Island Blog – Keep Going

The Sadness has come to visit. I’ve felt it all week long. At first, I berate myself, tell myself that my inner talk needs a thwack on the butt and a strong invitation to leave. But that doesn’t work. I busy myself with small chores, checking them off my check list, as if I was an early wife with no clue what to do next. But the small chores do not fill the aching black hole, nor do they last very long. I am efficient in my tasking skills and they are all completed by 10am. Good lord, now what? I watch my hands as they thread wool onto a needle, my fingers gnarled as old oak limbs but still they know their way. I rise from my sewing chair and walk through to the kitchen. I could cook something but don’t want to; I could change the sheets but I just did that; I could sweep the floor of pepper brown larch needles that come in without invitation and all the Autumn time. I could. I could. But with the Sadness heavy on my shoulders, as if I was carrying boulders in a rucksack, I am bent down, weary of the weight.

So, what to do? I ask this out loud and rather aggressively into a nothing space, empty and somehow consuming. The Sadness says not one word. Okay, I rise, swing around and face the nothing that is definitely Something. What do you say I should do? Standing there, uncomfortable and weighed down, I feel foolish and it’s not because I am talking to nothing. I smell the metal air and notice the lack of geranium fragrance within the sunroom. I swing round to them. Where did you go? I ask the salmon pink blooms, still salmon pink blooming even now. They just look at me and continue blooming. I do not know what to do with this Sadness, I confess. Just keep going, comes to mind and those are wise words indeed. Be thankful for everything. What? I interrupt rudely. Everything? Even the Sadness?

Well, yes, even the Sadness, because if you keep batting it away when it comes, it will just come back again. In fact it will come back again whatever fixing you fix, whatever you do because you are grieving and there is no end to that state of being. Just think, the voice goes on, is there ever a way to rub out a life, to pretend, now that life is gone, you can just forget all shared history? Oh, well, no, maybe not. I sit with a cup of tea and try not to think because thinking is just white noise in my head, no, not white noise, not ambient, but sharp needles of thought, of memories, switched and twitched and foundering on the rocks of my Now, my silent now, my empty now. Metallica sort of thoughts. I shake my head to clear it but that doesn’t clear my heart and as my head comes back to base, the thoughts scurry back in like ants when level re-levels. All week my wee dog has noticed. She follows me everywhere, looking up, those chestnut eyes wide and questioning. Her normal distant behaviour has changed. She comes to bed when I do and watches me from the floor until I flip the light. I can’t explain her intelligence but I am glad of it, nonetheless.

I walk out, me and the watching dog, in between rain showers, a short one today, too tired with all those boulders on my back. Then I shower and change my frocks. Now, this is a weird one. Showering, for me, symbolises change, as does the frock thing. It betters me, sloughing off old skin, old thoughts, old grief, old frocks. I come home to a warm fire and a darkling sky. I watch the garden fade into night and find a new sense of peace. I am accepting the Sadness. Sit down with me, I say. Welcome. I lay down the boulders and they turn to dust. I decide to let it be, whatever it and be means. I don’t need to understand, nor explain. This evening I think. There are those who just watched their loved one die. I look back up the track I have already walked, knowing they are out there right now, at the beginning. And, although I am thankful I am further into the wilderness, I can turn around to see them coming and I can smile and lift some light, saying Keep Going my friend. Keep Going.

Island Blog – Wind Rock and Stories

A huge bag of wood arrived today, just as it began to rain – again. I love the sight of all those split logs, fine and red and full of stories. I had heard the chainsaws for a few days way out across the sea-loch inside the forestry depths just knowing that my huge bag would be craned over the fence in a couple of days. I drew my trusty and rusty barrow out from the garage and began the transfer from bag to wood store, feeling each log and enjoying the way I simply know how to stack, which log to place where with barely a second’s thought. The pile rose as I considered the stories held within that precious wood. The importance of trees, that’s what I was thinking as my hands held each log, each log of stories. These pines will have only lived for 50 years, t’is true, prior to felling for the warmthly needs of the likes of me, but it reminded me of the huge beech tree I saw at the weekend. It had fallen across the track, all the many tons of it, and politely, as big trees always seem to fall, thus making sure nobody is squashed. The victim of wind rock.

The lines on this big soldier spanned hundreds of years and the bleeding sap made me sad. In death there is a bleeding, even if you are a tree. I touched the newly hewn bare face of the trunk and could feel the stories run up my arm. Even if I am too stupid to actually hear the details of these silent stories, I know they are there held within the warm mother trunk and protected by her coat of bark. What had this tree seen in its time? The estate was formed in early 1800 so, chances are she observed many things. Grand people coming and going, carriages, horses, escapes and arrivals; farm workers on carts with ribald in their mouths and a flask of something stiffening. Children off to school, beautiful sons and daughters off to grand parties, old women out to tea and a gossip and sturdy clan chiefs kitted up for a skirmish. All of that, for this tree stood at the gate to the big house and would have been the envy of the other trees, relegated to a yearning life in the bleachers.

Aside the track, bracken stands tall, copper filigree on burnished stalks. It looks beautiful in death, unlike in life when it suffocates the ground and harbours myriad blood-sucking pests. Few birds today in the bare trees, beyond a few long-tailed tits whipping off doomed buds and a pair of jays, screeching horribly at each other from one side of the wood to the other. Jays always surprise me; a dreadful scratchy call, like fingers on a blackboard and then they fly out, a rainbow of fabulous colour. A line comes to mind. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It takes me back to my youth; beautiful men and women, all sparkles and smiles and convincing words, and without a story. I met a few of those. At the time I was so embroiled in the minutiae of young life, I didn’t pull back to see the bigger picture. I do now. As I watch a female sparrow hawk take a blackbird right outside my window, I see her beauty, her colours and the ebony black of her eyes. I hear the cries from her prey. I am not cold to this. It physically hurts me, but I know the story. She is as hungry as the blackbird. Her life is all about precision and focus, unrelenting focus, day after day for life. Now that is a story.

Back to the tree. I think about it. Some will look at this mighty giant, now sawn rudely in half and bleeding, as firewood in a couple of years. Others will feel great sadness at the loss of yet another tree. And I? I will keep walking by to hear the stories it holds, even as it dies; even if I cannot tell them out, I can hold them within and, somehow I know that this matters.

Island Blog – The Great Sadness

I have no other name for it. Nor can I explain it, although I have tried, many times over the decades of my long life. In the search for meaning, for an explanation, we are forgiven our walks up blind alleys. It is only human to want an answer. As a child I felt it. It would suddenly invade my mind when I was most definitely looking the other way. Suddenly, even in a gathering of family or peers, in what seemed to be a happy moment, it would hit me full whack. At a young age I had no way of understanding it. I just thought that it was because Angela had pink flashing socks and mine were ordinary white, albeit with a Daz sparkle. Or that Mary had a hamster.

Later, as a supposedly intelligent and educated young women it still hit me. At a party, for which I had taken about five hours to dress, and surrounded by friends and music and a short term freedom, or walking down the town on a Saturday morning with money to spend on something ridiculous like shiny hot pants or chain-rattling tough girl boots, the Great Sadness would punch me in the gut and stumble me. it would leave me completely alone in a huge crowd, like a girl on a raft mid Pacific. Sometimes someone would spot the change and ask a kindly question, but I soon lost them as I explained what a weirdo I was. I think they were scared they might catch something dodgy. I find the same now, in the evening of my life. The only people who don’t run for the next bus are intuits, counsellors or very close friends. Friend, actually. She gets me, even if she does also consider me a weirdo.

As a child I was considered strange, difficult, obtuse etc. I could be brilliant, and I was, supreming at music, writing and insight, but the latter threw even the most open-hearted guides. I was too young, too confounded by the Sadness and, thus, too much of a threat to my peers who seemed not to ever think beyond hamsters or pink flashing socks. I felt alienated and had no idea why. This huge thing I still cannot explain shows me much. I have now learned to welcome it and to walk beside it, even if it really hurts. I used to hang it on pegs. Must be this thing, this person, this event, this fear. Not now. As I grow a stronger connection to nature and to the wildness around me, I accept the Great Sadness as an integral part of the whole point of things, of life and not just this one but the millions of lives already lived to the end. I consider myself privileged to have been visited by it from childhood, even if it did cause a tapselteerie; even if it did label me a weirdo; even if my friends’ mothers shook their heads and scuttled their daughters away; even if my own mum looked at me as she might look at ET.

There are times when I cannot lift my mental boots out of the mud. It is not that I am depressed. There are days when I imagine flying off a cliff. I do not plan to. I am just the honoured host for the Great Sadness, one that shows me all the pain in the world. I hear the cries, feel, intensely, the agony of struggle and cruelty, feel the joy and the happiness too. It’s like being in balance. I can hold the pain and the joy inside me at the same time without having to explain or justify a thing. Nor does it fear me. It gives me a real good look into the truth. And that is something most of us avoid. We would rather push it away when it hurts, buy something, plan a holiday, phone a friend, turn on the TV. But to sit with it when it comes in is not for the faint hearted. It is uncomfortable at best, and this visitor stays just as long as they like.

I am still a student. for over 60 years I have run from the Great Sadness, but it won’t go away, no matter what I do. I think when a person is very creative, the Great Sadness comes too. I see it in art and writing and music that gasps me. Oh, I think, there it is. It won’t be explained, nor justified, nor hung on a peg. It makes its choice. The key is to let it in, like a visitor you don’t much want, who has arrived at the most inconvenient time, and who has no plans to leave for a while. It will not be rebuked, nor thrown out. I am only sad I didn’t read the Great Sadness manual aged six.

Might have been just a bit further on by now.