Island Blog – Intelligent Adaptation

I walk this day around the shore of the sea-loch as the tide ebbs and fast as if there’s a great ocean sucker fish drinking deep. I watch the water startled, yanked backwards by some fierce mother as it is whipped back through the narrows, rock-squashed into a skinny rip tide. It thinks me of my grand girls when Mother decides on plaits and will not allow any escape from said plaiting.

I chat with the trees, the track, the sunlight and even the damn flies having been away for a marvellous four days during which I boarded a ferry, drove over 200 miles and spent 3 nights with my daughter and her family for the first time in too many years; when I left my island home alone, knowing she was empty of life until I returned (first time); when I found my inner brave and launched out into open ocean, as me, as one, as singular, as a widow, as me. Although I knew that it would be more than ok, that I would encounter only k9ndness, the thought of going any further than island rocks scared me. But and but again, no buts, no butts. On the ferry, good lord the slowest and smallest Calmac ferry ever, I sat with poppy dog on my lap and longed to turn back home. Called back to my little Pixty car waiting for me in the bowels of the boat I am safe again. I drive out through the open metal maw and my journey begins. I know it well but haven’t driven it long longtime. My fears? traffic. people. that’s all. (all lower case).

The stay was wonderful. I remembered easily the activity in this home, the go here now, the go there now, thing. We did it all. We checked horses in fields, walked dogs, skirted rivers, watched butterflies, played word games, cooked food, laughed, engaged in private moments, slept and went again. When I left I reflected on it all, the whole colour wheel in captured glances at how it was, that singular catch, the legacy of it. I drove back at my own speed. I am not slow but I’m not fast neither, or is it either? And this this thinks me into intelligent adaptation. Maybe a big jump but stay with me. I have 3 hours for thinks.

In my sudden (for death is always sudden, no matter how expected) widowhood, I find an identity. Initially I was a puddle. For a long time. Now, not. I want to be known as me, unpuddled and rising into a lift of wild water, connectable with the rain that falls from the great Up There. I never knew me. I never was me. I was daughter and then wife. ‘Me’ was for decades irrelevant and unremarkable, as if she didn’t deserve noticing much beyond her physical presence. And, although I have made many adaptations over time I didn’t really know my way through it and, to be honest, I am glad I didn’t. It would have caused fire without available extinguishers. Instead I just kept moving on, learning, adapting and repeat. But now, now that when I go away I come back to just-the-way-I-left-it; when I can go out without saying anything at all; when I can plan new encounters, new commitments, new anything, I feel a quandary of contradictions. I know the old way but that way is dead now whereas I live on inside this loneliness, this freedom, this nothing, this everything, this, this, this.

How to work with the hoo-ha of such contradictions? Intelligent Adaptation. That’s how. Oh, I sound so smart but I am not smart at all, not on this lonely road, not on any road. But I have learned that it is eminently possible to move on from circumstances and situations only if a human wants to. In my journey, particularly through the older years, I find myself the moving on person. It saddens me because I know that there are wonderful people stuck inside the dead past, unable, unwilling to accept the new. Not me. Don’t let it be you. Isn’t this intelligent adaptation? What I went through is peanuts to many. I don’t need to say anything because, and this matters, I found someone professional to talk things out. Private. Secure. My regrets, my pain, my fear, all of it conversationed in the right place; thus I can walk towards the village, watching eagles fly pre buying broccoli et la la, tossing my Hallo into the day, knowing that my very private angst is in safe hands.

I called my bank today. I was welcomed with Hallo Mrs Fairbairns. It jarred me. I am not Mrs anymore and never will be. Many thinks around that one. I think about intelligent adaptation and I know that I can adapt and then rise into the me of me. However, the online thing requires a title. Mrs, Miss, Ms. No. Captain, Brigadier, Princess…… No. Each one of those titles sound like ownership. I was Mrs. I am no longer. Titles bother me, labels confound. It’s probably my issue but I doubt this affects only me. Being boxed, labelled, leaves many of us on lonely streets, wandering, wondering who we are now and where we might choose to belong or to whom. And the wandering is of import because it is not possible to adapt to a whole new life in the wake of the old and familiar one. I might feel lost at times, probably will, over and over, but I am finding my way. My Way. I won’t inwardly growl at being labelled as Mrs because I know the title to be one of respect. I also know that our language is archaic in such an area as this. I want my first name and then my second. But, wait. My second name is now my married name, which is not my name but a gift from the rule book of Traditional Marriagitis. So I continue wandering, the conundrums flitting about me like swallows. Whether or not a definite answer comes, it doesn’t really matter because I am building the new me from the inside out, using intelligent adaptation as my thought and reasoning process.

If all this sounds confusing, it is. Even to me.

Island Blog – Along the Way

On my road to recovery I learn many surprising things, see much through a different lens, complete old puzzles that I had thought missed an essential piece for decades, the very one that would show me the whole picture. It bothered me, this missing piece thingy and I would find myself going back over and over again, my fingers digging through the dirt for that chunk of gold as if I believed everything would be just as I remembered it way back when my ass was pert and my feet fleet. It smiles me now, for nobody can piece together their past from where they stand now. Not nobody. And also I recall recalling memories with himself and seeing that ‘what are you talking about woman’, a statement not a question on his face. He wasn’t there apparently.

When I say recovery, I don’t mean me coming back to me because I will never be that me again and because I have nobody to remind me of that me, I am free to build, foundation up. First off I need to find that foundation and I now believe that this is the hardest part. When there is a ‘we’ in the mix, there is discussion, argument, tantrums, acceptance and solution, not least because the digger is revving impatiently just a hillock away and costing money. So ‘we’ decide and there it is. It begins.

It is the same within a shared life, sometimes tantrums, sometimes arguments, hopefully acceptance and solution, but nonetheless, each ‘I’ affects the shaping of the duo dynamic. When he is in this mood, I keep clear. When she is slamming doors and honking horns, I look out at the birds and say not one word. And so on. We change each other without even knowing we do. We can tear down and we can build up and most of us do a bit of both, but as we grow above the foundation we alter each other, smoothing down edges, rounding them into a learned shape that works, even if only as far as the next volcanic eruption.

Alone is not lonely. Alone is powerful and free and scary at times. Nowadays there is no other close enough to perform any shaping manoeuvres on the one of two. Just the ‘I’ is left, an ‘I’ with complete autonomy, absolute freedom of movement and thought; a singular soul who can, and has, felt both utterly bereft and warmly supported. Happily, if this person is curious about life even if he or she finds the whole thing terrifying, he or she will find others along the road, surprising others. In my afterlife I have met with kindness I never expected, such as offers of help and then those who actually see what I need just by walking by and who turn up to do the job. I could think that this is just the way islanders think, the community strong and bonded through winter gales and no ferries running but I don’t believe that. I believe, as I always have, that although this world is broken, she is beautiful because of her people. Of course there are those who choose greed, corruption and worse and who’s actions cause terrible consequences but they are in the minority. They do not define the human race. I see community and kindness everywhere because it is everywhere. And I for one am a very grateful beneficiary of that kindness.

We all have some kind of shit flung at us, but along the way we will find those who give of themselves just so we can rise and shine once again, and in a shape we are still working on but one we rather like the look of.

Island Blog – Eighth Wonder

I am 68. My eldest boy is 48. His daughter is 8. I like 8 and it thinked me this day as I counted everything to get to 8. My footsteps to the washing line, the stairs on the stairs, the times I changed frocks although that is the fault of a haar that barrelled in just as we all thought the sun was in charge. It has come and gone this day, 8 times. We are currently enjoying a non-haar moment or eight. I hung 8 things on the washline. One duvet cover, one fitted sheet, two pillow cases, 3 pinnies and a dishcloth. I did so not plan that 8. Promise. I am not anal.

When something comes into a mind, something that has resonance with whatever past or present complexicus or delusion, it can fix like a road block. You just can’t go forward, backwards or sideways without encountering this fix thingy. Usually, it lasts a day, dissolving into the dark of the night and foofing into the forgotten but occasionally it lasts. I have had a few of them in my time. However, I am confident that this 8 thing came from yesterday and will be gone the morra, as we say up here. As that rather lovely digit, art, to be honest, an endless line in a double scoop and with a great deal to say about itself, my mind wandered towards the 7 wonders of the world.

I know them , of course I do. The first is my Granny’s house in Edinburgh. The 2nd is the Eiffel Tower. Third is the day I knew I was expecting my firstborn. Fourth are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and fifth is the view from my little island home. The 6th is/are, without doubt, my five children and 10 grandchildren, 7th is The lighthouse at Alexandria and the 8th is clear to me. It should be up there for all to see for it is indeed a world wonder.

I believe that had the world been emotionally intelligent at the time an importance of revered men got together to decide for the rest of us, this 7 wonders thing, or had there been allowed a woman in the selection committee (eye-roll) then this 8th wonder would have have listed high, before the Hanging Gardens, even before the Giza Pyramid, because although those wonders bring in sightseers, money, wows and gasps and tons of photos, the 8th wonder can change the world for the better, unlike any of them. The 7 can be blown out of the ground, destroyed, looted and reduced to rubble. The 8th cannot, not if it is handed down the generations.

Ok, I’m about to tell you. It came from a yesterday moment, one that stopped me in my tracks like a roadblock. I wanted to stop. I wanted to take it in, the think I thinked, to fully absorb how incredibly powerful this 8th wonder really is. It may sound simple. It may seem impossible. It may be an eye-roller, but I think the 8th wonder of the world is a man who can happily listen to a woman, hear what she has to say and then empathise without fixing.

I know 2 outside of my family.

We have a long way to go girls.

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.