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 – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 116 To See Darkly

 

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I saw this large white thing on the sealoch, pushing the water into a triangle with the rocky shore as the third median.  I peered for a bit through the paint-spattered windows as the cover of the night slid back to reveal a new morning.  I always do this ‘peering’ thing first, actually not just first, but second and sometimes third, in a vain attempt to kid on that, overnight, my eyeballs have grown young again.  Ah, halcyon days….. when I could see so much more, often too much, and sometimes that which would have been better not  seen at all, and certainly not by me!

Anyway, I waffle away from the large white thing.

Before it disappears completely, travelling at a fast lick through the frothy tide line, I grab the hefty set of Zeiss binoculars, or ‘bins’ as I gather they are fondly known, and nearly fall into my coffee with the weight of the things.  I don’t believe any bird watcher ever held these up to their eyes for long.  I would need to consider the employment of a personal trainer for at least a year just to manage a period of time longer than 35 seconds.  However, being a woman, I can achieve a great deal in 35 seconds, so I stick them onto my face and focus quickly, to the usual no avail, because why?  Because, as well as giving me instant arm ache and the beginnings of a shake in my ulna, well, both ulnas to be honest, the flaming glass bit mists up as my hot eyeball challenges the cold lens.  Vital seconds pass, as does the large white thing, into the trees that overhang the near shore.  Hmmm.

I call it a Snow Goose.  It was too big for an eider duck and too small for a swan or a flamingo.  Snow Goose it is.  There!  I feel dead chuffed and highly priveleged and can live this fantasy for days.  I saw a Snow Goose today!  That’s what I say in the shop to a resounding chorus of envying OOhs and Aahs.

It makes me think.  Of how we can see things that aren’t there, and not see things that are there.  How an un-misted glass lens can show us something we think we can explain, and how a misted one can talk complete pants to our human brains.  When we ‘see’ something through our eyeballs, we bring a process into being.  First, we see, then we fix this vision into a place, and then, without any conscious decision, we pad it out with all manner of daftness, imaginings, past baggage, phobias, indoctrinated beliefs and hopes.  When I see a beggar on any street, I see someone calling for help, and I will always give something. I follow my own heart in this matter.  When another sees the same sad sight, they may feel angry, begin to judge, or see laziness, bad choices, weakness – in other words, they might look down on the beggar as less than human.  It’s called ‘perception’ and it is in every one of us, however much inner work we might embark on to learn humility and compassion.  We can’t help it.  It is part of who we all are.

When I decide, which I sadly do, now and again, that someone else is heading in the wrong direction, I say so.  And then I learn a new fact or two about them, and regret, deeply, my hasty judgement.  I work on, to soften my perceptions, or, rather, to shut them up, but they can rise unbidden, un-called for, and always at times when I am not mindfully in control of that sneaky little set of wires that run from my brain to my mouth.

One area of perception, that never fails to cause a stooshie, is that of Boundaries.  Whether it is between black and white, the Ukraine and England, England and Scotland, or the African States, there is this thing about boundaries that could curdle milk in a nanosecond, one that everyone has an opinion on, based on personal perception.  Oftentimes, I hear folk talking heatedly on a ‘boundary’ subject. It can wire up a whole shopping queue once it gains momentum, but what saddens me is that I so often hear not what any individual really thinks, but what someone else has said on tv or written in a newspaper.  When you actually consider the other human beings involved in these situations, with only theories posturing as reality, how can anyone opinionate?

My world may be laughably fantasmic to some, even to many, but if we all  (and I believe we all do) want a life of peace and neighbourly-ness, then our arms must be open, our hearts too and, one day, our countries.  Voltaire said, ‘It is sad that, if we are to be a patriot, we first have to make an enemy of the rest of mankind.’

I think a different way to you, and you, to me.  I feel differently about the whys and the hows and the whens of things, but this can either be a glorious Snow Goose pushing through the saltwater of a new tide on a new morning – or, it can be ignored as something I couldn’t quite see, through my glass, and darkly.