Island Blog – Mindful Boots

I can smell the frost as I awaken, even through the dark. It slips through the open window and tingles my nose. It is calm out there, no wind, no sounds of an earthly indigestion. I burrow into my warm duvet and listen, but not for long as I am always curious to open up a new morning, to invite it in and to marvel as my eyes widen at the beauty of it. Stags, baleful autumn moaners, challenge each other from somewhere deep inside the woods on the other side of the sea-loch, one that is quiet and settled. Mistwater sprites dance across its surface, lifting into the air before disappearing altogether and the grass yonder is almost white, sparkling crystals, unearthly.

Ice clouds pink in response to the sunrise whilst Ben Mhor rises into the sky, one that promises a clear sunshine day. Later, when the frost has succumbed to the burn of it, I will open the doors and remove a layer or two, to feel the warmth against my bare skin. These are glorious autumn days and I will love them for each of their minutes, knowing they will not last, as nothing ever does.

As each season gives way to the next, I feel a discomfort at first. It seems we go from skin out to skin in or the other way around. A thick cardigan becomes an old friend even if I haven’t given it a second glance for months. I feel the shiver of autumn or the rise of warmth in spring and feel irritated. Suddenly, it seems to me, more clothes or less are required and here was I pulling out the familiar, one that no longer cooperates with the weather. Well damnit! Now I have to think about what to wear, to clad my bones in something pretty (always) but appropriate. I am always resistant to ‘appropriate’ at first. And, then, over the following days, I find a new normal and wonder at my initial resistance to change.

Yesterday I lifted the very dead flowers from his grave. The sun shone bright and there was a friend at my side. I had thought I would feel something but I felt nothing at all. I am not a sentimental woman and he is dead and he is gone and there is nothing of him below the grass but old bones. The sheep scattered as we unlatched the gate and descended the hill, cautious of their slimy green leavings, moving our boots mindfully. It is a good way to move boots wherever it is we may go. It thinks me of life itself and the best way to live it. Traversing the distance between the gate and the grave we chatted of old ones, other ones who lie here, the characters, their quirks and scallywag games, their teasing, their strength of character and we laughed over shared memories.

Change will always come however hard we may try to fend it off. Returning home I make coffee and watch the view. I never tire of it for it is in a perpetual state of change as am I, as are we all. The key is to let go and follow it in mindful boots.

Island Blog – Sinklight, Ice and Curiosity

When I was a child, I broke a massive rule. Not one of us was allowed anywhere near a food source and that included the larder filled with delicious leftovers and the big Prestcold fridge, fatly green and bulging into the room like she needed all of the attention. At the top, there was a freezer mouth, with enough room for ice cream, home made lollies and not much else. One day, whilst not being watched, nor followed, which was rare, I opened said mouth and noticed a spill of orange juice from the lolly rack. I could not resist. My hot tongue came out in anticipation of a sweet lick.

You may well guess what happened next. My hot tongue met arctic ice and melded. I was stuck. I could not move. I couldn’t even cry out because cry outs depend on a free tongue and mine was absolutely not that. I don’t remember what happened next, although I do know that my suspicious mother would have been quick after me, no matter where in the house I had forayed alone. I am sure she was kind with warm water. I am also sure she was harsh with remonstrations. My tongue, my poor tongue, was half ripped apart by then, the sheer terror of being trapped my driver.

I do remember, inside that terror of being caught in flagrante, that I did pause to look deep into the void mouth of that fat-bellied Prestcold fridge. I saw, just for a few moments, an arctic landscape. In spite of my mother’s studious attention to levelling everything so she could dust/control it, I saw lift. There was no light in there beyond the backlight from the neon (oh dear) kitchen light, and the gusts of my panic breath, that altered the ice mountains ahead of me. I wondered what it would be like not to be stuck by the tongue, but, instead, free to roam those mountains. And they were mountains. A big grown up woman looking in might tut about needing to defrost, but me, on my tippytoes and absolutely stuck by the tongue saw different.

I like seeing different. Today has been a day of sinklight. Rain from dawn to dusk. Endless, confining, tongue twisting, stuck. We have many of these days, and many more to come. But, through that sinklight we can stand on tippytoe and move into the landscape. It isn’t what we think. It never is. With my vulnerable back to the room and my tongue stuck, therefore the whole of me stuck, I could choose. Panic or look in. I chose the latter, even knowing the butt whacks would come soon enough. I think that was the very first time I made such a choice and the power of it has never left me. Once a curious child learns to look beyond the situation it is like a whole new world opening up. There is this thing, this one thing and yet it is not just one thing at all. The difference is held within the hands of curiosity.

Obviously I am not still stuck to the ice. Obviously it hurt a lot and obviously I was gently melted off, possibly pre butt whacks, I don’t remember that bit. In the days of Now, I see many things that may look dire at first, that may ‘stuck’ me for a bit. But I have learned how to look again in curiosity and it serves me very well indeed. As I care for an ailing, failing husband, a whole lot of what I do might make you recoil in horror. It did for me, at first, but not now. Now I see beyond the obvious drama of it, deeper into the landscape, following with my eyes the contours of new land, ice land, desert land, rolling land or sea, skies that go on for ever. This is hope. This is faith. I am not stuck. Nor are you. It is all in the curious looking.

This is the only way to live.

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 18 – Words on a Feather

This morning I heard a woodpecker in the trees nearby.  I have seen his vibrant colours before now, his looping flight drawing semi-circles in the morning sky, but not until today have I heard the sound of him seeking grubs from the bark of a dead tree.  Poor bugs I thought at first, all cosy inside the winter bark.  A rude awakening for sure – that sudden battering against the walls of sleep like someone firing an Uzi in the bedroom.  But the woodpecker must feed and if you happen to be prey for a predator, then this is part of your life, and your death.

The garden birds are both hungry and thirsty within our frozen landscape and they need our help.  This weekend is the official Bird Count and I hope everyone will take part, for our garden birds are under threat.  It shocked me to discover that many of the ordinary visitors to the garden are now marked as amber or red on the RSPB web site, indicating their demise, and it may not be something that will get better, not without human interest and support.  Sparrows in huge and chattering groups make a thinner sound in our hedgerows.  Why is that?  Because we have taken the hedgerows down clearing land and clearing land again for new houses, offices, big settlements with concrete pathways and fat houses for the hungry home-dweller market.

Birds, like us, are creatures of habit.  Swallows, swifts and house martins, wintering in Africa, fly over thousands of miles to nest in the same place they nested the year before, in barns and empty buildings, that can be razed to the ground in a day, leaving them lost and wondering.  Owls have no place to rear their young, unless some wise man has fixed up a nest box in safe, quiet woodland.  Is there any safe quiet woodland left I wonder?  Thrushes are dwindling and even the blackbird and the robin, so very common in our thoughts, are less in number country wide.

But, this is not about doom and gloom, for we can all do our bit.  We can’t stop progress, nor should we, for this is the turning wheel of life and we must turn with it.  We have no choice.  But, we can do our own small bit to help.

In winter, birds need water, and not just to drink.  They must be able to wash and clean their feathers on a regular basis.  A shallow bird table, freshened through the week will not only bring more birds to our gardens for their own good, but for ours as well, for birds are enchanting to watch as they go about their normal lives.  Fat balls and good quality bird seed on a table will save them from wasting precious winter energy flying miles in search of something to eat.  Food scraps, and tired old fruit are a good food source too.  Check the RSPB web site for more information.

The ground is like iron just now, so the earthworms are safe for a while, but not the birds that depend of them for food.

Let us pay attention and not turn away from this because of our busy lifestyles.  We can all do something, and that is what excites me about this crazy life. We may think this doesn’t really matter to us, but without birds a lot of our wild flowers and trees would never seed in the first place.  I don’t go with those who say the world is on an inevitable downward spiral into the black hole of time,  but I do know that if we all do a little bit, form a new habit, we, you and me in our ordinary lives, in ordinary streets and houses, can really make an extraordinary difference.

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‘The Woodpecker has to go!’  

 www.funny.com

Island Blog 16 – Locomotion

I walked today in the snow along paths flattened into bob sleigh tracks. I just knew that if anyone was going to hit the deck, it would be me. The students, just leaving school traveled confidently in their wellies, talking on their mobiles or chattering happily in twos or threes, their heavy school bags banging against their hips. Confidently, I said, which is not what I was doing.  What is it with growing older that brings new fears?  I recall leaping over rocks and skittering over ice with laughter and the fizzing taste of danger on my tongue.  If falling over was to happen, well, I wasn’t going to fuss about that, or even consider it, for youth is a fearless time, when I was invincible and above all unpleasant things, such as breaking a bone or looking a right charlie in public with my shopping bags bursting open and tins of baked beans rolling under the wheels of a long line of passing cars.

I joined the crocodile of students in the hope that, in their midst, I would maintain an upright position, but soon they peeled off, to their own homes leaving me to face a long stretch of shining ice, alone.  I kept close to the trees, where the ice was mushier and less threatening, humming a little hum to myself, telling my legs to relax their tension and to trust the image in my head, of being attached, by a long thread, to a cloud. I made the mistake of looking up only to find there were no clouds, which threw me somewhat.  I passed dog walkers, my age, striding out as if the ground were as solid and clear as it is before and after snow, thinking…’what is wrong with me?’

And then I watched the dogs.  They trot.  Well, you can trot when you have four legs!  When I walk in the wild places on the island, down steep hillsides and so on, following the deer tracks, I think about this whole number of legs thing, and I realise how compromised we humans are to have only two.  A centipede flows.  All those legs make walking, as we know it, unnecessary, for who would walk if they could flow instead?  I would much rather flow to be honest, but I do appreciate that a human with multiple legs might struggle to fit into society. Just think of buying shoes!

It seems to me that this blog is more about giving in to fears, than it is about growing more legs.  What I need to do is get out more, step onto the ice and walk it until it loses its hold on me.

In other words…..keep walking over it until I know it so well, I can dance.

A life lesson perhaps?

 

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