Island Blog – Sunrise, Nature and the beginning of Humanity

It’s 5am. My favourite time of the day. I used to say it was because there’s nobody about, but now there’s always nobody about, so it’s not the truth anymore. I consider how many other absolutes will lose purchase on my mind and will just drift away, like the will o’ wisps over there, floating on the ebb tide, backlit by sunfire. They remind me of water sprites, beneficent creatures, transitional, made of water and to water they will always return. Black-throated divers fly by right on time, turning pink as they head into the sun and the sea beneath their wings glows like rose quartz. Anyone rising from slumber later than this will miss it all. But not I said the island wife. I have always been a dawn raider, greedy for everything my eyes can gobble up, catching every spark and twist, every snatch of colour, every bird flit or cloud shift, each start of new beginnings, life whispering into life.

Walking along the Tapseteerie track, dry-cracked and steady underfoot, I feel the weight of the canopy. This horse-chestnut has never been so abundant with huge green leaves, richly bottle green, a strong spread of gratitude, for whilst we desist in our race to disaster, we gift back life to nature. A robin flits with me, from branch to branch, tree to tree, telling me something that sounds wonderfully joyous but which is beyond my understanding. Bees and other buzzing creatures fill the branches, all of them. I have never heard such a buzz and it smiles me. New mosses adorn the floor of the woods, some emerald green and star-tipped, some gathered in perfectly smooth igloo shapes, the colour of lemon sorbet. I can see the tracks left by deer in their darkling wander, the grasses flattened by hoof-scuff. They will always walk this way, along this ley line, the ancient wander path, following the ones who learned it before them and then taught it on.

Flowers watch me pass, their faces tipped to sunlight. Wood sorrel, violets, primroses, anemone, bluebells, campanula, and stitchwort. Tiny alpines cling to cracks in the drystone wall, feathery ferns, arched like question marks, will open this day to spread their soft fingers wide. Orange tip, tortoiseshell and brown spot butterflies dance around my head as I move through the warmth of the morning. Everywhere I look, there is abundance. Wasn’t it always so and I just didn’t see it, or is it true that our land is healing herself? I believe the latter.

As I turn for home, a flash of silver in the tidal flow shows me a big fish, a salmon, perhaps, or a sea trout on its arduous journey to find a place to spawn, and then to die. Gulls shriek overhead, little gulls, black backs, herring gulls and other gulls I cannot name, for they saw it too. No doubt the otter did as well. I know she is down there somewhere with her kits and soon I will see her on a still morning from my bedroom window as she teaches them to hunt or to play touch-tig.

Writing about the beauty through which I can walk every day is not something I take for granted. This lockdown has gone on long enough now, that’s what I think, although wild horses wouldn’t drag me back among people, knowing as I do, how easily the virus can spread, silent and deadly, invisible to the naked eye. So I consider this. If I, who have barely had to change my life at all, am feeling this way, then what about those whose entire lives have been full-stopped? Starved of social oxygen, meetings, encounters, business flow, cash income, school friends, loved ones and options for free travel, what life are they, you, living now? Many, I am sure will thrill to the peace of it all, perhaps all of us do, some of the time, but when I am told I absolutely cannot do something, it is the thing I want to do most of all.

When I write about my encounters in nature, it isn’t to gloat, but to show to others, who last saw nature in 2019 on a country break, that life is still living on, whether we can see it or not. In fact, the regeneration of this earth is a wonderful thing to hear about, and perhaps it makes the sacrifice worth the pain. I had no idea the ozone layer could heal. I thought it was already dying and so were we all. But it isn’t true, for it is healing, repairing itself and offering us another go at a good life. And so, I write on, a witness to the changes, sending anyone and everyone who is finding this all just too much, who is frightened, lonely, depressed or sick, my deepest respect and encouragement to stick with isolation until we can meet again, and once more walk free.

This could have been the end of humanity. Let us hold fast and make it the beginning.

Island Blog – Threads

This morning I saw two hinds on the hillside across the sea-loch. Their calf-rounded bellies confused me at first. I am used to seeing them more slimline, hungrier. My long sight is excellent. It’s quite a different matter when I need to see something at close quarters, such as 23 count needlepoint. For me, it is just a spread of white with dots and any attempts to align a needle with one of those dots ends up in complete failure. My cross stitch is decidedly cross.

I wander through the day from this to that and back again, each time scrubbing my hands to two Happy Birthdays. I’m amazed there is any skin left. It thinks me. The hinds are blissfully unaware of what we humans are currently facing down, the scrubbing and the fear and the ridiculous overbuying of things that should be shared out equally, as are the mint, the daffodils, the buds on the climbing rose, the siskin (just returned) and the perky little robin building a nest in the bonfire pile down the road. The other thing that has no idea what we are currently facing down is the skin on my hands. Beyond being rather startled, it stays firmly in place. How wonderful is that! I remember people saying how amazed they were that the world kept turning as they fell into the dreadful darkness of bereavement. How can this be? Why doesn’t nature know what we are going through? I guess she does but keeps on keeping on anyway and thank the holy crunch for that.

Like everyone else my ears are glued to the news. Changes radical and maybe catastrophical come moment by moment and it ain’t going to stop. People are being sent home, pay-less, their businesses going under, the forecast more than gloomy, but through the brume of these times we are seeing the effulgent power of the human spirit. Heroes and heroines are popping up like toast from a toaster, offering kindnesses that lift all other hearts. It is as it was in wartime and perhaps this is just that. Isolation, depression, fear and loneliness will grow. They cannot not. What we choose to do will keep us together, like those flaming needlepoint threads that are so skinny as to be invisible to me unless I took myself to another room, thus employing my long-sight. Each skinny thread, each act of random kindness is going to turn this thing around. We will remember the tough times, of course we will, but these will fade into nothing when we remember the chiaroscuro of human kindness. Those moments when someone else stepped up, delivered groceries, called to calm with a warm voice, wrote a letter that came at just the right time or sent a text saying I’m right there with you. We are in enforced lockdown, many miles apart and yet we can all send a gleed, a glowing coal, to others so that they can rise the fire in their grate.

Thoughts change things. Keeping positive when we see and hear of the dreadful circumstances of others, of our own perhaps, is not always easy, I know this. But if we can keep hold of the threads that join us, we will get through this if we can just see beyond our own perceived fears. Too long we have made ourselves islands, working just for ourselves and not thinking as we were always meant to do, of the community in which we live. There are always, no exceptions, others who are worse off than we are, no matter what our circumstances.

And it begins with one action, one thought, one single thread caught and followed and sewn (if you aren’t me) into a beautiful picture, multi-coloured and, ultimately creating the most perfect blend.

Island Blog – Cloud Stories

Waking each morning in this grounded world I take myself through the normal routines, pulling back the duvet, opening the curtains, dressing, finding sneakers for a barrier between my night-warm feet and the cold floor. The only bit that isn’t rooted in this grounded world is the moment I open the curtains. Now I am connected not only with the physical world but also with the cloud stories. They tell me weather, for one. They show me looming hailstorm or a blanket white sky cover depending on their spread, their individual shapes, the plans they have for me. I may have been able to guess their plans prior to that curtain opening ta-da! I would, after all, hear rain slamming, trickling, falling straight or slanty. A cloud dump of hail is deafening, scary even, making me wonder just how strong the panes of window glass are, how much they can withstand. An overnight fall of snow brings a silence like a long held breath and we respond by holding our own, for snowfall is gaspworthy. But, there are none of those shenanigans this morning. Just weather silence, as if there was none to be had this day. No weather at all. Perhaps after endless storms, days and nights of fighting between heaven and earth, everything seems quieter. I feel like a child consoled into peace after a long parental row.

The sea spreads out before me, wide and only a bit rippled. Seabirds split the air, rising, wheeling, keening like lost souls only to land in lines on a rocky bluff, their heads facing the sun warmth, their white chests bright and round, puffed out for preening. They mutter quietly to each other, lifting now and then to perch beside someone else for new conversation. Rainbows appear all the time, their pots of gold lying ocean deep, unattainable. Other island appear and shrink back as the light changes. What looks like an old broch shines, illuminated until the sun shifts round a bit to show me some other natural marvel of basalt and granite. White spume bursts against the coastline even now, even when all I see are a few ripples. Submerged rocks, the pull and thrust of the tide and a living, breathing wind make sure of this; this spectacular explosion of bright white water hurled ashore, snatched back, worked up to a new froth and hurled again. Over and over and over. Ships have foundered. Ships have drowned. Get these hidden rocks wrong and your connection to the world is cut like a ribbon at a garden fete. You are now open to the sky. A part of a new cloud story.

In the evening, as the sun sinks into the sea, the clouds show me castles, pink-tipped, scallions turning into rapunzel towers in minutes. I lift my thoughts into the storyline, guessing, imagining, seeing dragon shapes, eyes watching me, wild horses running free, a baby reaching up, a turtle, the sharp outline of a wolf. Sometimes when the clouds touch the distant island I see whirlwinds, spinning tops. A line of hail greys the distance, moving like a murmuration of starlings, lifting, flowing, at the wind’s bidding. I want to take a photograph but I know that by the time I get outside the palette will have changed completely. Those pink-topped towers, that deep grey face of a beneficent giant, those capering children will have been turned off by some captious old god. So I stay still just watching the weave of a storyline, letting myself lift into each moment as it passes. Then, as night begins to steal the day, bit by bit and the cloud stories are left to themselves, I turn back to the grounded world, a supper to cook, a fire to light and curtains to close all the way up to morning.

Island Blog – Woman

I’m thinking about her today. I am one, after all. A woman I mean. As Dennis rages like a husband outside my door, threatening to uplift the new conservatory, I turn in to my thoughts. After a Dennis sort of morning I put on music – my sanity these days. Have you heard Disturbed sing The Sound of Silence, or Elbow’s Fickle Flame or Lily Allen sing Somewhere Only We Know by Keane? I research music a lot and am helped considerably by my youngest, equally in love with music. Lyrics, musicality and beat can lift any soul from a dark place. I recommend it if the dark surrounds you this day, or any other day.

I add something super dull to the shopping list, holding said list in place with a heart shaped stone as if Dennis might get in somehow and snatch it. Actually, he is welcome to it. I get dead bored of shopping lists, of washing clothes on the right setting, of wiping down tables, of mopping spills I never spilled. It seems to me that women are always on the move and it is just as well or most of the world would just sit down and wait for a sandwich. Not only do we end up on the sandwich rota but we are required to pop here and collect that on a regular basis. Then there are screaming children to squeeze into clothes they don’t want to wear ending in a fraught drive to school. There’s a flaming mother-in-law to appease and toilets to clean; there are beds to make, rooms to tidy, gardens to tease back into life; phone calls to answer, batteries to replace, dogs to feed and supper to be planned, bought and prepared. I am sure there are modern women who fold their arms, say something colourful and then go out for Prosecco with the girls but I don’t meet too many of those. From girlhood we are conditioned. I see it with my own little grand-girls, the unconscious teaching by their mums, the learning they absorb through example. I want to throw fireworks at it all, but (and there’s always one of those) I cannot see how the family would survive if women stopped being IT. That indomitable spirit is in each one of us. How else would we survive? Although life does dump on us, despite the fairytale wedding and all those impossible promises, we find an inner strength we never knew we had. It seems we can take pretty much everything on the chin and still keep our sense of fun and fight.

A man once said, a man I admire to the skies, that he had no idea how we women kept so full of life. Observing the very obvious attitude of the world, that of demoting women at every opportunity, plus the lie that they believe in equality, this man made his own mind up. God bless him. We need more of him. He can see our spirit and he loves it. Loves it! it doesn’t frighten him at all, which is, of course, what it does to men in general. Strong women remind them of their mothers and they really don’t want that image in their minds.

This fighting spirit is powerful and dangerous. Powerful when guided right and dangerous when left to turn into low-boil anger. I have learned the difference between the two, often. I know when my angry puts down roots and applies itself to the whole garden, and it needs uprooting. Power is quite different, something precious to be nurtured and loved and admired. It is a part of every woman. Although young girls learn submission and polite behaviour in order to survive the early years, that spirit is still alive inside them and it will out, trust me. And it scares even them, the first time; the time they see injustice, feel it, are hurt or attacked. It will rise like a hot dragon breathing fire, one who needs teaching. Not now Dragon. Yes, now Dragon. That sort of teaching. We learn this as we form into the women we will become and it is a good thing. I have met women whose dragon controlled them and their life was not a happy one.

However it is good to just know the dragon is there, to feel her power and strength and to know she will always be there for you, and for me.

Island Blog – Jiggetty Jig

Home again, home again, etcetera, and I am just getting into the swingle of it here. Agreed, the slap of cold did hit me head on (and foot on for I had omitted to pack stout boots for the chilly ground), but welcomes always warm and they certainly warmed me. Now on the island and with a fire lit for the day I am thankful for having a home at all, let alone such a cosy one.

The furniture within has re-arranged itself, as I suspected it might. When the Old Dragon (me) is gone long enough, himself will make things the way he wants them. In the case of chairs and other well-placed items of comfort, they are all pressed against the walls of the house and looking rather startled. I decided I would not be willing to spend my evenings against a far wall, two miles from the fire, but it took some negotiating and a lot of justifying with just a tiny mention of the fact that I live here too and that I am important, to pull my (somewhat relieved) arm chair back into the mix.

The reason for the changes is to more easily facilitate the wheelchair, the chariot, upon which himself will glide (endlessly) through the rooms. Naturally, a turn or two will be required on this restless pacing, hence the rejection of the startled, and rather upset, sitting room furniture. I lifted two more chairs upstairs to join all the other ‘unnecessary’ furnishings, such as lamps, tables, ornaments, free-standing artwork and so on, apologising as I went and wondering how much more the beleaguered office can hold without crashing down a floor. Everything, you see, has to be ‘safe’ for himself and, besides, I am done with picking up, dusting off and repairing things precious to me as he fells them and continues his glide through the days.

I find it doesn’t bother me so much now, if at all. This house is now a certified safety zone with easy access to pretty much all he needs. So many things that worked before can never work now without an accident and we don’t want one of those. The heart monitor beeps. The fall alarm glows red on the desk reassuring me that those kind voices somewhere in Scotland are one press of the button away. Sometimes himself presses by accident when no accident has occurred and I suddenly hear Lorraine or David asking if everything is ok. I tell them it is, and so sorry, but they are always kind. God’s angels for sure.

From 40 degrees and no plans or to do lists or prayers to keep myself together, compassionate, my eyes off the things that irritate, to the island and Christmas marching ever nearer. I turn up the tunes and wonder where my fairy lights are. As I burrow into the dark cupboard that holds everything else, I smile. Fairy lights found, but they are not going to be the brightest this Christmas because I shall be twinkling too and my batteries never go flat.

Island Blog 151 Winter and Spring

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“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”   Sinclair Lewis

Now, as the cold sets in and the winds bite, we can turn towards home.  The lack of strong daylight draws us to the soft lighting, the fire glow, candles and a good torch for the Last Dog Walk at bedtime.  I find I read even more, if that is, indeed, possible.  My tastebuds changed their tune and thick soup replaces a rocket salad.  I remember Elisabeth Luard, the famous cookery writer saying to me, once, that she loved the winter.  All those bonkers unmatching hats and gloves, the fat woolly jumpers, thick socks, big boots and nobody watching her waistline, least of all, her. It was almost with a sigh she welcomed Spring, knowing full well that those pretty frocks might well resist joining at the zip.

Gone are those foraging walks, the fresh tang of autumn with skies full of redwings and the leaves turning into gold and red to finally fall to the ground, a crunchy carpet at first, then a soggy mulch beneath our boots.  Mud gathers below the verges, frost splits the tarmac and the potholes re-appear with a vengeance.  But, walking into winter can hold its own delights, after all, who doesn’t like jumping in puddles?  If you have gone beyond puddle jumping there is something wrong with you because it may be the best form of excercise you can take and there is never any harm in re-visiting the inner child.  So many of us lose our sense of play and it is a Zeus of a mistake. The finest people I know still play childish pranks at 80 with twinkly winkly eyes and a dare in them for you to even think of disapproving.

In Sweden, so I am told by my viking daughter-in-law, there is no rain/sleet or slush.  There is only snow.  Kissing the ground at first, this white out can grow to terrifying depths, disappearing whole houses overnight.  If it ever happens here, there is considerable panic as if we are all about to turn into snowmen.  Trains stop, buses stop, and nobody can get to work.  Well, I struggle to find the bad in that, unless, of course, you are an emergency service.  In Sweden this is all carefully thought through and those who need to get about grow wings. Although I don’t want to say this, I do wonder at the flapdoodle this country gets into about seasonal changes, and I do shake my head.  At Tapselteerie, if the track was impassable, we just didn’t pass it.  Sudden holidays, lack of food, the power off, no phone, all meant fun.  As long as the stock were fed, milked and checked, we were all quite happy to play.  I remember once being at the hairdresser in town and the local police (pronounced poh-liss) popping his head round the door of each shop to recommend that those of us who lived ‘over by’ meaning anywhere but the town, should head home as the hill road was fast being wiped out.  Being wiped out is exactly what happens.  The terrain is just one hilly blanket and there is no way to tell where the road lies within it.  I said to the poh-liss that I wisnae going hame with one side cropped and the other trailing over my right ear, and, by the time I did head overby, someone had already found the road and marked it out which was very thoughtful even if it did take two attempts to top the highest hilly bend with a neat short back and sides.

It seems to me that fear is the killer here.  What on earth is there to be afraid of?  It’s only snow and puddles after all, although not both together.  Ice is a bit different though with its chameleon ability to become the road.  When someone ahead of me scooted neatly off the single track road in the un-gritted glen, landing just under the nose of a startled horse munching hay, all of us stopped to help.  We hefted and bumped and, on finding all that hefting and bumping quite pointless, popped the inhabitants into our own cars and trundled them home, waving to the horse as we drew away.

And, of course, there is always the promise of Spring.  Crocuses are coming, snowdrops pushing into the cold light, birds looking for nest sites.  But we should honour winter.  There is a beauty in it, a bare stark beauty that should not be missed, like building snowmen, puddle jumping, making soup, wearing bonkers and unmatching hats and gloves.  Longing for something to end just lengthens it I find.  Our winters are unpredictable, unlike Sweden.

How versatile are you?  I personally want to be able to bounce like Tigger (or move like Jagger) whatever comes my way, even if it does require forward planning and something to hold on to. And, there is always a temporarily unbouncing somebody who needs my help.

 

Island Blog 109 Beep and Battery

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This morning, early, I come down to a beep.

It isn’t a consistent beep, but intermittent enough for me to wonder if I heard it at all.  It is one of those beeps that turns my head every so often, for my ears to attempt location, and to fail.  It’s irritating.  Distant.  The smooth whirr of the wind through the holes in the window frame is interrupted.  The musical phrasing of birdsong is spiked with a false note, in the wrong key.  The rise of kettle steam is not allowed it’s natural span without interruption and it doesn’t matter where I stand, I cannot pinpoint the sound. I narrow my eyes and sharpen my ears and stand quite still in each space, turning my head this way, and that to better establish it’s whereabouts.

Coffee tastes fine.

beep

Washing machine whirrs.

beep

I scuddle the ash from the fire and carry it carefully out to the garage.

beep

I feed the birds and chop the kindling.

beep

Ok now I am rising as Boudicca, with murder on my mind,  but I must be a quiet Boudicca or I won’t hear this soft… intermittent…. infuriating…….

beep!

I  stand quite still.

beep

Aha!  It’s the washing machine.

beep

No, it isn’t the washing machine.

It’s the microwave, the fridge, the torch charger, although none of these have ever beeped before.

beep.

No it isn’t any of the above.  In fact, it is coming from the big dresser, the one full of tea towels, materials, cloths and painting equipment.

beep

Now I am very intrigued.  I might be the first Boudicca ever to have a beeping tea towel, although I do realise that in putting Boudicca and tea towels together, I make nonsense.

I rummage through a few things and hold my breath.

beep

Nearer and nearer, but not yet……

beep

Right at the very back-back is a box.  The very back-back of this dresser has not seen light of day, nor felt the touch of human fingers, for a very long time, so I bring an element of surprise, which could be to my advantage.

beep

Found you!

It’s a fire alarm.

What on earth is it doing in here, all batteried up and ready to scream FIRE?  Did somebody think the tallboy might spontanously combust?

I remove the battery and consider.  I have lived as a firefighter myself.  Most women live that way.  Reacting positively to each familial disturbance, coming up with bright positive alternatives, keeping everyone and everything safe, and sometimes to feel very much at the dark back-back of an Imposing Tallboy.

But, I can beep – out of key perhaps and intermittently, just enough to make it irritatingly clear that I need a new battery.

 

Island Blog 26 – Safe and Sound

They said there would be no ferries as the wind was forecast to rise beyond acceptable bouncing-over-water limits. At such times, ordinary old waves suddenly turn into the Salt-water Alps, and we struggle to hold down our children, our cars and our skirts. Words are snatched from open mouths and everyone wishes they had gone to a health spa in Basingstoke, including me. I may be married to the ocean through my family, but she and I have had plenty of disagreements over the years.  Trouble is, she is way more confident than I am and with the wind up her tail, she can batter ordinary law-abiding folk to their limits.

We decided we would set off anyway, although the ‘we’ part of that is never the result of a discussion. When I married my husband, he became ‘we’ and I remained ‘I’. So we set off because we always set off. To not set off is to be a big girl’s blouse, and we don’t do them in our house.  Even the girls don’t.  To show fear is to appear weak. To hesitate is to be run over.

We spent a happy ten minutes behind a huge mucky lorry, and, having left home a rather cute sky blue, we gradually turned brown in the spray from its many wheels.

What a lovely gentle speed, I yelled over the hysterical blapping of the windscreen wipers. One of them hesitated mid blap. This is it, I thought, and waited for it to ping into orbit.

The moment passed.

Then so did we. Well, he did. I just closed my eyes as we plunged into the brown darkness on the wrong side of a very narrow road.

We passed gritters and snow ploughs, and tourists at viewpoints, holding on to each other to avoid flying over the edge. Anoraks billowed out like kites and nobody looked like themselves, as nobody ever does in woolly hats, scarves and multi-coloured mountain jackets, their hoods pulled right up tight.  I have walked past family in the winter with no flicker of recognition. All I can see are a fistful of features peeping out from the dark.

Eventually we arrived at the ferry point and could see its beak was closed.

We were not to get home this day.

Now, settled in a warm little hotel sipping tea and watching the storm dancing through the wide windows, I find it all rather exciting.  Home will still be there tomorrow and we are safe.

I think of the homeless on the cold streets of a cold city before I sit down to write.

 

Ferry Cancelled