Island Blog – No Moment Missed

Life is an awfully big adventure or it’s nothing at all. Or something like that, if anything could be just ‘something like’ an awfully big adventure, or a life. But we so often take days for granted, allow them to limp along in trudge boots, unseeing of the beauty of our one and only chance to make a difference. Now why would we do that? Death is the end of life and we don’t much like death although I, for one, am completely okay with it for it is just part of a cycle, unless the death is too soon, too young, too inexplicable. Those deaths take forever to be allowed in a mind. But the days we, who yet live, must be roiling with adventures or they just slip through our fingers like mist; missed; missed opportunities to scamper if we can, sparkle our eyes, notice everything, to engage with everything and with everyone we meet. It isn’t hard at all, not if we think it so because by thinking it so we show our humanity and our gratitude. Things will annoy, people will irritate, life will throw curve balls and situations will seem unfair or cruel but if we choose to see life as an adventure, we will learn techniques to work around, work with, work intelligently through any amount of sh*t. Our belief that our piddling little life is more important than anyone else’s is what creates war and war is nothing if not pointless and destructive. From neighbours to posturing countries, from pub quizzes to dinners out, as long as we tell ourselves we are the proverbial ‘it’ the road ahead is paved with troubles. The key is to let go and to let be. And until we learn that, until we take down our walls of protection, we will always be something’s or somebody’s target.

This weekend past I drove to the ferry (most of the way in Nervous Gear) for a visit to my son and his family. I can almost see their home from my own so don’t think airports or anything as scary as that. All I had to do was park, walk aboard, cross the sea and then walk down the gangplank, straight into my son’s big strong arms. We laughed and talked, ate too much and wandered each day with their littlest one in her polar suit and furry lilac boots. During that time I learned much about about them, how they are now, so much more than I could ever learn in a text or during a phone call. Engaging in their life, albeit for a short time, showed me their life, told me how they think and let me know how they have moved on since last I spent some days with them. In my big family it is easy not to manage any of that. A few exchanges when the little ones are playing elsewhere is enough for the time but doesn’t show me how life is for any one of them inside their own lives. And what I noticed is that they grab every opportunity for adventure. All my kids do and in doing so they teach their own little ones to do the same. A sudden rain stop. Let’s get out there and climb trees, or splash in puddles or play ball! There is no faffing, no hesitation, just action.

I return home with memories of our daily adventures roiling in my head. Colours, laughter, pink cheeks, cold fingers, encounters, good coffee and the warmth of a shared evening. It hopes me for a better world. If everyone just got on with life, really living it, giving every moment the respect it so deserves, well…….who knows what the earth might look like? Okay, maybe not the whole earth, but our own little bit of it, our own homes, neighbourhood, street, community. And it all begins with a morning decision to see the good in each moment, every person, every situation in which we find ourselves. When I was fearful on the scarily empty ferry, the cafes closed, the staff minimal, the travellers all unreadable in masks, I decided to stop, breathe in the salty air and to look around me. I watched a couple with a lovely wee dog, the way the woman reassured when the loudspeaker yelled everything in Gaelic, the way another couple took pictures of the passing lighthouse. I counted the beat of the lights and wondered who decides which lighthouse does what and when. I smiled at passing crew members and noticed the way they were already ready for a mask muffled exchange. They, like me, are short on conversation, I realised. The ship was ghostly, almost empty and yet so big and powerful. I watched the wash created by the engines, the wake, the seagulls fly, the islands I cannot name moving by, dark in the darkling light as the sun sank into the great Atlantic. I heard all sounds around me. That door needs oiling. This flag needs a seamstress or replacement. I noticed the colours and their lack. Why does everyone wear dark colours in winter? It’s as if we need to blend into the sleep of the season, no colour upset to the quiet vibration of January. I, in my colours felt a bit rude to be honest. But, no matter. All of us, the dark and the coloured folks, all 10 of us on a ferry that can carry 1000, arrived together and safely. As the crew threw ropes and japed with the land crew, I saw the sea settle, the salt sink, the last light catch the spume turning it into an adventure – just a moment but I caught it and the lift and startle of it carried me all the way back to my wee mini who, I just know it, was excited that I was back. Hallo Pixty, I said and she smiled into life. We trundled home once I had worked out how to put on the headlights and arrived as we had left but not. No. We arrived back adventured up. Changed. Not a moment missed.

Island Blog -Still Breathing On

I meet with two other widows over coffee in a brightly lit cafe/chocolate factory. All last night I was fearful, not of meeting them but of going out at all. I had to choose paint, collect a prescription, buy soap from the best soap shop in history deliver a huge landrover tyre to the garage for unpunctuation and leave my own mini there for an hour or so. She, my mini, Miss Pixty Forkov, was having an argument with her onboard computer and I don’t blame her. She was telling me her tyres were fine thank you very much whilst her screen flashed me dire warnings of certain disaster. This long list of things confounded me, overwhelmed me and I had to take 3 deep breaths prior to firing up the engine. I realise this to be ridiculous. I have driven this tootling switchback road up and down endless hills and skirting 2 lochs for decades. But nowadays it can take on monster proportions inside my overactive imagination and it has everything to do with Covid restrictions and fears and widowhood.

Needless to say, once my lungs are well pumped back up again and my head silenced, all tasks are completed with ease. I arrive at the cafe and settle down with a double shot cappuccino to wait. I can feel myself calming down as we talk about how life is for each one of us. All our husbands died differently. All of us are still somewhat lost without them, no matter how pragmatic, how busy with ordinary tasks we may be. We feel abandoned and rather pointless. We live on for our children, not quite yet able to say we live for ourselves, having not lived for ourselves since we were 20 and that was half a century ago. What happens to souls after death, I wonder to myself. Is there an end date for a soul as there is for a body? If not, heaven must be overcrowded when I consider the thousands of years humans have been living out their lives. I look at my friends, two good strong women whose faces show me what they must see in mine. More lines, eyes not so bright, mouth busy but changed somehow, the ends pointing chinwards in repose. Is my heart broken? Is yours? We all agree. Yes our hearts are broken, our lives as we knew them stopped forever dead. It doesn’t mean we won’t heal, although the scars will always be there. It doesn’t mean we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves but it does mean we give life to these deaths in that we talk about them, about our dead men, the impact on our children, the legacy of loss, of father loss. You only ever get one of those.

For my own part, as the most recent widow, I have only just come to a place of acceptance, a sort of quiet river flowing underground. Sometimes this river hits a confoundment of rocks that cause a lot of hiss and spit, spume and roar. Other times a waterfall, rapids and quiet swirling pools. There are bends and long straights, deeps dark as the middle of a forest at midnight, shallows where fish skitter and reeds wave softly from where they root, denied air. I inhabit the ground above this river, walking alone. The river compels me, beckons me, calls to me and offers me continuity, hope and a future even if I have no clue what that future will be. I know, as my friends know, that our children watch us now like hawks, picking up on every stumble, every doubt, every fear. Mum is all we have left now. Mum must go on and we will make bloody sure she does, the old bat.

When we separate back into our own solitary lives, having covered most subjects in the book of subjects, I know we all feel lighter because of what we all have in common and because we are not afraid of death any more. It is not a word whispered as it was before we watched it happen to our life partners. At the very point of death, when we turned all practical and businesslike, we left a part of ourselves behind for ever. We can be afraid of driving short distances, of imagined dragons, but Death has no hold over us now. We met him, after all. We watched him cross the room. We felt his presence. We are taller now, stronger now and more likely to laugh with abandon at things we might well have censored before. We are woman, invincible and still breathing on.

Island Blog – Circle, Cheat and Language

I write much about the circle, the cycle of life and death. My belief is that we are too afraid of both. We take life for granted, afraid that the life we know will be taken or destroyed and when that life is threatened or stolen, we cannot accept it. Well, I get that bit. When someone beloved dies it is nothing less than catastrophic. But death? If we could step back a bit we might just be able to acknowledge that nothing lasts forever, no-one lasts for ever. That sounds sensible, as long as I am not the one with the beloved who died. It doesn’t matter how it happens, expected, sudden, too young, too soon, it always cuts like a knife and that wound takes forever to heal, if, indeed it ever does.

So how do I walk my talk? I have no answer right now because each time I hear of a young life snuffed out before that person had a chance to shine, I feel a punch in my gut. This is not right. This is not the order of things. Life is a cheat. I look for reasons even if I really don’t want to find them. I hesitate and dither. I want to see that vibrant person laughing across the table from me, that snapshot that I take into my heart and fix on my wall. I don’t want to think about any pain or struggle. I don’t want to know that someone as young or younger than my own children has gone. I cannot imagine the grief of a parent in the face of a young death, their chances of ever recovering. It is a stone too big and too powerful with ripples that go on and on and on.

So, I am not so smart about death, it seems. As much as I would like to be as peacefully accepting as those in cultures who are taught about loss and about death as an honourable and inevitable place of spirit and connectivity, I founder on the rocks. I know those damn rocks and have foundered and foundered, not when my husband died because his death was sort of natural and his age made it all sort of okay, but when a child dies. A child dies. It is too much to bear. I sit here, useless and sad, wondering and clueless. I can do nothing, say nothing because I know nothing about this and I pray I never will. My mum died first and that is how it should be, but it is no given, as I know.

I honour anyone who knows what it is like to bury a child, however old that child was. I know a few and when I think of them I stand on tippytoe, on the rocks, waving like a fool because what else is there to do in the onslaught of such a storm? They are alone and will always be, in that grief. I ache for mother, for father, I wave for them but I am not them. I am a million miles away with all children intact and with a heart full of sadness. Life is a cheat, but so is Death. We just don’t know the language of either.

Island Blog- Balance

I realise something and every something is something.

For over a year I have been completely involved with myself and my situation. Although it is understandable, it is also, at times, questionable. I don’t mean to question the depth and length and horribleness of grief, no. I get that bit, even if it is clown-tripped by a happy face painted on to a sad one. The ‘process’ is both eye-rolling and unavoidable, dammit. I am a woman who makes things okay no matter the shards, the damage, the blood and the disaster. It is hard to step away from that and to allow this slowness to inhabit my mind, sleep, body and mind.

Every alert alerts me. I have learned this, being a woman who will not, will not, be confined by someone else’s peripheries. I have allowed that too many years back and back is back and I am a forward person. My ankles are strong, my body agile -ish, my soul questing, my mind curious. All good so far. Far. A wonderful word. We all love ‘Far’ if we are honest because not one of us wants the opposite, which might read as Not Far, at best.

My alert is twofold. Not one being the either to other, nor more powerful in impact. How strange life is. One is the birth of a new life, a new girl, a new little girl within my huge family. The other is a death of a woman I know to have fought like a battleship throughout her life and who is dead too soon. I do the scale balance thing in my head, see the ancient star sign, Libra. I make no sense of it, of her, in my head. Balance, after all, surely, is something I can understand in a worldly way. This balances that out, that balances this in. No. Never.

When we try, when I try, to make sense of awful things happening to good people, I founder on the rocks of confusion. I draw back, pull back out into the ocean and still I can’t make sense. Am I counting the rocks, feeling the tide pull, the onslaught of a capricious onshore wind as if somehow the math in me will come up with an answer? Yes, perhaps I am, but no amount of worldly knowledge will protect me from the unknown. The new birth, a celebration, something wonderful and then a death, too young, too unfair and with no explanation. I think that’s it, the no explanation thing. It is almost impossible to explain, and let me rest there because what I want to do is to honour her life and what she meant to me.

The new girl is but 2 days old. The dead girl ditto. I am working on balance.

Island Blog – So Will I

This day, in a fallout of death, I am aware of Life. I decide thus, Let me feel every single minute of this day, every soigné one. It is dark when I wake but there is a slither of light around my blackout curtains. I know the colour and my heart smiles. T’is not the moon, no, for this light is golden and the moon is never thus. She is slice white, cold blue, lemon if indeed she ever gets anywhere near anything yellow, which, she rarely does. Maybe in her summer coat. Maybe. But now, in the days of incoming cold and threat, she is clear in her colour. So, I am delighted to see that warm glow framing my blackout curtains and I just know is it morning. Oh glorious morning. I love mornings and have little regard for their start point as I ever did of the mother of boys. Boys have no start point, in my experience and just lift and run just whenever they feel like doing so. I have found confusion, then allowance, then engagement with the lunacy of boys. And, in girls too, although I only had one, yet she was match for any of her brothers since first she clocked her situation. She never looked back.

Back to me. It is so strange to walk into a familiar world knowing that someone, younger than my eldest son, is dead. I cannot conceive it, nor allow it and yet here it is. It is not my grief, primarily, not at all. There is a big and grieving family right there in the thick of it all, those who will, for many years, try to make sense of a daughter who died too young. They might question, they might take a dose of pain to their own hearts, they may confuse and dissemble. I would. if my own daughter had died within her 40 years, I would. I cannot, nor can anyone who has not gone through this, say anything. I can say nothing at all and perhaps that is just as it should be.

This day the Rose Bay Willowherb dispelled her seeds. I watched those seeds flit by my window. As the sun pulled pliance the seeds tipped and flowed and moved on as if they knew where they were going. All my spider webs are revealed, beneath chair, above curtain rails, over stairwells. Highlighted in a mist, snowflakes encaptured. I move out for a walk with the doglet. Breathing, honestly, today was a tricky thing. Any breath swooped in seeds. I am not going to let that stop me, not in the face of young death and my olding life.

Coming back into land, into my own home space I think this. I know that Nikki lived her life with wild and colourful dance. And I know this too. So will I.

Island Blog – Fractal Dance and Twee Storms

I leave my little home and swing right onto the Tapselteerie track. There are no cars parked in the wheen of a passing place so that means no walkers unless they arrived on foot. Good. I love solitary walking. As the sea breeze lifts and luffs around me I get a faceful of wispy down, seeds from the rose bay willow herb, white, soft, fractal. I don’t take a deep breath as the cloud floats around me and away into the sky. Thistles are also setting flight their hopes for the future, and this down is hardier, more able to land with a modicum of precision. The cloud down can blow on for days, weeks, at the mercy of a capricious breeze, ever changing its direction over this land of rocks and tides and capricious breezes. I have found cloud seed everywhere, inside the house, in the bird food bins, stuck to the washing on the line, in my knicker drawer. I’m not hopeful for them. I catch some seed and study one. Aeronautical perfection with tiny limbs, one weighted and with a tiny barb for holding on. The seeds spin like tops through the air, catch on clothing which then travels home with the wearer only to be shaken off in a new garden. Nature is genius.

The Tapselteerie track is dappled mosaic. Sunlight creates a masterpiece beneath my feet, a work of art. As I walk over such beauty my eyes lift up through the canopy of hazels to a mosaic of cerulean blue, bright green and icewhite, then back down to golden hexagons, polygons and all the other gons laid out before me like a star studded carpet. I hear long-tailed tits somewhere in the density of woodland, warblers and the prrrt of a robin’s warning. Two herons flap and screech at each other on the shore, vying for territorial rights. They lumber and flap, crashing into bowed-back hazels as if nobody ever taught them how to fly with elegance and precision, as if they still have dinosaur blood coursing through their veins and the wing thing is, well, awkward. The tides are both very high and very low just now because of the full moon, the Sturgeon Moon. The full moons were named by the ancients, called to reflect the season. How sensible. Not like the naming of hurricanes or storms which always scoffs me. A twee name for a disturbing natural eruption of astonishing energy tells me much about how our current culture really isn’t taking life seriously at all.

The tappsled seaweed is flung across the rocks in a sort of gay abandon. Gold and copper, black and emerald against the black of the basalt and I wish once again I had brought my phone for a photo. No matter, myself says. You can just take it in through your eyes, feel it sink into your body, your mind and your heart and by the way who on earth goes for a walk in the wild with a phone? Good point, I concede. My sensible self, my let go and shut-the-hell-up self is often right. She is all about just enjoying the moment or, if the moment is a shit storm, then not enjoying it at all and just waiting until it moves on to the next moment. It’s a good ethos.

The oyster farmers are working across the narrows now the tide is low enough to walk across from one side to the other at such tidal times. Their puffing tractors work the shore, the men in full body wellie boots as they tend to the cages. I wonder what they need to do and how hard the work might be, probably is. In sunshine weather it must be easy, in sharpening bite-cold, not such fun. The oysters are the best I have ever tasted and we can enjoy them anytime we choose. The shucking shed is big and green and sometimes I can hear voices floating across the search as the men and women work. I can hear laughter, jokes shared and it reminds me of working on our farm way back in Norfolk, way back in the 1970’s when I first learned that being part of a ‘waulking’ team was the warmest and happiest I ever could be.

Deer can swim over the narrows and we did warn the new owners of Tapselteerie once we heard they were deer fencing the estate. Don’t bother, we said, the deer swim and nobody can deer fence an entire rock-solid shoreline. They didn’t heed us. I remember wondering back then if my heeding skills might be due an MOT. Now the fences sag and flop anyway and the deer go wherever they please. Once I watched a stag leap said fence, startled by me. My heart was in my mouth as I watched him head for the impossible. I envisioned broken limbs, damage, wounds and general disaster. What actually happened was that he cleared the fence but his back legs caught, bringing down the whole thing as if it was matchwood and string. Once the clanging and puffing and snorting and leaping and heart-in-mouthing thing was over, he stopped, looked back at his awaiting hinds, all shivering and silent on the ridge above him, above me. I drew respectfully back quietly, my eyes down. Make no eye contact, I remember that lesson in Africa and it makes sense to me. No eye contact, no challenge, no threat. With nervous steps, the 3 hinds descended the ridge, stopped once to look at the not-looking me and the not-looking dog clamped under my arm, and then elegantly flowed over the matchstick fence, up, up and away into the trees.

These sunshine days are a gift. The winter is long enough, loud enough, scary enough with twee named storms causing danger of death which is very real for some. We have lived with storms and disturbing natural eruptions for thousands of years. The problem is dissociation. Instead of connecting with what is way bigger than us, way more powerful, we are hiding. And, thus being fools. I know I am fortunate, living high enough on these old rocks to avoid flooding and all the horrors that brings to bear and I am glad that my husband was overly alert to nature’s power along with her gifts. He taught me to be vigilant, to be aware, to make sudden decisions based on what was plucking at his gut and not what we heard on the news which, sadly, is often too cautious in its decision not to cause panic. If we as alert and intelligent human beings felt confident enough to decide for ourselves, what spirit would come to life! What powerful and intuitive choices would be made, what influence that might have, and how many lives could be saved! These are not questions.

All this on my dappled seed blown walk today. Let us, people, learn things, like CPR, like what happens in a tidal flow, a flood, a storm. From what direction? How much build up is there, considering the friction, drag and density of that tidal flow. Tidal spiders, taken into account. The earthly tides flow widdershins but not always. I am not saying that everyone needs to know what the tides are doing but I am saying learn something. You might live in Glasgow or Stevenage. No matter. You will be affected by the tidal flow and the altercation that is going on between the heavens and the earth. And it is real. We must teach our children. We absolutely must.

Island Blog – Life, Death and Corsets

I thought it would get better, exponentially, as if I had a sore toe, with rest and chicken broth and good nursing care. But this is not a sore toe. This is a yawning maw of days ahead, learning, reluctantly, to begin a new life. Did anyone think this through? If I was 25 again, wiry and with skin that actually fitted my bones, then possibly the prospect of ‘beginning a new life’ might just have sounded like fun. Now, it just feels scary. We get so set in our ways, do we not, even without clocking that this is happening, until it stops, dead, and the future is anyone’s guess.

As a body ages, we deal with it. We harrumph into bigger knickers and aggressive support bras and cover up bits that we used to show off, quite the thing. Our frocks lengthen. Old knees are a bit ‘witchy’ after all. Make up takes longer to apply and should only happen at all in full daylight and with a magnifying mirror. I have seen some shockers out there in my time, orange tipped noses and the face stopping at the jaw as if it wasn’t part of the neck at all, apples on cheeks and lips leaking towards the nose. A wearer of jeans will note that her bottom is sinking. She might need a belt, but that can become a hazard too as it fights mightily to keep a connection between buttocks and the middle bit we used to call a waist. It is so depressing to accept we need either a larger size, or, worse, old woman jeans with legs wide at the top and enough room in the upper part for most of a weekly shop. Fingers look like twigs or sausages and there is no going back.

All of this laughs me. I have no problem at all about ageing. In fact, I am rather proud of it, to have got this far, to be able to bear witness to such an extraordinary change. Animals don’t do it this way. Dogs or cats might get thinner, show some white hairs, but the rest, the wild things or even the not wild things, like sheep or cows just slow down and then stop, dead. I have been gifted the chance to wonder at the conflict between my body and my mind. As a ‘bereaved’ I know that the fears I have are all about my bodily capability and never my mind. My mind is strong and capable, versatile and inventive, but my body may not be able to follow my lead. Ah, I say to myself, I don’t like that. The answer comes back, What are you going to do about it? (Why does she always ask me that irritating question?) I round on her and ask her direct. She says nothing. Just throws me a wry smile like she knows everything and I don’t, which is probably the truth of it.

So it is just us, we humanoids who notice and wail about ageing, or deny it altogether. If I say to someone (is there anyone left out there?) that I am old, they flap like birds in a stramash and witter at me that I am not old, that I am as old as I think, that there are years left in me. That sort of twaddle. I like being old, I say. It means I have really lived and better, survived when so many others have not. There are my peers and younger, good strong loving impossible individuals who fell at a fence. Characters, warm-blooded feisty and hopeless at life as most of us are, getting it wrong more than right, full of regrets and defiance, energy and exhaustion, and yet they forged their trails when they found themselves in a position of responsibility for others, living out that life out in colour and rage and joy and fear and were quite marvellous at the whole thing.

Being stilled is sobering. From a huge and impossible presence in another’s life, in others’ lives, to a flatbed, to pale and cold, to gone. It will take longtime to accommodate that thought, never mind allow it to move its long stay luggage in. Hard, indeed, initially, to remember the actually there person who now is not. But he was always there, like, forever, through my this and through my that, knowing my faults (!) and my successes and very probably highly opinionated about both.

So, now it’s up to me. Me and myself and she is doing a grand job with her snorting and her opinions and her wry smile. She keeps me right and, don’t tell her, I am glad of her company. We are 2 in 1 even if I baulk at the thought of it. I spend much time working on exponentiation. It keeps my mind bright whilst she swans around all febrile and wispy and lifting those eyebrows to the clouds. She hasn’t aged, you see. She is forever young and full of beans and quite infuriating as a result but I do tap her energy as my skin fights to escape my skeleton and I am in danger of a skin puddle.

I remember my first corset, so excited I was, shopping with my ma in the lingerie department of a shiny store. It was so white, with little roses in just the right places and stretchy enough not to constrict my breathing. Ma told me she was not so lucky. Hers had 25 hooks you could never see in the dark and if you got one wrong you yawled sideways for the whole day. The world of corsetry was kinder in my day. I do remember wondering why I needed one at all. What was wrong with my wonky body anyway? I was shushed and marched on. It was the way of things.

Isn’t life always just the way of things? Death too?

Island Blog – Wind Rock and Stories

A huge bag of wood arrived today, just as it began to rain – again. I love the sight of all those split logs, fine and red and full of stories. I had heard the chainsaws for a few days way out across the sea-loch inside the forestry depths just knowing that my huge bag would be craned over the fence in a couple of days. I drew my trusty and rusty barrow out from the garage and began the transfer from bag to wood store, feeling each log and enjoying the way I simply know how to stack, which log to place where with barely a second’s thought. The pile rose as I considered the stories held within that precious wood. The importance of trees, that’s what I was thinking as my hands held each log, each log of stories. These pines will have only lived for 50 years, t’is true, prior to felling for the warmthly needs of the likes of me, but it reminded me of the huge beech tree I saw at the weekend. It had fallen across the track, all the many tons of it, and politely, as big trees always seem to fall, thus making sure nobody is squashed. The victim of wind rock.

The lines on this big soldier spanned hundreds of years and the bleeding sap made me sad. In death there is a bleeding, even if you are a tree. I touched the newly hewn bare face of the trunk and could feel the stories run up my arm. Even if I am too stupid to actually hear the details of these silent stories, I know they are there held within the warm mother trunk and protected by her coat of bark. What had this tree seen in its time? The estate was formed in early 1800 so, chances are she observed many things. Grand people coming and going, carriages, horses, escapes and arrivals; farm workers on carts with ribald in their mouths and a flask of something stiffening. Children off to school, beautiful sons and daughters off to grand parties, old women out to tea and a gossip and sturdy clan chiefs kitted up for a skirmish. All of that, for this tree stood at the gate to the big house and would have been the envy of the other trees, relegated to a yearning life in the bleachers.

Aside the track, bracken stands tall, copper filigree on burnished stalks. It looks beautiful in death, unlike in life when it suffocates the ground and harbours myriad blood-sucking pests. Few birds today in the bare trees, beyond a few long-tailed tits whipping off doomed buds and a pair of jays, screeching horribly at each other from one side of the wood to the other. Jays always surprise me; a dreadful scratchy call, like fingers on a blackboard and then they fly out, a rainbow of fabulous colour. A line comes to mind. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It takes me back to my youth; beautiful men and women, all sparkles and smiles and convincing words, and without a story. I met a few of those. At the time I was so embroiled in the minutiae of young life, I didn’t pull back to see the bigger picture. I do now. As I watch a female sparrow hawk take a blackbird right outside my window, I see her beauty, her colours and the ebony black of her eyes. I hear the cries from her prey. I am not cold to this. It physically hurts me, but I know the story. She is as hungry as the blackbird. Her life is all about precision and focus, unrelenting focus, day after day for life. Now that is a story.

Back to the tree. I think about it. Some will look at this mighty giant, now sawn rudely in half and bleeding, as firewood in a couple of years. Others will feel great sadness at the loss of yet another tree. And I? I will keep walking by to hear the stories it holds, even as it dies; even if I cannot tell them out, I can hold them within and, somehow I know that this matters.

Island Blog – Words and Thoughts

Today awoke at 2.30 am. I won’t add ‘in the morning’ because as everyone knows ‘am’ means the morning, even if folk on the radio say it twice. My dad would have had a fit, rolled his eyes and stated loudly that this country had gone to the dogs.

Immediately and unbidden the negative thoughts pour in, the dreads, the fears, the remembering of death and dying. I used to be able to cut all of them off at the pass but not these days. Is this grieving, I wonder? Folk who know things tell me it could take a year for this to ease back into my natural thankfulness, my curiosity about life about living it, about the day ahead. A whole flipping year? Are you serious? Well, yes, they are.

All day I dragged myself through simple chores with no interest in a single one of them. I went back to bed; read a whole novel; got up when the guilt of such indulgence whooped my ass out from under the duvet. I never do this. I never did this. Not never. This is me, I state clearly and succinctly, the me who got the hell on with absolutely everything no matter how much she didn’t want to, but nobody is listening. And that is what I miss the most. The somebody that has now become nobody. That somebodys existence required me, needed me, expected me to show up and now he is gone. I had been expecting him to leave the programme for over 10 years and yet, now, it feels deeply unfair. How dare you leave me like this, purposeless and empty? Where are the little spurts of chat about the sparrow hawk taking a blackbird and all that terrible screaming that accompanied the process? Where are those shared moments of what’s for supper, where are my snippers for pruning the geraniums or what’s this puddle on the floor?

Silenced. For ever. I did eat something today, at some point. I did walk the dog although it was a trudge and a short one despite the beautiful sunshine day inviting us to stay, stay, stay. I didn’t. We didn’t. And, now, there comes more lockdown threats. But you are so lucky, I tell myself. Just look at where you live, at that fantabulous view! And, so I am, but I am not going to berate myself for yet another crime. I know I am lucky. I know there are others who face a brick wall, who have noisy neighbours, who are squished into a toosmall place, who feel real and justified fear. Mine is imaginary, after all, even if I don’t minimise the power of it inside a faulty mind. And my mind is faulty. Only for a year, so they say. Or thereabouts.

I think often of dying in general. I thought I was fine with it but we are all fine with a concept as long as it doesn’t invade our peripheries. However, there is something about age in here. When we get older we seem to widen our fractal understanding of many things. We are less tolerant of fools and more understanding of foolishness. We are more confident in who we are and less confident of making simple decisions. We walk with more confidence and yet are less confident of our footing. We are a walking dichotomy. Younger folk admire us and find us weird. We are simultuous.

So, in my simple Alice world, it is ok to feel the fear of death and dying whilst still being curious about life. I guess I need to work on that.

Island Blog – A Letter

Ten days since you died my husband. One week till your hillside funeral. All of your family think of you every minute, probably more often than even that. Memories come back, moments resurrect and stand tall, blocking our path. And yet we move on, doing normal things with an abnormal head on and a heart all flapdoodle but still beating. Mine feels like wings, as if there’s a bird trapped behind my ribcage unable to escape.

This morning I cleaned your room, now that all the hospital kit has gone. I took my palette knife and some white filler for all the many holes left in the walls, holes that remind me of hand rails and other attractive supports, no longer needed. Neither are the holes. There is a big enough one in me and in our little island home, even if I can move about more freely. The furniture is not pinned to the edges any more for easier wheelchair access. Actually, I did think you were a bit over the top in that particular demand. A wheelchair isn’t that wide, after all. Then I realised you had lost your innate spacial awareness and the evidence of that loss is scraped along doors and lintels and walls. You were pretty nippy in that chair, nonetheless, turning on a sixpence, making U turns and scoots forward when space allowed, and even lurching at great speed down the ghastly yellow ramp which is now looking for a new home.

The leaves are beginning to turn now. Conkers (we always looked for them didn’t we?) are landing on the track but I haven’t found a big one yet. You told me you always won conker battles and you also told me that you soaked them in vinegar overnight, making them like concrete. Scabious peppers the grassy banks finding the best sunshine spots. I saw 6 kittiwakes the other day, your favourite bird, flying seaward up the loch. I don’t think I have ever seen them here before. They came just for you.

The garden is looking a tad tatterlicious and the sweet peas gave up fighting the last big wind, but even broke-backed they bloom and their scent keeps wafting indoors, reminding me how much you loved them. I pick them for the house but soon they will be over for the year. Season rolls into season. You knew the sound of each one, its taste, its demands and its gifts. As one thing dies, another begins to live and that is how you saw life and death – the same circle, a never-ending story.

I am so happy that your dying was peaceful. No fight at all, no panic, no fear, just a soft leaving. And you wanted to go, you said so, to anybody who was listening. And so it is and was and ever will be when someone who cherished every second of a long adventurous life finds the living just too much. We didn’t want you to go but knew you did. We also knew that your living state was very compromised. But even at the last, your humour shone through those cloudy old eyes. Even knowing that the Great Beyond was calling you, hands held out in welcome, you whispered to me ‘ I don’t want to leave you.’

And then, you did.