Island Blog – Avoiding Collisions

The big window is speckled with raindrops, held in stasis and they glisten. I look through the children’s doodles, the glistening raindrops, my eyes moving into the garden and the brave early flowers. Grassland flows down towards the sea-loch and up the other side, up and up until I find the clouds, a tangle of them, I think at first, and many shades of grey. Watching most closely I can see the layers. Up front, the cobwebby dark fast moving clouds, see-through and spitting rain. Behind them the fat blowsy white ones, lazy, taking their time too respond to a rising wind. They are weighty with knowing and in no rush, not see-through at all, like old professors who know they have a job for life. Further back, the clouds that don’t seem to move at all, flat like naan breads, backlit by a little flash of sun, and beyond them just whispy white sky, acres of it. Acres. How many layers are there? How far back, up, across do they stretch? For ever? I see these levels as closely bunched, micro managing their individual trajectories, but I am wrong. There is only accord. Room for all of us, they seem to say, effortlessly avoiding collisions.

The birds are more than ready for me this morning, one of cloud and cold rain. Many goldfinch, greenfinch, redpoll, siskin, sparrow, blackbird, robin, hawfinch, thrush, starling and rock dove. They line the fence, balance on shrubs, flit and flutter like music notes blown off the stave. Time to reel them in before the wind speed confounds and the rain turns weighty. I fill each feeder as the braver musical notes play around my feet, my head. Two goldfinch watch me from the inside of an ornamental maple, red now, red as good claret. The second I leave, they are down like a swarm of bees. As walkers pass by they rise back into the air, flitting between the feeders, between the shrubs, between each other, to land down again the moment the coast is clear, and all the time they chatter. Some feed young on the fence, some feed themselves, and in all this flitting and lifting, fighting and feeding, rising and landing, there is perfect precision. We know what we are doing, they seem to say, naturally avoiding collisions.

This land is walked on, now, by many more feet. The ferries are booked, the accommodation scrubbed and ready. In the air around us, anticipation, anxiety, excitement and fear layer up, cloudlike . We are grounded and can only go on, steady, determined not to hide away any longer. Peeping through fearful curtains, opening doors that squeak from lack of use, scrubbing doorsteps, we emerge tentatively into a world that barely recognises itself. Who am I now? Who are you, now? Do we still know our way around each other, feel the same way about this, about that, about all the important things that ran strong within us but whose names I have forgotten? My sense of import has changed, my value rating. Has yours, and, if so, will we know each other, have anything to say in this changed world? We know we must brave up and out for we are not moles or worms to need the dark because we have no seeing eyes. We need the light, crave the light, the sky the birds the clouds the sun the tidal moon shift and the story-carrying winds that blow from one side of this planet to the other and back again. We need each other, even if the otherness has become a hesitation when we meet once again. Like all other members of our natural world, we can adapt. We are not going back to normal, an eye-rolling ghastly grammar-makes-no-sense contradiction of a sentence if ever I heard one, because that ‘normal’ is light years behind us now. There is only forward and we are all unsure of our footing. Let those of us who refuse to bring the past along with us hold fast to not having the faintest clue about what happens next, what the ground is like, what clouds will come, what shape the future. Burn the old book that speaks of separation, segregation, prejudice and domination. That book needs to go. It has been outdated for many many years. We might write a new book together. Meantime let us step out, step in, step through and around, consciously avoiding collisions.

Island Blog – Mindful and Busy

Today I was very busy being mindful. The Buddhist in you might be rolling your eyes at that. Busy and mindful don’t tend to go together, after all. Perhaps, if I break the day up into bits and bobs I can divide that sentence up. I was busy. I collect my hoover boyfriend, Henry, for the second day in a row. I can see he’s startled but chuffed too. How come, he asks, as I wheel him into the light of the sitting room? You smell better, I reply. The last time we met, before the day before thing, I had excoriated him. I removed his internal organs and emptied the contents of his stomach into the wheechie bin. ‘Wheechie’ because capricious winds come in the night and tapselteerie my bins all over the place without, it appears to me, a modicum of guilt, no apology and no resurrection. Very poor manners. Anyway, once completed and with a new stomach liner in place, I dropped many drops of spike lavender essential oil into the filter. This is how Henry smells so much better now. We work together, him with his powerful suck and me being busy around corners and underneath things that have an underneath until the downstairs shines like new.

Next I sit to sew more patches for my 16th wonky chops baby playmat. A boy this time. I select my blues and greens, my sea colours, flowers (boys need flowers), dinosaurs and Peter Rabbits, and set to. Listening to Pema Chodron on audio book as she guides me through my own betterment, I work for the rest of the morning. Then I whizz up the left over wild garlic leaves and make a gloriously green garlic butter, one that could knock a bull elephant back at least half a mile. Sausaged up in baking parchment it now sits fragrantly in my fridge, cooling its pants. I don’t mind my fridge smelling of garlic. In fact, I could eat garlic at breakfast and now, thanks to all these lockdowns and those masks, I can, without a single botherment over how my breath might be received. I lug my basket of washing up to the hilly line and fight with the big cotton bedding as it fights me back. I am almost felled by a blue striped double duvet cover as the capricious wheeching wind punches at us just I tippytoe the material over the yellow plastic wire. I win, naturally, although it is hardly a dignified process. I have a word with the wind, of course I do. Make your mind up! I snap. Are you coming from here, or there? One or the other would be respectful. The wind just chuckles, scoots off into the safety of the pines. That’s the busy bit over.

I grab garlic for lunch and a cup of earl grey, fragrant as I imagine a Japanese garden to be, even if the tea doesn’t come from Japan. (or does it?). Then I take myself upstairs to my bed, redressed now in a rather smart off white and settle to read for an hour. I doze and am awoken by the doglet who wants her walk. This is the mindful bit. As I go through my little garden gate, I consciously let go of all my busy thoughts. That lovely sense of space and clarity lasts for about ten paces, as a rule, so I have to keep pausing and clearing (busy?). I suspect I am a babe in the work of mindfulness but I have no plans to quit trying. Birds slide the sky, sparrow hawk, buzzard, sea eagle with their usual followers, hecklers, the go-away-ers, brave birds these finches, tits and other small feathered warriors. They don’t like the big guys. I stop and watch the sky action. Much better than any movie. Walking on I see the horse chestnut has leaved up since yesterday, its open palms lifted, drinking in the sun and buffeted by that flipping wind. Long grasses from last year tipple and shiver, the sun backlighting them corn gold. Lord Larch is in full shout now despite his broken body. He is tall as a giant and the emerald of his needles shock a gasp against the cerulean sky. Lady Larch, who is way more together than he is but being in an old style marriage has never ever bloomed before him, even as she could. Her limbs grace as a dancer, and I want her to turn, to show me the full and glorious swing of her fulsome skirtage. She is magnificent, but am careful to big him up first, the crusty old fellow, because, as I know only too well, if he thinks she is more admired than he, she will get it in the neck once me and the doglet have moved on.

Primroses stud the woodland banks like tiny jewels, violets too and the star moss is really showing off like a daylight constellation. I hear geese erupting somewhere down on the shore, then quietening again. Curlew, oystercatcher, a robin that flits along with me but says not a word. Bumble bees turn a willow tree into a performance. Street musicians. They don’t bother with me as I stand beneath the branches and stare up at their busy bottoms. I close my eyes, let the hum become all I can hear or want to hear. Moving further along the track, now latticed with tree limb shadows, a moving mosaic beneath my feet, I hear the wind rifling through the massive old pines, sounding them like an ocean. In my ears too, this wind creates me an ocean and there I am, on a rocky beach with my spirit animal, my white wolf, my Luna. We sit on a big flat rock and just be. Just be. The waves, like mornings, like seasons, like day and night, keep on coming. A regular percussion, reassuring, calming. To know in all of this impermanence, the impermanence of a human life, there are things that are permanent. For now, anyway.

Heading back home, the track changes. This is a drive-through track and thus topped with grey shards of road stones, unreal, not island. But I am glad of the ground beneath my feet even as I prefer the natural pulse of a ground that knows itself, that knows it is home. I walk beneath two unlikely archways, trees on either side whose branches have reached out to each other. An alder with a larch, a pine with a cedar. I pause beneath both and look up, say hallo and thank you for your beauty and your shade, a gift to me and the panting doglet. The blue is arresting, the sky fixed and looking right back at me. I know it. A plane going somewhere leaves a contrail and I watch the capricious wind pick it apart, dissolve it. The sun is warm on my face and I breathe in its warmth, mindfully. It has been a very long winter.

Island Blog – Heart lift

Soft, loving compost is heaped on my garden. I made it myself and it is thunderous with worms, not that any of them will survive this new exposure to light. They are worms of the dark, of the fetid warmth and gentle darkness of a dialek bin, creatures of a season and doomed to face change, one they won’t like much. Robin, blackbird and thrush gather as if they know there is a feast for an early arriver. Within minutes these compostian beings will have dug themselves deep, dug for death.

Heretofore I had always shovelled, laborious shovelfuls into a big bucket, then lugged said laborious shovelfuls down the back steps and into the front garden. Then came muscle man. He just wheeched the whole dialek off the ground and shook him a bit to release the dark, wormy soft heap of live-giving goodness from his interior. I was impressed. Now he can do the lugging and he did, hence my thoroughly over excited flower beds. They are giggling. I can hear them even through the regular hail shower attacks. I see an eggshell, a bit of cauliflower stalk, garden cuttings and they smile me. Go to work my lovelies, I tell them and together, we wait, even though they know more than I about what is happening beneath their butts. It is such a quiet thing, this growing, this birthing of new life and the mystery of survival no matter what frollocks happens above ground.

Primroses are showing sunshine faces along the drystone walls. No larch buds yet but I can hear them whispering as I pass. We are coming, they say. Keep watching. And I will. I do. As I walk, I remember. This time last year I shut down, locked out the world, kept vigil for any invaders. How strange to still be thinking the same way and, yet, not quite in the same way. It isn’t that I mind locking down in principle. It isn’t that I am afraid. It isn’t that I no longer have anyone to protect other than myself. It is simply strange, as if I, like the compostian worms, have become accustomed to a darkness, one that has proffered an unexpected sense of security, and now I am not sure who I will be. All through this past year my lack of desire to go out, to meet anyone, to entertain visitors confirmed me as a student hermit. None of the lockdown, bar the initial fear of an invisible and extremely powerful enemy, phased me.

But I have had enough now. Rising, unlike the worms but very like the new shoots, the daffydowndillies, the tulips, the snowdrops and with new leaves twinkling at me under the weight of thawing hailstones, I want to keep rising and that means forward into life. My fed is suddenly up. I want freedom of choice once again. My choice to go here or there, to this person or that should be my own now. How clearly I see the way a revolutionary spirit rises within us. Living under any regime is everything inhuman and that’s what this feels like now. Enough Covid! with all your tentacles and your new names and strains, your machination against the human race, the one I belong to, by the way, the one I seriously care about! I want to yell. Actually I did yesterday and it felt good.

However, there is little we can do than behave ourselves a bit longer and keep watching for Spring. She will go a long way in saving us, for now. However it doesn’t stop the fury at continuous imprisonment. I think of the ones who have died and those who couldn’t be there at the end of a loved life. I think of the painful separations, the people who will suffer deeply from this enforced isolation, those living lives of deprivation and of constant pain. Who will lift them into Spring, I wonder? Here am I frapping about renewing my passport and then there are they, stuck, trapped, broken, sick, dead. It is humbling.

Best I can do is write. Best I can do is keep living. Best I can do is to watch for Spring. Sometimes others walk with me. Not weirdo dead people, although occasionally they do, but those I think about, the ones I don’t know and will never meet, the ones who have found this past year a deal more than merely inconvenient. Hey, I say, come with me. I can take you to the fairy woods, show you the elvish trees, now a bit stripped of moss for the deer are starving here. I can walk you through where wild garlic will flower, take you to eider nests, show you oystercatcher eggs among salty basalt, lift your eyes to a skylark, watch your face soaked in salt spray and old stories, and watch you catch them, the stories ,and even if you don’t understand the language, your eyes will tell me you have those stories in your heart. A heart lift. A change for the ever-ness of life.

Island Blog 87 Dancing on the Edge

dancer

Today I am dancing.

Yesterday my almost new microwave stopped waving back and I was momentarily arrested in my dance moves.  Things should work, I said to myself, however cheap they might be, and this little machine was cheap.  But, if something is created, and packaged and marketed, it should make no difference at all how much or how little it costs me.  You get what you pay for was a comment from someone and I thought about that a bit, and then found my retort.

Piffle.

If I, in good faith, agree to a contract, which is what I do when I purchase a thing from another person or company or whatever…. inside that contract, written or not written is a promise.  If I find a bargain, for want of a better word and buy it, am I risking disaster because it IS a bargain?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, I contacted the seller who was extremely apologetic and who has already organised a replacement.  So, they didn’t expect it to fail, this little, cheap microwave, now did they?  And nor did I.

Moving on from things, to people………

In every area of my life, I make contracts with other people.  It may be that I agreed to sell raffle tickets for the local agricultural show, or that I said I would pop in this week.  I might have a pheasant called Robin who expects me to throw him grain of a morning, or a cousin who needs to hear my voice as she faces illness and fear.  I can’t be everywhere at once, but I can be somewhere and I can organise myself quite easily to complete my contracts if I take my eyes off myself and point them out into the world.

I have said, in the past, I don’t have time.  Now I wouldn’t allow those words out of my mouth, because it is nonsense.  We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  What I am really saying there is that I am too self-absorbed to take stock and reorganise myself.

When I was young, I danced every Saturday at a local dance school.  Ballet, Modern, Character, Ballroom.  I gained certificates, although heaven knows where they are now.  It doesn’t matter.  I know they once existed and that, apart from the bits I didn’t like, I loved to dance.  As I moved through my life, my footwork got a bit rusty, but what I realised is that I can still dance in other ways.  I can dance through a Saturday changeover, or when baking a cake, or when talking to a seller about a faulty microwave.  Instead of dragging myself along, I can rise on my mental toes and hear the drumbeat of my heart as I move through the ordinary.  Once I begin, my own voice lightens up, my laugh begins to rise and sparkle, and my eyes see only good things.  And, as we all know, Good is always brighter and stronger than Bad.

Once I have practised this a bit, feeling, possibly, a tad foolish at first, I will find it more and more natural, until one day I find myself dancing on the edge of ordinariness with a wild music playing in my heart.  Still feeding Robin the pheasant, still baking cakes, still making a call, or selling raffle tickets, but there is a difference and it is nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with the dance in me.

Years ago I had a dream that I would walk by a Waterstone’s window and see my book presented there.  I hadn’t written a single word, nor chosen a story.  Today that dream is in my hands.  Today is the launch of the paperback of Island Wife, my story which will now be sold in big shops and small shops, ferries and visitor centres, both here and abroad, and you know the best thing about all of it?

That through reading my story, someone else may catch a glimpse of themself, and be inspired to put on their own dancing shoes.