Island Blog – Sunrise, Nature and the beginning of Humanity

It’s 5am. My favourite time of the day. I used to say it was because there’s nobody about, but now there’s always nobody about, so it’s not the truth anymore. I consider how many other absolutes will lose purchase on my mind and will just drift away, like the will o’ wisps over there, floating on the ebb tide, backlit by sunfire. They remind me of water sprites, beneficent creatures, transitional, made of water and to water they will always return. Black-throated divers fly by right on time, turning pink as they head into the sun and the sea beneath their wings glows like rose quartz. Anyone rising from slumber later than this will miss it all. But not I said the island wife. I have always been a dawn raider, greedy for everything my eyes can gobble up, catching every spark and twist, every snatch of colour, every bird flit or cloud shift, each start of new beginnings, life whispering into life.

Walking along the Tapseteerie track, dry-cracked and steady underfoot, I feel the weight of the canopy. This horse-chestnut has never been so abundant with huge green leaves, richly bottle green, a strong spread of gratitude, for whilst we desist in our race to disaster, we gift back life to nature. A robin flits with me, from branch to branch, tree to tree, telling me something that sounds wonderfully joyous but which is beyond my understanding. Bees and other buzzing creatures fill the branches, all of them. I have never heard such a buzz and it smiles me. New mosses adorn the floor of the woods, some emerald green and star-tipped, some gathered in perfectly smooth igloo shapes, the colour of lemon sorbet. I can see the tracks left by deer in their darkling wander, the grasses flattened by hoof-scuff. They will always walk this way, along this ley line, the ancient wander path, following the ones who learned it before them and then taught it on.

Flowers watch me pass, their faces tipped to sunlight. Wood sorrel, violets, primroses, anemone, bluebells, campanula, and stitchwort. Tiny alpines cling to cracks in the drystone wall, feathery ferns, arched like question marks, will open this day to spread their soft fingers wide. Orange tip, tortoiseshell and brown spot butterflies dance around my head as I move through the warmth of the morning. Everywhere I look, there is abundance. Wasn’t it always so and I just didn’t see it, or is it true that our land is healing herself? I believe the latter.

As I turn for home, a flash of silver in the tidal flow shows me a big fish, a salmon, perhaps, or a sea trout on its arduous journey to find a place to spawn, and then to die. Gulls shriek overhead, little gulls, black backs, herring gulls and other gulls I cannot name, for they saw it too. No doubt the otter did as well. I know she is down there somewhere with her kits and soon I will see her on a still morning from my bedroom window as she teaches them to hunt or to play touch-tig.

Writing about the beauty through which I can walk every day is not something I take for granted. This lockdown has gone on long enough now, that’s what I think, although wild horses wouldn’t drag me back among people, knowing as I do, how easily the virus can spread, silent and deadly, invisible to the naked eye. So I consider this. If I, who have barely had to change my life at all, am feeling this way, then what about those whose entire lives have been full-stopped? Starved of social oxygen, meetings, encounters, business flow, cash income, school friends, loved ones and options for free travel, what life are they, you, living now? Many, I am sure will thrill to the peace of it all, perhaps all of us do, some of the time, but when I am told I absolutely cannot do something, it is the thing I want to do most of all.

When I write about my encounters in nature, it isn’t to gloat, but to show to others, who last saw nature in 2019 on a country break, that life is still living on, whether we can see it or not. In fact, the regeneration of this earth is a wonderful thing to hear about, and perhaps it makes the sacrifice worth the pain. I had no idea the ozone layer could heal. I thought it was already dying and so were we all. But it isn’t true, for it is healing, repairing itself and offering us another go at a good life. And so, I write on, a witness to the changes, sending anyone and everyone who is finding this all just too much, who is frightened, lonely, depressed or sick, my deepest respect and encouragement to stick with isolation until we can meet again, and once more walk free.

This could have been the end of humanity. Let us hold fast and make it the beginning.

Island Blog – Natural Colour

I am seeing people, the ones who walk by, changing colour. I ‘m not saying I see auras, because I don’t, but the colours they send my way from 6 feet away remarkable me at times. I knew them as one colour, or one set of colours, and, now, they have changed. The look in their eyes has changed. No surprise there. One month of lockdown is manageable; we know we can do it. We can do dry January, after all, or Lent which is even longer, and we can see the end. Not now. We have no idea when the end will come and it is beginning to bother us. Maybe not our innate tigger mentality, but deep inside, we are changing colour. We look out, feeding like greedy, on the the new life, the migrant birds returned, the lush of wild violets, the unusual spread of primroses, anemones, wood sorrel, trip tides, new moons, that twisting eyelift chance of an otter in the saltscape. But we can tire of life, if we are not in renewal. Long term, anything dodgy can become a prison warden, bad relationship, wrong home address, a lockdown. I watch faces as they pass. They look at me, and I at them and we see different. And, you know what……this is good. The chasms in between mountain ridges make us pause for thought, and think we must.

Early on, in this lockdown thingy, we brought out all our colours because that is who we are, and who we will always will be. We saw and loved the alpine frocks of pink and blue, clutched in the fists of a crevice and holding on to life by a skinny holdfast, and we smiled. We saw the insect life, the colours of beetles, the jewelled flit of butterflies and other beautiful things without names; we watched sky born spectaculars cut the sky in two on their way to somewhere else and we snatched their colours for our own heart palette. We thought we could use them, and we did for a while, but now is the tough time, the time of pall and frustration, and all of us feel it to some degree. This is the long haul, like mid term for schoolers, except they know the end date, whereas we do not. Now, it is, that we must go back to those colours and remember them, notice how they have changed, as we have all changed. As the whole separation from loved ones takes root we plant new seedlings in our gardens. We decide to hear, anew, the rise of a wren song from a random fence, watch the flounce of goldfinch in fight, see the slowflow of a gannet draw a wavy line across our looking, because we must continue to find the beauty in everything around us.

Before she whipped our ordinary lives out from under our feet Mother Nature sent all these glories, free of charge, to every one of us. Perhaps we see, now, how much we took for granted, for it has been a long time, and as Mother Nature knows only too well, we are impatient. Not yet, she reminds us, not yet. Stay well and just breathe. In breath there is a rainbow. Let us consider this. It may be a long time before we can walk out again, never mind fly, never mind colour up, but Nature is working with us, not against us. She is Mother, She is Earth and she knows more than we do. We are down here, small, fretting, bothered about chasms, but she is not. We can trust her. And, if our colours change as a result of this new way of living, then that just may be in her long term plan, and we are wise to thank her for opening our eyes to our precious earth.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.

Island Blog – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

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.