Island Blog – Sunrise, Nature and the beginning of Humanity

It’s 5am. My favourite time of the day. I used to say it was because there’s nobody about, but now there’s always nobody about, so it’s not the truth anymore. I consider how many other absolutes will lose purchase on my mind and will just drift away, like the will o’ wisps over there, floating on the ebb tide, backlit by sunfire. They remind me of water sprites, beneficent creatures, transitional, made of water and to water they will always return. Black-throated divers fly by right on time, turning pink as they head into the sun and the sea beneath their wings glows like rose quartz. Anyone rising from slumber later than this will miss it all. But not I said the island wife. I have always been a dawn raider, greedy for everything my eyes can gobble up, catching every spark and twist, every snatch of colour, every bird flit or cloud shift, each start of new beginnings, life whispering into life.

Walking along the Tapseteerie track, dry-cracked and steady underfoot, I feel the weight of the canopy. This horse-chestnut has never been so abundant with huge green leaves, richly bottle green, a strong spread of gratitude, for whilst we desist in our race to disaster, we gift back life to nature. A robin flits with me, from branch to branch, tree to tree, telling me something that sounds wonderfully joyous but which is beyond my understanding. Bees and other buzzing creatures fill the branches, all of them. I have never heard such a buzz and it smiles me. New mosses adorn the floor of the woods, some emerald green and star-tipped, some gathered in perfectly smooth igloo shapes, the colour of lemon sorbet. I can see the tracks left by deer in their darkling wander, the grasses flattened by hoof-scuff. They will always walk this way, along this ley line, the ancient wander path, following the ones who learned it before them and then taught it on.

Flowers watch me pass, their faces tipped to sunlight. Wood sorrel, violets, primroses, anemone, bluebells, campanula, and stitchwort. Tiny alpines cling to cracks in the drystone wall, feathery ferns, arched like question marks, will open this day to spread their soft fingers wide. Orange tip, tortoiseshell and brown spot butterflies dance around my head as I move through the warmth of the morning. Everywhere I look, there is abundance. Wasn’t it always so and I just didn’t see it, or is it true that our land is healing herself? I believe the latter.

As I turn for home, a flash of silver in the tidal flow shows me a big fish, a salmon, perhaps, or a sea trout on its arduous journey to find a place to spawn, and then to die. Gulls shriek overhead, little gulls, black backs, herring gulls and other gulls I cannot name, for they saw it too. No doubt the otter did as well. I know she is down there somewhere with her kits and soon I will see her on a still morning from my bedroom window as she teaches them to hunt or to play touch-tig.

Writing about the beauty through which I can walk every day is not something I take for granted. This lockdown has gone on long enough now, that’s what I think, although wild horses wouldn’t drag me back among people, knowing as I do, how easily the virus can spread, silent and deadly, invisible to the naked eye. So I consider this. If I, who have barely had to change my life at all, am feeling this way, then what about those whose entire lives have been full-stopped? Starved of social oxygen, meetings, encounters, business flow, cash income, school friends, loved ones and options for free travel, what life are they, you, living now? Many, I am sure will thrill to the peace of it all, perhaps all of us do, some of the time, but when I am told I absolutely cannot do something, it is the thing I want to do most of all.

When I write about my encounters in nature, it isn’t to gloat, but to show to others, who last saw nature in 2019 on a country break, that life is still living on, whether we can see it or not. In fact, the regeneration of this earth is a wonderful thing to hear about, and perhaps it makes the sacrifice worth the pain. I had no idea the ozone layer could heal. I thought it was already dying and so were we all. But it isn’t true, for it is healing, repairing itself and offering us another go at a good life. And so, I write on, a witness to the changes, sending anyone and everyone who is finding this all just too much, who is frightened, lonely, depressed or sick, my deepest respect and encouragement to stick with isolation until we can meet again, and once more walk free.

This could have been the end of humanity. Let us hold fast and make it the beginning.

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.

Island Blog – The Overstory

I walked yesterday among the trees in the Fairy wood. I barely glanced up into her leafless arms nor stopped to touch the bark of the tallest Fir, nor paused to consider the tangle of roots thrust into visibility by endless erosive rains; roots as thick as my arm, conifer fingers, gnarled and scarred over hundreds of years by hundreds of human boots, marching boots, tramping across the overstory with little enough thought. I didn’t look, nor see, nor stop to garner soft peace from the whispers of these gentle and protecting giants. I just took my place in the march. I didn’t pause to consider over what I did this marching thing. I just wanted to get back out of the nipping wind and into the warm.

All evening, staring out at the dark, I considered. The understory thinks me. What brilliant planning, synergy and sharing goes on down there, in a deeper darkness that Night could ever bring? In a clutter wood, where new springlings struggle towards that wee patch of sky, of sun to hear the stories carried on the backs of the winds that dash across this rocky island from all points on the compass, how can life go on? Is there a finite of trees within the human boundaries of this wood? And how do they know not to crowd themselves out of sunlight, water, food – to leap across the track to where that fallen beech has created, in its final death cry, a whole rack of gentle space just asking for a friend. And not only space, for in its dying, in its soft slow submissive return to the earth, this giant is preparing magical layers of nourishment for that seedling to grow strong and straight-backed.

Roots will be under my feet even on this track wide enough for a whacking great lorry. Roots don’t bother with our boundaries and it isn’t just that. I think they conjoin, I know they do, merging and melding together for the greater good, the good of the wood, of the family. Unlike us, separation is not their main thing, not a thing at all. Unlike us, they do not judge by species, sex, type, shape or achievement. They care not what colour your leaves might be, nor if those leaves are bigger than their own. Like us, they need each other. Like us they sing better in a choir, a unison of voices rising into the sky sending harmony, melody and rhythm out to warm a listening heart. They know it. We are only learning.

Life is lived in the overstory. Although the underneath matters a great deal, it is easily hidden from the world. I can do this as well as anyone. I can slap on my smile and pretend just like you do. And there is no wrong in that, unless, unless, either of us forget our tap root and that of others with whom we share our life. The good news about tap roots is that, like the trees, they grow in silence, whether we pay them attention or not. As they grow in the silent darkness of our hearts and souls they find other roots. This meeting is not confrontational, nor constrained by fear but a vulnerable reaching, meeting, greeting; a gentle slow winding together of fingers, a melding perhaps, or a share of time before moving on. We can learn from that time of open curiosity, the lack of fear, the acceptance of another life doing its very best to grow and to grow right.

Today, when I walk beneath those same trees I will be witted-up and open. I never tire of the woods and have walked through and around them for almost five decades but sometimes, like yesterday, my overstory is so shouty that I forget where I am and thus I miss the nourishment on offer beneath those ancient wise giants. I miss the startling gasp of star moss on a rotting trunk, the shelf fungi holding on even as its host crumbles away, the rain-betrayed spider webs cast between a spindle of branches, long since empty of life. I miss the patchwork of sky, the squelch of peat under my boots, that sudden realisation of the understory, always working, always growing, in gentle silence. Today I will see it all, hear the voices of the wood and they will bring me calm and a real smile, no pretend.

Island Blog 99 – Bareback

 

_mother-nature

 

I realised on waking this morning for the 4th time, that there is a clunder of whizzing things inside my head.  Actually, whizzing things probably don’t ‘clunder’.  A clunder sounds heavy, thick, like old porage.  A clunder of sticky oats.  that’s better.

Moving on……….this ‘whatever’ of whizzing things can make a girl want to get up and sort some of them out, and yet, on the first 3 wakings, it was still dark as chocolate and I didn’t feel like rising into it at all.  But I did lie there staring at where the ceiling probably still was, to notice each whizzer one by one.  The to-do list is there of course, but being of superficial importance, is quite easily parked.  That list can take over a girl’s whole thinking if she isn’t mindful of its anaconda properties.  After all, if the carpet behind the tallboy is not hoovered today, the spiders will be overjoyed.  I hate losing spiders up sucky pipes anyway.  We need spiders.

So, list parked, now what?

The evolution of characters inside a story is a process I cannot rush, nor can I speed it up.  I can set aside the time to write each day that I am on the island, but if there is a part of the tale that is dependant on something evolving inside my own life, then I am at the mercy of Old Father Time, and I must patiently and mindfully wait.

When the horses in my mind are pulling me along, straining at their bits and pounding along a wide sunny path, everything flows like honey, but when they come across a fallen tree, they have to stop and so do I.  I can get off the wagon, study the obstacle, tell you all about how it lies and why I think it fell, and whether or not it is deciduous or evergreen, but I can’t move it one half centimetre out of the way.

I am not in control at this point.  Or am I?

Well, yes, I am.  I am in control of my response to the fallen tree, and I have two options.  I can puff and snort and shake my fist at the skies, creating not one ripple.  I can shout and swear and give myself a sort throat.  I can turn my wagon round and go back the way I came.

Or, I can water the horses, loosen their girths, let them refresh and graze.  I can sit on the trunk and notice the mosses, touch the places where the bark is torn away, lean my head to the trunk and listen for the dying heartbeat.  I can think into the shade it has offered and the lower leaves it offered to passing deer.  I can hear the chatter of nesting birds inside the protection of its many arms, and I can see the roots, wrenched from their moorings and reaching now like old fingers into the light.   I can notice the shine on the worn leather harness as it lies against the warm chestnut necks of the horses and I can smell their sweet grassy breath on the breeze.

And then I realise that I don’t really need the wagon at all.  I can leave it here, pull it over into that rocky scoop.  It is laden with a load of bahuki anyway.  Clunder I don’t really need at all.  I can flip off the harness and ride one horse bareback, the other in tow.

So, the situation I had set the characters in, had become awkward and clumsy.  I could feeling it growing more so, but kept writing them into it and then tried to justify it, when any reader would have spotted my error in a heartbeat.

It took a fallen tree for me to realise that.

Going back over an early draft is not how I work.  Initially, I just flow, knowing that the energy of first words is a powerful one, although I will need to pick out the strands of that energy from a load of self-indulgent twaddle at some point.

However, if my instinct is to doubt the situation I am painting my characters into, then I must listen to that voice and allow it to manifest itself in a tree across my path.  Often, the idea of re-writing any part of a story can be scary and tiring just to think about, but, once I begin, I can find happy surprises, like the moss on the trunk of it, brilliant green with tiny fragile flowers I never knew were there…..or the scars left by the torn bark, showing me a filligree beauty no human being ever designed……or the finger roots, twisted in search of life-giving water, once hidden, now a visual symphony just for my pleasure.

I can take off the harness and ride on.

Bareback.