Island Blog 160 Heads and Tails

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This morning I walk out into sunshine.  The greylags are crossing the sea-loch, their babes in tow, paddling like the good little muckers they need to be.  Collared doves float between the telephone wire and the bird table and a little mouse just shot along the windowsill (on the outside).  When I empty the compost bucket into the worm-tastic bin, I stand for a moment watching the new mini-hive with just a handful of workers tending a new queen cell, buzzing in and out, always doing the right thing.  Baby birds line the fence, their beaks open, their wings fluttering, their voices pleading, and, sure enough, there is a parent to make everything okay.  The little blackbird we found in the garage, once lifted into the back garden, yelled its head off until mum and dad appeared, making encouraging noises and darting back and forth between the branches.

‘Yes, yes…..they say, we know you haven’t grown a tail yet dear, get over it……. but if you don’t remember those wings can lift you off the ground, then you never will!’

It thinks me about the way they live, those that have a purpose and know it and never forget it.  Okay they are creatures, not humans, but I am game to learn from anything and anyone.  Learning to fly, sans tail, is something we can all do if we choose.

And, unlike animals, we can think and we can reason.

Perhaps that is our problem, because we might forget at times to be thankful for what we have.

Example…….I look out at the garden and I think….oh flip just look at those weeds!  I look around my house and see the dust.  I have a shopping list and I don’t feel like shopping.  But these are just my work, my everyday, my purpose.  Within each of these tasks I find it, if I focus on the task itself, and if I consider it a thanks to life.  Yes, I have weeds that grow faster than I can yank them out, but, at least I have a garden;  yes, there is dust, daily arrivals of it and yes, it shows up in the sunshine, as do the filthy windows, but, at least I have a furnished house with windows; yes, I have a shopping list but at least I have money to buy what I need, a shop down the road, a car to take me there…….and so on.

With these and so many more of my gifts, comes responsibility, my responsibility to each of them, to honour each one, with respect and good humour, for what is this life, if not a gift?  Whatever hardships I may encounter, they will never be as hard as they are for others.  I tell myself that, often, at times when I forget I have wings.

These times are valuable times.  Pushing them away, pretending they’re not there is never the answer.  Feelings about life come and go;  times are good and times are not good;  the way we see something one day is not necessarily the way we will see it the next.  We all want to be happy all of the time, and, yet this is an ideal, an impossible dream, perfection.  In order to become the best we can, we need a lost tail day or two here and there, because, although it may be uncomfortable, it helps us to remember that we do have wings.

Oh, and good news for those with lost tails…….

They grow again.

 

 

Island Blog 134 Reality Check

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This morning the air is still on the island.  Nobody is about, except for the birds playing out their dramas.  The doves, including Dave,  whose mate was nabbed by a sparrowhawk a couple of years back, and who will always be a gooseberry, turn up to feed, their beaks tapping out a syncopated rythm on the wooden base of the bird table.  We found the remains of the kill on the track outside the house, and Dave stumbling about lopsided and scared. Not a lucky dove, we said.  After a week or so inside a box, fed and watered each day, he managed a wonky lift from the ground, straightened up and flew right onto the telephone wire.  We hadn’t fixed anything, weren’t sure how to, but perhaps the combination of love and his own will to survive did their work.  Now, however many pairs line the wire, sometimes up to 15 in the winter months, he is the uneven number, but always faithful, staying close to home, when the others loop away across the hills to build nests, raise young, complete the yearly circle once again.

A pair of swallows have taken the nest we fixed at the back of the garage years ago.  Each spring, they check it out, and each spring, they reject it.  Perhaps this is because we are constantly in and out of the garage, for it offers the only access to the hill garden at the back, where the bee hives nestle in the wild grass, their faces towards the sun.  Every day each community, numbering thousands apiece, fly out to find pollen. The scouts communicate directions to the others in waggle dances, performed on the front step and taken seriously by the other worker bees, all women of course, who might be dithering about which way to go.  The hive mind is an extraordinary thing and one that never sleeps, for even when the bees don’t fly, we know that if we lifted the lid (which is not for the faint-hearted) we would not see one single bee loafing about with a vacant look in her eye.  Every single one is busily employed, going about her business mindfully, intelligently, continuously.  Any loafers would be thrown out.

Trouble is, the swallows number three.  I don’t suppose this works, a menage a trois, in the swallow world, but the three of them dive in and out of the garage each early morning and evening.  On the wire, they have words.  No violence is employed, but you can tell, from the tone, that it’s not friendly.  Perhaps, like doves, and swans, swallows mate for life.  Perhaps this lone one lost its mate on that huge journey back from Africa.  We watched them gathering on wires, rooftops, swirling like a dark cloud over Capetown, when we were there in March, preparing for their flight across the globe, and we marvelled.  How they manage to find their old nest sites year after year beggars belief.  We would need maps, charts, radar, provisions, a transport vehicle, confidence, determination and periodic rests in soft beds with cotton sheets and a spacious en suite.  They just fly.

In honour of their unusual tryst, together with the excitement at their final acceptance of the Garden Centre nest, (buy one, get a House Martin one free) I have fixed signs, one on the inside of the door, so we remember not to dive out and head butt a swallow, and one for anyone coming through the little gate who needs guiding to the other door.  If we need to access the hill garden, we must open the garage door slowly, peeking gingerly out, to see if our new friends are around.  Sometimes they wobble on the inside washing line.  We need an inside washing line on the island, as the outside one is often long-term unemployed.  The concrete floor is already guano-ed up and this situation won’t change, as long as they decide, finally, to lay their eggs, which they still may not, given the human comings and goings.

As I walked Miss Poppy around Tapselteerie yesterday, she made me laugh at some antic and, in response to my voice breaking the silence of the afternoon, a well-hidden nest of young tits leapt into action, their collective cheeping floating out from one of the dark holes in the old dry stone wall.  The mother, behind me on a branch, yelled at them to shutup, but they were having none of it.  I didn’t stay around to worry her, but the experience lifted my heart, just to have been allowed to witness that moment, and to fix the knowledge of it into my ordinary day.  I call that an ‘internal shunt’, for It changes me, even though nothing has changed.  My usual list of miniature disasters is still there; the demands on my time, my patience, my purse, stay in place; nothing is certain, nothing really safe and nothing I can do to make it any different.  I could lose a loved one in a nanosecond and there is little I can do to stop it happening.  I can fall ill, a silent enemy moving in to establish victory whilst I dash through my daily list, unaware until too late.  But it does me no good to focus on what may or may not happen, in fact, it will falter my step, weaken me, make me dull at parties.  What I need to do, mindfully and intelligently, is to learn from the birds, from the natural world, of which I am a part.  I am at the top of the food chain, yes.  I can think and reason, yes.  And these gifts are not given to be wasted.  They are gifts of sight, gifts of power, not over others as we seem to believe, but over myself, the choice to get real, like the birds.

How does that song go………oh yes…..

‘Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie
A fantasy we create about people and places as we’d like them to be
But you know what truth is?
It’s that little baby you’re holding, and it’s that man you fought with this morning
The same one you’re going to make love with tonight. That’s truth, that’s love.

I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.’

Island Blog 103 – New Things and Clown Fish

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There are things I have never bought.  I’m not talking yachts and diamonds, but household things like a new sofa or a multi-functional, all purpose blender.  I have looked at them online and not believed one word of their wonderment.  For a start, in that exciting world of sofas, which, by the way, fails to excite me at all, I puzzled over two things.  One is the material and the other the exhorbitant price.  In my world, a sofa could be wrecked in one short day.  It could be stained with all manner of tenacious colourings and smells, be flipped on its back to become a defence against military attack, or offer a comfortable resting place for swamp creatures such as collies or children just in from the rain forest, so I never bought one, not ever, relying instead on second hand ones already ‘broken’ in.

However, the multi-functional all-purpose blender has niggled at my peripheries for a while now.  I do have a small liquidiser, which can whizz up easy stuff like over-ripe strawberries and yoghurt, and an old magimix which belonged to Granny-at-the-gate and got left behind when she went northwards to heaven, but it leaks and, besides, is not multi-purpose, whatever than means. I also have a bread-maker that produces amazing works of sculpted art.  I sprayed one once with enamel car spray and it lasted a whole winter of island rains before I threw it over the fence.  It hit a rock and I wasn’t sure which one had shattered.

So, last week, with a helpful link to a good one from my healthy eating sister, I ordered my own copy.  A few days later, when dashing out the door to feed the 15 doves who have adopted me as mummy, I fell over a box the size of a small bathroom, which had been silently delivered earlier that morning.

Can’t be.  I thought.  Are there half a dozen of them in there?  Oh, no, of course not.  it will be all packaging and poly bags warning me not to put them over my head, or that of any in-house child.

I find myself, at this point, wishing I hadn’t ordered it at all, because now I have to do something like unwrap it and assemble it and then, worst of all, whizz a few somethings into a whole new something.  Then, I will have to spread it, or slap it on meat, or fish, or drink it.  The very thought brings on a yawn and I go to do another job for a while.

Eventually I have to face it so I lug this huge container inside the porch and grab a sharp knife.  Ok, here’s the top of the whizzer and here’s the bottom.  So far, so good.  Isn’t that enough, I ask myself?  Well, in a word, no.

Ten bags are nestled among the moulded corrugations of cardboard, each one wrapped in polythene danger.  I remove it all and lay each piece out on the counter, which I can no longer see.  Even the Clown Fish in the tank dive for cover.

I begin to assemble.  30 frustrating minutes later, I still only have the top and the bottom identified.  There are round things with small holes, round things with big holes, whisks, plastic discs, a small rocket, metal blades contained in immovable shells, each yelling out LOUD PROMISES of finger loss should any contact be made.  I am now a bundle of nerves and have to call my healthy sister who just giggles unhelpfully.

Did you assemble yours?  I shriek at her.

Nope, she says.  Her husband did.

Well, I have one of those but he is at sea, so that doesn’t work.

She guides me gently onwards and the motor leaps into life, although it has nothing to do but spin around at a terrifying speed, for now.

Later I bring together not a well-thought-through list of ingredients from a tried-out recipe, but just what I have in the fridge.  A bit of almost mouldy red tomato pesto; half a bag of raw spinach; one apple with the brown holes removed; one floppy carrot; a clove of garlic;  5 pitted black olives (ha! you thought I was going to sabotage it with pits didn’t you!!) and the juice of one orange.

Well it whizzed for two seconds and stopped.  I poked about with a wooden spoon and it whizzed again for another two seconds and stopped.  It went on offering me the same resistance, one I have only ever met before in myself, for half an hour, but I was determined to win the fight.

What I ended up with is a paste that resembles the inside of someone’s liver, but it tastes delicious.  It made me think of how important it is for something to look good for us to want to eat it.

Trouble is, I have only used one tenth of the flipping thing.  The rest of its working parts slumber in a dark cupboard. Just the thought of working out what they do makes me want to join the Clown Fish.