Island Blog – Without and Within a Human Heart

There are swirls of good advice-ness spinning around me like birds. You should #getoutmore. You should #interractwithotherhumans. And so on etcetera etcetera. Hmmm. Should is not a word I enjoy listening to. It sounds like two things. One, that I am not ‘shoulding’ as I should. Two that this is a judgement on my Now. Just to be clear, I am now speaking directly to anyone who is ‘supposedly’ hiding from ‘life’. Please excuse the overuse of hyphens,commas and speech thingies. I am feeling strong about this, wobbling on my wee rock in a big ocean of shoulds.

I walked today. Well, who could resist? The sunshine shined and. the ground warmed and the invitation was as hard to resist as the ones I recall as a turbulent teenager faced with a Saturday night watching Dixon of Dock Green with my parents. So, me and wee terrier set off into nature. We had spent the morning, she and I dithering about bird song and bird recognition. What is this bird? I ask her. She blanks and turns a circle or two before going back to sleep. I watch a huge white bird I don’t recognize pulling across the sea-loch, calling something not in my musical dictionary. I hear little birdsong I don’t recognise. Have I moved continents? I know my birdsong. I know the changes, the Spring songs, the calling songs for young, the mating songs. I know them. But, I am confounded. I decide it is all to do with the state of the world and, in small part, it reassures me. ish.

It thinks me. We change. All of us. The bird kingdom according to what works at specific times. Animals too, I guess. But we humans respond differently to a plate shift. Not only do we have to find a new way, or lose ourselves, but also this plate shift invites us to inventiveness. We can use this thing, this crash, this loss. Again I am talking to anyone who just wants to hide right now because the world is way too full of shoulds and oughts. Hallo.

The buds are budding. I look up and marvel at the pearl glitter of their outer cases. I see the emerald in the larch pines, just soft babies now and soon to be needle sharp. It thinks me of women. We start soft and turn needle sharp. Or, is that just me? I see an egret, a pair of yellow wagtails, robins that bounce with me the whole way, from branch to branch, saying not one word. I see mallards, herons, buzzards, geese. In my garden, siskin feeding their young, goldfinch, greenfinch, sparrow, blackbird, chaffinch, collard dove, starling.

Life goes on, indeed. But we are not animals or birds. A human heart needs to know itself and to challenge, without and within.

Island Blog – Heart lift

Soft, loving compost is heaped on my garden. I made it myself and it is thunderous with worms, not that any of them will survive this new exposure to light. They are worms of the dark, of the fetid warmth and gentle darkness of a dialek bin, creatures of a season and doomed to face change, one they won’t like much. Robin, blackbird and thrush gather as if they know there is a feast for an early arriver. Within minutes these compostian beings will have dug themselves deep, dug for death.

Heretofore I had always shovelled, laborious shovelfuls into a big bucket, then lugged said laborious shovelfuls down the back steps and into the front garden. Then came muscle man. He just wheeched the whole dialek off the ground and shook him a bit to release the dark, wormy soft heap of live-giving goodness from his interior. I was impressed. Now he can do the lugging and he did, hence my thoroughly over excited flower beds. They are giggling. I can hear them even through the regular hail shower attacks. I see an eggshell, a bit of cauliflower stalk, garden cuttings and they smile me. Go to work my lovelies, I tell them and together, we wait, even though they know more than I about what is happening beneath their butts. It is such a quiet thing, this growing, this birthing of new life and the mystery of survival no matter what frollocks happens above ground.

Primroses are showing sunshine faces along the drystone walls. No larch buds yet but I can hear them whispering as I pass. We are coming, they say. Keep watching. And I will. I do. As I walk, I remember. This time last year I shut down, locked out the world, kept vigil for any invaders. How strange to still be thinking the same way and, yet, not quite in the same way. It isn’t that I mind locking down in principle. It isn’t that I am afraid. It isn’t that I no longer have anyone to protect other than myself. It is simply strange, as if I, like the compostian worms, have become accustomed to a darkness, one that has proffered an unexpected sense of security, and now I am not sure who I will be. All through this past year my lack of desire to go out, to meet anyone, to entertain visitors confirmed me as a student hermit. None of the lockdown, bar the initial fear of an invisible and extremely powerful enemy, phased me.

But I have had enough now. Rising, unlike the worms but very like the new shoots, the daffydowndillies, the tulips, the snowdrops and with new leaves twinkling at me under the weight of thawing hailstones, I want to keep rising and that means forward into life. My fed is suddenly up. I want freedom of choice once again. My choice to go here or there, to this person or that should be my own now. How clearly I see the way a revolutionary spirit rises within us. Living under any regime is everything inhuman and that’s what this feels like now. Enough Covid! with all your tentacles and your new names and strains, your machination against the human race, the one I belong to, by the way, the one I seriously care about! I want to yell. Actually I did yesterday and it felt good.

However, there is little we can do than behave ourselves a bit longer and keep watching for Spring. She will go a long way in saving us, for now. However it doesn’t stop the fury at continuous imprisonment. I think of the ones who have died and those who couldn’t be there at the end of a loved life. I think of the painful separations, the people who will suffer deeply from this enforced isolation, those living lives of deprivation and of constant pain. Who will lift them into Spring, I wonder? Here am I frapping about renewing my passport and then there are they, stuck, trapped, broken, sick, dead. It is humbling.

Best I can do is write. Best I can do is keep living. Best I can do is to watch for Spring. Sometimes others walk with me. Not weirdo dead people, although occasionally they do, but those I think about, the ones I don’t know and will never meet, the ones who have found this past year a deal more than merely inconvenient. Hey, I say, come with me. I can take you to the fairy woods, show you the elvish trees, now a bit stripped of moss for the deer are starving here. I can walk you through where wild garlic will flower, take you to eider nests, show you oystercatcher eggs among salty basalt, lift your eyes to a skylark, watch your face soaked in salt spray and old stories, and watch you catch them, the stories ,and even if you don’t understand the language, your eyes will tell me you have those stories in your heart. A heart lift. A change for the ever-ness of life.

Island Blog – Perception and a Blackbird

I sit in the darkling. Clouds are gathering like a people to church, some big and full of themselves, others following shred-like but I have no doubt they will puff themselves up in followance this night for there is rain forecast.

I watch the wintering geese fly in, fly in chatter and in synergy with the leader and with the nightfall. For me they fly right to left. I see the home-lights across the sea-loch, all warm and welcoming, a pipe of smoke from their chimneys. They are warm. They are cooking, chatting, cajoling and considering each other over there, a big swim away. And, they see the geese fly from left to right.

It thinks me beyond geese and tidal flow. It thinks me of how we see things, any things, all things. If geese can fly from right to left for some and left to right for others then what complexity lies in other of our seeings? Ah, it must be manifold. I can see this and you can see this, but you see that, not this. My perception of any one thing may well not be yours. I would like to be able to allow yours and mine and to consider neither one as an absolute, even as I am certain of my right to left of things.

As we converse, you and I, on matters from how to fix this or clean that, on the rights and wrongs of raising children, on the clarity of our shared memories, we move along different paths. What astonished you about something that happened meant nothing much to me and vice versa. We find it at best bothersome and our minds work like dingbats to convince the other of import and impact. But I still see nothing to upset me. Now why is that? Well, if we agree that my experience, my baggage, my history all come to bear on any given subject, as do yours, then we must also agree on a division of paths. We can both see the situation, yes. We can both recall to a degree what happened back then, yes, but where I see right to left, you see left to right and that is simply that.

How long a life do we need in order to come to such an acceptance? I am fed up of learning things like this. I wonder why it is we don’t finally arrive in that lovely place of complete understanding. I thought I completely understood years ago and yet here I am with my feathers ruffled and my heart beating too fast and my good manners thoroughly challenged as I watch your mouth insist on left to right. Although I write this with no actual cause, it is something I have observed recently between others and it intrigues me. To move freely and happily along an individual path of life, it is necessary to merely observe each other without dishing out labels, however silently. We can all learn from each other at every meeting if we decide not to judge. Every living soul has history, baggage and opinions, either learned or personally constructed, based on their experience of what worked and still works for them.

On returning earlier from slathering honey on young fruit trees, ring-barked by hungry rabbits, of which we have the lion’s share and adding a wrap of hessian to simulate new bark that will allow water to be drawn up the damaged trunks once again, I find a male blackbird flipping and floundering on the track. I gather him to me and feel the delicate softness of his feathers as I calm his wings. Is one broken, I wondered? His leg? Was he hit by a car or attacked by a predator and dropped? No, not that. The predators here are accurate as mathematics and there is no evidence of talon damage. I put him in a box in the garage to calm down. An hour later I return to give him water or seed or to find him dead. He wants none of it and is bouncing up in attempt to fly beyond the mesh that holds him down. I push in my hand and gently bring him out. Shall we see if you can fly? I ask him. He turns his head and looks at me through ebony eyes, then turns back to the great wide open. I lower him to the ground and to my delight he lifts and flies, a bit wonky-chops at first and then up up and away over the fence and into the sky. I watch him until he is a black dot in the blue.

Fly! Fly! I call out but he doesn’t look back. His path is his path as mine is my own. We come together and then we part and as we do, we are changed, just as we are changed after a human encounter. As I held that bird, I noticed his soft feathers, the majesty of nature in that trembling body, the perfection of design.

We can see each other that way too, if we so choose.

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 – November days, Petals and Butterfly wings

Today, November paid a visit, bringing with her a socking great gale and heavy rain. As I forget, mostly, the name of the month we currently inhabit, the last 3 being much the same as the one before, I did wonder, for just a moment, if everyone else knows it’s November and here I stand bare-legged in my cotton frocks feeling puzzled. No, no, don’t be a twit. You know it’s not November. But what month is it? The calendar on the wall will ground me. It’s still May, our island month of steady sunshine, warm nights, petals remaining affixed to their parent stems. Well, inside it is, but out there where maple leaves are scooting into the sky and birds are being blown off fence posts, I feel justified in my ditherment. The sweet pea seedlings I lovingly sank into the goodly ground just yesterday afternoon, the sun burning my neck, the ticks crawling towards me like I was a surprise picnic, must be very upset. I watch the seedlings flee this way and that, their roots holding, just. I had put off releasing them into the elements for way too long, thinking cheeky frost, and was understandably seduced by a few days of soft sunshine and calm. Actually it is not just the sweet peas who feel cheated. I’m feeling it too.

It has blasted on the whole day and is still blasting. This gale is enough to send boats a-scatter, lift waves into grabbing hands, turn underpinnings, left on a line in the sunshine cocoon of yesterday, into cotton-mix butterflies to land who knows where. Nobody will ever admit to owning them anyway, not once they’ve made public the size and width of the owners bottom. You could hardly Facebook’ Has anyone received delivery of a pair of baggy greys that once were white about ten years ago, or a bra with reinforced cups for the sag factor? No, indeed. I should have gone to M&S a while back.

This crazy November mayday has something to teach me. I look out through the rain-bashed windows and whisper to my newly planted seedlings, as I did to my children, so long ago, You can survive this. You can grow, you can fly and precisely because of this November gale in the May of your life. Many won’t, but you will. You might flip backwards off a fence post you thought gave you a solid base (could be a friend, a work colleague, a boss, even a route home) but you have wings. The thing about that blackbird I saw who spread his wings at just the wrong gust and who flipped like a tiddlywink into the fist of the wind, is that he knew he could fly out of it, find the temperate safety of low-below and who could gather his feathers again. We can all do that. We just need to remember we have wings too, not visible, but there anyway. The drudge listening of the factual news is all about how we will ‘cope’ after this lockdown time is done. I shake my head at all of it. Cope? Are we victims of this time? I say No. I say we are marvellous and colourful inventive humans who will find wings we never knew we had on our backs. I say we may be scared, because ‘out there’ now is not the ‘out there’ we hitched our wagons to and that is fine. It’s ok. We are so ‘flipping’ resourceful, it is almost embarrassing.

Let us consider this. In the swatch of material, that little square we cannot escape for now, the flow of colour can make new swirls; the limitations of the square will never confine us. We will out. We always did.

And we always will.