Island Blog – The Friend Ship

Sailing, as we all do, alone, and some of us more alone than we might like, I oftentimes find another sailing beside me at the most unexpected moments. Now, as a sailor’s wife I know this unexpectation to be impossible. In that vast expanse of flat ocean, even one in a grumpy or ferocious mood, I can always see someone coming, and from far off. However, in a grounded life, I don’t always see someone coming. I might be distracted, sweeping the floor, or suddenly in the wide mouthed conservatory, like a goldfish in a bowl. Someone might come walking by, someone who pauses to communicate affection and support from their friend ship. They move by in silence, the window glass between us, the Covid restrictions refusing a close encounter. Even as they pass me by, the feeling that they and I confabulate leaves me feeling like I just took something in something warming like porage or soup. More, it elevates my steps thereafter. I feel seen, acknowledged, noticed, of value. This friend in his or her ship may well move faster than I through the ocean, but it matters not, for this encounter has told me I can keep going, regardless of my slow pace. I may have a smaller ship, less crew, less rations, less focus on the whereabouts of my destination. They seemed to be certain of theirs, after all, or it appeared so. But they paused in their trajectory, just for me.

I notice that before this time, this time of isolation and the lack of our ships meeting as we did so gaily and with no thought of it ever being stolen from us, I took it all for granted. I might even have waved it away. Another day for this for I am busy with my own piddling thingamajigs and have no time for this friend or that. Let them WhatsApp me first, or call at the very least to ascertain my availability. Funny how all that has dissipated now in this lockdown fog. Funny, again, how much I have learned to value any contact. I may not instantly respond, but that ship that just passed me by with a friendly wave will not be as it might have seemed to them. I did not disallow, not did it mean nothing much to me. It meant very much.

It thinks me. Do I honour those friend ships that bother to slow and to communicate? I caught them as fish in my net in the abundance of my past life, whence I might think that life would always supply me with a big haul. I could afford to throw some back as unwanted bycatch because I never considered that I would ever be standing alone on a ship, the helmswoman, crew-less and traversing an ocean that seems to go on for ever. It also learns me. I may be alone on my slow ship in the midst of storms and slack-water, in the doldrums or riding on skyscraper waves but I am not alone. There are other ships out here, even if I cannot see them. Ships will gravitate towards each other in the ‘way out there’ of sailing. I know this. I have encountered this. Even if we are all sailing alone, we care for each other in the wild spaces, in the ride and crash of darkling skyscraper waves and it teaches me.

My analogy comes to ground, and still as a teacher. My loyal friends who still walk by, who still text, email and message, who still call, despite my carelessness, who communicate in silence through the window, I salute you all. I value your persistence and loyalty, the ocean depth of your always finding me no matter what I do or say or what I don’t do and don’t say as I hold this wheel and fight the ocean traverse.

Thank you for being my friend.

Island Blog – Moss and Otherness.

Underneath a humungous fallen pine, some years down, is a dazzling carpet of moss. There is Fingerley moss fronding through the cracked bark, delicate falls of emerald stems, each lifting softly in response to the heckling rain. It isn’t heavy, not soaking me or the little dog, just pinging wet drops at us all for the fun of it. The puddley dyke is drying up so anything damp is going to help revive the frogspawn I noticed a few days ago, although it’s too little too late, methinks. Old leaves mulch down, retreating back into the earth as food for the next thrust of life. It’s coming, at last.

Star moss grows down in the peaty bit, stunning bunches of delicate stalks with a star on top, facing up. Big rocks, upon which this giant landed, are coated in Afro moss, so tightly affixed they could fool you into seeing a soft landing. To throw myself onto one would end me up with broken ribs and embarrassment rising, so I don’t. Then there’s Moss moss that covers anything it fancies covering. They all look fabulous and green and very much alive. The otherness beneath the lonesome pine, which, in its dying grabbed a larch tree on the way, poor love, and has pinned her to the ground ever since, includes little yellow things that tell me they are dandelions but are obviously lying, Monbretia which doesn’t bloom till after lockdown and other coloured things I don’t have names for. None of them seem to mind that at all.

The sky is milk with a whisper through of grey. It is also shut if you don’t count the spits of rain. Sometimes if I look hard enough at a shut sky, I can find a smile of light, enough to believe in, but not today. Today it is just a flat white. Walking under the sky always marvels me. It stays up and I stay down. Such a synergistic friendship, and long may it remain that way or we’ll have Chicken Licken getting into another flapdoodle. A raven floats overhead, that sharp-eyed carnivore with a taste for lambs, parping like the horn on Noddy’s car. His mate follows. There is something both regal and scary about ravens. All that black and so much of it and so intelligent. Way back in the days of Tapselteerie we tried to get rid of a pair of ravens. It probably wasn’t legal but they took too many little woolly jumpers at lambing time. They nested on a cliff face which made it extremely difficult to get anywhere near them and they would have known our intention from the very moment we donned our balaclavas. Needless to say, we didn’t succeed and I imagine they live still as they have no predators save man.

Across the sea-loch I see a holiday cottage. Empty, of course, as they all are now. Elevated standards count for nothing in these times. You could have Moss moss on the inside of your windows as we always did or an immaculate palace of a moss-less place and still nobody would come. It’s all rather levelling. This virus is catalytic and no mistake. I look ahead a month or two, seeing the same road winding on into the distance, every walker keeping 2 metres away from any encounter, touching nothing, holding breath. Then I look around my home at the books, the things, the bibelots that gather dust now that my lovely cleaners are holed up in their own burrow. The news is just numbers where it once managed a few words in between the latest statistical revelation. Drink is bad, drink is good, children are important until they drive you bonkers whence that importance retreats into the latest Pixar movie with enough popcorn to rot the collective teeth of a whole country within 45 minutes. Meditation is calming unless you get they giggles as I do and exercise is an excellent plan as long as you do it alone and in the wilderness or at midnight.

And we knit on, we tough, inventive humanoids, or sew, or paint, cook and sort out drawers and cupboards, and we dust the bibelots. We are learning to move more slowly through each project, taking time, perhaps as a first, to consider the minutiae, maybe even to read the rules. And this will do us no harm at all. Watching moss, any moss, takes considerable self control. My legs are all a-jiggle. Stand still, I tell them and they huff. But it is good re-training. It is good to sit and read, even in the mornings, to call a friend, to FaceTime, to start a jigsaw (that’s as far as I ever got with a jigsaw), tend the garden, watch the moss.

Mother Nature has called a halt. She wants her finery back, her intelligent order and we, who have turned her world into a veritable tatterdemalion must listen and we must learn.