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 – 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.

Island Blog – Light Remembered

There are two kinds of light, said James Thurber. The glow that illumines and the glare that obscures.

It thinks me. I believe there are as many kinds of light as anyone wants to acknowledge. For instance, through the hail and sleet and snow as it traverses the sky, tipping the hills and turning the mountain tops into sugar buns, there is the white light of ice, the distance dark sheets of hail looking like treacle poured from the heavens. There is the flash of sunlight on a hill road as a steadfast patch of ice refuses to melt, a glimpse of car headlights as some brave driver rises over a summit, temporarily highlighting a fall of snow, to fold over on a slippery descent. The sealoch lifts into light only to drop back into darkness as the clouds conjoin, part and join again at the punch of a volatile wind. Sunlight turns the bare maple into a Christmas tree, each stem bedecked with tiny drops of water, rainbow tears. Spider webs look like intricate works of art, the cold spider a dark huddle of hope. I haven’t seen a single fly yet, and nor, I guess, has she. The garden is late despite the daffodils doing their best to pretend Spring is on her way, their stalks disappearing into the white slush.

Then there is the light in someone’s eyes, You see it and it tells you something. That’s what eyes do, often belying the words let loose from the same page. Recognition, rejection, admiration, hope, belief, affection, remorse, desire, delight. All clear in someone’s eyes and infectious too, catching, almost physical. If someone is sad, I see it first. Their eyes tell me. If they are exuberant and excited about life I see that too and both will change me. We respond to light, if we take the time to notice it, to watch it. Wherever that light comes from it is wired into our very souls to answer back. Sometimes our own dark can blow out the sun, like a match, but it is dangerous to keep blowing and foolish too. Our beautiful earth is awash with light. The light of recognition, the light of hope, the endless variables of light in nature. The eyes of a startled deer hidden in the scrub as we walk quietly by; the yearning look of a child who really wants us to pick them up; reflections of bare branches moving over the surface of an ordinary puddle, a magical sky painting; the light of an epiphany, a new understanding, gifted, often, by someone else who can see light where I saw only darkness, the way that new understanding, that re-jigging of what I thought was fixed in place for always, sends light through my whole being and suddenly, I see.

As the snow and hail moves on out to sea, I watch it. It changes as it meets the salt-laden air, changes colour, changes shape, softens and demurs. Ha! I tell it. The sea will always win. Didn’t you know that? A walker goes by with a little dog. The dog looks at me through the window. For a moment, just a moment, our eyes lock. I don’t know this dog and this dog doesn’t know me but we share a glimpse of light.

That’s what we can do for each other. Shine out light, receive it gratefully, store it deep within so that we can gift it on, pay it forward. Someone is walking in the dark. Light them up and when it is your turn to feel like a huddled cold creature, accept light from someone else. It’s how the world keeps turning. We all have dark times but the light will always shine, from somewhere, through someone. And all we have to do is remember that.

Island Blog – Valentine

There is a valentine in all of us, even the most cynical cynic, even there. Not one living soul on this planet would say that a show of love doesn’t touch a heart. It always matters. It can come with flowers, a card, or a romantic getaway date. It can come inside a hospital ward with a hand held tight. It is there in the eyes of the forgiver and the forgiven. It lifts like sunshine into an ice wind, melting, softening, kinding. It says I see you, and you matter to me. A glance can send love, a smile, a pause to talk. We remember such times and they warm us with a memoric hug as we step back into old shoes and new rain. Love is love and we all need to see it and feel it.

As life batters us, drawing the skin across our bones and flabbing our bellies, the roses, the card and the romantic getaway may lie in our past. But love doesn’t. Thankfully we can show love anytime we so choose. Although in our emotionally strangled country we make a BIG POINT about the difference between love and like, there is no difference at all. A kindly word to a harassed ticket collector on the commuter train is showing love; a knock on our frail old neighbour’s door to ask if she needs anything from the shop is showing love. A jump to arms if someone is in trouble – that’s showing love too. Giving time to someone when we think our 24 hours are already solidly booked – that’s love. There are as many ways to love as there are people on the planet and the source is an everlasting spring, one that no drought can turn to dust.

St Valentine served the needy and the sick. I doubt that was always fun. In the end he was martyred for it and that thinks me. Showing unconditional love bothers folk. He must be up to something. Nobody can give love all of the time. Oh, really? Giving love is not being perfect. We can still snap and crackle, shout and lose the plot; we can still regret, deny and blame; in other words, we can still be who we are, but feel differently about ourselves. Giving love to everyone we know and randomly meet does not mean great displays of affection that might lead to arrest. It doesn’t mean that someone who never hugged has to learn how to. There are many other ways. Kindness, compassion, time given, a helping hand, a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement that this other person matters, even if I never see him or her again. And the way I feel after giving such a gift……what is that sunshine warmth inside me? Well, it’s love. When I break out of my selfish little life to show another that I see them, that they are important, no matter who and no matter where, I am changed inside.

And I can break out right now.

Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.

Island Blog 136 Brave Heart

 

Popz and Poppy

 

 

In life there are times when something huge happens whilst I am somewhere else.  I might feel a chilly hand on my neck, or the sensation of it, without having a clue why.  Later, sometimes much later, I might discover that, at just that time, this huge something was going on with a loved one.

Last Friday I caught the noontide train down to Glasgow.  I was supposed to be visiting a girlfriend but she called in sick and, as I was packed and arranged-up, I decided to go and see my sister instead.  The train was overly packed with not enough seats for all, or, only just, and only just is no fun when half the inmates bear heavy loads they cannot lift onto the overhead racks.  Nobody can.  In fact, as they ease off the shoulder straps and shrug a massive rucksack into the gravitational pull, I am amazed it doesn’t go right through the carriage floor.  And that was just one of the many.  The rest of us with less baggage, clasp it to ourselves on our narrow seats and decide to wait until the stock rolls before flicking our eyes around for a more acceptable resting place.

This is when a furry-voiced announcement slinks out from the speakers.  Something about a bus being laid on for those who can’t fit on board.  We look at each other eyes rolling.  Way too late, they say.  Way too late and, besides, we are now all fankled up in rucksack webbing, too many legs, big shoes and well-fed travellers to move anything other than our eyeballs.  It crosses my mind to suggest that the man who sold us all those tickets a few moments ago might consider counting them up next time, a fairly logical plan and one that might decide the bus option before we struggle aboard and meld into one living creature. We are all hot now and a bit grumpy and those lads just up ahead have obviously been on the sauce for a while now, their voices cutting sharply into the mumbled air.

The weekend was lovely and the journey home a very different kettle of fish.  We all had room, we travellers with less baggage, dotting ourselves throughout the train, pulling open our ziplock lunches, to munch contentedly, elbows out.   I thought everything was calm in my world, because, as far as I was concerned, it was.  But, there was a chill at my neck, like cold fingers and yet all the windows were closed.  I pulled out a cardigan and wrapped it round me, but the chill remained.  Back home, a huge drama was beginning to unfold, the facts of which I now have, and will tell, as best an absentee can, through the eyes and experience of my old China.

The boat had landed the passengers back on the pontoon and Popz had taken Poppy up to the grass for a pee, as usual, returning to the boat to clean up and take her back to her mooring, way out in the bay.  It’s about 500 yards.  Once the mooring line was secured, the crew and skipper set to cleaning and tidying, turning off electrics and engines and checking the heads for all those forbidden things people think can disappear down a tiny pipe.  This cleaning process can take a while.  Popz was aware Poppy wasn’t with him, but, then, she often joined the crew whilst they worked, so he wasn’t concerned as they all clambered into the dingy.  They presumed she had jumped back off the boat at the pontoon and that they would find her, as before, sitting waiting for their return.

No sign. Concern is now rising.  They asked everyone, looked everywhere, called and whistled.  Perhaps someone had taken her?

They turned again for Sula Bheag, crossing, once more, the distance through the waves.  Searched everywhere, above, below, inside and out.  Nothing.

Back to the shore.  Time is passing now.  Up the street, into the town, asking everyone, Have you seen a little brown dog?

At the harbour, some kind people with boats cast them off and set to, searching the expanse of water for this little brown dog.

Once more Popz and the crew returned to Sula Bheag, although by now hope was dwindling.  No human being could survive this long in the icy water and it was obvious she must have slipped overboard.  Then, as they fired up the outboard to return for the last time to the shore, Popz noticed some gulls circling, looking like they were looking down at something, way out in the bay.

And they were.  Upside down, four legs above the surface, plus her nose, but barely, was Poppy, all but given up the fight.  As Popz grabbed her, the flea collar snapped and she began to sink.  In desperation, he lunged for her, and caught her before she became part of the darkness.  She was almost dead, her breathing just now and again, frothing salty bubbles from her mouth, but, nevertheless, alive.  A crew member drove like the wind down to the vet, with Popz cradling a defeated Poppy on his lap, wrapping her round to bring back some warmth.  The vet held out little hope.  Salt damage to lungs and kidneys, shock, cold, hypothermia, the oil and muck in the harbour, all threatened to take her out, and he decided to keep her overnight to monitor her progress.

The next morning we phoned, and he said he couldn’t believe the change.  Sitting up, weakened but alive, our little girl had decided not to die.  Although we had to wait a couple of days to be sure the salt hadn’t destroyed her inner workings, we can now say she is a miracle.  Thinner, yes, and not eating much yet, but bouncy and bright-eyed and we are filled with thanks, to the crew and their hearts, to those who took their boats out, to the callers and well-wishers, to the vets.

She may have gone overboard, and you may think ‘careless’ but life happens whilst we make other plans and we can all remember times we didn’t pay enough attention.  But, now here’s the thing.  If the old seadog didn’t have the instinct that he does have, then those gulls might have got their lunch after all.

 

 

Island Blog 121 Listen to your ears

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When I hear something, I hear it.  I may respond distractedly, or with intense concentration.  I may not quite hear it for a few seconds, when a word or phrase yanks me back into the room, back beside the person who spoke and then I will ask them to say it all again.  In domestic situations, taking into account familial or relational baggage, I may find myself in the blast of a dismissive retort.

You never listen to me!  I’m not going to talk to you until you put down that mobile, laptop, dog,book, whatever!  Then follows a doggy-type following around, an apology (if you’re lucky), a plead to say it again, an ‘I AM listening, honest’…….sort of drama, which, if I am very lucky, ends well, although by this time, having pattered about whimpering and wagging my tail, I am so not interested anymore, even supposing whatever I didn’t listen to, on first delivery, could get me to the ball after all.

I have read much on the difference between hearing and listening, and, to be honest, am none the wiser, confusing the two whenever I deliver said difference in an astonishing phrase of pure wisdom.  Nobody has ever corrected me, confirming my suspicions that nobody else gets the difference either.  But I do know how critical it is to listen to what our children say and really hear it.  Really not hearing it is the root beginning of an immense baggage collection, guaranteed foreign holidays for psychiatrists, counsellors and mediums, and establishing once and for all that 90% of our troubles, self-doubts and hangups stem solely from our mother.

But what about those things I hear without actively listening?  Those words far off, lifted at random from another conversation, over there somewhere, that can float all by themselves into my head to settle on a comfy sofa, feet up, just waiting for the chance to rise into my concious mind.  I can read something in a book, or in the poetry of a hymn in church and, without consciously choosing to remember any of it, I find myself looking at it as I wake in the early morning, hearing it anew, and marvelling at the brilliance of my aging brain.  Because our senses are all linked by millions of little byroads, I might watch the movement of the clouds across a darkling sky and find words in my mouth and I don’t mean ‘Wow, look at THAT!’  It might be a line in a letter (does anyone remember the last letter that came through the post, with a stamp, licked by the writer and handed over by Amy the Post?) or it might be a phrase from the book I’m reading, or something someone said, but I don’t remember the time or the context.  Somehow, it fits in with the clouds and the darkling sky and again I am astonished at the incredible majesty of the human brain, even though we only ever tap into about a third of its potential.  Just think what we could do and who we could be, if we only knew how to build a mental motorway or, even just how we might repair the byroads already in place.  But we don’t, despite all that irritating knowledge that highlights our human lack.  Why do we have this immense brain in the first place?

As we grow older we begin, everso gradually, to lose the byroads we do have.  One by one, they give way to sprawling grasses, weeds and foliage that turns a shortcut into a wilderness.  Ok, we know this.  We might not like it much, losing our glasses ten times a day, forgetting an appointment made some time before, leaving the margarine out of the cake, and so on, but it a fact of life and we may as well find the dance in it.

My old granny, long dead but unforgettable, never lost her dance.  When it could no longer be found in her strong and shapely legs, or her long elegant feet, it was there in her eyes for all to see.  In a shop, at a bus stop, in her own little flat, she brought that dance forward at every encounter with every person from the Red Cross collector, shaking her bucket outside the door, to the doctor or the minister, although she was highly suspicious of the minister, to be honest.  Even in hospital, dying, she lifted her smile to every nurse, every orderly without exception, and she was no goody-goody I can tell you, being overly full of mischief and with a keen eye for the caricature.  It was for herself, she danced, not to be seen to be dancing, for she had little care for such vanities.

Listening to my ears is not really possible.  It makes little sense, suggesting that my ears have ears and, with a few large-eared exceptions, this seems an unlikelyhood.  But when my little grandson said it to me this morning as we walked through a lovely wild place, I realised I had heard what he said twice.  First, effortlessly, in the normal way, and then, again, as if I was hearing myself hearing.  It made me realise, as I considered this new phenomenon, that not only is there wisdom, beyond their understanding, falling from the mouths of babes, but that, if I really think it through, this is the only way to live.  If I do practise listening to my ears, I distance myself from an instant response, one that might cause an injury to another’s heart.  Words spoken in haste, fuelled by baggage, can wound and wound deep.  Words written in anger can live for a lifetime and beyond.  But if I can learn to close my trap (oh hallo mother) and to keep my ears (all of them) open, I not only allow words to settle in the sofas of my mind, gently; not only allow the moment to move beyond my clutches, however much my fingers itch to capture and internalise it, but, in those precious moments of mouth closed, ears open, I can hear, albeit distantly, the grace notes floating across the divide and find that my feet take up the dance.