Island Blog – Thinks and Daddy Longlegs

I have too many of them. Thinks, not Daddy Longlegs. I wonder how the name was gifted. I often wonder that. Was it something to do with the One Who Discovered? If this discovery had been made by a woman might it have spent all eternity being known and recognised as Mummy Longlegs? I wonder that about God too. I know, I know, too many thinks. My thinks might be my undoing for as often as they travel through my mind in the hours of daylight as questions begging answers, they do not sleep overnight. I feel sometimes as I did as a child, excited and bunked in Cattle Class on a sleeper from York to Inverness, so awake to every sound, every shunt, pause, toot and groan of the carriage, one more redolent of an old woman in ill-fitting stays than the sleek, spirited (and grubby) fast train of today. I barely slept and this has not changed. I don’t mind, not often, nor usually but just sometimes I wonder what it might be like to go to bed, hit the pillow and drift off into the night, waking at first light with no idea what just happened.

Inside my home for the last few days I am Daddy Longlegged out. They are everywhere and here am I marvelling at their obvious confoundment. This morning at some pre dawn hour I met one in the kitchen, just by the kettle. It flapped at me a bit and I said hallo and waited till it had done with checking me out. It landed on the wall, spread in all its fragile beauty, six legs splayed, until I filled the kettle for coffee spilling a drop of water on the counter. Immediately it lifted and landed by the water drop. I ran for my specs, my magnifying glass (no laughing please) in order to watch this extraordinary and so short-lived survivor bend for a drink. It has a snout. Yes, it does. Like a hyena only way smaller. It also has a number of eyes which makes sense considering the short lived/predator thing that is ever present. Humans swatting, birds snatching, spider webs waiting, wind slamming and so on.

I watched it drink, wondering should I put it out or should I not? I make coffee taking care to keep it out of the way of the killing steam. It finished drinking and seemed revived. It lifted all the way up to the ceiling. Should I leap about in my goonie in attempts to catch it, to set it free? Into what? Danger? I Googled. I often Google. What did we ever know before Google? I learn little.

I go through the to the conservatory and light a candle, sip my coffee and wait for the dawn. You came in, I say. Your choice. Who am I to make a decision for you? Then I slide back over my Night Thinks. I decide to set them free too. You came in. I repeat. Your choice. But here I can make a decision. And I do. I choose to move into my day, into my daylight, into the new and I leave my thinks behind me. After all, they were only thinks.

Island Blog – Not like a suitcase or a door

Today I wake in the lime green light of absolutely not dawn. It thinks me that the Morning is pregnant, nauseous and letting me know. I groan. I want the buttery light that tells me is it at least 4.45am. Then I can close my eyes quick quick like a camera shutter and count the minutes all the way up to 5 which is the time chickens, babies, outside four-leggers and garden birds leap into life. Then I will perform what laughingly passes as my own leap, although I need to be cautious and one can hardly leap cautiously. T’is an oxymoron. But this lime-green morning light groans me. I had awoken oft in the dark because that flipping Barn Owl was having a party all alone on the telegraph pole, screeching insults or whatevers mere feet from my open window. I got up and gave it my best glare but all it did was that 360 thing with its head whilst its feet remained affixed to the pole. I won’t yell, I whispered, nor throw my Ponds cold cream jar at you but only because of your astonishing beauty and this irritating sense of privilege I am feeling that you chose my pole on which to screech like an old fishwife.

So passed the night and now I am flagging. Actually, if I’m honest, I flagged all day so that at this hour of the very long assemblance of hours I consider myself a high achiever in the world of flagging. I didn’t do nothing, though. Not at all. Doing nothing is so not my thing. In fact, I sometimes wonder if my not doing nothing makes me too busy to allow internal troubles to make some sense. It’s like I am ‘busy’ shutting out anything painful when I know only too well that ‘we’ must allow the pain a voice in order to heal. I tell myself that and myself usually snorts. She knows that understanding something we have read, and that makes perfect sense, has to travel a different route to actually click. I sweep the floor, very sloppily. I answer an email and work some more on one of my ridiculous fantasy landscape tapestries. This one is particularly ridiculous but I have thought that before now as I work without pattern or design only to find a rather lovely scene enfolding before me. My eyes are squint from sewing today and the rain is non-stop. I eat breakfast at 5.30 and lunch at 11.15. I am like a tortoise preparing for hibernation, going slower, s l o w e r s. l. o. w. e. r. From time to time I whack myself into startlement and we do something like go for a walk all coated in rain repellent plastic. Well, I was, but the doglet, newly shaved, was not and she decided after all of 14 feet that this was enough thanks and I’m off home now. It took me 15 minutes to get all this clobber on. Well, that’s okay. Another fifteen minutes to take it off and that makes 30 minutes which is half an hour which means the day will soon(ish) be over. Thank goodness.

I go back to thinking about the thinks I avoid thinking. Let them come in and overwhelm, says myself. No, I say. I cannot allow that. I don’t want to let that tsunami in, that one that has multiple shipwrecks inside it, smashed and broken, ruined and unrecognisable. I want to do this closure nonsense, putting everything, my life, my experiences, my marriage into a suitcase and to shut the lid. I want to slam and lock the door firmly on the past and turn away into a new life. I don’t want memories dribbling through the cracks, hissing like venomous snakes. Who the heck does? And yet, and yet, my long fingers keep reaching back through old times, to how it was, to who I was and they are the fretful fingers of an old woman looking for something she will never find. Answers.

I suspect it is natural to quest for such, for answers. I often ask myself why. Why I did this, why he said that, why she made that awful decision, why secrets secrets secrets were kept so hidden. There is a big unrest in the desert lands of Unanswered Questions. Oh what I wouldn’t give for a day with himself to get those answers and yet (and yet) I know he would never reveal a thing. He didn’t when he was alive for almost 50 years. He was obviously quite the thing about not answering difficult questions. So how do I get to a place of acceptance? I suspect there is no fast track answer to that one. Are we all mysteries to each other, I wonder? Perhaps we are and perhaps this is a normal human state, one of intense frustration right up to the end. Is death a marvellous escape? Do those who know they are dying feel a wonderful sense of relief that finally, finally, they are excused from the Accountability Class? It sounds rather kind when I think of it that way.

But life right now is like being stuck on a telegraph pole but without the 360 head turning ability. I have that screech voice and I silence it. I say I am great, fine, well, busy. We all do, I guess, in the hope that something will click at a deeper level, that my brain will believe it and invite my heart to take it in, to warm it, to beat it into new life. I know, I know, it is early days, but it is also a year, no it is over ten years of watching his secret self slowly leave the room whilst remaining in it, noisily. That is a long long time.

An irreverent chuckle comes to me in my turmoil. I have an image memory of people who won’t go. You make it obvious that after ten hours that your come-for-coffee invite is wearing very thin. They rise, eventually, but keep talking. You head for the door and open it. They stay where they are and keep talking. Now a freezing wind with accompanying rain is drenching both you and the floor. Still they talk, flapping hands and saying giggly things like ‘Oh we should go, you’ve been so kind, we stayed too long…’ You shut the door, well defeated. You didn’t offer lunch, having clocked that these good people are having so much fun that their going home just might feel like back to jail and you are not unkind even if you didn’t offer lunch. You finally get them out the door and close it quick quick. The short distance from the door to the gate suddenly looks like the road to Zanzibar. Inching, inching, inching, hearing, and enthusing about this cousin, this new baby, this new purchase, you get them through the gate.

Waving them off feels like heaven.

Maybe I will do that with my long staying unanswered questions.

Island Blog – Grief, Music and Cooking

I miss him. It’s like I am forgetting the last ten years of caring and remembering the before times, the good times. I wake at 2 am, cold, and turn to borrow his warmth. It really shakes me at first until I remember where his body now lies, in the frozen ground. I feel the warmth of his hand in mine, that I Am Safe Now feeling. I never slept well, unlike him but he always woke enough to calm whatever storm was going on inside me. I miss him. I wish I had told him he was my everything but I did not. The way we changed, the children who came and whose needs became our modus operandi and our division bell, the way life upped and downed us, all stopped my mouth. Why didn’t I say it? I just don’t know. My deep need for independence was of such importance to me that I forgot to remember the basics. Ah, regrets! All I can do now is to talk to him as I move alone through my days. I am thankful for the rise of good memories even as they do not come without guilt and regret. This is grieving.

Downstairs I flip on the radio. The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics. A tad cruel. I think back on Mike, Angie and their two sons in our big kitchen at Tapselteerie. We are sharing tea and cake and Mike is telling my kids, whose eyes are on stalks before this celebrity visitor, that he had never had a guitar lesson in his life, that he taught himself in his bedroom. It is just what they needed to hear. it doesn’t matter how you develop your passion, he says, just as long as you do develop it. Remember that. When I look at my five children now, as adults, passionate about their work and with barely a qualification between them, I know they took Mike’s words to heart.

I empty the fridge drawers of veg. Onion, garlic, butternut squash, sun-dried tomatoes, apple, ginger, lime, red pepper, leek and kalamata olives. Add honey, balsamic vinegar, tinned tomatoes, white wine, herbs and seasoning. It simmers now on the range and will last me days. I always cook for a platoon. Old habits die hard. I make a flavoured olive oil (extra virgin) mix and pour it into one of those sealable jars. I soak more sun-dried tomatoes for a little, chop them and add them to the oil mix, for later, for lunch perhaps, in a tortilla wrap, not that I have ever worked out how to fold those damn things effectively. I always need a shower after a tortilla wrap. The music plays on.

Poppy dog comes downstairs. She doesn’t mind that it is still night time for most people; she just works with my wakefulness and if I am up then it must be breakfast time. I boot her out into minus 2 degrees for a quick pee and prepare her food. Dried kibble topped with raw carrot slices and a few bits of chopped chicken to draw her in. Kibble, after all, is a bit dull on its own. I order a small extending lead for our daily walks for she is going deaf and no longer hears my callback should we meet another dog. Although she is all bark and no bite, or all fur coat and no nickers, it can alarm folk, the noise and the rush of her. I think of how it is these days without tourists and of how all that will change when they return to walk around Tapselteerie, to lose themselves inside her wild beauty. We islanders have enjoyed a year now of peaceful bliss even as we need visitors and their cash. One side of the coin and the other. It thinks me.

Ten years of caring and I am glad it is over. 49 years of marriage and I miss him. How tricky it is to find perspective in those two opposing thoughts. How fine it will be when I do. When he was declining, I became practical and cool. I stayed that way right up to his dying. Perhaps I became what was necessary and productive for the times but now, as I begin to soften, I have regrets. Can anyone hold balance when facing the appalling horrors of dementia? Perhaps not. One day I will write on this, but not yet. My inner writer tells me there are many miles to go yet. Many miles too, till morning.

Island Blog – Elephants, Clouds and Paper Smoke

This morning starts at 4am whilst the night sleeps on. In the time between dark and light, the darkling, I sip tea and watch the sea-loch. The air is flat, the sky the colour of paper smoke. Nothing moves, not yet. Then, a sudden arc of silver burst into the sky above the flat water and I know there’s an otter on the hunt somewhere in the filmy depths. The ripples ripple on. Then I see it, the hunter, its black head piercing the surface, only to disappear again into the deep down dark.

I feel dark, even though I know that once the light blossoms into morning, it will fill me up, the light, infusing my skin as hot water does a teabag. They say women are like teabags. You don’t know their strength until you drop them in hot water. It laughs me, even as I know it’s the truth. Today, like every other day, will be a round of mopping and cleaning, washing and caring. And yet, now there is a difference, now that I have admitted to myself and to my family that I am no longer able to care all by myself. I feel a teensy bit of relief, heavily clouded, heavy as a whole sky coming down on me. I used to believe clouds were light as air. Planes fly right through them, after all. But now I know they can weight as much as 800 elephants. That’s a lot of elephants and a very heavy cloud. How does it stay up for goodness sake? I have no answer for that, not being an expert on the matters of cloud.

Walking through the day with my inner judge on repeat. You are pathetic, weak, giving up, what makes you think it is okay to say I’m done? I always knew you would never see anything through. You have always run when the going got tough. You disgust me. And so on and on, ya-di-ya, the whole day long, and it is long, the day, second by slow second, minute by slow minute, hours and hours of it. I fill in gaps, sweep a floor, try to avoid eye contact with anyone, tell myself I have served well, thou good and faithful servant, but the judge’s voice is way louder and she barely pauses to draw breath. I change my frock combo to see if that helps. The outer me might just have some influence over the inner one. I change the position of the kitchen bin, wipe a table, turn up Radio 2, watch the sparrow hawk dive and miss.

I know that at such a crossroads, Lady Providence stands with her hand held towards me. I know I have done all I could. I know the decision is the right one. Dementia is cruel in all ways. It separates and divides. It eats the brain until any chance of a communication flow is cut. It takes a big strong, loving, able, powerful human being and second by slow second, shuts him or her down. The family can only stand and watch, help where possible, encourage all attempts at retaining independence, autonomy, humour. Then the time comes when it’s clear there is no way this beloved will return to his former glory. Ever.

The light is light now, the tea drunk, the morning shoving night over the horizon, blazing white and cloudy, like paper smoke. Roses pink the view, one sweet pea flower, the first, waggles in the breeze; daisies and those blue things I can’t name turn to face the sky, searching for sunlight. I don’t think they will see it this day but, loyal as they are, they will persist in their looking until they fold up for rest once more. Goldfinch spangle the fence, taking turns on the nijer feeder, bickering, flitting. Across the sea-loch a heron stands immobile, staring into the deep dark waters, patient, waiting, watching, beneath a cloud-heavy elephant sky, the colour of paper smoke.

Island Blog – Daynight

The clouds are pink. So are the hills, the trunks of the hazels, the rocks and the sea-loch. It is 4.45 am and everything is pink. I am also pink, according to the mirror reflection and my face needs ironing. This is due to the crumpulation of pillow, duvet and face, conjoined in a less than harmonious trio. We obviously fell out at some point during the night, fought each other until we ran out of oomph, and then collapsed, like all menage a trois do in the end.

The house creaks. The floorboards creak. My knees creak. We are all coming to life, beginning to breathe in a new morning, taking in the pink, leaving the night behind, letting it go. Sometimes I am delighted to let go, sometimes I wonder if being awake most of the night makes it day and not night. Perhaps there is an in-between, like a no mans land, a wild place that has no name, as yet unlabelled. I can give it plenty names, however and not all of them polite, but in deference to social rectitude I shall name it Daynight.

Although it may sound terribly awful spending a deal of the dark hours awake, I am well used to it and find myself able to recover quick quick during the hours of light. Just a 30 minute catchup snooze can lift me right back into a Tigger bounce. It thinks me. Have I devised a splendid plan of action, a modus operandi, one that will always lead me into what may sound like a child’s story, or am I a natural bouncer? Did I learn myself this attitude or was I born with it? Ho, I say and Hum. I don’t have an answer but, for the record, I am very happy with my bounce, even if my knees do creak nowadays. And, even if I did come up with an answer, what would it matter and who would care?

I watch the pink clouds. There is Robin Hood with a huge snake in his grip. Here is the Rockbiter and over there, oh look, it’s Noddy’s car, complete with horn. If I called you over, it would be too late to see what I see. Clouds are like that. Shape shifters, game players, always moving on like night, like day, like everything. Even if I grabbed my camera, it would be over, the cloud show and they would just look like pink clouds. It seemed important, back then, back when I didn’t understand that the whole point of anything is that it changes every minute; people, time, clouds, weather, happenings, all change. The key is to just look, to watch, to stand quite still and let the eyes have it. And with every look, watch, stand still thingy we change because we have experienced something new, something that will never come again, not in this way. A kindness given, a word of support, a smile, a wave; the way rain falls on a window, the swing of a feather falling, a catch of rainbow light, the scoot of a rabbit, distant laughter. A pink sunrise may come every morning, but it will never be the same twice, like zebra stripes and snow flakes, every one unique.

Like you and like me.

Island Blog – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

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 – 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.

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 157 Light on Dark

 

 

Blue eye, close-up

 

We rarely draw the curtains against the night.  Even in the winter, when the dark creeps out from the woods so much earlier to dim our eyes and send us running for the long life light bulb switch – even then I hesitate to make that final call, so entrancing is the ‘out there’.

Out there a massive power shift is already playing out.  The creatures of the night are waking, alert and ready.  Their eyes are not ‘accustomed’ to the dark, they are made for it right from the very beginning; it is their light.  The rest of us whose vision is, at best, impaired in darkness, must draw in, draw our curtains, hide from danger, sleep.  There is a strong pull of the wild in me as dark descends, a longing to be a part of it, and without a torch.  Turning back from the window, having reluctantly closed off the night, I face warmth and safety, some polite crime on television, or a read beside the fire, supper, and I wonder what I’m missing.

Rabbits know fine what they’re missing, ditto hens and rodents.  Although the latter do pop out at night, they must needs scurry beneath the dense shelter of undergrowth for the screech owl is about.  Even scurryings won’t save them from the neighbouring cats.  So, it isn’t darkness we, or they are afraid of, but the creatures who inhabit it.  In our case, imagined ones too, demons and lurkers and no-gooders with an eye for weakness. And we are weak in darkness, compromised and slow to focus.

And so, we turn in, pushing the darkness back into the woods and back across the sea, flooding our night with light, and more light, neon and flashing, computer screens, television, digital clocks, standby lights on printers, sound systems, streetlights lighting our hurried steps until we find our own doorway, unlock it and step into our nests, leaving the stars behind.  We cook, argue about homework, phone mother, answer emails, bathe and sleep until the light begins to rise again, a slow green at first, then lifting white or blue or pinkly clouded into the full light of day.  But maybe we miss something.  Maybe that’s what I feel so strongly.  The way we divide our days and nights into themselves, stored neatly, controllable, separate, and, yet, they are one.

To stand out inside the darkness, to feel it’s soft mantle about our shoulders, and to stand long enough to see is a wonder.  Even without visible stars, even on the blackest of nights, there is still light.  We make it.  It emanates from our ancient human spirit, this light, and all I have to do is wait until I am fully present.  Dashing out with the recycling is not the same.  I need to stand, to let the inside worries slip away, to move, without moving, into the wholeness of the dark, to let it become one with me.  I become aware of movement, of sounds, of the depth and texture of the dark.  My ears hear, my eyes see, my mind empties of everything that lies behind the front door.  It is, as if it is another world, one of bustle and of chaos and the quack of televised nonsense, of clatter and youtube, of the ping of an arriving email, of the whirr of a fridge, the hum of a computer, the ticking of a clock.  There is no time out here, no hum, no white noise, only the immediate and raw darkness, broken by the rustle of mouse deep in the dry stone wall, a triumphant hoot, a warning cry, the rush of spring water over rocks, the wind through the pines.

No currency exchanges hands out here; no bartering or negotiating required.  No clothing, fashion, menus or public transport.  No strife over friendships or loyalties, no business sense, no degrees, no difficult mother in laws.

I stand for a while, a part of the darkness.  I feel vulnerable and alone and I thrill to those feelings, for this is real life, real dark, real and raw and sharp and edgy.  This is Order.

Then I turn back to what the world calls order, with a twinkle in my eye.