Island Blog – Autumn, Our Gift.

I almost didn’t go to the pier today, to sit on the flat rock and to watch the tidal activity. Almost. Waking twirly and feeling it as the day slowed on, I conversed with myself as though to allow such a falter, to give it credence and approval. I will walk the short walk today, I said. It’s fine. I am allowed. But, as I moved closer to the exit opportunity, the rebel in me drew blood and stood in my path. I could see her in my mind’s eye and she laughed me. Ok, ok, I said, I will walk on. She withdrew to allow safe passage. I would so not want to challenge her.

Leaves are turning. Above my head, beech, alder, hornbeam and birch show me tip. That tip into Autumn, that acceptance with a rebel of colour shouting at them. No dying without colour, she says, no dying without that glorious dress of swish and ruby, of gold and speckles, that differentness that comes only now, only as Summer with all her flounce and confidence yawns like a princess and takes a first class flight across the world. There, she can astonish as only she can, lifting tired human minds, human bodies into swimsuits and flowing wraps and barbecues and beach encounters, but Autumn is pragmatic. She speaks to the dying light, to those on the cusp of change, she is change. And she does it well. Even though the storms may come and the light give way to a big dark, she is clever with time, for those who are watching. She is not one to sleep in.

The light lifts as I walk. Although it seems that the sky is closed, all grey and without comment, there is a shift. I can feel blue coming even if I cannot see it and it comes, with dissonant clouding and cerulean blue. For now it is just sweaty and cloying and my frocks clamp my skin. Then home again as Father Sun finds his spot and beams hot and sweaty after a jumper and boot day. I roll my eyes and peel off morning layers, damp down the fire. The temperature flips from nothing much to 27 degrees in a matter of moments. My neighbours suddenly barbecue. It is what we do if we are working with what is on offer, much like Autumn. I like her. She is feisty and determined. She is beauty in the face of death only it isn’t death. Death is forever, whereas she, Autumn is just one of four and playing her part. She is that jazz singer with a whisky/cigarette voice you hear whilst walking home, one that draws you in to hear more. She is nuts and berries, vibrant and wild, offering a harvest that comes only to her. She is preparation for the winter months when we all lose the plot, light endless candles, and pretend we don’t mind the dark and the cold. She is a herald, nonetheless. She is saying, get ready, pay attention, get real about this time, in particular, This Time, for we are all afraid, all wondering, all peering out at a world we are no longer sure about nor confident to walk in.

I won’t do the cheesy and say that this is nothing. It is not nothing. But we humans have survived, lived, loved danced and made a difference over and over for thousands of years. None of us know what will happen next but next is out there and we are right here, right now and this is Autumn. Our gift.

Island Blog – The sharper the knife

Two days to go. Then it will be a whole year since himself breathed his last. It is hard to believe and yet easy. I cast back to the days between then and now and cannot remember a lot of it. Many days were just a slog, a pointless slog and many other days were full of skips and puddle jumping. I notice more now that Time is my ‘bidey-in.’ I notice puddles, their shape and size and the way they grow, claiming more ground as that primary element argues with another one. I notice the way Spring comes shyly, nervous of pushing out too soon, just like me. I notice petals, watch them fall and wonder how they choose that very moment to do so. I see the turning of the beech leaves and just have to stand beneath them. I hear sounds more clearly, some sharp-slash ear offences, some soft and landing like, well, petals. I am aware of what I touch and how it feels to my fingertips. I notice a founder in those same fingers when I attempt to unpackaged packaging, or lift a heavy pot to the hob. I hear the sound of water coming to the boil in a pasta pan even from the next room. The tic, tic, tic of a clock is Time telling me she is here, as if I didn’t already know that. I can taste the snap-smell of his plaid shirts, the only things I haven’t yet moved on. They no longer smell of him and how could they? Everything was washed and double washed many months ago. I think I might make a patchwork soft mat from cuts of these shirts. They were so his ‘fashion’, a hanging on to the days of being a lumberjack in Canada so many years ago.

Years ago. His life by many stories was a long one. A wonderful one, he said, and often. Funny how we are never satisfied, never able to agree with ‘enough’ when it involves waving a final farewell. I know he didn’t want to live on. Who does in the late throws of dementia? I wouldn’t, for sure. He went happy and peaceful. That’s it. End of. Well, maybe it was for him. But now I feel like a pioneer facing a wilderness. The land endless before me goes right up to where my eyes meet the skyline and I have no map. I am not afraid, not lost, not in despair, no way. But this is so new to me that I confess to a bit of circling and a lot of hiding behind rocks. I go out, I keep a clean and tidy house, I feed myself well, I love music, I write, sew, dance (occasionally), walk every day and, as far as I can tell, house a lively brain. I have humour, mischief, a sense of fun and many good friends.

All this does not minimise the wilderness, that vast maw of sand, rocks, emptiness and maplessness. A load of ‘esses’ for sure. The way it alters, changes my language, my thoughts, my beliefs, my faith. I have faith, I have belief in something for me even if I don’t know what the hellikins that means and I have fun learning a new language. This, in itself, is perusable. Although I am, I confess, a lover of good strong language, words can escape me. I am thankful for Roget, a bible for writers. My battered copy is always beside me so that when I cannot find the right word, the one that accurately describes what I want to say instead of just ‘trending on twitter’ jumps out at me like a sudden-ness and that is okay. I am allowed, I tell myself, to lose the words I once found so easy to lift into the light because most of what I found so easy to lift into the light has been cut away, just like that, in a single not-breath.

I was reminded by my lovely daughter-in-law just yesterday of the final breath moment. She loved her father-in-law and he loved her. Her eyes lit up and her face lifted as she told me something I had forgotten. Remember, she said, as you all sat beside him watching his faltering breaths? Go on, I tell her, trying to find my way back to that moment. Well, she says, he took a big gasp breath and then everything went still. You looked at each other and began to move. This is it. The big man is gone. Suddenly, he breathed again, a big draw of earthly air and you all laughed, turning back to him. The next breath was his last, but that moment, he, the one who always had to be the centre of attention, claimed his right to it one more time.

‘The sharper the knife, the less you cry.’ So they say.

Island Blog – The Best View

Heavy rain, like water bullets, straight down rain, none of this fluffing fallshift of soft water dash against my face. This was a wetting. I watched the opportunity for a while. I considered my cloaking, my ineffective coveration, my footwear, and pulled back. I pulled back long enough for even the Pull Back to raise its eyebrows. Are you going or are you planning to spend the day lurching towards the window like a catapult with old pants elastic?

I don’t like the old pants bit and it stirred me somewhat. I stand taller. Ok, I say, I am offski. Before the old girl in me can catch up I am footed and rainproofed and attaching the wee dog to her lead. Door open. We are out. Good grief! This rain is pelting like reproval. It is so straight down I turn to yell (and regret it) Bend Somewhat! It is either deaf, the rain or determined. I sigh, open the gate and head for the wild place. The track is jiggling water in potholes, the rain-off sloughing like a serpent down into anywhere that’s down. Water always seeking the sea, the river, the outfall, the easy way to go. I am not doing ‘easy way’ but I am not water, I remind myself.

As I wander, because I like the whole wander thing, even in the rain, I observe. The chestnut tree is hanging low, branches so huge and so powerful are bending. I look up and say hi. On and more trees, bowed in fragility and yet still so strong. The wind rises and rises puffing and luffing, lifting, playful. It wonders me as I see massive wood limbs holding life-giving leaves, reach out way too far from the body, from the mother trunk. And yet there is power there, control and the fabulous knowing that that ancient trunk is holding you, holding and holding.

The leaves are already turning, I see the beech leaves twisting at the edges and giving in to copper. I hear the woodland choir, led by the wind. At the shore, where I walk every day to remind myself of not where we began but where so many hundreds, thousands of others began their beginning with us. The chance to see whales. I can smell the excitement even now as I wander in a past land, through gorse, popping seeds and noisily, where the seaweed lays across the out-tide rocks, copper, flaxen, lime, blood and where a heron squawks at me and lifts in lazy flaps; where oystercatchers fly above the tide, turn to me, catch the sudden sunlight and turn into fluttering pearls; where the chance of seeing some wild thing lifts a head above the water in an hour’s watching. We yearn for the wild encounter. We always did and we always will.

Let the seasons be. They are not as we once knew them, predictable and uniform, to a degree. They are wild now, and free. We have a hand in that but it is not the hand that gives up, that turns, that lifts in latent anger. It is done. We are here. We can dance through them, adapt and welcome. We can be a part of what is happening now or we can whine and criticise from the sidelines of life. Eish…….don’t do that. Engage. Join me in the frontline. We’ll get the best view.

Island Blog – A Beetle, Selkie Song and Kitchen Units

I met a beetle last night in the middle of it. The night, I mean. He was rather spectacular with a long oval back, shiny black, indented white. I was sitting drinking a herbal knockout tea around 2am and he ran along the wainscot, bumping against it every few seconds as if he had forgotten where it was. I hunkered down to watch him and he saw me, rising his pincers at me, his body an oblique accent with waggles. I laughed a guffaw, almost blowing him right back to base, and then apologising as he had to do the whole journey again. So brave, I schmoozed, as he repeated the laborious thing. I wondered where he was headed, and my eyes followed him as I thinked. He likes the dark. I just turned on the sun, well, for him, anyway and he is freaking out. He scuttles, bumps and scuttles again his way to where the old kitchen units don’t meet the ground, a thing that seems legion in old houses build almost 200 years ago and with no thought for foundations nor levelling. At least not in inanimate things. I suspect there was a great deal of levelling going on between sentient beings. As he got closer to that perfect lift of warped unit and sinking floor about 6 spiders scooted down their silken ropes, their legs clutching and flailing. Oh don’t be silly, I said to them. Just look at you all, you skinny little things and look at him, armoured up and with a serious pincer waggle going on. They ignored me as they all pretended they had just popped out for air without any beetle-munch intention, performing a few trapezoid spins and then disappearing back into my units.

I wonder, often actually, about the wildlife inside my units. I have met plenty over the years. A family of slugs, no, a whole township. Spiders of every size and colour. Mice. There have been times, when I felt so compromised and overwhelmed that I might take a deep breath prior to opening a door in search of ordinary dinner plates for an ordinary dinner and been quite prepared to encounter some big predator, one that has grown weary of a spider/slug/mouse diet and is ready for change. It has never happened for real. Not yet. Living in the places I have lived, around horses, cattle, sheep and feral children, anything has always been possible and I am no fool. I am prepared. Have always been. Mostly I don’t mind at all but since the old man is gone, I am requiring myself to learn my own courage. Things can overwhelm even as I know for sure that I was always the bravest. However, being brave beside someone else, a husband, a wife, a child, is so much braver than mere courage for self and alone is a load scarier. My beetle encounter teaches me. I could imagine an infestation of waggling warriors or I could decide to marvel at the extraordinary beauty of both the chance encounter and the creature itself. I am just glad I turned on the ‘sun’ prior to entering the lift and luff of my kitchen, thus avoiding crunching this stunning creature under a careless foot.

Later I walked the Tapselteerie loop. As I rounded the point, the breeze caught my breath, salty, straight from the great wide ocean. I saw Sgeir Mhor rock, peaceful today. A singing came to me. My dog twisted and stopped dead at the sound. The Selkies, I said. No worries. I hear them, I tell her, the seal people singing. It is a beautiful song and we stand awhile to listen. I wander home in a smile. Ah wildlife! The one thing that is a gazillion things. Is that a collective noun? And if I am wild, does that make me a part of wildlife or do I need to grow more legs or feathers, or fur, or fins to join this glorious freedom?

I feather home. Open the mail box, deal with probate, answer emails, remindings of the duality of my life. Wild at times, unwild at others, and yet, and yet, if I am learning anything from my innovative (and feral) children, I am beginning to think that, although I have no plan to scuttle nor waggle, nor, if possible, inhabit the night, I can become conscious of both worlds, of all worlds. Being conscious is not about knowing what the hellikins you do next, but about just being open. Life can feel like boots stuck in mud, can it not? But we don’t have to stay stuck. I am learning and loving the learning even when it scares me. Remember the Selkies, I tell myself. They were there and you couldn’t see them but their song, their perfect pure song reached you and stopped you in your tracks.

I am learning. Curious. And learning again. Now, this is living.

Island Blog – Liftlight, Cobwebs and IT

Dawn awakens me with birdsong and light. I know it is dawn because I know what it is like to wake to the moon pushing her way through the peripheries of my blackout curtains. She, the moon, presents a greenish light, a weird eerie one that has me turning over with a sigh. I love the moon but there is a time and a place for moon loving. Dawn thrusts like an opportunity, an hurrah, and it is loaded with birdsong. They are waiting for me, oh so patiently, them birds, perching on the fence, flitting through the shrubs and little trees, so very patient. They don’t mind if I am late. They just keep flitting and perching and watching me. When I go away, no, when I once went away, when going away was just something anyone could do without fear, sanitiser or a mask, I harboured manifold guilt about the birds. They would never get fed if I was not present as the feeder. What would happen? Would they all leave for ever, die, show such grief at my absence that the whole familial line would fail? Well….no. The birds are fine, resourceful and forever on line with their instinct, resourcefulness and strength. T’is only I who think I am IT. IT for my husband, my kids, my in-laws, my mum, my dad, the birds. My IT-ness has always been who I am and I really don’t know how to lay that woman down. Being IT for myself feels deeply weird. I suspect I am not alone in this deep weirdness.

I watch a sea eagle slide through the blue. It looks like play to me, and maybe it is, although I doubt it. When all you have to think about is your next meal, your eyes will always be sharp and focussed. It is huge, even from way down here, down on this little track with the sun on my face and the stones beneath my feet. I, unlike that big bird, am held in place by gravity although I do remember flying once inside a dream. I just knew I could fly when I needed to and I did need to because my IT-ness feathered me up. The dream is still clear in my memory. I was walking in a wasteland, the afterland of apocalypse, the landscape grey and dead. No flowers, birds, animals, no life at all. Just me. The dot of colour in a monochrome world. I came to a ruined tower, its face missing, just one tall wall of stone remaining. A man, a monochrome man stood inside what was once the belly of the tower. He wore formal dress like a butler. His face was grey, he was grey, his nose long as a beak, his eyes ebony marbles. You won’t save them, he said. I followed his eyesl. I could see the sky, sunless, offering nothing, and then I found my children, all five of them hung from coat hangers at various points against the stones. They weren’t hurt, just hanging there. Defiance rose in me. Oh, I will, I whispered, my voice croaky, full of dust, and, I lifted off the ground, flying easily up to unhook each one of them, as if I had always known that I could. I felt no surprise, just determination and the certainty that I was the IT who could bring them to safety. Then I awoke.

Taking a little detour, I wander deeper into the wood. Cobwebs catch at my face like tiny tickles. I laugh out loud as I try, and fail, to pull them off my face. It thinks me. These cobwebs are completely invisible, skinny lines of spider silk that stretch across an impossible distance, between two ancient pines. Do you jump across, I ask, or do you start on one trunk, run back down it, cross the space in between and then scoot up the other? Did I just destroy a morning’s hard work? The cobwebs back home come to mind, those black clusters of dust motes and other floaty things that froth my corners and hang about my paintings, moving in response to me as I walk through the house. Mostly I don’t notice them, until I do, at which point I grab my soft cobweb catcher because now I see them everywhere. I don’t want to upset the spiders though. We need spiders. Listen, I tell one female huntsman as she hangs all legs and attitude, with her cocoon of babies held firmly in her jaws, you are welcome here but your housekeeping skills are not good enough. We need to have a word about it. She says nothing, although I suspect her eyes are rolling. I am not so good at housekeeping skills myself, although I was, once, when I was IT for others, for those with whom I shared my home. Since all have now left me, I am less interested in such mundane matters. Since lockdown nobody will see anyway. I could walk about stark naked for all anyone would know. I could do anything at all because I am not IT anymore. Then I remonstrate with myself. Yes you are. You are IT, now, for yourself. I wait for the thrill of this to lift me. Hmmm. This is my first summer alone. Ever. And it is going to be a daring bold adventure once I relocate my wings, my lift light, my IT.

Island Blog – Butterfly, Change, Motion and Lift

This day my eldest son returns to sea for 10 weeks. In theory. Who knows what rulings will be in place as his supposed return date moves closer? Nobody, that’s who. Or is it ‘whom’? I don’t give a damn to be honest. All I do know is that my heart is a butterfly this morning. His time at home is always wonderful but this time tops the lot. The suspect in this has to be the death of his dad and said dad’s loud absence from life. And he has been so caring, so present, so available. Of course, it isn’t just me who has benefited from his being here. He has a wife, a family, a home and friends. But I am his only mummy. Just saying.

Funny thing, this mummy role. New birth is one thing but growing and developing a child and then letting go is a very different one. It is history in the making, memories captured or consciously lost. It is both good and bad, happy and sad, upsetting and elevating. It is butterfly lift, fragile, beautiful, dangerous and transient. A mother, well, this mother, is always, even now that all five glorious children have their own, vigilant and alert for danger, even when she is laughed at and teased about her state of alertness and vigilance. She cannot change. She cannot let go, even if she has done just that in real time, on the outside of herself, marking her own reactive behaviour, her choice of wordage and comment, denying her own longings for the greater good of which she is only one part.

Mother’s Day, my birthday showed me clearly how precious I am to my children and my grandchildren. I was celebrated to the point of exhaustion, requiring many naps during and after both days. It thinks me. We mothers are not born mothers. Our children birth us. Without them how could we possibly know such depth of feeling, such agony of concern, doubt and worry? And on the other side of those dingly depths, there are the highs, those gloriously wild lifts of joy, of celebration, of wonder and amazement. The threads that link us mean that every yank shoogles us. We respond. Change comes as it always does and just when we think we have found our balance. People leave, some return, all change in the face of change. We do so, or we find ourselves left behind on some draughty platform with not a train in sight. I have been there but only when I resisted the inevitability of change. If I stayed down, then I stayed down, flat, pancaked, immobile. Motion is required. Get up you plonker and catch another train. Find them. They are not lost. You are. I remember such times, the desire strong in me to give up, to hide, but the pull of motherhood always got me to my feet.

So, as he leaves for the long arduous journey, through Covid tests and isolation, and up up and away into another world, I will reflect thus. I have enjoyed a daily dose of him for 10 weeks. We have laughed and hugged, shared meals and stories. He has helped me re-jig my widow’s brain, celebrated me and helped me to find a new way of being bravely independent with kindness, encouragement and a lot of teasing. This is what I have and I am a very lucky mummy. I will remember all the moments and they will strong me back into my beautiful wings and into the sky along with the geese, the softer winds, the spring light and the gentle peace of this island life. And I will picture him safe, happy, important in his work as master of the super yacht, and, most important of all, home again safe in mid June when the flowers will be partying, the trees heavy with leaf cover, the young birds fleein’ aboot, and the sun high enough in the wide open sky to convince even the cynics among us that we are, once again, free to lift, change and move on.

Island Blog – Heart lift

Soft, loving compost is heaped on my garden. I made it myself and it is thunderous with worms, not that any of them will survive this new exposure to light. They are worms of the dark, of the fetid warmth and gentle darkness of a dialek bin, creatures of a season and doomed to face change, one they won’t like much. Robin, blackbird and thrush gather as if they know there is a feast for an early arriver. Within minutes these compostian beings will have dug themselves deep, dug for death.

Heretofore I had always shovelled, laborious shovelfuls into a big bucket, then lugged said laborious shovelfuls down the back steps and into the front garden. Then came muscle man. He just wheeched the whole dialek off the ground and shook him a bit to release the dark, wormy soft heap of live-giving goodness from his interior. I was impressed. Now he can do the lugging and he did, hence my thoroughly over excited flower beds. They are giggling. I can hear them even through the regular hail shower attacks. I see an eggshell, a bit of cauliflower stalk, garden cuttings and they smile me. Go to work my lovelies, I tell them and together, we wait, even though they know more than I about what is happening beneath their butts. It is such a quiet thing, this growing, this birthing of new life and the mystery of survival no matter what frollocks happens above ground.

Primroses are showing sunshine faces along the drystone walls. No larch buds yet but I can hear them whispering as I pass. We are coming, they say. Keep watching. And I will. I do. As I walk, I remember. This time last year I shut down, locked out the world, kept vigil for any invaders. How strange to still be thinking the same way and, yet, not quite in the same way. It isn’t that I mind locking down in principle. It isn’t that I am afraid. It isn’t that I no longer have anyone to protect other than myself. It is simply strange, as if I, like the compostian worms, have become accustomed to a darkness, one that has proffered an unexpected sense of security, and now I am not sure who I will be. All through this past year my lack of desire to go out, to meet anyone, to entertain visitors confirmed me as a student hermit. None of the lockdown, bar the initial fear of an invisible and extremely powerful enemy, phased me.

But I have had enough now. Rising, unlike the worms but very like the new shoots, the daffydowndillies, the tulips, the snowdrops and with new leaves twinkling at me under the weight of thawing hailstones, I want to keep rising and that means forward into life. My fed is suddenly up. I want freedom of choice once again. My choice to go here or there, to this person or that should be my own now. How clearly I see the way a revolutionary spirit rises within us. Living under any regime is everything inhuman and that’s what this feels like now. Enough Covid! with all your tentacles and your new names and strains, your machination against the human race, the one I belong to, by the way, the one I seriously care about! I want to yell. Actually I did yesterday and it felt good.

However, there is little we can do than behave ourselves a bit longer and keep watching for Spring. She will go a long way in saving us, for now. However it doesn’t stop the fury at continuous imprisonment. I think of the ones who have died and those who couldn’t be there at the end of a loved life. I think of the painful separations, the people who will suffer deeply from this enforced isolation, those living lives of deprivation and of constant pain. Who will lift them into Spring, I wonder? Here am I frapping about renewing my passport and then there are they, stuck, trapped, broken, sick, dead. It is humbling.

Best I can do is write. Best I can do is keep living. Best I can do is to watch for Spring. Sometimes others walk with me. Not weirdo dead people, although occasionally they do, but those I think about, the ones I don’t know and will never meet, the ones who have found this past year a deal more than merely inconvenient. Hey, I say, come with me. I can take you to the fairy woods, show you the elvish trees, now a bit stripped of moss for the deer are starving here. I can walk you through where wild garlic will flower, take you to eider nests, show you oystercatcher eggs among salty basalt, lift your eyes to a skylark, watch your face soaked in salt spray and old stories, and watch you catch them, the stories ,and even if you don’t understand the language, your eyes will tell me you have those stories in your heart. A heart lift. A change for the ever-ness of life.

Island Blog – Lift

Some days awaken me dark. I never know why nor when. All mornings are dark on the other side of window but on the inside there can always be light. It doesn’t seem to be up to me. My days are ordinary and samey. I do my chores, eat, sew, write, clean and wash. There is almost nothing in the diary beyond reminders to call someone or to write a thank you letter to all those who sent condolences to me and the kids.

On mornings when the dark permeates through my skin tissue to bury itself deep in my interior being, I just know that, day long, I will need to work hard; not at tasks but on myself. In fact, tasks can take a running jump on mornings such as these. I had one yesterday, closed down the phone, hid from passers by, and barely managed a stitch or a word. I didn’t speak out loud and my walk was a trudge.

What I know is that these days are random and could be lethal if I believed in them, if I thought, for just one minute, that this is IT. It isn’t. All I need to do is to open my eyes to the outside world, to see, to feel the enormity of eternity, of nature, of circles, of life living herself on, no matter what my piddling day is like. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. But, if I engage with the dark, I spend all day blind and I refuse to go that way. Just because I am a sexagenarian and counting, just because I am disillusioned, doubting, noticing aches and pains, feeling old and stupid and hasbeen does not mean it is all over. I may have found my way through a long and complex marital relationship with a less than uxorious husband; I may feel anger at thoughtless words and unkind acts of dominance, but I survived it did I not? Better, I am still dancing, albeit slowly nowadays. Inside my heart I am Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, Owl and Kanga with a touch of Eeyore and Rabbit on dark days. And it is ok. It is all ok.

This morning woke me at 5 am, as usual, and I felt light and bright and ready for anything. This is how life is, at least for me. I sat with a strong black coffee and watched a tawny owl on the telegraph pole. I heard it mew and then shriek and fluff its magnificent feathers before silently flying away to rest. I considered the day before and the other such days. If I didn’t ever experience them, might I believe that life is always easy to live? I might. Thus, these dark days are of immense value because they teach me resilience, patience, humility and more. I know that my core strength grows with me and 67 years of core strength sounds pretty good. Instead of weakening, that power is still mine to wield and wield it I will. If all it does for me as I grind my way through the uncomfortable process of bereavement is to show me that, although I am a small ordinary woman, I have power, tremendous power, power I choose to use for the good of all of us. If I can lift from the bog of eternal stench with a chirrup and a good measure of Tigga then I can, perhaps, lift others up too. I can reassure, show the way out and up. I can tell them it is ok to feel dark. It will pass. It is, obviously, better to feel light and bright but that will pass too, and it is a mistake to expect the world or other people to keep that light shining for us. The key is to accept we can feel dreadful without dumping it on anyone else; without blaming someone else for it, as I have definitely been guilty of; without giving it any power at all.

And on dark days, I recommend looking out. If the dark is not getting our attention, it gets bored pretty damn quick.

Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.

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.