Island Blog – Looking through Windows

My impatience, during this ‘grieving’ thing, oft gets the better of me. Why am I not sorted yet? After all, I knew he was going to die earlier than he might have done because dementia grabbed him by the throat. Why do my emotions swing like an overly excited pendulum, from an inner darkness to the bright light of freedom and opportunity, not once a day, not twice, but non flaming stop?

‘Ah, you humans……..don’t you know that your time is not my Time? My Time is a very different creature, one unfettered by schedules and earthly dates. You expect things to fit in with your plans but this is not how life works’. And that is that, apparently. I know it has only been just over 3 months. I know that those who have gone before me will say it will take 12 to 18 months to re-locate myself, not least because the last time I knew myself was almost 50 years ago; that time when I could say “I’ without being sternly reminded that ‘I’ is now ‘We’ and that most of that ‘We’ was on his terms of employment. To be honest, the ‘I’ I was back then was a strange creature, lost in Wonderland, curious, yes, but scared of my own shadow, unlike Alice. Understandable, then, that the promise of safety and shelter beneath the ‘We’ umbrella drew me in and out of that sharp, cold teenage rain. But now I am required to find myself again.

I didn’t think I was lost, not really. Despite the rollercoaster of marriage, children and rules, I knew who I was. I was a wife and a mother. I was cook and cleaner, business gofer, facilitator of others’ dreams and goals, full of sparkle and energy and quite able (a lot of the time) to ignore any inner cries for escape. Now all those memories face me through each window. Hallo, they say, noses pressed to the glass. We are all still here, you know, Mrs, not Mrs anymore. I don’t want them peering in at all. I don’t want to look out upon them all tattered and gnarled and persistent, jigging with that glee that thinks me of bullies. I could close the curtains, t’is true, but that doesn’t mean they go away. I could ignore them but, well, ditto. Apparently I just have to let them have their day and to keep walking down this new path.

I remember, well, looking through windows and wishing I could fly south with the geese. I would even have accepted ‘north’ in the darkest of times, but I am a grounded woman and we tend not to be flyers, Mary Poppins notwithstanding. However, inside a mind, the opportunities are endless. I know now that the worst failures and the best adventures happen inside a mind. In there, all choices and decisions are made. Right argues with wrong, downs argue with ups and light dances with dark. It doesn’t really matter what physically happens inside a life if the inner windows are kept clean and clear. Demons, bullies, failures, regrets come to us all and it is up to each one of us as to how we empower or disempower them. On the side of Light, we have the same choices. Although nobody can sustain a positive outlook on everything and everyone all of the time, it is possible to develop a strong reserve of endorphins so that, when the demons dance and cackle through the windows of a mind, a person can just watch without attachment or engagement.

Especially if those windows are triple glazed.

Island Blog – Someday Blues

It amazeballs me how anyone so practical and unsentimental can swing from joyous to dark subterranea overnight. But it sure happens to me. Perhaps, and this will bring on an eye roll from those in the know, it is a lot to do with bereavement and grieving. Grieving……an interesting word and not one I thought I related to, for I am not grieving, or I thought I wisnae. The thing is that words are semantical. They mean different things to different folk. Grieving, to me, feels like endless tears and slippers on all day long; it means I don’t eat or wash or bother with anything much or anyone much at all, and all of that is not me. I bother a lot about caring for myself. It is all a matter of pride and performance to me, whether or not I meet another soul for a whole week. I am not awash with tears. In fact, I have barely managed a baker’s dozen since he died. It isn’t that I am a cold fish, not at all, but after being right beside him for over 10 years as he slowly fell to ruin, I suspect I have gone through most of the stages of grief whilst he yet lived.

Today I awoke with it. Subterranea. I knew it the minute I attempted to open my eyes, knew they were slits in my pale face and that they would barely widen no matter what the day held for me. I lay back and considered the fact that I was not really in charge of myself at all; that something else was playing out its own drama on my inner stage, something I could not name but did not like one bit, as I did not like one bit certain girls at school, and for no obvious reason. Certainly not something I could explain nor would it be a discourse I might enter into, should someone ask me what or why. So what is this flip and doodle of days? Why, when I believe, or tell myself, that my craft is finally harbouring safely in a dock of my own choosing, does my ship ready about and head back to sea where chaos reigns and the weather is lord of all?

I sigh. I have no answer to any of it. This is why I walk out in the fairy woods, wander (slip and skid) across the rocks on the shore and spend hours watching the sky change, change and change again. It seems to me that all I can do for now until this painful rollercoaster finally runs out of juice, until the music stops and the fairground moves on to somewhere else, is to move like an observer and not a player. In the morass of legal requirements and paperwork, of photocopies and of rifling through filing cabinets in the (vain) hope that himself kept at least some semblance of a paper trail, I will eventually find completion; not of me, but of his dissembled estate. Some order from his chaos. I hope so, and, if I don’t, then this will meander on for years and incur great costs, enough for lawyers to choose a 3 month winter holiday with wide smiles and a loud wahoo.

I am lucky, nonetheless. Our children are right beside me. They understand legalise as I do not. They gently guide and sort and support through this process of ‘enveloping’ up a life, a long life of decisions made; of carelessness and devil-may-care; of the wildness of just living and blow the consequences, consequences that now fall to me, to our children. A part of me gets it. A part of me remembers that man, the man I chose and the man who spent the next 42 years infuriating me as I grew up as he decided not to. In a long life shared, and with hindsight, it is easy to look back and to be wise, but I cannot. I remember not paying attention to things that required exactly that. I remember enjoying the crazy. And here is where I find contradiction. Had I been more engaged, braver, more determined to be the grown-up I purported to be, would the memories have changed? Would I have been able and willing to join in the wildness of his life, if I had been the schoolmarm in the relationship? Probably not.

So, as the days flip and doodle, I must keep on searching for a paper trail; keep on searching for the answers the probate lawyer seeks; keep on calling on our children for their support. I must, also keep walking in the wilds, watching the sky light change and change and change again, until the time comes when this is done, as tidy as it can be whilst accepting that I was concomitant to his way of living, and then to celebrate the chaos of those shared years.

I must engage with the sunshine and with the someday blues, both.

Island Blog – Lift

Some days awaken me dark. I never know why nor when. All mornings are dark on the other side of window but on the inside there can always be light. It doesn’t seem to be up to me. My days are ordinary and samey. I do my chores, eat, sew, write, clean and wash. There is almost nothing in the diary beyond reminders to call someone or to write a thank you letter to all those who sent condolences to me and the kids.

On mornings when the dark permeates through my skin tissue to bury itself deep in my interior being, I just know that, day long, I will need to work hard; not at tasks but on myself. In fact, tasks can take a running jump on mornings such as these. I had one yesterday, closed down the phone, hid from passers by, and barely managed a stitch or a word. I didn’t speak out loud and my walk was a trudge.

What I know is that these days are random and could be lethal if I believed in them, if I thought, for just one minute, that this is IT. It isn’t. All I need to do is to open my eyes to the outside world, to see, to feel the enormity of eternity, of nature, of circles, of life living herself on, no matter what my piddling day is like. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. But, if I engage with the dark, I spend all day blind and I refuse to go that way. Just because I am a sexagenarian and counting, just because I am disillusioned, doubting, noticing aches and pains, feeling old and stupid and hasbeen does not mean it is all over. I may have found my way through a long and complex marital relationship with a less than uxorious husband; I may feel anger at thoughtless words and unkind acts of dominance, but I survived it did I not? Better, I am still dancing, albeit slowly nowadays. Inside my heart I am Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, Owl and Kanga with a touch of Eeyore and Rabbit on dark days. And it is ok. It is all ok.

This morning woke me at 5 am, as usual, and I felt light and bright and ready for anything. This is how life is, at least for me. I sat with a strong black coffee and watched a tawny owl on the telegraph pole. I heard it mew and then shriek and fluff its magnificent feathers before silently flying away to rest. I considered the day before and the other such days. If I didn’t ever experience them, might I believe that life is always easy to live? I might. Thus, these dark days are of immense value because they teach me resilience, patience, humility and more. I know that my core strength grows with me and 67 years of core strength sounds pretty good. Instead of weakening, that power is still mine to wield and wield it I will. If all it does for me as I grind my way through the uncomfortable process of bereavement is to show me that, although I am a small ordinary woman, I have power, tremendous power, power I choose to use for the good of all of us. If I can lift from the bog of eternal stench with a chirrup and a good measure of Tigga then I can, perhaps, lift others up too. I can reassure, show the way out and up. I can tell them it is ok to feel dark. It will pass. It is, obviously, better to feel light and bright but that will pass too, and it is a mistake to expect the world or other people to keep that light shining for us. The key is to accept we can feel dreadful without dumping it on anyone else; without blaming someone else for it, as I have definitely been guilty of; without giving it any power at all.

And on dark days, I recommend looking out. If the dark is not getting our attention, it gets bored pretty damn quick.

Island Blog – Tuning, Turning and Today

I awake this morning knowing that I have been out of tune with life for a bit. I know it because, on awakening, I feel in tune once more. Instead of a night of mares and violent interlopers and slugging through the days quite certain that my internal cheerleaders have downed their pompoms and left for Ibiza, I floated inside the arms of sleep all the way up to 3.30 am. Going quietly downstairs to make a cup of tea, I noticed how dark it now is. Only last week, it seems, it was light enough to show me the way. Perhaps, I say to myself, it is the turning of the seasons that has set me at a discord; perhaps it is the unwinding of lockdown and the threat of incoming, be it friendly or hostile. This bubble has lived us pleasantly since March 16th, weeks passing like minutes, moons waxing, waning and all days are Today. We needed nothing more.

Of course, the current subject matter of care home, separation, guilt, grief, loss and fear may also have colluded in my needing a re-tune. Time is the best one for that, but we are impatient; I am impatient. When I might expect to back on my feet instantly, life is telling me Stay Down Awhile, you ridiculous woman, but I don’t take kindly to being told. I battle on, expecting my mood to lift with my feet as I troughle round the daily do’s and grow furious when it stays limp as old lettuce.

Trusting, however, as I do, in the spirit world, the one I cannot see, touch or control, softens my wires and loosens keys that have gone rigid of late. The tunes I played sounded like a mess of angry cats; hurtful even to my own ears, going nowhere, no cadence, no major lift or minor bend, just a racket. From this morning, I can hear the lilt once more of harmony, melody, flow and the relief runs through me like warm honey. Nothing has changed. All will go ahead, in its own time, at its own speed and all will be well. I know this now, even as I know that discordant days will come again as we make the journey to a new place and time. However, knowing this doesn’t disturb the melody for I have learned that life is not a set piece of music, but, instead, one that changes over and over again. All I need to do is allow it all to happen, to accept the sad times, to sit with them, say Hallo, and wait for them to move away.

Times like these we learn from, if we notice, stop, say Hallo and wait in trust. I wish I had understood this as a young woman instead of turning from the darkness, fighting the demons with sickeningly inadequate weapons, thinking that if I sang loud enough the melody would find me once again. So much time wasted in ignorance. But I am thankful to understand it now because I do not believe in the bad press; I know the nightmares are just unpleasant dreams and that all days are, simply, today.

Which, I am reminded, is Winnie the Pooh’s favourite day of all.

Island Blog – Elephants, Clouds and Paper Smoke

This morning starts at 4am whilst the night sleeps on. In the time between dark and light, the darkling, I sip tea and watch the sea-loch. The air is flat, the sky the colour of paper smoke. Nothing moves, not yet. Then, a sudden arc of silver burst into the sky above the flat water and I know there’s an otter on the hunt somewhere in the filmy depths. The ripples ripple on. Then I see it, the hunter, its black head piercing the surface, only to disappear again into the deep down dark.

I feel dark, even though I know that once the light blossoms into morning, it will fill me up, the light, infusing my skin as hot water does a teabag. They say women are like teabags. You don’t know their strength until you drop them in hot water. It laughs me, even as I know it’s the truth. Today, like every other day, will be a round of mopping and cleaning, washing and caring. And yet, now there is a difference, now that I have admitted to myself and to my family that I am no longer able to care all by myself. I feel a teensy bit of relief, heavily clouded, heavy as a whole sky coming down on me. I used to believe clouds were light as air. Planes fly right through them, after all. But now I know they can weight as much as 800 elephants. That’s a lot of elephants and a very heavy cloud. How does it stay up for goodness sake? I have no answer for that, not being an expert on the matters of cloud.

Walking through the day with my inner judge on repeat. You are pathetic, weak, giving up, what makes you think it is okay to say I’m done? I always knew you would never see anything through. You have always run when the going got tough. You disgust me. And so on and on, ya-di-ya, the whole day long, and it is long, the day, second by slow second, minute by slow minute, hours and hours of it. I fill in gaps, sweep a floor, try to avoid eye contact with anyone, tell myself I have served well, thou good and faithful servant, but the judge’s voice is way louder and she barely pauses to draw breath. I change my frock combo to see if that helps. The outer me might just have some influence over the inner one. I change the position of the kitchen bin, wipe a table, turn up Radio 2, watch the sparrow hawk dive and miss.

I know that at such a crossroads, Lady Providence stands with her hand held towards me. I know I have done all I could. I know the decision is the right one. Dementia is cruel in all ways. It separates and divides. It eats the brain until any chance of a communication flow is cut. It takes a big strong, loving, able, powerful human being and second by slow second, shuts him or her down. The family can only stand and watch, help where possible, encourage all attempts at retaining independence, autonomy, humour. Then the time comes when it’s clear there is no way this beloved will return to his former glory. Ever.

The light is light now, the tea drunk, the morning shoving night over the horizon, blazing white and cloudy, like paper smoke. Roses pink the view, one sweet pea flower, the first, waggles in the breeze; daisies and those blue things I can’t name turn to face the sky, searching for sunlight. I don’t think they will see it this day but, loyal as they are, they will persist in their looking until they fold up for rest once more. Goldfinch spangle the fence, taking turns on the nijer feeder, bickering, flitting. Across the sea-loch a heron stands immobile, staring into the deep dark waters, patient, waiting, watching, beneath a cloud-heavy elephant sky, the colour of paper smoke.

Island Blog – Noticing

It’s been a few weeks now, this lockdown thingy and I notice changes inside my head. Looking at what was and at what is present me with two different views of the same thing. Funny that. Back then, when I clucked through my routine life with a hen-like disinterest of my surroundings, I had no idea there was such depth to a life. Well, I suppose I did, but chose not to poke my head over the edge in case I fell into the dark. There were things to do, tasks to begin and complete and to a high (ish) standard but I didn’t really notice how I did them, nor why. The things I did notice were, if I’m honest, viewed through a negative lens. The arduous drudge of whatever chore awaited my attention denied me the excitement of options. For instance, I always washed clothes on a low energy almost cold 30 minute cycle. I never thought about it, just turned the dial and pressed play. Now I consider the pile of washing, separating the sheets from the synthetics, put on my specs, hunker down and think about what cycle to kickstart. It has brought a wild burst of fun to my life and this freedom of choice around dirty laundry has led me to notice a whole load of other things. The tasks have not changed, the routine is still in place, but I have come like the tooth fairy to swap old dentin for a shiny new sixpence.

Noticing things can be momentarily upskittling. Because the house is so quiet now, I can hear it breathe, hear the scurryings and creaks, the sound of the wind through a crack. A sudden flash of movement in a corner could be an old ghost feeling welcome. It isn’t just me who sees it. The dog does too. I watch her look up quickly then move slowly over to where I saw movement, to sniff around. Dust has changed too. When I had cleaners every fortnight, the dust was brazen. Look at me, all thick and sticking to everything, dust-motely floating in streaks of sunlight, turning white things a tawdy brown! Look at me!!! I see you, I saw you, but where are you now, now that I am cleanerless and with a merry lack of dusters in my box of cloths? I don’t see you anywhere and, going by your past behaviour, it should be impossible by now to open the sitting room door, let alone breathe deeply.

Noticing and not noticing brings a very interesting switch of womanly tactics. Where I had to brace myself, like Effie, for some unpleasant chore, I barely think about it now and, much like the giddy excitement I feel as I decide which wash cycle to employ, I am curious to learn a good deal more. When I sweep the endless supply of crumbs from the floors I paint a design with my broom. I consider its potential for flight, but it’s not a besom so I doubt it has much, and, besides, I think my flying days are over. But what I just don’t understand is why this lockdown/slowdown time is effecting such dramatic change for so many of us. Despite the threat this virus still poses, and for some long time to come, the stopping of Routine is having a profound influence on all people. Doing old things differently, seeking out new things to do, brings them all to our attention. To ask Why Am I Doing This? may never have crossed our minds, minds numbed by what we thought was normal, minds dull as hens, clucking our way through the days and weeks, questioning nothing and overly hysterical should someone pinch our grain. Now, forced onto the wasteland we have to pay attention.

I know, of course I do, that not everyone can get excited about a shift in washing cycles, but there will be little things to question, notice and change. Children always ask Why when told to do something. Somewhere in that ghastly and painful process of growing up, our Why gets lost. Asking why, even of self, is to notice, to be mindful. It is also poking your head over the edge to look into the dark. But, as eyes grow accustomed to it, lights shine, contours reveal themselves and there is shape and texture to appreciate. And I always find it isn’t deep at all. I can let my arm sink into the dark, feel it cool on my skin, run my fingers through it. I cannot hold it, cannot grab a handful for closer study, but it is strong and powerful despite its lack of substance. And, when I turn back to whatever nonsense I plan for my day, the light is brighter, the air clearer, the dust silent and best of all I have the time to notice everything, every thought, every action, each precious living minute.

Island Blog – Keep Your Dreams

In these times, it is easy but not comfortable, to begin to believe that the dreams we had before this enemy came among us are right now diffusing in the winds of change. They are not. We need, more than ever to catch them and to hold them close. What any of us wanted to achieve, those lifts of magic in our hearts, from heading up a corporation to being better at being who we are have never had such gravitas, such depth, such height, such a chance.

As I plant seeds, in the dark of the compost and soil and la la mix to make it as perfect as possible, I consider the dark. Seeds don’t need light to germinate. They just need time and patience. Once the shoots appear, things change, as we must, if we are the one who cares for this precious new life. And that goes for dreams too. We may be fedded up with the whole waiting game, we may lose faith, we may trouble ourselves with fears and doubts, but if we can just hold tight to those dreams of new life, breathe, walk, notice EVERYTHING around us, the cycle of life, Mother Nature’s gift to us, year on, and, if we are careful, year on again ad infinitum, carrying our dream like the most precious possession we could ever, will ever, own, then our future will rise and flourish and flower and give delight to so very many others.

Let’s do it.

Island Blog – Light Remembered

There are two kinds of light, said James Thurber. The glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.

It thinks me. I believe there are as many kinds of light as anyone wants to acknowledge. For instance, through the hail and sleet and snow as it traverses the sky, tipping the hills and turning the mountain tops into sugar buns, there is the white light of ice, the distance dark sheets of hail looking like treacle poured from the heavens. There is the flash of sunlight on a hill road as a steadfast patch of ice refuses to melt, a glimpse of car headlights as some brave driver rises over a summit, temporarily highlighting a fall of snow, to fold over on a slippery descent. The sealoch lifts into light only to drop back into darkness as the clouds conjoin, part and join again at the punch of a volatile wind. Sunlight turns the bare maple into a Christmas tree, each stem bedecked with tiny drops of water, rainbow tears. Spider webs look like intricate works of art, the cold spider a dark huddle of hope. I haven’t seen a single fly yet, and nor, I guess, has she. The garden is late despite the daffodils doing their best to pretend Spring is on her way, their stalks disappearing into the white slush.

Then there is the light in someone’s eyes, You see it and it tells you something. That’s what eyes do, often belying the words let loose from the same page. Recognition, rejection, admiration, hope, belief, affection, remorse, desire, delight. All clear in someone’s eyes and infectious too, catching, almost physical. If someone is sad, I see it first. Their eyes tell me. If they are exuberant and excited about life I see that too and both will change me. We respond to light, if we take the time to notice it, to watch it. Wherever that light comes from it is wired into our very souls to answer back. Sometimes our own dark can blow out the sun, like a match, but it is dangerous to keep blowing and foolish too. Our beautiful earth is awash with light. The light of recognition, the light of hope, the endless variables of light in nature. The eyes of a startled deer hidden in the scrub as we walk quietly by; the yearning look of a child who really wants us to pick them up; reflections of bare branches moving over the surface of an ordinary puddle, a magical sky painting; the light of an epiphany, a new understanding, gifted, often, by someone else who can see light where I saw only darkness, the way that new understanding, that re-jigging of what I thought was fixed in place for always, sends light through my whole being and suddenly, I see.

As the snow and hail moves on out to sea, I watch it. It changes as it meets the salt-laden air, changes colour, changes shape, softens and demurs. Ha! I tell it. The sea will always win. Didn’t you know that? A walker goes by with a little dog. The dog looks at me through the window. For a moment, just a moment, our eyes lock. I don’t know this dog and this dog doesn’t know me but we share a glimpse of light.

That’s what we can do for each other. Shine out light, receive it gratefully, store it deep within so that we can gift it on, pay it forward. Someone is walking in the dark. Light them up and when it is your turn to feel like a huddled cold creature, accept light from someone else. It’s how the world keeps turning. We all have dark times but the light will always shine, from somewhere, through someone. And all we have to do is remember that.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog – The Overstory

I walked yesterday among the trees in the Fairy wood. I barely glanced up into her leafless arms nor stopped to touch the bark of the tallest Fir, nor paused to consider the tangle of roots thrust into visibility by endless erosive rains; roots as thick as my arm, conifer fingers, gnarled and scarred over hundreds of years by hundreds of human boots, marching boots, tramping across the overstory with little enough thought. I didn’t look, nor see, nor stop to garner soft peace from the whispers of these gentle and protecting giants. I just took my place in the march. I didn’t pause to consider over what I did this marching thing. I just wanted to get back out of the nipping wind and into the warm.

All evening, staring out at the dark, I considered. The understory thinks me. What brilliant planning, synergy and sharing goes on down there, in a deeper darkness that Night could ever bring? In a clutter wood, where new springlings struggle towards that wee patch of sky, of sun to hear the stories carried on the backs of the winds that dash across this rocky island from all points on the compass, how can life go on? Is there a finite of trees within the human boundaries of this wood? And how do they know not to crowd themselves out of sunlight, water, food – to leap across the track to where that fallen beech has created, in its final death cry, a whole rack of gentle space just asking for a friend. And not only space, for in its dying, in its soft slow submissive return to the earth, this giant is preparing magical layers of nourishment for that seedling to grow strong and straight-backed.

Roots will be under my feet even on this track wide enough for a whacking great lorry. Roots don’t bother with our boundaries and it isn’t just that. I think they conjoin, I know they do, merging and melding together for the greater good, the good of the wood, of the family. Unlike us, separation is not their main thing, not a thing at all. Unlike us, they do not judge by species, sex, type, shape or achievement. They care not what colour your leaves might be, nor if those leaves are bigger than their own. Like us, they need each other. Like us they sing better in a choir, a unison of voices rising into the sky sending harmony, melody and rhythm out to warm a listening heart. They know it. We are only learning.

Life is lived in the overstory. Although the underneath matters a great deal, it is easily hidden from the world. I can do this as well as anyone. I can slap on my smile and pretend just like you do. And there is no wrong in that, unless, unless, either of us forget our tap root and that of others with whom we share our life. The good news about tap roots is that, like the trees, they grow in silence, whether we pay them attention or not. As they grow in the silent darkness of our hearts and souls they find other roots. This meeting is not confrontational, nor constrained by fear but a vulnerable reaching, meeting, greeting; a gentle slow winding together of fingers, a melding perhaps, or a share of time before moving on. We can learn from that time of open curiosity, the lack of fear, the acceptance of another life doing its very best to grow and to grow right.

Today, when I walk beneath those same trees I will be witted-up and open. I never tire of the woods and have walked through and around them for almost five decades but sometimes, like yesterday, my overstory is so shouty that I forget where I am and thus I miss the nourishment on offer beneath those ancient wise giants. I miss the startling gasp of star moss on a rotting trunk, the shelf fungi holding on even as its host crumbles away, the rain-betrayed spider webs cast between a spindle of branches, long since empty of life. I miss the patchwork of sky, the squelch of peat under my boots, that sudden realisation of the understory, always working, always growing, in gentle silence. Today I will see it all, hear the voices of the wood and they will bring me calm and a real smile, no pretend.