Island Blog – Season Shift – Resist or Lift

I always do this, although I only noticed the ‘this’ that I do quite recently. As Summer gives way to Autumn I continue to wear bare legs and feet for as long as I can outrun chilblains. Once into Autumn, I find ways to layer up without ballooning and look forward to each morning, even planning my layers whilst still beneath the covers. As Winter sinks in her teeth I find it progressively harder not to balloon, but I am on a roll here and the cold comes incrementally, in the main. But when Winter begins to concede to Spring I am oft confounded. I have become used to my layers, ones that used to fit me the whole day long. Now they only suit me up to midday and from then on become a massive irritation. I feel as if I might combust, but it is still not yet warm enough to leap out of a vest. I open doors and wonder where on earth my shades are. I sit in the glare of Father Sun and feel cross. Go Away, I want to say, even as I don’t. The fire still burns and I will need it in about an hour when the Old Man is taken down by the forever hills, but it makes the room stuffy. I open windows and in whoopees a freezing draught full of chilblains and icicles. Jersey on, jersey off. It’s a ridiculous day and not the first, nor will it be the last. Perhaps, I tell myself, it is so much more natural to layer up than it ever is to brave off the layers of comfort, layers that have become my friends and protectors for months now. Is Winter the longest season? I always said so in my talk with tourists who decided on a happy holiday whim to buy a plot and build a home. Don’t. I said. Do Not. Not until you have spent a winter or two here. Why is that? they quizzed. Because winters here begin in October and hold fast till Mid May, that’s why. Not with frost and clean clear icy, shiny, sunny days but with wet, wet and more wet and when the wet thinks we need a change, it turns to ice and sleet in an annual battle against the rise of a Spring sun. Just in time for lambing.

I walk in the slipslide of ice meets sun and marvel at the blue of the sky. Hallo Mr Blue Sky, I sing to myself without the backing group and I search for buds and studs of green on trees. It is pointless. These studs and buds know jolly fine about winters up here. I hear them snigger from the safety of their twiggy nests. You think this sudden sun will fool us? It only happens once, after all. It is, this time, a holding time, a waiting. And yet it is we or is it just me who is longing for warmth and the chance to open doors to let out the stuffy, even if I might have to de-balloon. Is Winter the longest season, and what does that mean for the inside life?

First off I can see the dust. Blimey, it is legion. Although I say I don’t believe in dusting, I am glad there is no chance of visitors. My dust is remarkable. Not quite an inch thick, because I move about within these walls at speed, but almost. I don’t notice it on grey days, normal days, but when this lunatic sun decides to shine like a beacon into the future, lighting the way for all but the blind, I find him invasive. Shine out there, I tell him, and not in here. Don’t bother flagging up my smeary windows or my table tops that once were oak and shiny. You make me feel like I will never win a good housekeeping award. The dust is on every single surface. I sit and watch it, the way it sparkles in the sunlight; diamonds and pearls, rubies too and emeralds. Are there stories to tell in that dust? Is there history? There must be. My cleaners have not been here since just after Himself breathed his last. Almost six months. I have hoovered and wiped, a bit, but dust and I will not meet. Clearing dust, in my opinion, is not for me anymore. I have shared my life with too much dust for decades and the clearing of it, if indeed that is ever possible, is no longer for me. But I can smell it. I can see it, lit up like it was a celebrity, glinting, sure of itself, holding ground.

It is this time of the year that I find hardest. Not only is the dust shouting out her stories and memories, but the sun is taunting me, offering light and bright but not enough warmth for me to shed a layer. Getting dressed in the morning is just confusion. 5 layers till midday and then what? Upstairs to take it all off and start again? This, this, is the winter and it is the one season that fights like hell to hold on. And it is the only one that makes me cross, even as I love it. What dichotomy. At Tapselteerie, I remember hoping winter would never end, that the new season would just forget to arrive along with all the tourists and the work, even if I did have chilblains on my chilblains. But once that season began I felt a lift and a joy. Life was living again and so was I. Momentum creates momentum, at least it does for me. Having to bare my wintry arms and legs and to see my body after months of concealment under layers might give me an awkward moment but perhaps this is the gift winter leaves behind her. You have rested, she says. You have covered and concealed but now is the time for joy and lift. Take my gift and rise with the buds and studs.

You are stuck with me. Deal with it.

Island Blog – Unicorns, Bananas and Hope

I wake with a wobble this morning. I suspect I am not the only one. I know there is a big shopping list downstairs in my cosy kitchen, plus a couple of things to post, and, yet, I don’t want to go anywhere near people who still breathe. I make tea and drink it, watching the day rise like Venus from the troubled waves of the night. She looks good. The usual fly-by of geese, loons, swans and garden birds entertain me for a while until I hear the sounds of the seventies overhead. That’s himself getting up. It thinks me of a first drum lesson, all bangs and thumps and with no rhythm to speak of.

Although I am not nosophobic at all, I have a healthy respect for an invisible enemy. Who doesn’t! So, after a ridiculous and chuckly conversation with a girlfriend about what bananas remind us of when baked and floppy, I decide not to shop this morning. We have enough in store and besides I can cook the sole of a gymshoe and make it tasty, or so I tell my grandchildren. I decide to inhabit the day with an attitude of ad hockery which feels rather racy and sounds loaded with opportunities. First, I bleach the door handle after a delivery of unicorn poo. For those who have never encountered a unicorn, never mind its poo, let me explain. These pellets, prettily gathered into the depths of a little hessian pouch, ribbon tied, are, in fact, wildflower seeds. You just push the pellet into the earth, not deep, and wait for your unicorn to grow……should take between 4-6 weeks. I can’t wait. I bake the bananas and cover them in custard. They may taste lovey but, naked, they are far from eyesome. Listening to tunes of the 80s and dancing along a bit, the day moves forward in a beamish sequence of start, middle and finish. Many tasks complete themselves this way and all I do is walk beside them, mindfully, of course. We sort it out together.

Walking, I see the larch green above my head, the little primroses peeking out from sheltered dips, yellow as sunshine. A pair of mallards lift like an eruption from the burn as I startle them into the air, the drake a rainbow of colours. Two otters cavort in the sea-loch, pushing out from the rocks, from the safety of their holt, out in the wide open on a fish hunt. I watch a huge fish jump although it seems too early – maybe not. Horse chestnut leaves look like green fingers against the sky, now a mackle of clouds in shades of grey. I see nobody. For a whole 40 minutes as I walk through woods and along side the rocky shore, I am alone, just me and the little dog. By this time, visiting walkers would be all over this place like a pox, and welcome indeed, but not this year. Maybe not at all this season, for who can say? We are, after all in the incunabula of something we cannot explain nor define and that’s enough to wobble the sturdiest of us.

I light the fire for it is still chilly, even if the sun does shine down his generous warmth. Flowers are pushing through the earth, shrubs throwing blooms and trees beginning to spread their canopy. It’s a time of hope and that is one thing that never runs out. If one person loses it for a while, someone else can bring it back and it doesn’t require physical contact to spread. It just flows between us like a soft breeze and we can safely breathe it in until it fills us up once more. Then we can pass it on to another who needs it.

In 4-6 weeks I hope to have a garden full of unicorns. What larks, Pip!

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……