Island Blog – Captured in Words

Today I awoke to a gale, a Sou’Westerly blast and birthing rain. Good Morning, chirruped I, wheeching back the blackout curtains to see goldfinch flying backwards and the mouths of my wheelies opening and closing in excitement. Here we are again. We did this, I said to my first frock as I pulled it over my head. It’s climate change. My frock said nothing as it fell in silent acquiescence over my body. Once dressed I downed the stairs and made for the coffee pot, noticing the time. 04.30. Great! Another long day just bursting with opportunities to notice and to learn something I didn’t know yesterday. The wind ruffed up the rain-stabbed water on an incoming tide making the fretful waves popple irritably. I didn’t share the mood. I don’t get irritable, not any more because there is too much to wonder at, to watch in peaceful silence and too many opportunities to learn something new.

I work through Book 2, drafted some months back and in serious need of distance (from me) and revision (by me) throughout the morning, discarding much and slashing my red pen across swathes of utterly indulgent nonsense. I was too close to it. My agent was right. Later, after reading for an hour and listening to a podcast on grieving, I decide to wander. Wander! I admonish myself as I note my fast pace, feet going like the clappers as if Himself was still back home and without a grasp on the concept of time. For him, 45 minutes, the length of my walk, was more like 3 hours and counting. I slow my pace, watch the thrust of my right foot, then my left, noticing everything as I go. The bark of an Alder. Must pull some off to make a yellow dye, I say out loud, very probably startling said Alder. I swear she pulled her tummy in, holding tight. I laugh and she softens. Just a little bit, I soothe, and not all the way around, I promise. Sunlight dapples the track into negative space. I stop to admire the ever shifting mosaic for the wind, now westerly warm and more like a caress, still lifts the leaf-heavy limbs of beech, oak, alder, birch, hazel, chestnut and the conifers I cannot name, although I know a pine. Everyone knows a pine.

A snapshot of the now calmer sea-loch shows me sparkles as if the sun is melting golden drops. Dandelions answer with butter yellow, speedwell with indigo, oxeye daisies with snow, stems swaying as if in time to the music, all faces turned sunwards. Turning down to the shore, a path I haven’t walked since my baby sister was here with her husband some weeks ago, I gasp at a crowd of foxgloves. They stand as tall as me and in that disco pink Himself loved best. Bumble bees fly in and out of the bells sounding like tiny dirigibles but without the threat. I stand awhile and tell them all how beautiful they are, out here where only a few will ever see them. We don’t mind that, they say. We like our isolation and besides, the bumbles will always find us and that’s what matters. Out on the shore the wind whips at me, warm and westerly and full of stories. I smell seaweed and salt, stories and history. Men rowed out from here once to fish for their families when to catch fish was to stay alive, at least for one more long winter. Seaweed in rainbow colours cover the rocks, the 200 million year old rocks that line the shore, the seaweed lifted and abandoned by the recent full moon tides. Rust, lime green, yellow ochre, kettle black, it looks like art to me. It is also draped over the old Alpha Beta pier, now just a skeleton made beautiful with mermaid hair and shells, random, natural, passing. Soon it will dry and break up and be gone. Such is the life death cycle.

Wandering (yes I am still mindfully wandering) back home, I see a broken egg shell and stop to study the crushed coloration. It’s a big egg so not a blackbird, robin or thrush but it is blue, striated grey, silver, rose gold. A heron’s egg, it must be. I lift my eyes to where the herons nest, just over there among the bow-backed hazels that flank the shoreline, frontliners, protectors of the woods and they can take it, have done for centuries. How sad, I whisper. This little one didn’t make it to life. I pass the pigless pen, move through the gate and step onto the home path. So much I learned today but what did I learn? Ah, I know. I learned that disco pink foxgloves grow at the shore for the first year since the bracken was cleared. I learned that they can stay dormant in the earth for 50 years just waiting for sunlight. Such confident patience. And see how they they gasped me and changed my whole day and poignantly because in a few days me and Himself would have been married for 50 years. When I drive the switchback I look down on his gravestone. Golden script. Sun-melt, captured in words.

Island Blog – Open and Close

Because I live at both ends of the day, like the animals, like the flowers, I see much. At 5 am the dandelions are closed, the daisies too and other sun-following flowers, the intelligent ones. The hybrids, I notice, just stay open, to night, to cold, to frost and I do, I confess, roll my eyes a bit. Your mummy didn’t teach you things, I think, but you are still beautiful. Maybe not long living, not survivors, not canny, but still beautiful short term. And that is how some people are, how youth is, supple and without dents and the lashes of life, the experiences. An one show. We have all had one of those had we just noticed we were having it instead of wishing we could just get to the next bit.

Slowly, and with the sun, the dandelions open, cautiously. I so get the cautious thingy as we have frost most nights. Just putting my nose and toes out there draws me back in to wait. That’s what the knowing flowers and birds do. They have centuries of experience in the fickle dance of nature. You say it is May? Ha…….let me play with you awhile. I think of the patient understanding of this. These flowers, these birds, adapt. It thinks me.

As we floundering humans with more intelligence (apparently) than the flowers and the birds, adapt, or attempt, to our release back into what we once thought Normal, we are foundering. The way things were will never be again. We are facing a new and uncharted terrain. How glorious. How natural. But we may have forgot the ‘Natural’ within us, that ability to adapt, to confound the voice of May, of any month in our given situation. I hear so many folk say they are relieved we are going back to normal and I recoil, like a snake. Hopefully unnoticed. How can anyone go back, first off, and then back to normal when normal is far from herself. She is ways off what she once was and we need to get that. Okay, I get the yearning for what was, what we understood, what we knew as absolute, the very ground beneath our feet, but that ground is no longer there so don’t think it will hold you up. This Covid has been a warning and one we must pay close attention to. I am no catastrophist other that the times when I have been. But not on this. We are perennials. We know how to follow the sun, our faces lifted and glowing in the light. We also know how to close and to go within, in to the warm, in to the loved ones, away from the cold and the winds that could blow the walls of Jericho down in a nanosecond sans trumpets. Are we paying attention? Life from now-now is not normal. It will be about acceptance and compassion. It will not be about waving fists at camper vans. It will not be about exclusion. It must be about the opposite, about sharing, about kindness, about, let us say, learning how other people work, those who do not have the mummy training that we did.

I watch the dandelions slowly close. I can see it happen because I can sit long just to watch. No other agenda now. Time? I have plenty. No interruptions. I recall agonising about the lack of it, yearning for it, shouting and raging for it. Now it is here, in abundance and if I am not engaged with that state, I can get angsty, fretful. But I am learning and in the main I know it as a gift and I am thankful, although not all the time. I remember my days as a thoughtless hybrid, dancing the light and believing it would last. I remember the sprinter in me and I also remember the long distance runner and my vote, now, goes to the latter. I am with the dandelions and the daisies, even as I love the short term glorious flourish of those blooms that have no flipping idea what they are doing.

So. We open and we close. We might like to think about that, as the borders open, the doors open. We are going to meet others who have really struggled through this past year; those who were stuck at home with those they were, before, able to live with only because they could get away to work. We are going to meet angry, upset, resentful, pressured beyond what we can imagine, on roads, in cafes, in pub gardens, in doorways and outside our safe picket fence. Let us allow everyone to regain some hold on what it is to be a part of the human race. Let us be kind, pull back, let forward, offer, pause, consider and, most important of all, deal with our own anger and frustration within ourselves and all by ourselves without projecting our pain on someone else who has more than enough to deal with anyway. Who said that if we really want to heal the pain the world, first we need to heal our own pain? I forget, but it is worth saying again.

Let us close to what we knew, what was and let us open to whatever comes next. After all, not one us has a scooby.

Island Blog – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

Island Blog – Natural Colour

I am seeing people, the ones who walk by, changing colour. I ‘m not saying I see auras, because I don’t, but the colours they send my way from 6 feet away remarkable me at times. I knew them as one colour, or one set of colours, and, now, they have changed. The look in their eyes has changed. No surprise there. One month of lockdown is manageable; we know we can do it. We can do dry January, after all, or Lent which is even longer, and we can see the end. Not now. We have no idea when the end will come and it is beginning to bother us. Maybe not our innate tigger mentality, but deep inside, we are changing colour. We look out, feeding like greedy, on the the new life, the migrant birds returned, the lush of wild violets, the unusual spread of primroses, anemones, wood sorrel, trip tides, new moons, that twisting eyelift chance of an otter in the saltscape. But we can tire of life, if we are not in renewal. Long term, anything dodgy can become a prison warden, bad relationship, wrong home address, a lockdown. I watch faces as they pass. They look at me, and I at them and we see different. And, you know what……this is good. The chasms in between mountain ridges make us pause for thought, and think we must.

Early on, in this lockdown thingy, we brought out all our colours because that is who we are, and who we will always will be. We saw and loved the alpine frocks of pink and blue, clutched in the fists of a crevice and holding on to life by a skinny holdfast, and we smiled. We saw the insect life, the colours of beetles, the jewelled flit of butterflies and other beautiful things without names; we watched sky born spectaculars cut the sky in two on their way to somewhere else and we snatched their colours for our own heart palette. We thought we could use them, and we did for a while, but now is the tough time, the time of pall and frustration, and all of us feel it to some degree. This is the long haul, like mid term for schoolers, except they know the end date, whereas we do not. Now, it is, that we must go back to those colours and remember them, notice how they have changed, as we have all changed. As the whole separation from loved ones takes root we plant new seedlings in our gardens. We decide to hear, anew, the rise of a wren song from a random fence, watch the flounce of goldfinch in fight, see the slowflow of a gannet draw a wavy line across our looking, because we must continue to find the beauty in everything around us.

Before she whipped our ordinary lives out from under our feet Mother Nature sent all these glories, free of charge, to every one of us. Perhaps we see, now, how much we took for granted, for it has been a long time, and as Mother Nature knows only too well, we are impatient. Not yet, she reminds us, not yet. Stay well and just breathe. In breath there is a rainbow. Let us consider this. It may be a long time before we can walk out again, never mind fly, never mind colour up, but Nature is working with us, not against us. She is Mother, She is Earth and she knows more than we do. We are down here, small, fretting, bothered about chasms, but she is not. We can trust her. And, if our colours change as a result of this new way of living, then that just may be in her long term plan, and we are wise to thank her for opening our eyes to our precious earth.

Island Blog – Remembering the Butterfly

Today started well. I rose at 5.30 as usual, washed and dressed. Downstairs waiting for the kettle to boil I realised my frock wasn’t feeling like it did yesterday. It was tight under the arms and squashful across my bows. As I wear two or three frocks at the one time, layered with musical precision and always clashing wildly with each other, I wasn’t sure which frock was the offender. Well, dammit, I will have to pull them all off, whence I discovered the blue one, the last one, the one playing the bass line, was on back to front. it was a relief to finally reassemble the noisy ensemble and to hear and feel, once again, a smooth and velvety tune. I take a big drink of water, fill and flip on the kettle for coffee, and prepare to put a wash on. Lifting a pasta bowl from the drainer, I dropped it on my bare foot. Yelling in silence, so as not to disturb himself so early, and hopping around the table I glowered at said pasta bowl which had rolled off into the corner and was definitely sniggering.

On making the coffee #footthrobbing I put 3 tea bags in the pot and poured on the water. There was just enough. I left the brew to steep and went off to refill himself’s water bottles and to lay our clean hankersniffs. I wiped down his rolling stock (hospital bed tables) and poured myself a coffee. I planned to listen to the birds, watch them flit and flut, fight and fly off, a lovely show of colour and attitude. This is not coffee. Initially I was a bit shocked #foorstillthrobbing at the thought of my folly. How could I do that? I don’t even drink tea, although my hand knows the route to the caddy as I make tea for himself all the live long day, so it could be that. I’m not losing it, I swear.

Washing spun and ready to go out, I gather the peg bag and climb the mosaic steps up to the hill garden. It isn’t blowing much and the air is looking rather tut tut but I’ll risk it. One of the items is a large woollen blanket and I don’t really want that draped inside the house if possible. The vetches, alpines, wildflowers, berberis, dwarf willow, violets and daisies all accept my greeting. I always talk to my flowers and other growing things. In fact, I have noticed the birds calm as you like around me when I go to feed them of a morning. I walk in slow motion and soothe them with my soothiest voice and they know me now. It’s rather charming. The flowers are quieter but I know they hear me. Anyway, back to the washing line. Hallo Lady Larch! She is the tree who supports the yellow plastic line and we respect each other. The last thing to fix is the blanket. I admire it for a bit. It is considerably whiter than it was pre wash, like snow or sea froth. Last peg connected and I spin around to leave. Ah……

My other foot, not the still throbbing one, manages to catch a corner I hadn’t noticed, still touching the grass but only just. There’s a little hole in this corner and my toe leaps through. I know I’m going to fall, and it is only grass, which reassures me as I do. Picture me now. I am lying on my back, my leg extended cloudwards, my toe in a woollen blanket stranglehold. There is nothing to do but laugh, even as I realise that both feet are going to have something to say about this morning’s abuse. I stay where I am for a few minutes, watching the clouds schist and shrink, billow and spin against the blue. Lying back, quiet now, all laughed out and barely moving, a butterfly lands on my nose. I stare at its underbelly, feel its tiny feet on my skin, see its wings lit like disco balls as the sun shines through. It stays, and stays for what seems an age, and is suddenly gone.

Later I couldn’t open the back door because himself had parked his wheelchair right up against it; the bruschetta mix I made is watery without lovely greek tomatoes that have actually seen sunshine; I’ve almost run out of kindling and I forgot to get bananas at the shop; the bulb for my flytrap died; I dropped flour all over the flour (bag burst) and my stillthrobbingtoe is turning blue.

But all I remember is the butterfly.

Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog 148 Dark and Light

 

Dark room wisdom

 

 

We were talking, my small-panted grandchildren and I, about the dark.  Was I, Are you, Button Granny, frightened of the dark?  I was having a ying tong at the time (ying tong piddle etc) and she, the smallest pants, burst in, quite the thing with this fairly big question.  Well, I said, thinking, or looking like I was…….I used to when I was little, and then, later, when I was bigger than little, yes I did.  Why?  she asked.

Good question.  They ‘why’ bit always throws me unless it’s obvious, such as Why did you not put your fingers in the fire Button Granny?  I thought more, albeit in a slightly compromised state (I can still think at such times, being a woman) and said, Well because I know the dark now.

How?  she continued.  Oh dear.  Well, I said (what would we do without that wonderful word of delay?) I think that I know that, that……there is nothing to frighten me in the dark anymore.  Oh, she said, and dashed off to complete her Angry Cabbages Puzzle, which, by the way, I do wonder at.  If cabbages are angry in her little mind, then what hope is there?  I had, earlier, read both herself and her bigger brother a story about an Elephant and a Bad Baby, who, together, stole two pies, two pork chops, with no thought for the poor pig, nor, I might add, the butcher, two ice creams, two buns and two apples, so I guess Angry Cabbages are small fry by comparison. I am consoled greatly to know that their parents think the book ‘dickerless’ too.

The dark is just the other side of the light.  I remember my lovely dad saying just that, as I shook him awake, about yay high, my little heart beating like mad, my feet light and running all the way to his side of the marital bed.  He rose and guided me to the bathroom, his voice soothing, regardless of his broken sleep, sleep he badly needed for his busy working day, yet to dawn, and laid a towel on the edge of the bath.  He turned on the taps to run tepid water into the tub and then lifted me onto the towel so that my feet dipped into the soothing water.  He talked about this and about that whilst I calmed, and then, softly dried my feet and lifted me back to bed with a gentle voice saying gentling things.  I don’t know if he stayed till my eyes grew heavy, but I do know that I never saw him leave.  He never asked me to tell him of my fears, just seem to understand them and then he washed them away.  I thank him for that, although he is now long gone, a Marine Commando, another dad who never talked about the war he lived through, at least, not the dreadful bits.

As a teenager I was still afraid.  Not outside, bizarrely, but within the walls of a house.  Once, when invited at stay with a schoolfriend, the daughter of a pig farmer, for the night.  I lay in the guest room, weighed down with warm bedding and I just knew there were rats in the room.  I said to myself, Don’t be Dickerless, but the rat-knowing part of me stayed resolute. Then, as I began to doze off from complete exhaustion, the house around me quiet (which meant the parents were in bed too…..) a rat ran over my blankets.  I saw it and I felt it.  I spent the night in the cupboard and cried so much at breakfast that my poor mother had to come and collect me, effusive with apologies and, no doubt, embarassed for ever and a day.  But I Saw the rat!  I wailed.  Uh-huh, she said.

The dark is something personal.  To each one of us.  Maybe it isn’t the night sort of dark, although it can be, but perhaps the inside dark stepping out.  A fear of something or someone.  Doubts can bring the dark.  Crime on television just before bed can continue to play out and develop in our dreams.

Dark is the other side of light.  As adults, sentient adults, we know this.  But knowing something and it settling into our bones can be a universe, a lifetime apart.  I know that when I am troubled, my dreams bring more dark than light. I have downloaded a Sleep App on my android phone (get me) by someone with the most boring voice I have ever heard, whose control over the english language would have sent my english teacher, Miss Machoolish into one of her dizzy spells, and it works, the boredom treatment, never mind the bright lights, the secret garden or any of the stuff he drones on about.  I just want out, so I fall asleep.

Now, I love the dark.  I know that, inside it, there is calm and peace.  I also know that night creatures move at such times, but they don’t want me, they want mice or wandering birds, and, although I may, indeed be a wandering bird, I am way too big for their taste.  I sincerely believe that television, for all its great dramas has bigged up the darkness with fear and we believe it.  Although I do acknowledge that, living on an island, my dark is just dark with not much inside it to worry any of us, I still think fear as food is something we don’t need.  We spend too much time, me included, looking at how things might go wrong.  Why should that out-balance them going right?  Perhaps more looking at the light in our lives would gentle the dark in us.

Dark is dark.  Light is light.  It is enough.