Island Blog – Season Shift – Resist or Lift

I always do this, although I only noticed the ‘this’ that I do quite recently. As Summer gives way to Autumn I continue to wear bare legs and feet for as long as I can outrun chilblains. Once into Autumn, I find ways to layer up without ballooning and look forward to each morning, even planning my layers whilst still beneath the covers. As Winter sinks in her teeth I find it progressively harder not to balloon, but I am on a roll here and the cold comes incrementally, in the main. But when Winter begins to concede to Spring I am oft confounded. I have become used to my layers, ones that used to fit me the whole day long. Now they only suit me up to midday and from then on become a massive irritation. I feel as if I might combust, but it is still not yet warm enough to leap out of a vest. I open doors and wonder where on earth my shades are. I sit in the glare of Father Sun and feel cross. Go Away, I want to say, even as I don’t. The fire still burns and I will need it in about an hour when the Old Man is taken down by the forever hills, but it makes the room stuffy. I open windows and in whoopees a freezing draught full of chilblains and icicles. Jersey on, jersey off. It’s a ridiculous day and not the first, nor will it be the last. Perhaps, I tell myself, it is so much more natural to layer up than it ever is to brave off the layers of comfort, layers that have become my friends and protectors for months now. Is Winter the longest season? I always said so in my talk with tourists who decided on a happy holiday whim to buy a plot and build a home. Don’t. I said. Do Not. Not until you have spent a winter or two here. Why is that? they quizzed. Because winters here begin in October and hold fast till Mid May, that’s why. Not with frost and clean clear icy, shiny, sunny days but with wet, wet and more wet and when the wet thinks we need a change, it turns to ice and sleet in an annual battle against the rise of a Spring sun. Just in time for lambing.

I walk in the slipslide of ice meets sun and marvel at the blue of the sky. Hallo Mr Blue Sky, I sing to myself without the backing group and I search for buds and studs of green on trees. It is pointless. These studs and buds know jolly fine about winters up here. I hear them snigger from the safety of their twiggy nests. You think this sudden sun will fool us? It only happens once, after all. It is, this time, a holding time, a waiting. And yet it is we or is it just me who is longing for warmth and the chance to open doors to let out the stuffy, even if I might have to de-balloon. Is Winter the longest season, and what does that mean for the inside life?

First off I can see the dust. Blimey, it is legion. Although I say I don’t believe in dusting, I am glad there is no chance of visitors. My dust is remarkable. Not quite an inch thick, because I move about within these walls at speed, but almost. I don’t notice it on grey days, normal days, but when this lunatic sun decides to shine like a beacon into the future, lighting the way for all but the blind, I find him invasive. Shine out there, I tell him, and not in here. Don’t bother flagging up my smeary windows or my table tops that once were oak and shiny. You make me feel like I will never win a good housekeeping award. The dust is on every single surface. I sit and watch it, the way it sparkles in the sunlight; diamonds and pearls, rubies too and emeralds. Are there stories to tell in that dust? Is there history? There must be. My cleaners have not been here since just after Himself breathed his last. Almost six months. I have hoovered and wiped, a bit, but dust and I will not meet. Clearing dust, in my opinion, is not for me anymore. I have shared my life with too much dust for decades and the clearing of it, if indeed that is ever possible, is no longer for me. But I can smell it. I can see it, lit up like it was a celebrity, glinting, sure of itself, holding ground.

It is this time of the year that I find hardest. Not only is the dust shouting out her stories and memories, but the sun is taunting me, offering light and bright but not enough warmth for me to shed a layer. Getting dressed in the morning is just confusion. 5 layers till midday and then what? Upstairs to take it all off and start again? This, this, is the winter and it is the one season that fights like hell to hold on. And it is the only one that makes me cross, even as I love it. What dichotomy. At Tapselteerie, I remember hoping winter would never end, that the new season would just forget to arrive along with all the tourists and the work, even if I did have chilblains on my chilblains. But once that season began I felt a lift and a joy. Life was living again and so was I. Momentum creates momentum, at least it does for me. Having to bare my wintry arms and legs and to see my body after months of concealment under layers might give me an awkward moment but perhaps this is the gift winter leaves behind her. You have rested, she says. You have covered and concealed but now is the time for joy and lift. Take my gift and rise with the buds and studs.

You are stuck with me. Deal with it.

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.