Island Blog – Me, the Swan and the Marvellousness of Life

Walking this morning over tree-fall of burnished gold – larch pins, beech and rhododendron leaves, wet and flat on the peaty floor, I see change all around. It seems to be happening daily. Water, still, in stands, rain-heavy. I remembered tadpoles, watched them clutch and fiddle about, only yesterday it seems, when the sun was high and warmth promised. Now, greasy and black, it looks subdued, tempered, level with the sky, reflecting nothing. My eyes cast upwards, as they always do beneath the magnificence of ancient trees. Beyond the skinned branches there are clouds. There is sky, a sky that looks so much further away than it did in the summer. Back then, it felt close enough to reach, to pull down some blue for myself, but if I shouted now, there would be no echo. My voice would be lost in space. The sky has retreated.

There are no fruits left on the rowan nor the blackthorn. The blackbirds have seen to that. No mistle thrush this year, no redwings swinging like ribbons through the woods. Only big black crows, buzzards, owls and seagulls. I feel a missing. Just once I heard the long-tailed tits working the nuts and fruits but caught no sighting. I remember times they danced with me along the track, unafraid. So close, those little survivors with tiny bodies and great long tails and with voices so easily recognised. Hallo, I whispered, so as not to startle them (I have no idea about Tit hearing tolerance) and they skittered about above my head as if I wasn’t there at all.

Coarse dead grasses flop drunkenly after last weekend’s gale #hooligan that screamed and crashed and threatened roof tiles and my peace of mind for two long days and nights. The first of many. The first I have got through alone in this solid wee stone-built home. During the worst of it, in the pitch black of an island night, I thought of sailors, of the animals out in this slashing hail and rain that fell like steel rods onto a goodly and patient earth. When I walk through the woods I can feel the ground move beneath my feet, as if I walked on elastic. This is how this land survives. It moves and bends with the winter’s boots. You will not break me, it says. You can change me but I will not break.

Returning down the track I see a single white bird right in the middle of the sea-loch at full tide. Too big for a gull and not a goose. Geese are never single and nor are gulls. I peer and watch and move forward. It is a swan, a Hooper, a visitor on its way to warmer climes in the south and already travelled all the way from Iceland or even further north. Now, wait a minute. Swans mate for life. Swans travel together. Why is this lone proud creature sitting mid loch? I hear its voice, haunting, echoing across the water, but it doesn’t move. Closer, I see it is looking out to sea, its neck stretched, yearning. I stop and wait. It calls on, gentle, soft, persistent. I look seawards and see nothing. What? I whisper. What are you doing here at all, all alone and with winter about to grasp us in her icy mitt? Suddenly it flaps itself into a run, lifting on great white wings into the air, heading west and out to sea.

And, then, I hear them. Miles and miles up in the faraway sky comes a huge skein of Hooper Swans, their voices responding to this left-behind loner. I watch in awe as they move overhead, as the left-behind rises and rises in pursuit. They move fast and they are high, so much higher than this single swan but in him or her I can sense determination and the adrenaline of pursuit, the drive for survival, for familial connection. This swan has lost its mate. That’s for sure. You don’t see a single swan. But it knew others would come. It knew that this was the route south. All it had to do was to stand out, white against black water and to be patient. And there stood I, clueless and wondering.

As I watched it fly, rising and rising and rising again, the skein disappearing so quickly, I whispered Go on, Go on, Go on, my brave friend! And, turning for home with a last look at the empty sea-loch, I saw the marvellousness of life.

Island Blog 106 A Timely Light

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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.