Island Blog – Thought, Feeling, Action

This day I have spent in my bed watching an otter take on a sea-loch. I saw the briny surface break and explode as the creature chased down salmon. I saw the flash of silver as the fish leapt to escape, caught by gravity and doomed to curve back down into the ready jaws. I sipped beef tea and listened to Hilary Mantel’s book, the Mirror and the Light read by Ben Miles. It is captivating.

My reason for being so indolent is one of the aftermath. Although I know that my home telephone number has now been changed and that the police have located the abusive caller, one who, thankfully I do not know and who lives hundreds of miles away, I am left upset and sleepless. I am a child now, afraid of the dark as I remember being when my shoes were mouse sized and sensibly buckled up. I lock my doors at all times and have to check the surrounding area before going out for wood. The fire burns all day long, a friend to warm and a living light to watch. I hide from phone calls and conversations. I am momentarily caught in the gravity of the situation.

However, I am not a salmon and I no longer have an otter-like predator stalking me. I am not bound for doom and probably never was for if this perpetrator had known how old I am, I doubt he would have persisted as he did. I also know that these fears and frets will ease over time. They are all, of course, in my imagination. Where he left off, hung up having delivered his explicit threat or promise, my mind took up the line and held on to it. Even waking in the night, something I can easily do at any time, I no longer feel confident about going downstairs to make tea and to sit awhile in my cosy kitchen awaiting further sleep to soften me, to lead me back upstairs and to hold me till morning.

As I lay in my bed today, I realised how much I miss, and have always loved, the sound of someone downstairs, someone pottering about doing this or that. The sound of the kettle coming to the boil; a door opening and closing, the radio chattering quietly in the distance. Any incoming phone call or knock at the door would be answered by someone else, and I could safely lie watching otters take on a sea-loch without a care in the world. As a child I could only go to sleep if I could hear my parents beneath my floor, the television on, their muted voices. Were I to awaken into silence, the fear would grab me at my throat, refusing to let me go. I had to speak firmly to my jangled nerves, unravel them enough to walk along the darkened landing and into my parents room in search of a hug or a story.

As dusk begins to fall and the otter, sated and spent, is back in its holt, another night lies ahead of me. But I am safe. I know that now. My thoughts, bellowed into flame by my own unrealistic imaginings, will not imprison me. I have been offered only kindness and action from the police, from Victim Support, from friends and family, and I am mindful of the fact that to allow any theatre to develop inside my head, inside my body, is the short walk to madness. My old ma would immediately respond. You are already mad Duckie. And maybe she is right, but fear will take no root in me. No flag will stay in the ground for I will see it and remove it. However, for now, the aftermath will be my companion, for a while, until this thing passes as all things always do, and if I decide to watch an otter take on a sea-loch, drink beef tea and listen to Hilary Mantel then I will do just that.

Island Blog – Sunrise, Nature and the beginning of Humanity

It’s 5am. My favourite time of the day. I used to say it was because there’s nobody about, but now there’s always nobody about, so it’s not the truth anymore. I consider how many other absolutes will lose purchase on my mind and will just drift away, like the will o’ wisps over there, floating on the ebb tide, backlit by sunfire. They remind me of water sprites, beneficent creatures, transitional, made of water and to water they will always return. Black-throated divers fly by right on time, turning pink as they head into the sun and the sea beneath their wings glows like rose quartz. Anyone rising from slumber later than this will miss it all. But not I said the island wife. I have always been a dawn raider, greedy for everything my eyes can gobble up, catching every spark and twist, every snatch of colour, every bird flit or cloud shift, each start of new beginnings, life whispering into life.

Walking along the Tapseteerie track, dry-cracked and steady underfoot, I feel the weight of the canopy. This horse-chestnut has never been so abundant with huge green leaves, richly bottle green, a strong spread of gratitude, for whilst we desist in our race to disaster, we gift back life to nature. A robin flits with me, from branch to branch, tree to tree, telling me something that sounds wonderfully joyous but which is beyond my understanding. Bees and other buzzing creatures fill the branches, all of them. I have never heard such a buzz and it smiles me. New mosses adorn the floor of the woods, some emerald green and star-tipped, some gathered in perfectly smooth igloo shapes, the colour of lemon sorbet. I can see the tracks left by deer in their darkling wander, the grasses flattened by hoof-scuff. They will always walk this way, along this ley line, the ancient wander path, following the ones who learned it before them and then taught it on.

Flowers watch me pass, their faces tipped to sunlight. Wood sorrel, violets, primroses, anemone, bluebells, campanula, and stitchwort. Tiny alpines cling to cracks in the drystone wall, feathery ferns, arched like question marks, will open this day to spread their soft fingers wide. Orange tip, tortoiseshell and brown spot butterflies dance around my head as I move through the warmth of the morning. Everywhere I look, there is abundance. Wasn’t it always so and I just didn’t see it, or is it true that our land is healing herself? I believe the latter.

As I turn for home, a flash of silver in the tidal flow shows me a big fish, a salmon, perhaps, or a sea trout on its arduous journey to find a place to spawn, and then to die. Gulls shriek overhead, little gulls, black backs, herring gulls and other gulls I cannot name, for they saw it too. No doubt the otter did as well. I know she is down there somewhere with her kits and soon I will see her on a still morning from my bedroom window as she teaches them to hunt or to play touch-tig.

Writing about the beauty through which I can walk every day is not something I take for granted. This lockdown has gone on long enough now, that’s what I think, although wild horses wouldn’t drag me back among people, knowing as I do, how easily the virus can spread, silent and deadly, invisible to the naked eye. So I consider this. If I, who have barely had to change my life at all, am feeling this way, then what about those whose entire lives have been full-stopped? Starved of social oxygen, meetings, encounters, business flow, cash income, school friends, loved ones and options for free travel, what life are they, you, living now? Many, I am sure will thrill to the peace of it all, perhaps all of us do, some of the time, but when I am told I absolutely cannot do something, it is the thing I want to do most of all.

When I write about my encounters in nature, it isn’t to gloat, but to show to others, who last saw nature in 2019 on a country break, that life is still living on, whether we can see it or not. In fact, the regeneration of this earth is a wonderful thing to hear about, and perhaps it makes the sacrifice worth the pain. I had no idea the ozone layer could heal. I thought it was already dying and so were we all. But it isn’t true, for it is healing, repairing itself and offering us another go at a good life. And so, I write on, a witness to the changes, sending anyone and everyone who is finding this all just too much, who is frightened, lonely, depressed or sick, my deepest respect and encouragement to stick with isolation until we can meet again, and once more walk free.

This could have been the end of humanity. Let us hold fast and make it the beginning.