Island Blog – Sid, Mary and Just One Tree

I am reading my favourite sort of book, a novel about human life with the natural world as a backdrop. I don’t mean the story of Sid and Mary who have a big garden and chickens, although they could indeed be the humans, providing one of them has a spiritual connection with nature in ways yet to be learned, understood and accepted. This story spans great swathes of time, from 1700 to 2000 and they connect through nature. The trees he (maybe Sid) planted as a young man, he now visits as an ancient wood, alive with stories, bursting into memories each time the trees throw out leaves of laughter for the sun to nourish. Many many suns, many springs, autumns and winters; many land battles never won by the land. Trees felled for no good reason, for Sid and Mary, perhaps, for their big garden, for their chicken run. Inside such a story, I am Alice. I move effortlessly from 1700 to 2000 along with those who make the storyline into a long rope, a connector. The writer makes it easy for me and I get it, so clever a scribe is she. To many this story would invoke a scoff. I don’t do fantasy, he or she might say and it is beyond my ken and my level of patience to attempt an explanation, the one that is so clear to me. It is no fantasy, merely an indication of our undoing. We have forgotten how to listen to the trees, lost the ears for stone stories, turned away from the rhythm of the sea, the cries of the winds, the percussive tap of the rains. But, for those who still want to believe that nature is not ‘out there’ but deep inside every soul, let me tell you this connection is only parked in some dark tunnel, and not lost at all. Nobody knows quite how to reconnect but all anyone has to do is to refuse the worldly chortlemongers and to whisper, I believe. Show me, talk to me, let me know you again.

I am no guru, no wind whisperer, nothing ‘weird’ at all, but simply a child of spirit who cannot and will not accept that nature is just there for us to manipulate and manage, to control and defy, to desecrate and deny. Nature is not about big gardens, nor chicken runs. Nature is a magnificent mother and we all know to our cost that to defy a mother is always dangerous in the long run. It thinks me. Although we humanoids are required to live in our worldly world, we can lose ourselves in the plastic. We can be too busy to study the extraordinariness of a beech tree growing out of a rock. I watched one this afternoon and for some time. I saw how the tiny beech shoot must have pushed into the light and been momentarily blinded, puzzled too, as it came out sideways. The sky should be above me, the ground beneath. That’s what I know, and yet I am slid out like a sardine from a tin and nothing makes sense. Hmmm. Ah, well, I know this too; my branches, once I manage to grow some, will need the light and so somehow I need to turn a corner, employing full belly strength in order to lift upwards. Might take some time, like years, but I am here now and there is no stopping me, even if I don’t make it. (Good attitude, beech).

When I study the belly of this twisted but upright fighter for light, I see the girth. It’s fat and strong but stopped short, telling me that beech baby made a decision once the turn upwards showed more struggle ahead. There are big pines on the bluff above her, already snatching light, ditto another massive beech; Mum, perhaps. So she wisely gave up on trunk height in favour of a three way split, for maximum photosynthesis and at the earliest possible moment. I stepped back a pace or two and smiled and bowed in respect. Survivor! I said out loud because you can say pretty much anything out loud around here and only the trees, stones and birds will hear you. I went on….thank you for calling out to me today. I walk past you every single day, in all weathers and for decades and only now have I heard your voice. Respect.

My two big strong sons leave in a couple of days. I will miss them both and for a long time. I will miss their strength, the way I feel small and safe inside their arms, the way they love me, the way they laugh at my daftness, my fears, my doubts and the way they show me I am stronger than I ever believed and someone they look up to. Well, no not that any more. Either I am shrinking which is probably true, or they grow taller as they fight their intelligent way through the shrieking, demanding, worldly world. But you know what I mean with the looking up to thingy.

We are here for such a short time and for the time we are here, we have a duty to not just our families but to our world, all of it. We can rant and do nothing, fret and wring our hands about the state of it, saying it’s too much. What can I do when there is so much corruption and destruction? I cannot save the rain forests, nor the whales, nor the starving, nor the abuse. And this is true. One person cannot. However one person can speak to someone homeless on the street. One person can recycle, stop buying plastic, pick up rubbish. And, as my African son says, one person can plant one tree.

Island Blog – The Still People

I walk today, the same route, the ever-changing route, the route that is a right fidget. It never settles, even over a mere 24 hours. The story of this landscape can never, could never be captured in a photograph, a still, for it is never thus. Every leaf changes, every blade of grass. Blue beetles march the track one day and are gone the next. Moss rises emerald and fades dry the next. Water courses overflow, lifting the water plants high enough to drown and then, the next day lower them gently back into the mud. Even natural springs (my absolute passion) falter if rain is cut off for days. I call them sassy. Yesterday we were a torrent. Today we trickle. it just shows how adaptable we are, don’t you think, you moving person? And the otter doesn’t mind, being as flexible as we. Yes, I acknowledge. I agree. It thinks me.

At this point, and at many other points, I am the moving person. I walk through the trees, wander deep into the woods to follow the tracks of night deer, as they stand still. Watching me. I know they are, just as I knew when I passed by a group of humans who drop silent. You just know they are watching your ass and it isn’t always comfortable knowing suchlike. I don’t feel the same way about the trees. They are older, kinder, wiser after all. Even as they are the still people and cannot walk with me, they do inside my mind. This huge beech tree, this spindly sycamore with no room to spread her arms, this alder, this willow. I notice and pause to connect with a fallen larch. You were so rooted and for so long my friend and then you fell. Did you decide that for yourself? I see others who are coming to their end of days with their bark peeling, or that suffocation of ivy determined on strangulation grasping at their bodies, and I wonder when they will simply and perfectly and politely decide to lay down their burden of care. All that growing, that big fight for light, those nesting birds and the endless production of buds and nuts and cones as food for those who, in turn, perpetuate the very you-ness of a tree. This fallen pine is still breathing. Something of the roots remain buried deep inside the nourishing soil, still offering food to flight life, insect life and to creature sanctuary. Wild honeysuckle snakes across the limbs, the flowers not yet beckoning me to a sudden catch of fragrance. Brambles entwine the trunk, snaking like a hug, the promise of blackberries for the autumn birds. I move on.

There are dead trees, stand-ups, arrested in flight. They stopped. Just like that, or so I think. But I know enough to know that this old tree that now looks like a home for a Hobbit, knew fine it was dying. I just didn’t notice. The woodpeckered holes tell me that this old, dead, tree is still offering life, even in death. The mosses that have grown from ground to about breast height, agree with me. Fingering the moss I can see macro-life. Tiny creatures that need this moss on this dead tree in order to survive their own little species. A bumble bee comes in. I hear it and know it is coming to check on me. After all, I am in the natural world now and a visitor. It rounds me once, twice, thrice, nearing at every swoop. I pause, stop my feet. Hallo, I say, Friend. And it is gone. It smalls me. I see how much of nothing I am in this world and how, if I was a bumble bee, I would so need to check out this stomper yomper who has just invaded my space.

On the return flank of this wander I stop beneath an almost fairy circle of beeches. They are hundreds of years old and, so the story goes, planted as a hedge. To be honest, this makes little sense to me, but wait. I am in my this century thinking that every poor planted soul will be trained and clipped and felled and carved into shapes. Back then this would never have been in anybody’s mind. It is, I believe, a sickness. We have forgotten how important natural nature is to our own future. These trees are millions high now, fat bellied and with outlimbs that defy gravity. Crisp cool barked and solid with deeply strong roots, these big boys are, quite simply, magnificent. I see them daily. I say hallo but they, I notice, are a bit distant, not like the chatty hazels, the moody silver birch dancers, the scholarly alders. The willows too, are friendly. But these beeches hold something, a wisdom. They have seen generations pass this way. They have watched fire and flood, death and life, beginnings and endings. They are silent.

I respect that.

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.