Island Blog – Alpha Beta and The Geese

I walk today, peaceful like. The wee track is even wee-er now after the rains have turned the bracken tips face down and dripping. Branches bow low creating a sort of trunnel for me to dip and duck through, the leftover drips cool down my neck. Sunshine catches diamonds like pearl painted finger nails glinting rainbows at me. I don’t mind getting wet. Although heavy (and, apparently dangerous) rainfall was prophesied, like many prophesies, it never came to bear and I risk setting off sans jacket, just free, a light cardy and walking trainer thingies that look like flippers but work just fine. After all, nobody is looking.

I just know that after this ‘dangerous’ rainfall and the subsequent hot hot of Father Sun, anything green is going to go crazy bonkers. The bracken, already over my head and, I am sure, burgeoning with bloodthirsty ticks, will soon turret the track. Bracken looks harmless enough but don’t read this book by its cover. It may look pretty with its green finger fronds and the way light can show through the forest it creates but underneath the ground it is a pernicious killer and will take over anything with hopeful shoots, stifling it until it breathes no more. Bracken is for Mordor not this lovely island, nor anywhere else for that matter. Just saying.

Me and the Popster walk to the shore, to the old pier where Alpha Beta slept. Perhaps she is in my mind once I heard that she featured on TV last evening with Gordon Buchanan. She, wonderful she, who safely transported so many people out into the ocean to find whales met with a very sad end. She took us to Minke whales, and on a really special occasion, Killer whale. Her body was strong, her engines pure and true. She had props all over the place for turning on a sixpence and for exiting danger quickquick. She carried hopeful souls on her back and never seemed to mind and she was as faithful as a collie. I stand beside the pier where, many years ago, she waited patiently for everyone to step aboard. It is a skeleton now, draped in dried kelp, blackened and hanging like witch hair. The breeze moves it a little and I can hear the crackle. The rocks are coppered with living kelp, a lie if you cared to walk across. You would sink. Or I would. Kelp looks so solid in such a mass. We move through a canopy of gorse and I remember how the old Sea Dog would cut and slash this now 8 ft high mass into submission. Cutting it down is good, he would puff, slashing and snapping the limbs. It will all grow stronger next year. It thinks me. It must be four years since he could walk never mind swing the slash-cut weapon without spinning into the brink. I stay with that remembering, holding the memories when both Alpha Beta and the Seadog were upright and strong, and I say to the skeleton pier, one the SD built, Thank you. You may look wind blown, wonky chops, and whitened by salt but I remember you strong and proud. I still see that in you. Thank you for your grace, your strength, your loyalty.

We sit on a flat rock having navigated the gorse forest. Pods are popping. I can hear them. They sound like a cap gun. It smiles me how life goes on going on with fierce determination. The sun is warm on my arms and back, my face. The Narrows sparkle, diamonds on the water which I think is just beginning to flow in again from who knows where. I ponder on the tidal flow, not just here but the one that circumnavigates the world. There are new stories coming in, I can smell them, those whispers of hope of pain of joy, all flooding in right here and right now. An otter pops up like a cork. He is fishing, I can see that. The fish in his grasp has no chance. He bites off its waggling head but the waggling goes on. He leans back, peaceful like, and floats while he eats the rest. Then he is off again, sleek, dark, fleeting, a gymnast. I watch him cross the Narrows in seconds where a few Greylags have landed for a splash. He threads through the group and they yell and flap at him. Returning to their bathing, once he is gone, I watch them lift water over their wings, bury their heads in the brine, lift their tails and then they begin to play. I know play and this is play. One hurtles at another, and another scoots off. Chase me, chase me…..

I can hear them still laughing as me and the popster wander home.

Island Blog – Old yet New

Friends are here. Friends I haven’t seen for decades. One of them was a loyal and constant companion when the whale-watching business first began. Well, it didn’t actually ‘began’ all by itself. It was begun by us, by me and the sea dog who became known as the whale father. I remember a letter arriving back in the day when people actually wrote letters, addressed to ‘The man who looks after the whales, Scotland.’ That was all, and enough it seems to bring it to our door. How extraordinary it is to be old enough to remember a time when such a loose fit proved tailor made.

We have wandered down the lanes of memory together, these friends and I and there is a pride, a joy and a sadness in such wanderings because the whale father is gone. His presence peppers our conversations, our rememberings of old adventures lifted together into the light of the new life we now live. We visit the ‘old’ pier and the ‘new’ pier, both old now, ramshackle and holding on by a woodthread already compromised by the arched back of a repeating tidal march against the land. We stand and look out to where the boat had bobbed on her mooring, both boats, the old and the new, one gone to an old fisherman and northwards, the other to the bottom of the ocean. All our silence is loud. We stand together on the basalt rocks, watching geese, an osprey, oystercatchers, sandpipers and gulls and we remember. The bustle and shout of anticipation as offloaded passengers turn towards the vessel that will, they hope, they dream, encounter them with the shiny blowback of a whale, out there in the wild, working with the flip and toss of another tide, another wind, another sudden calm.

We see lichen on fallen limbs. Good air, I tell them, and they know it. We walk through what was the farmyard and on up to the big house, the one, the Tapselteerie of my life, now restored most beautifully to what she was when first she rose from the ground and on up and up and up. We only see her from a respectful distance. My friend does not remember her that way. In our day she was shabby (chic, I like to think) and mostly in need of a facelift, one she never got when we were her caregivers. I am happy for her now. She is respected and admired in a way the ancients (that’s before my time btw) would nod at, sagely, from behind their pipes and spinning wheels, I feel sure. You are doing the right thing, they might say and I agree with them.

We wander back through the old pines, past Lord and Lady Larch, whose son, I feel certain, has moved yet further away from his parents. About time, I think. You must be almost 100 by now. He doesn’t seem to mind my comment and just rustles a bit as I walk beneath his boyish boughs, as if quite chuffed with himself. Home again and we sit in the garden with cups of tea and chat. It thinks me. Decades since we sat together and yet the words between us flow as they did when we were young. I look into their eyes and see myself. We match as we did back then. The old and the new. How fluid we are, how easy it is to be, not who we were, but who we are now through connection to a time that impacted all our lives in ways we never anticipated. He remembered my sandwiches. I remembered his lion heart. I remembered them camping with their boys but they don’t. Who knows what part memory plays in memories! We laugh and it really doesn’t matter one jot.

Slainte Sea-Dog. We found you today, not that you are lost. It was a day of tide and talk, sea and memories, laughter and sharp poignance and you came too.

Island Blog – This Goodly Day (even if it is Monday)

A bit sleepless for no good reason. I wasn’t bothered, nor troubled. I just experienced awokeness. When dawn tiptoed in around my blackout curtains I decided up was for me, so I upped accordingly. Coffee and a watch for the rise of light, the lift of garden birds, the backdrop of accompanying sounds. I heard the trickle of the burn. Trickle for now but in the Autumn its voice is wild with flood, catapulting over rocks and plummeting into the pool, then under the track and offski to the sea. The eternal flow. Rain falls, burns erupt in noisy excitement and then spend days splashing everyone on their way to join Mother. It is indeed a joyous sound.

I hear the tap tap of my complication of creepers, wisteria, jasmine, clematis as their floating fingers try to gain some sort of purchase. Might need help, I tell them, and they waggle at me. I see an otter fishing in the sea-loch, flipping silver fish against the morning light, the darkling hills. Geese set forth and fifth and sixth, in fact, make that double figures, across the flat water with goslings in tow. One parent leading (guess that’s himself), then babies, then mother. A line, no ten, twelve lines crossing together as the black backed gulls circle. I watch them. The airborne predators lift, and lower, tip and flip and by golly if I see just one of them pick off a babe, I swear I will finally wild swim. They all arrive safely and now, my coffee cold, I can draw breath once more. It is quite a wide loch and I am, on reflection, rather proud of my ability to hold my breath. I remember trying it in a bath as a girl and exploding back into the air after about 60 seconds in a state of snot and sneeze. Not something I put on my CV.

I weeded a bit and discovered a tiny clematis creeper (who planted that?). I madly cleared the grass and such like around it to give it space. The flowers are huge and magenta. So brave. Not just the colour, nor the size of the flowers but all that struggle beneath Aquilegia, and other tall things I cannot name. I affixed the stems to the structure that upholds the original clematis which is 30 years old and not flowering quite as much as she once did. I know that state. Then I remember who planted the wee magenta thing. It was I some 3 years ago and I allow myself the forgetness of such a birthing because I was thwack in the thick of caring during that year. Nonetheless it is such a relief to solve such a question, I find. Reminds me I am not losing any plot.

I walk beneath brilliant green boughs, dappled sunlit tracks and take myself, slightly resistantly, to the old pier. The pier that Popz built and from where he ran the whale-watching trips for many years. Latterly, when the trips no longer left from that pier and he was no longer captain of the ship, he took down a plank of wood to make a sitting bench. Using old stones to form the elevation, he laid the plank and many many times we went there. First, he walked, his little Poppy dog beside him barking at pretty much everything, and latterly, driving on his quad. Sometimes he could get off the bike and sit with me on the bench, sometimes he could not. We would take tea in a flask and biscuits and just sit, often in companionable silence whilst we listened to the geese, the oystercatchers, the curlews, the gulls, seals and herons, marvelling at dragonflies of electric colours, butterflies and various buzzing thingies. We talked over that explosion of Thrift (Sea Pinks) that fanned out from the rocks, the bloom of downy feathers here, the way the seagrass chooses where it wants to grow, the slip and slide of the tide. I sat there in the sunshine for a while and took it all in. I am glad I went today. I could see his smile, the Old Impossible, and we walked back together, even if I cannot remember him walking in my memory.

T’was a goodly day.