Island Blog – To Break through Sunder

There can be times in a life when torpor sets in. Or so I am discovering. Perhaps it begins with a yawn one morning when noticing a floor needs sweeping or when what to eat for supper is of little interest. Noticing such a fledgling state of mind at this stage might bring on an internal slap, a ‘get up and get on with it’ admonition spoken out loud or in silence, the voice sharp, matronly, critical, judgmental even. But if, as in macrame, this torpor is permitted daily freedom to build one knot into a pattern, it soon becomes an accepted, if not acceptable, un-presence of mind. And before I know it, I am its obedient servant. Perhaps such times are allowed now and again. Too many of us (and too much) are driven by expectations, our own of ourselves or those of others or worse the ones we think others demand of us, most of which are imagined and therefore not real. However I am not one to just allow torpor nor stupor to dupe my mind, at least not once I notice what’s going on up there inside my skull. I sense the danger of ‘can’t be bothered’. It smells of metal and lemon pith. ‘What’s the point?’ is another one. This one smells of sleet and cold porridge and comes with a shivering wind. I can turn from both, berate this inner crazy and perform a task of beauty which may well be the preparation of a delicious but simple meal or the sweep of my mindful brush across the kitchen floor. It might be a gentle wander through the woods or just the opening of my ears to birdsong, my eyes to the brave tulips about to bloom, or perhaps my ears to the miraculous sound of my own breath, in and out, in and out.

I can’t always manage it of course. Who on earth can? Life is not always a daring, bold adventure but sometimes a battle to just get through the long hours of a single day. One day can awaken fresh and happy in an unexplainable way. The next doesn’t really want to wake at all, again for no obvious reason. I am learning to accept this conundrum knowing that the happy and unexplainable day, within which I felt light on my feet, full of energy and laughter at pretty much everything, is a gift and the other is a reminder to love myself no matter what, to be kind as I would to anyone else. To love oneself is, of course, is the hardest thing to do and not just for me. So much about loving self sounds like arrogance, self-importance, narcissism. And therein lies the problem, the reason a person might never even try to love the broken adult self, let alone accept the possibility, no, probability, that loving oneself can heal every wound, eventually.

And it is simple. Not easy, not at all, but simple. How simple it is to someone else, after all, without judgement, wanting only that they are warm, safe, secure, free and unconditionally loved. Yet we seem inept at best in gifting all of these to our own selves. My way of rising from the sunder of my past is to actively silence the inner judges, all perceived, imagined, long dead and of no use to me at all, not in my present life. I doubt they were ever of much use to me. To be reprimanded for a ‘crime’ at any point in my life came, after all, from outside of me, loudly, angrily, thence some punishment or other would ensue and I would survive it. It was done, over, behind me. Why on earth would I continue the punishment within and for years, perhaps? What lunacy! What lunacy indeed. Knowing this, seeing it now, I can laugh at the addles in my brain, the old wiring, the macrame knot pattern and with loving fingers, unpick the whole thing, bit by bit. I can notice the triggers that tug, no, yank, at the ties that bind me to my long ago and then I do something for myself. I might listen for the birdsong, step out barefoot onto night grass or even sweep the floor. Something, anything, that tells me I am here, I am important, a part of a very long and beautiful story, one that I can add to any time I like. I make mistakes, poor judgements and many failures and I know that I can wither at the perceived enormity of the mountain they make in my path, or I can laugh at the mountain, turn away and head in a whole new direction where the sky is wide open and the fragrant wildflowers tickle my bare legs as I walk.

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 – An Old Lady and This Day

Today I watched, on a Zoom meet, a woman of almost 90 and obviously quite the thing around the interworld. She, elegant and with the bright eyes of a bird, was clearly confident. She uses WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps with strange names, although she didn’t announce it in search of a Goodlordwelldonehowamazingyouare response. In fact I suspect she might have looked astonished had any of us shown our resistance or lack of interest in being thus in touch with cyber space. I thought on her life, about which I know absolutely nothing. She knew war and deprivation, loss and fear, possibly hunger and cold. She knew flappers and bombs, new jazz and silent movies. What things she has seen in her long lifetime, what things! And she is not confused, not at all, nor has she lost her beauty, that soft-lined old face with more laugh lines than wrinkles and not a whine in sight. I suspect she was fierce, could be fierce and might yet be fierce and that thinks me. In her days of simple but harsh life, she had to keep her humour and her resilience, her softness and her fight. She needed both heart and claws. I imagine she was decisive and direct, unfearful as we are now fearful to confront rudeness, untruth, injustice and wrongdoings. She looks pint sized but never let a pint sized woman kid you into thinking you are stronger, because you are not. It isn’t about size nor physical strength but about courage, passion and backbone. I wanted to sit at her feet to hear her stories. I just hope her young ask her for I do regret not asking enough for stories from my own old ones.

So an ordinary morning was flipped on its aspidistra. Just like that. An invite to a zoom, to meet women I don’t know turned into a whole day of thinks and mind flips, memories and chuckles. Ah, when we greet the day with open hearts, what delights and sights await our looking eyes! If we are looking, that is. I am always looking so that every incoming thing catches my eyes. Was I born with this? Perhaps, but that perhaps can get subsumed by lifely demands, lists, children, workloads and drudge until it becomes something you can’t really taste in a tired sandwich. I’ve been lost there too. But there is this thing in me that refuses not to live, to really live, even on shambolic tricksy days. I can feel low and full of self-pity and there’s a word or two on that. Self pity is everywhere inside us. It is an easy go-to when life happens, when life throws the shit our way and laughs in our faces. I tried resisting, I tried reasoning, I tried logic and denial and not one of them ever worked. Ok, I said. This is not working. Let us meet, my unwelcome visitor, across the table, my table, and discuss. I soon saw it, Self Pity, for what it is and, after a few direct questions, its voice became skinny against my inner core strength, my own self. It surprised me at first, and then as confidence grew, I took my power back. I am taking my power back, I had said in my best strong voice and it bent and cracked and crumbled until there was nobody but me at that table. It was a gasp for me because I never felt any inner core strength, nor power, but just ran into the fight with heart and claws and with no idea of the outcome. I bluffed, basically.

I wonder how many times that long-living woman did just that right out on the street of her life, within her home, along her neighbourhood. These days we fight with ourselves. In her day there was no such thinking. The tough survived, the weak did not, although I bet she helped a few. Back then, thinking was for the thinkers and not for we ordinary folks. We just pulled on our stockings and got on with it, with all of the ‘its’ day after day after day. Not a bad way to live. Although I do bow to the thinkers, they have, unintentionally, opened up a can of worms because many of us stay with the worms and forget to live, to dance, to fight for injustice, to laugh at disaster because we know what we can do in the face of it. Like her, like that old lady who changed my day and not just this one.

Island Blog – Autumn, Our Gift.

I almost didn’t go to the pier today, to sit on the flat rock and to watch the tidal activity. Almost. Waking twirly and feeling it as the day slowed on, I conversed with myself as though to allow such a falter, to give it credence and approval. I will walk the short walk today, I said. It’s fine. I am allowed. But, as I moved closer to the exit opportunity, the rebel in me drew blood and stood in my path. I could see her in my mind’s eye and she laughed me. Ok, ok, I said, I will walk on. She withdrew to allow safe passage. I would so not want to challenge her.

Leaves are turning. Above my head, beech, alder, hornbeam and birch show me tip. That tip into Autumn, that acceptance with a rebel of colour shouting at them. No dying without colour, she says, no dying without that glorious dress of swish and ruby, of gold and speckles, that differentness that comes only now, only as Summer with all her flounce and confidence yawns like a princess and takes a first class flight across the world. There, she can astonish as only she can, lifting tired human minds, human bodies into swimsuits and flowing wraps and barbecues and beach encounters, but Autumn is pragmatic. She speaks to the dying light, to those on the cusp of change, she is change. And she does it well. Even though the storms may come and the light give way to a big dark, she is clever with time, for those who are watching. She is not one to sleep in.

The light lifts as I walk. Although it seems that the sky is closed, all grey and without comment, there is a shift. I can feel blue coming even if I cannot see it and it comes, with dissonant clouding and cerulean blue. For now it is just sweaty and cloying and my frocks clamp my skin. Then home again as Father Sun finds his spot and beams hot and sweaty after a jumper and boot day. I roll my eyes and peel off morning layers, damp down the fire. The temperature flips from nothing much to 27 degrees in a matter of moments. My neighbours suddenly barbecue. It is what we do if we are working with what is on offer, much like Autumn. I like her. She is feisty and determined. She is beauty in the face of death only it isn’t death. Death is forever, whereas she, Autumn is just one of four and playing her part. She is that jazz singer with a whisky/cigarette voice you hear whilst walking home, one that draws you in to hear more. She is nuts and berries, vibrant and wild, offering a harvest that comes only to her. She is preparation for the winter months when we all lose the plot, light endless candles, and pretend we don’t mind the dark and the cold. She is a herald, nonetheless. She is saying, get ready, pay attention, get real about this time, in particular, This Time, for we are all afraid, all wondering, all peering out at a world we are no longer sure about nor confident to walk in.

I won’t do the cheesy and say that this is nothing. It is not nothing. But we humans have survived, lived, loved danced and made a difference over and over for thousands of years. None of us know what will happen next but next is out there and we are right here, right now and this is Autumn. Our gift.

Island Blog – Dreamers, Just Go

We are the dreamers. Did you know that? Dreamers are the ones who, if they believe in those dreams, can change their world, and, accordion to the ripple effect, change other lives in the process. I am not necessarily talking about the weird things that come into our heads overnight, nor am I a follower of those who say they can explain such dreams. What I mean is that, if someone can follow their dream, even if it is just for today, just a weeny thing that appears to have no import, then, if that someone takes action, even if it feels weird and a bit ‘out there’, then who knows what may come of that dream?

It can be powerful. Let me break it down. In this strangest of days, as I wonder who the hellikins I am having buried a strong, dominant leader of a man, I could fluff. I could be like a dandelion clock, just there for someone to blow away. But I know I have roots, even if I cannot feel the security of those roots in the ground. All I know is that I will not flop. Not me. I am not a flopper. So, this dream thing. I wake early and know, although I wonder who told me, I just suddenly ‘know’ that I need to walk out, and right now. Because I am used to someone else telling me what I ‘know’ for so long, I am somewhat confounded when the messenger comes to me direct. I am looking about for himself. Oh, he isn’t here. You mean me? Well, yes, I hear, and I am now facing this directive. I swither. But, but and but again. I planned to do this, or that. I can see eyes rolling and I chuckle. I haven’t washed the breakfast dishes I whine, nor swept the floor and I always do those things at this time and in sequence. More eyes rolling. I do pause to wonder how often eyes can roll without disappearing altogether.

Ok, ok, I say, I will go walk right now, leaving the dirt and the dishes. Ok, enough already. I am pulling on my trainers and it is barely light. I wake the dog and drag her puzzled self out into the wild. She resists, a lot, digging in her small feets but I am having none of it. I know she is telling me that we walk later, following the routine. Yes, yes, I tell her but I am bigger and stronger than you and you will come. Her skids show in the track. I feel slightly sorry for her but if I know anything about the female of any species I know that we are very good at adapting. Eventually she concurs and trots along beside me. We watch early sunlight turn beech leaves to emeralds. We startle deer in the woods and they thunder away, their white scuts flashing. At the old pier the tide is full and still. Slack water, the pause between flow and ebb, the moment captured. I, we, are part of this moment. The tide is flood, meaning there is a full moon coming, but not yet. The water is very high and so clear. I can see way down. It is a while before the plankton bloom turns the sea cloudy. We are a part of that moment too. I see crabs scuttle, oystercatchers fly, geese swashbuckle in the shallows, curlews pipe overhead and herons croak like old smokers.

Then it comes, that flipjack, that effortless gymnast, the otter. I stand in awe, watching this extraordinary creature, king or queen of his or her world, dive, catch and eat, on the run. I hear the crunch of shell. He or she is only a few feet away but I am no threat. The kelp lies still, no wave action. The rocks, illuminated by saltwater, shine like varnish. The early sun lifts and pinks the clouds and here am I watching a dream. Had I stayed home to wash dishes and sweep floors as is my routine, I would have missed this magic.

Don’t miss the magic. If that dream nudges, then go.

Island Blog – In Love

Today is sunshine. That may not be a grammatically correct sentence. Frost this morning, early doors, then the sky turned raspberry, sharing itself with the massive flanks of the Ben, still puckered with snow pimples. I watched the raspberry move as the sun gained momentum and gravitas, highlighting hills, hillocks, swathes of green which argued a bit, turning the pink a bit vomity. And then suddenly, it was light. Let there be. And there was. When you are up against that amount of determined power, even the strongest raspberry in you will submit and defer.

I did the usual morning thingies. Wash, dress (frocks today) eat, sweep, hang out washing, la la tiddleypom. Then I sat to sew another playmat for a baby due in September. We don’t know, yet, if boy or girl so I decide a mixture of pink, blue, green and elephants. Cannot go wrong with elephants. I listen to another audio book. Audible tell me, with an excitement I just don’t get that I am a Silver winner for all my listenings. There is a click icon that says (seriously?) Do you want to brag? Well, no. Who cares how many audio books I listen to anyway? And I am so not into the separateness game, like I am better than you, more silver than you. Sometimes I wonder what we are teaching ourselves, never mind our kids.

Later, I walk. Now we come to it. Now we come to where I feel most at home, most in touch with the otherness of life, with the here of it, the now of it, the endlessness of it. For all I am this small human walker on narrow tracks in wild places that have a mystic I can barely understand, let alone explain, I have come home. I am in love with the wild places, the wilder the better, although I do draw a line and this is my line – walking at dusk in a game reserve when the night creatures are waking. But that’s it. No other line. Because of my many trips to wild Africa I confess that I still startle at a sound in the homewoods, especially as they leaf up and close ranks on me. I feel eyes on me, even if those eyes are probably Robin, Thrush or Jay. I remember with my body, that sharp of fear, that stopping of my heart, that sudden rush of adrenaline and even though I have not been able to go to my beloved second home for some time, I have not forgot.

Silver buds sharp the blue, tiny leaves twisting into green. Larch male buds swagger. Oh hallo, I roll my eyes. Men, showoff, colour……I know you, whilst the female buds politely open almost without a whisper and certainly no show. But they know each other and it works. My favourite tree, the Hornbeam (dancer) is green-tastic. It happened overnight, as it oftentimes does, this greening up thing. Oh! I am stopped in my tracks for she is beautiful. Compromised in her search for light, she has proven dynamic and feisty. Where one outstretched limb encountered opposition from someone bigger and bolder, she shifted, like a dancer who meets someone in her way, but is determined to win her bit of floor. As a result, she looks like she could work herself around any border control and with such confidence. I stand for a while to admire her and I know she likes it because she looks right back. We know each other. We have been friends a while and it is so very wonderful to see her come back to life again, whereas I had to keep living the damn thing right through a very cold winter. I don’t hold this against her. She knows that.

I see the banksy flowers, the little ones, wood sorrel, wild primrose, violets and nod a smile, if, indeed you can nod a smile. Plucky little warriors, they grow through drystone walls, on hummocks and moss banks, even on the trackgrass, just a fist of it and so vulnerable to feetstomp but they grabbed the chance and are holding on to make it beautiful. It thinks me of women, for that is what we do. We find ourselves where we find ourselves and we cannot not (is that 3 negatives? My dad will be twirling) make a place beautiful, make ourselves beautiful. I have seen it in a thousand women and, thankfully, I have seen this ‘cannot not’ being celebrated by many many men. The sun is shifting. A stand tree comes into full face. Dead, longtime, white, all sung out but not nobody there. The woodpecker holes tell me plenty, the white body is smooth to the touch and warm. Hallo you, I say and turn my eyes up to the top. It’s miles away. I bring them down, my eyes, that is. How do you keep standing? I ask. Actually, this question has been in my mouth for a while on the sighting of a ‘dead’ tree. It is quiet for a while, and I know this game. Some trees answer quick. It wants me to work it out for myself. I step back. The Poppy dog is quizzed, looking at me, at the tree, at me, forward, backward. And then it comes. The Otherness. On the outside, the obvious and what-you-see-side is, yes, dead. But the root of me, my spirit, is still here, will always be.

I’m in love with that too.

Island Blog – Fair Warning

Yesterday was dire, the whole way through to evening, when everything lifted. Sometimes I wake beneath a cloud, heavy like a cloak or a shroud that pushes me floorwards, or tries to. However, being a woman of Lift and Light by nature, I tolerate this not, even if it is a big struggle to reach my full height. I have flexible knees, strong limbs and eyes that look out, although it feels almost impossible to keep those eyes from flipping inwards. When they succeed they peer into all my private corners like snoopers in the attic, opening this old box and that in search of treasure. In other words, Reasons To Prove I’m Not Good Enough, Not Coping. Believe me, there are billions up there, in those old boxes. I know this because I lugged them up there myself. I don’t need you anymore, thanks very much for nothing. That’s what I said. I should have burned them, I know it now, but I always thought, and still do, that the old beratements have a purpose and need acknowledgement and recognition. On most days I can do this. And then yesterday comes at me full face and loaded with power.

This, apparently, is grief. It makes me furious. Why on earth am I gifted days, weeks, even, of feeling the healing, only to be cloud dumped and snooped on and to know that I have just landed on a snake and slidded back to square one? How completely cruel is that! Not only do I plod like an old cow through the minutes, which is so unlike me with my quickquick scurryings, but this cloud fills my mind too and it doesn’t have a single positive thing to say about me. A double attack. It is, was, tempting to believe the lies in my yesterday state, the criticisms and judgements in old voices and to lose sight completely of tomorrow, of hope, a future, freedom and the Springtime. I felt like Miss Haversham, even finding the cobwebs and dust and fluff to complete the scene. You should hoover, dust, clean, sneered the attic snoopers. I ignored them.

Now it is today and you would be forgiven in thinking there is a new woman in this dusty, fluffy, needing cleaned house. I had to check in the mirror myself. What changed? I have one idea. In the soggy black of yesterday I was invited to supper with my bubble family. I didn’t want to go. Wasn’t hungry. Wanted to melt into the evening with my cloud wrap and my snoopers, all chuckle and blame, the judgements and criticisms, fear, sadness, self-pity and Miss Haversham-ness. However I did go and as I walked in the door I was hit by light, music, granddaughters, the warm arms of son and daughter-in-law and the delicious smells of roast pork with all the trimmings. As I sipped the wine and crunched the crackling I looked back on the day. It was just a day, that’s all, part of the process. Perhaps the snoopers were also cold, lonely, longing for connection and interaction. Perhaps the cloud helped me allow myself to rest. Perhaps the silence, the no contact with the outside world was just what I needed. Perhaps.

I can accept that, from where I am now, inside my bouncy-happy new morning. However, I have one demand. The next time you decide to come, Heavy Cloud and Chuckling Snooping Judgemental Critics, please email me first. I want plenty of warning so that I can be out when you come.

Island Blog – Rain Light

I walked today with my eyes open, as best I could in the slanty rain showers. I need to see, and everything, not just the odd one or two things of spectacularness. Actually, if I look with intent, a great many things take on such a quality. Marching past, thinking ‘rain shooting up my frocks or stones kicked inside my boots to irritate my bare toes’ I can easily miss something I should not miss if I want this walk to mean anything more than a mere mindless exercise for both myself and the Poppy dog. She, needless to report, has no issues with frocks or stones in boots and I am glad of it, for her sake.

Lifting my mind from the aforesaid, I steady my gait, slow my footsteps, turn my face to the rain and all the skinly benefits it has to offer me, for I know it does, I can feel it prickle and stipple my wrinkly face, making it really quite lively. My mascara will not run, and if it does, I won’t mind because the feel of this heavenly water is so much more refreshing than the slosh of chlorine controlled tap water. I look about me. The leaf mulch is like burnished copper and the stems of strong-backed bracken think me of bare trees in a fairy forest. Rose Bay Willow Herb (such a mouthful of a name) stems are of similar beauty. I wonder when they will all finally fall to earth. Perhaps never. I forget.

Moss coats the trees. Beech, Alder, Sycamore, Hornbeam, Oak. All of them gleam and glow, luminescent, elvish, the tiny moss tops holding the droplet diamonds. Thousands of them, on closer study. The sycamores or plane trees patched like the necks of giraffes show me burnt siena and umber. Some trees are bald and the rain has shone them into beacons of light, like wraiths among the living, standing without breath. All sung out. The flash of a Jay overhead, the greyling light illuminating its colours, the translucence of its wings in flight. A buzzard hums the air, holding it, balanced to perfection, almost still as punctuation. Poor rabbit, I think, or mouse. You will see nothing coming as you scurry from cover to cover, always hiding, hiding for a lifetime.

The track is puddled, the extraneous rain pitching down through little gullies, down, always down, as freshwater will always down to the mother sea. The loch popples, tiny drops peppering the surface whilst beneath, salt meets fresh and the inevitable collision shows me a frothy curve of resistance and attack. Sticks lie here and there, thrown perhaps for laughing dogs with play in their mouths and dance in their legs, abandoned like dropped kindling on the path of a forager. I remember each Autumn walking up here on dry days to forage for kindling. There was something wonderful about knowing who lit my fire. Buying bags of split wood never felt the same. I like provenance, stories, meaning behind things. I felt the respect owed and due as I lifted, carried and then lit my fire with something from the woods of Tapselteerie. So much of my life lived there. It matters. Thank you, I breathe, as I lay the gathered sticks, marking, in my mind, the tree they fell from, the one still living, or the wraith that once flowered and spread, following the seasons and just begging to be noticed.

Almost home and I hear the chatter of a very busy household. I can see the evergreen shrub shaking with all this noise and bustle. Hallo Sparrows, I say, but quietly so as not to disturb or alarm. I toss up a prayer of thanks for their safety in concealment. I like that they can live together this way, as I absolutely could not. A commune never attracted me but sparrows seem to love it. They are safe for now, for this time when the sun, barely able to lift his head over the horizon offers a shortling day in which to feed or to forage. T’is the season, I tell them, as I walk by and they, having paused at my footsteps, in an alert concern, relax and chatter back to me. I know how to move around birds; slow and with a soft, reassuring voice. In the mornings as I fill the feeders, the birds come close, even the male blackbirds and that was my best delight for they are the biggest panic merchants I have ever encountered, screaming alarm at the slightest twist in proceedings and frightening all the other birds into bushes and over fences, their little hearts beating like a drumroll, and oft for nothing.

Another day passes. This one with rain light in its eyes. I meet those eyes. And I see.

Island Blog – Me, the Swan and the Marvellousness of Life

Walking this morning over tree-fall of burnished gold – larch pins, beech and rhododendron leaves, wet and flat on the peaty floor, I see change all around. It seems to be happening daily. Water, still, in stands, rain-heavy. I remembered tadpoles, watched them clutch and fiddle about, only yesterday it seems, when the sun was high and warmth promised. Now, greasy and black, it looks subdued, tempered, level with the sky, reflecting nothing. My eyes cast upwards, as they always do beneath the magnificence of ancient trees. Beyond the skinned branches there are clouds. There is sky, a sky that looks so much further away than it did in the summer. Back then, it felt close enough to reach, to pull down some blue for myself, but if I shouted now, there would be no echo. My voice would be lost in space. The sky has retreated.

There are no fruits left on the rowan nor the blackthorn. The blackbirds have seen to that. No mistle thrush this year, no redwings swinging like ribbons through the woods. Only big black crows, buzzards, owls and seagulls. I feel a missing. Just once I heard the long-tailed tits working the nuts and fruits but caught no sighting. I remember times they danced with me along the track, unafraid. So close, those little survivors with tiny bodies and great long tails and with voices so easily recognised. Hallo, I whispered, so as not to startle them (I have no idea about Tit hearing tolerance) and they skittered about above my head as if I wasn’t there at all.

Coarse dead grasses flop drunkenly after last weekend’s gale #hooligan that screamed and crashed and threatened roof tiles and my peace of mind for two long days and nights. The first of many. The first I have got through alone in this solid wee stone-built home. During the worst of it, in the pitch black of an island night, I thought of sailors, of the animals out in this slashing hail and rain that fell like steel rods onto a goodly and patient earth. When I walk through the woods I can feel the ground move beneath my feet, as if I walked on elastic. This is how this land survives. It moves and bends with the winter’s boots. You will not break me, it says. You can change me but I will not break.

Returning down the track I see a single white bird right in the middle of the sea-loch at full tide. Too big for a gull and not a goose. Geese are never single and nor are gulls. I peer and watch and move forward. It is a swan, a Hooper, a visitor on its way to warmer climes in the south and already travelled all the way from Iceland or even further north. Now, wait a minute. Swans mate for life. Swans travel together. Why is this lone proud creature sitting mid loch? I hear its voice, haunting, echoing across the water, but it doesn’t move. Closer, I see it is looking out to sea, its neck stretched, yearning. I stop and wait. It calls on, gentle, soft, persistent. I look seawards and see nothing. What? I whisper. What are you doing here at all, all alone and with winter about to grasp us in her icy mitt? Suddenly it flaps itself into a run, lifting on great white wings into the air, heading west and out to sea.

And, then, I hear them. Miles and miles up in the faraway sky comes a huge skein of Hooper Swans, their voices responding to this left-behind loner. I watch in awe as they move overhead, as the left-behind rises and rises in pursuit. They move fast and they are high, so much higher than this single swan but in him or her I can sense determination and the adrenaline of pursuit, the drive for survival, for familial connection. This swan has lost its mate. That’s for sure. You don’t see a single swan. But it knew others would come. It knew that this was the route south. All it had to do was to stand out, white against black water and to be patient. And there stood I, clueless and wondering.

As I watched it fly, rising and rising and rising again, the skein disappearing so quickly, I whispered Go on, Go on, Go on, my brave friend! And, turning for home with a last look at the empty sea-loch, I saw the marvellousness of life.

Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.