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 – Fly Right

The sealoch is flat, mirror flat, holding the sky in its belly. A lone gull skims across the surface, its wings never touching the water. How does it manage that? If I was that gull, there would undoubtedly be an error of judgement and I would tumble, wonky chops, into the brine. High overhead a young buzzard cuts the blue, chased and mocked by two gulls. I watch the slide and rise of them, the sunglow through their wing feathers, the way they tumble and flip. So free up there, it seems, but I know that’s not the truth, even if it does look glorious from where I am, stuck to the gravitous ground, pulled to the earth and destined never to fly unless inside the guts of a plane. Which won’t be happening for a long time to come. But, to watch these dalliances, these moments of sublime grace and wonder is to inhabit, just for a while, the world that is theirs, the world above my head, the world all around me, the world of nature, survival and imagined freedom.

As the day unfolds, so do I. In a good way, naturally. The thoughts I had yesterday, the things that happened, the word exchanges, the moments of understanding, release and acceptance unfurl like petals to let in the sun. I am wholly delighted to be one with faith in my higher self. Despite sinking at times into the cold watery darkness of a sea-loch, I always hold fast to the belief that all will be well in the end, and, if it isn’t well, then it isn’t the end. Not because I am so damn smart at living, but because the invisible beneficent powers of goodness are always working for me, for all of us. It isn’t down to just me, the one who could misjudge my wing flaps and tumble into the brine, and thank goodness for that. I have no illusions concerning my ability to straighten up and fly right all of the time.

When I got the call yesterday to say that we are now to ‘shield’ for another 12 weeks because of the high risk factors in this house, I sank a bit. Another 12 weeks? That’s end August. Not only that, but my weekly escape to the shop is now cancelled. Further, we are asked to separate within the home. Now that bit is impossible. Not only is this a mouse house, but I am primary carer and contact with my husband is required regularly. So, the requirement is that I go nowhere apart from my solitary walk for fresh air and exercise. Enter fear. I already knew that self-isolation is going to continue for a while yet, because my husband is very vulnerable and needs superhuman protection. But hearing it spoken out gave it gravitas and heavy boots. It was a wonky chops moment, the chance opening of a doorway allowing fear to slide in.

And then comes a new morning. The pines stand as tall as they did yesterday, backlit sunrise pink, the colour of a smile. The air show lifts my spirits and I know that fear will not survive on my watch. No matter how long this confinement, we can get through it with sparkle and laughter. The sign is outside the gate. ‘Please don’t come in’. It felt weird writing those words. I am more known for a Welcome sign, but in this time when the best I can possibly do is required on an hourly basis, I know I am not alone. I know there will be hundreds, if not thousands of people facing an extension of lockdown in order to protect someone vulnerable.

And if they can do it. Then so can I. All I need to do is fly right, most of the time.

Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Translation

Geese woke me this morning. It seems they are quite unable to go anywhere at all without engaging in a loud conversation, as if, their vocal chords are wired to their wings. It’s 4 am, I said, but they ignored me, honking on as they skimmed past my open window to land with effortless grace on the water. It’s all but flat, the water, and the far shore reflection of striated rocks, adorned like bridesmaids in butter yellow lichen, shivers – a slight surface rebellion, probably the translation of a tidal undertow. It makes the rocks look like they’re shimmy shimmy shaking. Perhaps they are. What goes on beneath the surface is only a guess, for me, but the body of water understands itself and knows from long experience how to communicate.

I eat breakfast, change bed sheets, clean up, ready for a new day, and all the while, my thoughts flow along, mostly unchecked by me. Sometimes a hand goes up. We need more blue milk. Or, I must water those little seedlings. Those thoughts alert me, ask for immediate action, or they might float off into the, now clean, ether to become part of a cloud and thus lost to me. Weetabix without milk is a crunchy thought, dry, not the same at all. Seedlings will flop and die of thirst. So, I must make a note of both and right now. Other thoughts circle a bit before they flee and I bring my brain to bear, make it listen, make it follow through. Sometimes that’s a mistake. By employing my logic I can see a seedling thought die of boredom. This thought doesn’t want to be fixed, arrested and imprisoned by me. It just wants to stay as a thought and the only reason it circled at all was to say Hallo and to hear Hallo back. Hallo, I say, and off it goes.

In these times of slowdown-lockdown #not meltdown, thoughts are busy. I suspect thoughts are busy in everyone’s head. All of a sudden there is time for them, space to circle and float without being batted away like bluebottles. It serves us well to allow this space to widen, to deepen, until we can learn, not to organise our thoughts, but to conjoin with them, for they are ours, they are us. The translation of these thoughts might, in the busy past, have been misleading. Reacting immediately, without due process, to a thought can lead us to making poor decisions. We don’t need to do that now. Now, we can spend time with them, get to understand the craziness inside our minds, see that every thought is there because of who we are, because of what we do, or what we did. This way we teach ourselves to reconnect with the whole body and it feels good.

Although you will never know all my thoughts, as I will never know all of yours, we will both be able to see a person who has reconnected with their undertow. It probably takes a lifetime. All the great thinkers who understood the power of this reconnection, of creating a synergistic relationship with their own thoughts, are ancient by the time they ‘get it’. Right now we have this gift, this opportunity, to consider understanding our own selves a bit better. If we can allow our thoughts just to be thoughts, to say Hallo when they circle awhile, they will flow at ease, no matter what.

The geese are diddling about on the field now, chattering incessantly, picking at the grass, preparing for young. Later, when the chicks are ready to swim, they will lead their young across the sea-loch, on a day when the water is a mirror, when it looks like they are paddling through the sky, when the undertow is at peace. I will watch them and I will smile as thoughts float through my head like will o the wisps.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.