Island Blog – Sinklight, Ice and Curiosity

When I was a child, I broke a massive rule. Not one of us was allowed anywhere near a food source and that included the larder filled with delicious leftovers and the big Prestcold fridge, fatly green and bulging into the room like she needed all of the attention. At the top, there was a freezer mouth, with enough room for ice cream, home made lollies and not much else. One day, whilst not being watched, nor followed, which was rare, I opened said mouth and noticed a spill of orange juice from the lolly rack. I could not resist. My hot tongue came out in anticipation of a sweet lick.

You may well guess what happened next. My hot tongue met arctic ice and melded. I was stuck. I could not move. I couldn’t even cry out because cry outs depend on a free tongue and mine was absolutely not that. I don’t remember what happened next, although I do know that my suspicious mother would have been quick after me, no matter where in the house I had forayed alone. I am sure she was kind with warm water. I am also sure she was harsh with remonstrations. My tongue, my poor tongue, was half ripped apart by then, the sheer terror of being trapped my driver.

I do remember, inside that terror of being caught in flagrante, that I did pause to look deep into the void mouth of that fat-bellied Prestcold fridge. I saw, just for a few moments, an arctic landscape. In spite of my mother’s studious attention to levelling everything so she could dust/control it, I saw lift. There was no light in there beyond the backlight from the neon (oh dear) kitchen light, and the gusts of my panic breath, that altered the ice mountains ahead of me. I wondered what it would be like not to be stuck by the tongue, but, instead, free to roam those mountains. And they were mountains. A big grown up woman looking in might tut about needing to defrost, but me, on my tippytoes and absolutely stuck by the tongue saw different.

I like seeing different. Today has been a day of sinklight. Rain from dawn to dusk. Endless, confining, tongue twisting, stuck. We have many of these days, and many more to come. But, through that sinklight we can stand on tippytoe and move into the landscape. It isn’t what we think. It never is. With my vulnerable back to the room and my tongue stuck, therefore the whole of me stuck, I could choose. Panic or look in. I chose the latter, even knowing the butt whacks would come soon enough. I think that was the very first time I made such a choice and the power of it has never left me. Once a curious child learns to look beyond the situation it is like a whole new world opening up. There is this thing, this one thing and yet it is not just one thing at all. The difference is held within the hands of curiosity.

Obviously I am not still stuck to the ice. Obviously it hurt a lot and obviously I was gently melted off, possibly pre butt whacks, I don’t remember that bit. In the days of Now, I see many things that may look dire at first, that may ‘stuck’ me for a bit. But I have learned how to look again in curiosity and it serves me very well indeed. As I care for an ailing, failing husband, a whole lot of what I do might make you recoil in horror. It did for me, at first, but not now. Now I see beyond the obvious drama of it, deeper into the landscape, following with my eyes the contours of new land, ice land, desert land, rolling land or sea, skies that go on for ever. This is hope. This is faith. I am not stuck. Nor are you. It is all in the curious looking.

This is the only way to live.

Island Blog – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

Island Blog – Tribute

I always feel better after writing a blog. Is it, I ask myself, to offload, to teach, to preach, to, in other words, misuse my public forum? It’s a goodly question to ask myself. Once I have ferreted around in the cellars of myself, once I have come up feeling strong in my purpose, sure that it is not about me but about anyone else who may click with something I write, I write. This is one of those well-ferreted writes.

Today was troubled. The way it works for a full-time carer is this:- Day begins hopeful, trusting and light. Then one becomes two as the one in care descends the stairs, floating on metal poles and thanks to Major Tom, aka the chairlift. This is when the mode and mood of the day is proffered as IT. Now I have a choice and a decision to make. If the gloom descends with him, then I must attend to said gloom. I can resist it, but we all know resistance is futile. I can poke at it, ask questions, play bright, but I can hear my voice, in a slightly higher key, sounding sharp as badly cut tin. This won’t work. I lift my ass from my seat, round to the kitchen, make coffee, hot strong and black. Not enough. This gloom is following me, I can see it, smell it, feel its touch on my back. I swing about. Go Away! I hiss, but hissing works no better than resistance. I can feel it pulling at my skin, seeping in, changing me.

The day rolls slow. At 10 am I bake a cake, thinking, this will do it. It’s my usual flat pancake but with cherries which makes flat okay. Taste is everything, after all. We wander through the morning, him restless, moving moving moving all the time, the click and whir of the wheelchair setting my teeth on fire. Ears, I say, stop listening! I have always believed, and proved, that ears are obedient souls, if you organise them right. Pulling birdsong forward and pushing clicks whirs and other unpleasant noises back works well, for a while, but I must be vigilant. One relax and the click whirs are wild in my head whilst my teeth could burn down Rome, even from here. I read the affirmations on my kitchen wall. You can do this. I’m doing great. I believe in my dreams. This too shall pass. Those sorts of affirmations. Ya di ya I tell them today, but I don’t rip them down as I have in the past because that is resigning myself to the gloom. I cook, walk, feed birds, watch the clouds, berate Lady Moon for not showing me herself at 4 am and keep going, keep going, keep going.

It’s like holding up a bridge every single day. Just me (or just you). Mostly I can do this (so can you). Mostly. But it is exhausting, endless and with no end in sight. I have to be cheerful for two every single minute of every single day (so do you). I have to think ahead, plan, make sure the way is clear, be kind, laugh, smile, show up no matter how I feel or what I want. I could go a bit further for a walk. Easy. Not. I still could, but I don’t. On Gloom days I am fearful. What if he falls, gets more muddled about this or that, what if he just feels scared and needs me to hold that heavy bridge up?

This is caring. You who do it, already know. Outside of our lives are many who support us and show great compassion. We need it, oh boy we do, but they haven’t a scooby about what it’s like for us, minute by minute, day by endless day and I hope they never do. Holding up a bridge, alone, scared, ageing, tired, exhausted, doubting, weak and sleepless is something we have fallen in to. We won’t abandon our post but the ask is great.

I salute all of you who care enough to be caring. This is my tribute to you.

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.

Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.

Island Blog 158 A Missing Mountain

2014-11-18 08.25.41

 

 

Yesterday the top of the mountain was missing.  Cloud cover was low, thick as my mother’s whipped egg whites.  I sat watching it, missing, for quite some time; a whole mug of coffee, to be precise and it thinked me of how my eye is drawn to something that was there, always there, and now, is not.  Sometimes, as I scan the morning, spreading out in fingers of light across the grass and down to the sealoch, I know something has changed but, for a while, I can’t say what.  Perhaps the greylags are grazing, blending perfectly into the willow scrub and the stands of wiry old grass, and, then, one of them moves.  All I am aware of is change.  Walking along the Tapselteerie tracks, my attention is drawn uphill, to where the tall pines wave their arms at the sky, their bodies a shining deep red, wet still from the rain last night.  I look and look but they are all there……ah. no. One is missing a rib.

As I walk on, move on into the day, I consider how easy it would have been for me to miss this change or that.  All I have to be is slave to my to-do list, my plan for the day, the caterwaulings of my mind, the pressures I feel I am under to achieve. My alert button is on mute.  Knowing, deep within that I want to stop and notice missing mountains, I keep going.  The mountain will either return or it won’t, isn’t that right?  What is it to me either way when there is shopping to be shopped for, admin to complete, emails to respond to, rooms to be cleaned, washing to be washed?

Well, I’ll tell you what it is to me.  It is something mysterious, something beyond myself and my piddling little life, and it begs consideration.  When life teeters off balance, which it always does just when I think I have it all levelled up nicely, I need the acceptance of mystery to carry me onwards, because that acceptance brings in new game players, hope and faith.  If my life is all about lists and control then I am set up for a fall.  There are books and essays, wisdoms, poems, short stories, plays, documentaries, novels and memoirs all addressing the bizarre human failing to celebrate the unknown, the unfathomable, the unexplainable.  Even if I know there are geese grazing, or tops of mountains lost in cloud, and I study those subjects in intricate detail so that I beome an expert, something will take them a step further without me, for everything is changing all of the time, with or without our involvement.  And yet, and yet, we fight, daily, to control all of life, not just our own.  We justify and explain as much as we possibly can, and those things we just can’t, we dismiss – even if we agree that there has always been ‘imbalance’ in nature, chaos in nature.  We call it the natural world, and behave around it as if it were completely unnatural to us.

And still we long for it.  There is inside every one of us a deep connection to the wild places, to the mysteries of life, to the impossible, the unbelievable. People sigh with green envy just hearing me speak of the view from my window, the wild all around me, but you don’t need to live in the wild to know that it is all around you.  I believe that, although we fight to be in charge, the desire not to be in control of everything is strong.  Besides, if we are really in control of it all, then what a mess we have made, together, or alone, for nobody is really smug about getting everything right.  You can think you love your children without judgement but they will still feel judged at some point.  You can think you are the perfect boss, until someone hands in their notice because you expect too much. You can think all sorts of things for years and be oh so horribly wrong.

Most of us are taught to find our best way to walk through our own lives, to know our enemy, to keep our house in order, and yet overnight, however strong the walls, however well-kempt, that house can be whipped away from us, metaphorically and literally speaking. We can have money in the bank and lose it all.  We can think we are well and find, in one moment, we are far from that. When we root ourselves in what we can control, can organise into a perfect order, we are looking at the wrong things. I hear people tell me they have no choice about their lives, and I always challenge that, for it is not the truth.  We all have the choice, nobody controls that but our own selves.

My question is what have we done to ensure personal inner strength, in order to cope with disaster?  Have we read good books, watched mountains re-appear, paid attention to what our loved ones don’t say? Have we watched a whole sunset, or just taken a quick look and said ‘Oh Wow’ and gone back to the email telling Mr Whatnot just what we’d like to do with him? I am not saying we should loaf about waiting for mountains to disappear or for suns to set, but I am saying that we don’t give the mystery and wonder of these sights the time they deserve.  What happens when really watching, really engaging with nature working her magic, is that it changes my thinking.  It lifts my thoughts beyond my piddling little lists and into a greater mindfulness. If I spend time each day watching, noticing, stopping the car, walking down a country lane, I will begin to feel differently about the balance of important/not important inside my life.  If I really stop to really watch a pair of cherry-breasted bullfinches in scatterwood, or really listen to the sound of the wind making music in the branches of an old beech tree, or stop to chat with an old man on a bench, then trust me, I will be a much gentler person on my return to my ordinary, explainable, controllable day.

I think we need to pay serious attention, and right now, because  balance, as the hapless world teaches it, is not balance at all.

Island Blog 20 – On Relations and Ships

Island Blog 20 - Dude Dog

 

I’ve been thinking about relationships recently, about the width and length and depth of them, about their shape and colour.  They are randomly dotted throughout our lives like wild poppies in a cornfield; bright, nourishing, individual and personal; at work, at home, at school, in our village street and every relationship unique as a snow flake.   Relationships matter from the moment we rise until the moment we lay us down to sleep at night, and, without them, or with destructive ones, we humans falter and weaken in spirit and confidence. We wander as lost souls in what looks like a cold and unfriendly world.

Which it isn’t.

As a child I don’t worry about the dynamics of any of my relationships for the language is not yet grown in me,either to explain or understand.  I just am.  I run and play my way through my days, trusting (although I don’t even know that word yet) that I will be dressed and fed and loved and cared for.  As I move into the angst-ridden and angry teenage years, I begin to question, I begin to understand, but I have not yet learned how to communicate, other than with my peers in ways that cause my elders considerable puzzlement.  If I am a boy, I grunt in varying keys and laugh in staccato bursts, often rather unsure of the joke. And that’s about all I can say about boys, not being one myself.

If I am a girl I learn to talk a lot and giggle infuriatingly every time anyone opens their mouth. I have a little more awareness of the world I have arrived in, but fight a daily battle with myself over the size of my bottom or the spread of my toes, or the fact that my girlfriend is allowed to turn the tv on without having to make a request in writing, giving due notice.

I am full of envy of pretty much everyone else in my group and I run the very real risk of turning green.  If I am lucky enough to have a mother who remembers her own uncomfortable struggle with hormones, and who can watch me through compassionate eyes, I am one of the lucky ones.  If, on the other hand, my mother never concerned herself much with the discomforts of teenage life, then my relationship with her will be a very different one, defining, to some degree, all future ones.  I seek understanding and I don’t get it, and so I turn away into my lonely self or out to my peer group to forge friendships that may not be healthy ones.

Then I grow up (in theory) and everyone thinks I’m an adult because I now look like one, but my outward appearance belies the inner truth.  I am as insecure as I was in sentient childhood, but I must keep it a secret, or I might appear to be too small for my skin.

If my primary relationship is all the right colours and the perfect shape, I find I can do anything, go anywhere, flow naturally, be myself, but relationships, any of them, need both parties to be aware and interested in the collective result.  Otherwise, we are just tumble-weeds in the desert, at the mercy of every capricious wind.

I like to divide up the word.  Relation and Ship.

One sounds grounded, one wild and free and fizzing with adventure.

Too caught up in worldly cares and I grow brown and dull.

Too wild and colourful and I may find myself  locked up.  I need to be the link between the two and hold on tight.

What I want is a ladder to the moon.

Blog 20 - Full Moon