd crappy day wherein I cannot run for the life of me. My legs are leaden and my mind is a roundabout on speed. However, I am happy to report that such days are rare, not least because I can’t be bothered with any sort of sickness, mental or physical, disallowing either much space in the room. Be off with you, I say, but don’t go bothering anyone else because you are just not welcome. Try outer space.

Mornings bounce me like Tigger. I wake with the birds and absolutely cannot turn over for more sleep. Despite my passionate love for my recycled plastic bottle filled duvet and my feathery down pillows, I have too much energy fizzing through my veins to lie a minute longer. I have to be quiet, though. Himself won’t rise till about 8 and my kitchen is a floorboard below his bedroom. I don’t think they lagged things much in the 1870’s. I tiptoe through my tasks, interested, excited, curious and particularly curious when I discover that the washing pile is gone. Who has gone-d it? There is only me who washes in this house. I discover it a little later through a downstairs window, bobbing like bunting on the line. I have no recollection of hanging it there. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps the Night Fairies did it for me. How sweet they are. I remember them from my young harassed mother-days. They always surprised me with their kindnesses but there were times when I would rather they told me what they’d done because I might then have avoided wasting precious time in search of something I knew I had left just there the night before. Just there stares back at me emptily. I began to suspect collusion with the Night Fairies. Once, when I was certain of a pile of bed sheets awaiting a spin in the belly of my washing machine, I found them half way up the stairs, draped into an Aladdin’s cave and with two guilty looking collies curled up inside, each one enjoying a bowl of muesli.

Perhaps when life has been a circus for long enough, the circus becomes the life and each performer becomes the circus. I think I have. And I don’t mind one bit. I think the circus training has kept me bouncing through all sorts of horrible, kept me mostly up and taught me that nothing in life is going to get me down for long. I just wish I could share this with everyone else. Life is such a precious gift, and always too short. Living it right up to its end is the only path to happiness.

After all, stumble stones can always be turned into building blocks.