Island Blog – Curiosity and Attitude

I love mornings. Always have and I don’t mind early. According to my ma I could lounge about in bed till lunchtime as a grumpy teenager but all that changed once I floated up the aisle in my Edwardian frock and made my vows, sans obedience, for the record. I cannot imagine the damage that vow has done to so many women of generations past. Well, actually, I can. It was hard enough sticking with ‘in sickness and in health’ or ’till death do us part’, which it eventually did of course. I never thought I would manage that bit having been infuriated for decades. I had wings but they were clipped, or maybe I clipped them myself. Who cares. What I feel good about now is that, in spite of me wishing I had been born a greylag goose with all the challenges and thrills and freedom of migration being quite acceptable in all their circles, I accomplished the whole shebang. Let us not dig too deep into the way I accomplished this massive accomplishment. A lot of the time I slammed doors, ran away, hid my secrets and spat into his coffee. That’s enough for now on the subject.

Mornings. Curiosity. Opening like a flower to each day. Sometimes I am like a daffodil that needs de-heading, sometimes a vibrant rose, smelling divine and perfectly formed. I never know what way the which of it will be. I just spring out of bed, ping into the bathroom and out again, pull on a frock or jeans and scoot downstairs towards the coffee pot. Since himself flew to the higher realms I haven’t always been the rose. Sometimes I sprang, pinged and scooted just to outrun the mare of the previous night, but didn’t always manage it. She has four legs after all and I only two. But, in the main, it was my decision not to repeat the mare even to myself. Always the same theme, wanting to run but stuck in glue, wanting to scream with a mouth full of silence, the usual. At least I don’t meet an overrun of rats as my old ma did. I told her she deserved it. All those years of criticism and judgement. And we laughed about it because she thought I was making a joke, which I wasn’t.

Each day comes anew, obviously, and with potential. A deal of the unfolding of that potential lies inside me, in my attitude, my list of ‘ways to live again’. There are many. But the most important start point, the blocks from which to leap, ping and scoot through whatever the day brings, is my attitude, followed closely by my action. I like A words. They are beginnings and that’s a favourite B word. A and B. Much better than beginning sloppily midway through the alphabet. I mean, do I go back or forward now? I never do that. I start at the beginning with a big fat A. Or two.

I notice, have oft noticed, that without himself to ‘correct’ my diction, choice of clothing and sound levels, I am surrounded, enclosed and flailing at times within a new freedom. Freedom, another favourite word, and, as a word, it is the call of the wild, a heart thriller, new lands, new skies, new choices, independence and excessive sound levels, but to actually live in freedom is quite a different flower, sometimes a daffodil needing decapitation, sometimes a rose. I swing from one to the other, sometimes hour by hour. I don’t know what to do with all this freedom. Could someone hem me in please? I know how that feels, how to live as a reactionary, how to slam doors, swear like a fishwife and throw spectacular tantrums. All that pent up energy has nowhere to go now. It can feel like a phantom pregnancy. No chance of birthing. How bizarre.

I am learning to step out of myself, just a few steps back, and to observe. I am rather interesting, I decide. A query in a frock, someone worth further investigation, more study. I am curious about who I am just now. The overstory is still me, looks like me, sounds like me, laughs and jokes and cries like me but beneath what you see, what I see in the mirror, lies complexity personified. Both dead daffodil and vibrant rose. Very confusilating. But I know enough to know that it has only been a few months after almost 50 years of having my diction corrected and my sound levels on mute, so patience is required. That’s a P word, yes, but I know that attitude and action are my ways to be patient, so I’m allowed a P dash. If I am thankful for all of my life, all of it, the memories, the darkling times, the fear, love, misery and joy of it and I let it all settle within, patiently, then this gratitude will grow a new flower in me. As will action. Not the sort of frenetic action that hides me from the grieving process but the little insignificant-in-themselves actions I take daily; a little sewing, a bit of reading, a lot of bird watching and a moderate amount of walking in the wild, all actions that lift my eyes off myself and into the real ‘out there’. These actions create my attitude and as the circle circles, my attitude creates more action, more interest in ways to live again, to flower anew and to keep moving on through the alphabet, letter by letter.

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 117 Animals I have known

 

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It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.