Island Blog – A Glorious Freedom

I set myself a challenge. This day I will not say a single negative word about a single soul, and, if a negative thought comes in about any said soul, I will picture them happy, laughing, safe, peaceful. Easy Peasy from my breakfast table, easy indeed from the early hour within which I awoke to a new day. T’was a lovely soft morning, the moon still hovering, the sun rising pink across the over-by hills. No worries.

I set off on the alpine switchback road to the little harbour town to hook up with a friend for a bench picnic, feeling quite the thing, until I met a ‘toddler’. This is a car inhabited by, usually, two old folks, with no plans to hurry. However, the driver does have plans. Whilst he, usually a ‘he’, and his she are watching the sky for birds, the hills for a Wow, the sudden dips that show deep lochs all blue and fabulous, and causing them to slide to an almost stop mid road, I am about to be late for my bench picnic meet. I hold back, understanding, until my understanding muscle is a taught rope, and I, politely, move closer. No change. We swing around another 25 bends passing endless passing places, and still he will not let me pass. Incoming friendly suggests to me that he might now pause so that he and his she can watch the flowers grow without me in my sassy Mini Cooper hooking onto his old butt. No, he pulls out quick. He stays his course. I hear my inner talk. He is telling me I should not be in a rush. I consider this ‘rush’ thingy. Ah, maybe he is right. Maybe I, too, can watch the flowers grow for another 8 miles. I think on the past year when the only people I ever met on this single track were carriers, workers, carers, the postpeople. All of a sudden, the toddlers are back and I know, I know, we need them and they are welcome and I love all people ya-di-ya.

Eventually he lets me by and his face is turned away from my ebullient sunshine thank you smile. Okay, whatever. I collect my friend and I tell her of my personal challenge for the day. She chuckles. Ah, you may have invited in something there my friend. Ha! I say and we swing into the big harbour car park because I need fuel and this is where the garage is located. As I drive in, just as I have done for over 43 years towards the pumps, a big ass vehicle comes right at me, nose to nose. I stop, thinking no judgement, and reverse back. As he (!) comes forward he winds down his window. I smile. I think you will find that this is a one way system, he says. For a moment I am confounded. A lot goes through my head. I have been here 43 years. I know this is the way to the pumps, or one of two ways. I see no one way system sign. Then I feel outrage build. But I cannot allow it because of my stupid self challenge. My friend beside me snorts into her hands and the giggle rises in me. I didn’t say Why, Thank you Kind Sir For Guiding Me Right. Sadly. I wasn’t quick enough with myself. I just looked at him in amazement. I thought, gosh how sad your life is that you need to be aggressive on your holiday. And I binned that because I wasn’t seeing him happy, laughing, safe and peaceful. What shall we we do now? asked my friend. This was an easy answer. We, I replied, are going to drive all the way around the one way system that does exist, the wrong way. And we did.

The picnic was fab. We sat on a bench in the sunshine having bought quiches from the bakery and we laughed like girls. We are both heading for 70 but somehow nothing changes when girls/women get together. We laughed about the One Way Man and sent him whatever he needs which is probably quite a lot, and walked, talked and helped the Navy moor up their ships on the pontoon. What I learned from this, from my self challenge, is that irritation is human, hard not to buy in to. But not to buy into it feels like a glorious freedom.

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 100 – Life, Death and Other Animals

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I did wonder, as Island Blog 100 moved closer, what I would choose to write about – where my fingers would take me, what tale I would give life to. It seemed such a big number and worth due attention.

Then the subject chose itself and not in a way I would have guessed, nor wanted.

But, my dear, I tell myself, in that gentle motherly tone, such is life.

Or death.

One moment Sula is running along beside me, or, more likely, way out front, or miles behind and busy being her completely independent self, and the next, broken in the road.  I wasn’t sure if I would go into that bit, and yet, I cannot, nor will I, hide from the truth of anything.  As a……now, what’s that word they use to describe me in reviews of Island Wife…….?  ah, yes, ‘cosseted’……. young woman, I saw little of the nasty side of life or death, for my parents protected me, protected all of us from things unsightly, the stuff of nightmares.  I would have done the same for my own children, given half a chance and with no access to the blood and guts of hill farming, but that is not how it was for them, and, because I was there too, with eyes open for the looking, I saw it as well.

With hindsight, I am glad they did see it, for the alternative is not the truth, not balanced, not real and it just makes the inevitable, inevitable.  One day, they will see, we all do, and the earlier the circle of life and death and life again is accepted, the better our hearts and minds can deal with it.

The response to pictures and words about Sula on Facebook pages, the messages by card, letter and phone, words of compassion and genuine sadness – all those mouths full of memories spilling into our ears, are helping a great deal.  We don’t know until something crashes into our lives and breaks it, what any of it meant to those we meet on our journey.

This is the Life after the Death.

The first Life bit we take for granted.  However thankful we may be on a daily basis for the gifts we are given, the lovers, friends, partners, children, pets, we don’t spend a lot of time second-guessing their life span.  We just live it out, honestly, realistically, focusing on the little add-ons such as what to put in a child’s pack lunch and whether or not the gym kit is clean for Tuesday.  We can be careless with our goodbye’s and our hallos.  We can be snappy and regret it, but not say so.  We are caught up with concerns over our own footwork on the hamster wheel, and we can miss times we should never miss.  But, we are human.  We are frail.  We get it wrong, we get it right, but mostly we fall somewhere in the middle and we do okay, although it often takes someone else to remind us of that, so filled we are with self-doubt.

I know I looked after her that day, as I always did when the sailor went to sea, you see, and left her in my care.  Yes, at times I moaned about being tied.  Yes, I was raging with her when she climbed out the car window, because it was too hot, or took off in a different direction, costing me time and emptying me of puff;  when she refused to come to my whistle, and sat down in the middle of the road, her favourite place to sit.  Yes I snapped at her when she followed me around the house, up the stairs, down again, into the kitchen, out again, and all because a bluebottle had flown overhead.   One slight buzz and she was off, pushing through any number of garden barricades and out onto the road, where, oddly, she felt quite safe once more and all the drivers passing by had to stop because she would not step aside for any size of vehicle.

Then the inevitable happened.  I knew she was dead immediately and held her, talking softly, even though she could hear nothing by then.  I lifted her through the gate and cleaned up the road and the sun shone and nobody came, no drivers, no walkers as if everyone knew this was our time to be alone.  There was not a mark on her body, not even a graze.  I closed her eyes, and covered her with a sheet, and then I sat for a while looking out across the sea-loch, where the gulls wheeled and cried above a jagged line of spume and kelp, the markers of a new tide bringing new life.