Island Blog – Sid, Mary and Just One Tree

I am reading my favourite sort of book, a novel about human life with the natural world as a backdrop. I don’t mean the story of Sid and Mary who have a big garden and chickens, although they could indeed be the humans, providing one of them has a spiritual connection with nature in ways yet to be learned, understood and accepted. This story spans great swathes of time, from 1700 to 2000 and they connect through nature. The trees he (maybe Sid) planted as a young man, he now visits as an ancient wood, alive with stories, bursting into memories each time the trees throw out leaves of laughter for the sun to nourish. Many many suns, many springs, autumns and winters; many land battles never won by the land. Trees felled for no good reason, for Sid and Mary, perhaps, for their big garden, for their chicken run. Inside such a story, I am Alice. I move effortlessly from 1700 to 2000 along with those who make the storyline into a long rope, a connector. The writer makes it easy for me and I get it, so clever a scribe is she. To many this story would invoke a scoff. I don’t do fantasy, he or she might say and it is beyond my ken and my level of patience to attempt an explanation, the one that is so clear to me. It is no fantasy, merely an indication of our undoing. We have forgotten how to listen to the trees, lost the ears for stone stories, turned away from the rhythm of the sea, the cries of the winds, the percussive tap of the rains. But, for those who still want to believe that nature is not ‘out there’ but deep inside every soul, let me tell you this connection is only parked in some dark tunnel, and not lost at all. Nobody knows quite how to reconnect but all anyone has to do is to refuse the worldly chortlemongers and to whisper, I believe. Show me, talk to me, let me know you again.

I am no guru, no wind whisperer, nothing ‘weird’ at all, but simply a child of spirit who cannot and will not accept that nature is just there for us to manipulate and manage, to control and defy, to desecrate and deny. Nature is not about big gardens, nor chicken runs. Nature is a magnificent mother and we all know to our cost that to defy a mother is always dangerous in the long run. It thinks me. Although we humanoids are required to live in our worldly world, we can lose ourselves in the plastic. We can be too busy to study the extraordinariness of a beech tree growing out of a rock. I watched one this afternoon and for some time. I saw how the tiny beech shoot must have pushed into the light and been momentarily blinded, puzzled too, as it came out sideways. The sky should be above me, the ground beneath. That’s what I know, and yet I am slid out like a sardine from a tin and nothing makes sense. Hmmm. Ah, well, I know this too; my branches, once I manage to grow some, will need the light and so somehow I need to turn a corner, employing full belly strength in order to lift upwards. Might take some time, like years, but I am here now and there is no stopping me, even if I don’t make it. (Good attitude, beech).

When I study the belly of this twisted but upright fighter for light, I see the girth. It’s fat and strong but stopped short, telling me that beech baby made a decision once the turn upwards showed more struggle ahead. There are big pines on the bluff above her, already snatching light, ditto another massive beech; Mum, perhaps. So she wisely gave up on trunk height in favour of a three way split, for maximum photosynthesis and at the earliest possible moment. I stepped back a pace or two and smiled and bowed in respect. Survivor! I said out loud because you can say pretty much anything out loud around here and only the trees, stones and birds will hear you. I went on….thank you for calling out to me today. I walk past you every single day, in all weathers and for decades and only now have I heard your voice. Respect.

My two big strong sons leave in a couple of days. I will miss them both and for a long time. I will miss their strength, the way I feel small and safe inside their arms, the way they love me, the way they laugh at my daftness, my fears, my doubts and the way they show me I am stronger than I ever believed and someone they look up to. Well, no not that any more. Either I am shrinking which is probably true, or they grow taller as they fight their intelligent way through the shrieking, demanding, worldly world. But you know what I mean with the looking up to thingy.

We are here for such a short time and for the time we are here, we have a duty to not just our families but to our world, all of it. We can rant and do nothing, fret and wring our hands about the state of it, saying it’s too much. What can I do when there is so much corruption and destruction? I cannot save the rain forests, nor the whales, nor the starving, nor the abuse. And this is true. One person cannot. However one person can speak to someone homeless on the street. One person can recycle, stop buying plastic, pick up rubbish. And, as my African son says, one person can plant one tree.

Island Blog – The Wild

I walk this day through copper gold and spandangles of sunshine. The track, wet, muddy from all the rain, dapples into light, peckled with mosaic, the light glinting off the water spots, the puddles, and lighting up the prints of yesterday walkers. I watch the down, erstwhile forgetting the up until it calls me to me in blue and gold. Me and the Poppy dog keep the beat, or I do, for she scoots and slows, sniffs at pretty much everything, oftentimes right before my feet and it thinks me of tripping. Old folk do think of tripping. I never considered making such a foolish error before, but now I do. How odd that tripping, a simple fall that comes with an answering bounce back into the upright, now holds menace. I could be here for hours, days, should I allow this tripping thing. Then I wheesht myself, saying, out loud, Nonsense, and loudly enough to startle a quiet other walker with his terrier who rounds the bend in a way that wonders me. Is he a ghost, so quiet is he? No, I have seen him before with the same little terrier, politely held on an unstrained leash. Hallo, I say, unable to quell the launch and startle of the Poppy dog, the gap between me and her ears being too great to prevent a situation. I say Hallo in my quietest tone, in A major, I think, and muted, so as to calm things.

He is unfazed. We talk. He suggests unleashing his dog and I nod in agreement. Dogs are always better off without the strangle-throat of a leash. Always. At best, they will sort themselves out in moments. At worst, the one who knows they are about to be dishevelled, right here on this peaceful track, can get away. Humans always cock things up, these sorts of things, their fear, their ignorance of the animal kingdom. It rolls my eyes and often. Just let them spar, just let go, just let. But not everyone gets that ‘let’ thing. I suspect my life as a farmer’s wife has loosened my desire to control something way more powerful than I. The animal instinct is definitely a ‘let go’ thing for me. And, I have a lot of opinions around the rules of controlling wild animals, even dogs or cats, but I keep it all to myself. Anthropomorphism is a big deal in the human world, and practised to our detriment, but try explaining that to someone who thinks their pet is their pet.

We humans forget our wild too. It is a big mistake and one we can rethink. During lockdown a lot of folk bought puppies and kittens for their own pleasure, to entertain and to fill a lockdown hole. I am really hoping that most realised they had taken on a wild creature, no matter how domesticated they may have been over many decades. The wild is strong, it never goes. It can be battered into compliance by fear but the worm will turn (whatever that means).

I can see a happy and respected dog or cat immediately. Any cowering, any slink back when a hand is raised, speaks me volumes. A canine or feline who is loved and understood will walk straight-backed, will wag a tail, will merry a look, be curious and open, like the terrier and his man I met today in the dapples and around a quiet corner. A good man, a happy dog, a merry, and a bit shouty, encounter. I thank him. He knows the wild.

Island Blog – All About Henry

I awaken into a beautiful crisp morning, all blue sky and Wolf Moon shining enough light to afford me a greenish wander from kitchen door to kettle. Barefoot, I encounter what I already knew was there, even if I have been keeping my eyes above floor level for a few days. Dust. Bits of dropped food. Fluff. Well Dammit, I mutter. I will need to take action today. Knowing, as I do, my excellent ability to distract myself from housework, I decide to add another dull task as a sort of punishment. The bathroom needs cleaning. These days I can ignore the bathroom-needing-cleaning thingy for days. When Himself was still above ground, it needed cleaning daily and I accepted the work as a part of my morning routine without question. Even before that I would clean it just in case the Bathroom Police dropped in to check. But, now there is no Himself and absolutely no chance of anyone dropping in, let alone the BP, I have grown indolent and Henry mutters away to himself in the dark of the cupboard below stairs. He is bored, I know it, but I also know that precisely because I have neglected him, he will take full advantage of today’s outing for he is mischievous and resourceful.

I can hear him now, as if he is reading my thoughts, or maybe I spoke out loud. He has perfect hearing and I know this as he knows I know this. I move towards the door and open it a glimpse. I hear rustling. It could be him or it might be a scuttle of mice who have enjoyed a long period of quiet, undisturbed. Hallo Henry, I say, my moon face peering into the darkness. Are you where I left you or have you relocated? Are you hiding? I know he is shy. My hands find him and I begin to tell him where we will work this morning. He grins. It’s quite an area of carpet I plan to let him loose upon and he is full of anticipation.

First we climb the stairs and I thank him for being light. My previous carpet sucker, a very expensive Miele, weighed a flipping ton and refused to recover on stair work after I pulled too hard on her trunk, thus sending her into a series of backflips thus landing her, most undignifiedly, on her back, her belly exposed to the world. At that point I recall sitting down for a think. Perhaps, I thought, I should buy myself a male hoover this time and one that weighs less than an SUV, one with a very long and hand-winding flex, no electric one that almost but not quite draws in the cable, one with bags I can bin instead of having to wash out the catacomb of Miss Miele every time in order to get rid of the smell and the bits.

When I first met Henry, I thought everything would now be easy and un-smelly. I was wrong on the second count. It was so depressing because now I had no chance of washing out the innards. I was hardly going to bin a bag after every hoovering session after all. Once I had risen from my depression, I decided to seek some fragrant oil, one that could be dripped onto the filter, and one that just might do the trick. It did. But for Henry’s shyness there seems to be no cure. He snags in every doorway. I encourage, wheedle, soothe, beg even, but nothing overcomes this unfortunate trait. I try empathetic questions. Is it because you are embarrassed to be cleaning? Is this a Macho Man thing? Are you afraid the Bathroom Police are in the next room just waiting to laugh at you, to mock and deride? To say, This is Women’s Work, in that idiot man sort of way? Henry just grins and keeps schtum.

In the bathroom, quite alone with me, Henry sucks bravely, intent on his work. I wheech off the brush and point the nozzle at the corners and the edges. We move behind and under everything that isn’t stuck down and I feel quite jaunty at the difference we are making. Hoover/Woman synergy, a sort of bond between us and I turn to tell him so. My mistake. Never trust the smile of a man who says nothing, for there is a deal of control planning going on behind that face. In that moment of complacence Henry sucks up a cleaning sponge and a cloth. Just like that, straight into his belly, no chewing. Henry! I admonish, and here he turns to the skirt of my frock. It takes me a few seconds to reclaim myself even if I do realise there is no chance said frock would disappear in the same way up that proboscis, affixed as it is to other parts of my body which would need surgical removal in order to allow such a snatch. After I have a word with him about respect for a co-worker, the engine silenced, we continue across the landing and down the stairs. He only backflips once and I right him with abject apology. Now we are cruising and, apart from two further attempts to pull my frock off, eliciting a raised eyebrow from me, we lift the dirt from all floors, up and down.

I thank him and return him to the mice and the dark. The house smells lovely and I tell him so. I thank him for his help and say magnanimously, as an afterthought, that he can keep the cloth and the cleaning sponge. As I close the door, I can hear him chuckle.

Island Blog – Extra the Ordinary

Although I live my life according to the rules, most of the time, my heart and soul are pure Paris. As a girl, as a young woman, I could feel the inconvenient wild in me, this fire blaze that burned no matter how politely I crossed my ankles or demurred to the authority of a man. The confusion of living with the two opposing women inside came with a great deal of trouble, most of it unseen by anyone but me. The trouble was my lack of enough experiential wisdom to accept both the Paris and the Quiet Suburbs and to love them both. How can I, how can anyone, hold two contradictories in one head at the same time? Well, practice, and a lot of self-love. En route to this acceptance brought tantrums, a smouldering silence, spots, ridiculous clothes, lost friendships, poor decisions, all of which came with legacy, one only I was forced to live with and through. Those in ‘authority’ over me called me names; deluded, hysterical, rebellious, ornery, bloody difficult #needsprofessionalhelp, possessed, reckless and so on. I was, in short, impossible and would never fit in. Until one day I overheard my French teacher, whom I adored, saying to my mother #headinhands that I had a lot of the Paris in me. I suspect that was the beginning of my quest, one that has led me over the bumps, into walls, off chasmic edges and on and on to many wonderful places and times.

At this age of ripeness and with a completely marvellous and exciting past, I smile at my journey. Even now I can meet good women of my age who, on recognising the rebel in me, say that they were never wild; that they never felt anything like an incendiary bomb. I always question that. Did you ever fall head over heels in love, I ask, when your whole world is thrown up into the air like a beach ball, and do you remember hoping it would never come down again? I usually get them on that one. Okay they didn’t lock matron in the phone cupboard and go back to bed, nor set fire to the school shed (didn’t burn), nor did they get back home at 10pm, check in with parents and then climb out of the window to rejoin the party. But I did, and that wildness is still here, still within, now honoured and loved, appreciated and respected. Paris is part of me.

I have never been to Paris and may never go there. I call her Paris because of what I have read, since my French teacher said what she said, and I have learned about that city of bohemian rebellion and energy. I will have added my own imagination, naturally, and together we have got me all the way up to this morning in a lively and unpredictable way. Living as I now do inside my own structure of discipline is just where I want to be. I have no desire to travel in order to find myself. Myself is right here with me and we are an excellent team. Rebelling against my own rules of engagement would be foolish. Rebelling against other people’s rules of engagement was exhilarating, terrifying and often self destructive, but I could not have avoided one minute of it. It is in my DNA and that is irrefutable.

My message in all this is to encourage you all to remember who you really are, not to fanny about with who someone else decides you are. This would be like trying to fit politely and tidily into an empty Weetabix box. So don’t. And, if any of this touches you in any way, there is work to be done. We can die with our song unsung or we can take a risk, open our mouths and sing it out, at any age or stage of our lives.

We can make an ordinary life extraordinary just by living half in, half out of the box, our own box.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.