Island Blog 158 A Missing Mountain

2014-11-18 08.25.41

 

 

Yesterday the top of the mountain was missing.  Cloud cover was low, thick as my mother’s whipped egg whites.  I sat watching it, missing, for quite some time; a whole mug of coffee, to be precise and it thinked me of how my eye is drawn to something that was there, always there, and now, is not.  Sometimes, as I scan the morning, spreading out in fingers of light across the grass and down to the sealoch, I know something has changed but, for a while, I can’t say what.  Perhaps the greylags are grazing, blending perfectly into the willow scrub and the stands of wiry old grass, and, then, one of them moves.  All I am aware of is change.  Walking along the Tapselteerie tracks, my attention is drawn uphill, to where the tall pines wave their arms at the sky, their bodies a shining deep red, wet still from the rain last night.  I look and look but they are all there……ah. no. One is missing a rib.

As I walk on, move on into the day, I consider how easy it would have been for me to miss this change or that.  All I have to be is slave to my to-do list, my plan for the day, the caterwaulings of my mind, the pressures I feel I am under to achieve. My alert button is on mute.  Knowing, deep within that I want to stop and notice missing mountains, I keep going.  The mountain will either return or it won’t, isn’t that right?  What is it to me either way when there is shopping to be shopped for, admin to complete, emails to respond to, rooms to be cleaned, washing to be washed?

Well, I’ll tell you what it is to me.  It is something mysterious, something beyond myself and my piddling little life, and it begs consideration.  When life teeters off balance, which it always does just when I think I have it all levelled up nicely, I need the acceptance of mystery to carry me onwards, because that acceptance brings in new game players, hope and faith.  If my life is all about lists and control then I am set up for a fall.  There are books and essays, wisdoms, poems, short stories, plays, documentaries, novels and memoirs all addressing the bizarre human failing to celebrate the unknown, the unfathomable, the unexplainable.  Even if I know there are geese grazing, or tops of mountains lost in cloud, and I study those subjects in intricate detail so that I beome an expert, something will take them a step further without me, for everything is changing all of the time, with or without our involvement.  And yet, and yet, we fight, daily, to control all of life, not just our own.  We justify and explain as much as we possibly can, and those things we just can’t, we dismiss – even if we agree that there has always been ‘imbalance’ in nature, chaos in nature.  We call it the natural world, and behave around it as if it were completely unnatural to us.

And still we long for it.  There is inside every one of us a deep connection to the wild places, to the mysteries of life, to the impossible, the unbelievable. People sigh with green envy just hearing me speak of the view from my window, the wild all around me, but you don’t need to live in the wild to know that it is all around you.  I believe that, although we fight to be in charge, the desire not to be in control of everything is strong.  Besides, if we are really in control of it all, then what a mess we have made, together, or alone, for nobody is really smug about getting everything right.  You can think you love your children without judgement but they will still feel judged at some point.  You can think you are the perfect boss, until someone hands in their notice because you expect too much. You can think all sorts of things for years and be oh so horribly wrong.

Most of us are taught to find our best way to walk through our own lives, to know our enemy, to keep our house in order, and yet overnight, however strong the walls, however well-kempt, that house can be whipped away from us, metaphorically and literally speaking. We can have money in the bank and lose it all.  We can think we are well and find, in one moment, we are far from that. When we root ourselves in what we can control, can organise into a perfect order, we are looking at the wrong things. I hear people tell me they have no choice about their lives, and I always challenge that, for it is not the truth.  We all have the choice, nobody controls that but our own selves.

My question is what have we done to ensure personal inner strength, in order to cope with disaster?  Have we read good books, watched mountains re-appear, paid attention to what our loved ones don’t say? Have we watched a whole sunset, or just taken a quick look and said ‘Oh Wow’ and gone back to the email telling Mr Whatnot just what we’d like to do with him? I am not saying we should loaf about waiting for mountains to disappear or for suns to set, but I am saying that we don’t give the mystery and wonder of these sights the time they deserve.  What happens when really watching, really engaging with nature working her magic, is that it changes my thinking.  It lifts my thoughts beyond my piddling little lists and into a greater mindfulness. If I spend time each day watching, noticing, stopping the car, walking down a country lane, I will begin to feel differently about the balance of important/not important inside my life.  If I really stop to really watch a pair of cherry-breasted bullfinches in scatterwood, or really listen to the sound of the wind making music in the branches of an old beech tree, or stop to chat with an old man on a bench, then trust me, I will be a much gentler person on my return to my ordinary, explainable, controllable day.

I think we need to pay serious attention, and right now, because  balance, as the hapless world teaches it, is not balance at all.

Island Blog 133 One Hand

 

2014-05-28 08.44.48

 

 

Whenever I go somewhere or meet someone, or do something, and then come back to my own solitude, I bring rememberings with me.  We all do, of curse, but not all of us revisit them in order to learn a new thing.  I know this, because I have asked people who continue on the same track regardless of encounters of the third, or any other kind.  I have never worked that way, because I believe that everything changes me.  A glimpse of a smile from a distance, unexpected and easily missed had I been burying in my bag for my mobile, or lippy, or notepad; something a person says, albeit like a grace note that leads quickly back to the dominant chord; a fleeting look, hurriedly corrected so the eyes give nothing away; a chance meeting, a chance to see, to hear, to notice.

The world is moving too fast, everyone says so.  Not the actual world, but we who stomp across it’s surface, plunder it’s depths, take too many liberties.  However, it is the way it is, and bemoaning what is lost is a pointless excercise and one that can have me rolling my eyes and taking my leave.  It has aye been this way, and we were sure to speed up.  We thrive on a challenge, ache to be the first to discover new ways to do old things, so I embrace the change, however much it might trip me up.  After all, did I know how to blog, tweet and facebook a year ago?  I did not, and it is only thanks to the team at Two Roads and Hodder that I have learned anything at all, or discovered the delights and noted the pitfalls involved in this trip to outer space. Had I been curmudgeonly, had I succeeded in returning my laptop to a pile of component parts, as I badly wanted to do, I would still be on the outside, swearing I knew all about it and wanted none of it.  I would have sounded knowledgable whilst I sank in the quicksands of ignorance.

Learning how to notice every little thing, is just a habit.  However, like all habits, it requires attention and mindfulness at the outset, until it becomes something that our subconscious mind, our higher self, takes on board.  I am no expert on any of the many wonderful ways we can control the lunacy of our monkey minds beyond knowing that I have 12 monkeys at least in my head and must, therefore be 12 times more determined to shut them up when their screeching and tree-leaping drowns out all gentle sound, such as that of a baby bird calling from across the loch, the sound of one small voice in a busy street, the sound of pain, of hope, of fear, of longing, the sound of one hand.

Walking with my old Ma down a dusty track in Corfu, not lost but heading that way, we moved slowly and noticed everything.  She has just had both cataracts done so she does a whole lot more noticing that I have noticed her doing before.  The scuttle of a tiny lizard, the tipping sideways of it’s head as it watched us pass by; a new red bloom, just opening, on a wild spread of hibiscus; the twinkle in the eye of the sand-seller with his jet black face, and his armsful of colourful sunglasses; the old dog, only it’s tail visible as it lies cooling off beneath a little bridge; the dragonfly and the black butterfly, the old woman clutching her prayerbook, dust on her long skirts and not one tooth in her head.  At each encounter, we stopped to talk about it, and, when I was quietly alone, later on, I revisited them all.

If, by just stopping albeit for a second or two, I grow my own world, not because I passed these things, these people, these moments by, but because I noticed them mindfully, then this must be a healthy option – more healthy than any breakfast cereal, nutritious diet, super-juice or form of excercise can ever be, although they all have their place in our general well-being.  People live and then they die, and sometimes too quickly and as a complete shock.  We know this, and yet we still live fast, rushing past moments to make contact, to make amends, to make friends, to make things well again.  We can be millionaires and poor as church mice at the same time, and we keep doing it.  The monkeys say it’s ok, don’t listen to that stuff.  They say things matter, that we should speculate, accumulate, call in the locksmith and keep it all safe, learn clever tactics for anger management and stress control, plan for the future and so on, and they are right, to a degree.  But we are out of balance if we think they are gods.

What we need to make time for, not merely hope that time will stretch just for us, are those things, people, moments, that grow our worlds beyond the daily admin.  We must become the change we want to see, not waste time wishing on a star as if we lived in some fairytale. We have it all right where we stand.  All we need to do is shut the monkeys up and listen for the sound of one hand.

 

 

Island Blog 132

2014-03-28 12.29.53

 

 

We never talk about shrimps up here.  In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that word used anywhere in Scotland.  Up here, across the tempestuous border, we talk about prawns, and they are quite believably so.  Shrimps I remember from Norfolk days, and you needed 3000 of the little so-and-so’s for all of seven sandwiches.  I have been served up a plate of ‘prawns’ before now, and knew fine I was being ripped off, but not up here.  Folk can’t believe their good fortune when they order a prawn dish, savouring the fat pink bodies, dense and firm and tasting of a fresh wild ocean.

In Tapselteerie days, I would drive over the hill to meet the fisherboats coming in, bartering with the raw and ruddy-faced hard-working ‘boys’ for an overflowing crate of still-twitching jewels, the huge aga pans left to bring themselves to boiling point as I travelled.  The eyes of the guests grew wide with amazement as I laid down plates of them, pan fried with garlic and fresh herbs.  Then I would make bisque from the shells.  Nowadays, you can’t buy them on the quay, as I did, because they all go for export.  But there are a few choice restaurants who either make sure they have their own creel boat, or have found a way to do as I did, and connect with the fishermen. Some of these ‘boys’ are still fishing, some have stepped back to let their sons carry on the good work.  After all, shrimp or prawn, lobster, oyster or mussels are always a different experience when they are fresh and still full of personality.

Much like us.

So why am I talking about shrimps and prawns and the like?  It isn’t to lead on to the obvious Bigger is Better thing.  What I am talking about is choice and quality, yes, but more about paying attention to the strings that bind us.  Driving over the hill to find fresh shellfish meant I had to know and befriend the fisherman.  If he thought I was a stuck up little madam, he would have said nothing was available and I wouldn’t have blamed him for that.  I know that the lonely process of buying goods, any goods, via the interweb is easier, cheaper often, but it involves no human contact, or very little.  In fact, we seem to enjoy  as much ‘very little contact’ as possible these days, and, yet, it is only through a bonding process that anything in life really works.  Oh, I am not saying we don’t need, use and value the internet, but out of balance we can find ourselves clumsy and careless at times when we are with another person.  Out of practice.

When I go shopping for clothes (I hate shopping for clothes and am the very first to look online), I will avoid with great energy, huge shopping malls, caves of blue lighting, plastic walls and no air, or none already breathed in and out again.  Instead, I will choose the little shop with a ‘ping’ as I open the door and a welcome smile on the face of the assistant.  I don’t want ‘NEXT!’ yelled at me.  I have a name, and it isn’t that.  Although I absolutely do not like a pushy sales person, I do like the question ‘Can I help you with anything?’ and then, when I say I just want to browse, to be left to do just that.  If I buy something, I want her, or him behind the pretty counter, to be interested in me and my choice, as I will be in them.  I want to walk out feeling very chuffed with myself and with my purchase, and, more, the pleasant memory of our human encounter.

If I sound stuffy, I don’t mean to.  I blog, I Facebook, I text and tweet, but it isn’t all I do.

Recently I came to realise that my work is lonely work.  Writing, painting, loving my little home and being in and around it, walking with Poppy in the fairy woods, none of these get me in front of people. This is my choice.  I am, at heart, solitary and I need that space around me to feel creative and healthy, but, out of balance, I get fearful in crowds and resist meeting friends.  The good news is, that this is instantly fixable, once recognised.  Driving through Glen Coe, beneath the craggy snow-covered tops of the Three Sisters, I pulled over to call Lisa, my publisher.  We talked of mice and men, cabbages and kings, and, as I turned back onto the road, I felt a lift.  It wasn’t the content of our conversation that did that, but her voice in my ear, connecting me once again to the outside world and, in doing so, raising my confidence in me, making me feel important and interesting and changing my whole outlook so that I was, once more, fresh and full of personality.

Island Blog 106 A Timely Light

Fungus2

First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who comments on my blogs.  Your responses to my own thoughts, thrown out into the world, come back to me like a soft warm morning full of birdsong.  I write as I feel, looking not for a Well Done, but to touch on another’s life, to connect a couple of dots perhaps, to feel I am not alone, not physically, but in my innermost self, that woman I am stuck with, as she is, with me.

It makes me consider these two women – the visible one and Her Indoors, and the oftentimes mismatch between the two of us.

In the early hours before dawn, I ask myself big questions, such as who are you?  and what do you want of this life? and why do we get in the way of each other?  and why is it we aren’t perfectly aligned in our thinking?  I know it may be a tad late to be addressing these major issues, but I seem to be doing it now and, besides, time is an illusion, whatever that means.

When I meet someone, I observe her intently.  I learn much about her from how she says what she says, her body language, her choice of dress, the pitch and volume of their voice.  I can hear clearly what the inner person is saying, however much talk comes out of her mouth.  Is she really herself or is she fitting in to the shape either she, or others, require of her?  Is her confidence real or built only on the sand of her expectations?  What drives her?  The need to be thought of as a ‘good’ woman, or the need to be true to herself, or a bit of both?  Does she feel she has done her very best in this life, or is there an ache of regret and loss, and how well has she managed to conceal it under bright merriment and high rise cheese souffles?

I often feel there is a wasp in between me and someone of whom I have just asked a personal question.  One like….. Are You Happy?  Oh, I will get a list of all those things she may quickly pull into the room like the success of her children, the fact that the Co-op now sells mixed peel outside of the Christmas period, the arrival of the Redwings to colour up an autumn scene, but she won’t answer me direct.  After all, what she feels about her life is not important at all.  What is important is how she can make others happy, and this the point when I am in danger of falling out with Her Indoors, because I understand it completely and it is surely a goodly way to live, isn’t it?

No, it is not enough, and becomes glaringly clear when the children fly the coop, and she is without purpose, unless she has been ‘selfish’ during the busy years, and taken time to develop and grow her own interest, one that can support her to the end of her days.

When I look back on my own life, I see how fortunate I have been in my choices.  I found a man who has never understood for one second the shrieking sharp-toothed Her Indoors, but has loved her anyway, even if he did have to walk about in full armour-plating for many years, which was wise of him considering my deadly aim.

I think we don’t need to seek acceptance, nor understanding for the inner person, except from ourselves.  The big mistake is to bury her, or him, for this applies to both species, and then to blame an outsider for our own refusal to let light in.

Without light, nothing grows but fungus.