Island Blog – The Best View

Heavy rain, like water bullets, straight down rain, none of this fluffing fallshift of soft water dash against my face. This was a wetting. I watched the opportunity for a while. I considered my cloaking, my ineffective coveration, my footwear, and pulled back. I pulled back long enough for even the Pull Back to raise its eyebrows. Are you going or are you planning to spend the day lurching towards the window like a catapult with old pants elastic?

I don’t like the old pants bit and it stirred me somewhat. I stand taller. Ok, I say, I am offski. Before the old girl in me can catch up I am footed and rainproofed and attaching the wee dog to her lead. Door open. We are out. Good grief! This rain is pelting like reproval. It is so straight down I turn to yell (and regret it) Bend Somewhat! It is either deaf, the rain or determined. I sigh, open the gate and head for the wild place. The track is jiggling water in potholes, the rain-off sloughing like a serpent down into anywhere that’s down. Water always seeking the sea, the river, the outfall, the easy way to go. I am not doing ‘easy way’ but I am not water, I remind myself.

As I wander, because I like the whole wander thing, even in the rain, I observe. The chestnut tree is hanging low, branches so huge and so powerful are bending. I look up and say hi. On and more trees, bowed in fragility and yet still so strong. The wind rises and rises puffing and luffing, lifting, playful. It wonders me as I see massive wood limbs holding life-giving leaves, reach out way too far from the body, from the mother trunk. And yet there is power there, control and the fabulous knowing that that ancient trunk is holding you, holding and holding.

The leaves are already turning, I see the beech leaves twisting at the edges and giving in to copper. I hear the woodland choir, led by the wind. At the shore, where I walk every day to remind myself of not where we began but where so many hundreds, thousands of others began their beginning with us. The chance to see whales. I can smell the excitement even now as I wander in a past land, through gorse, popping seeds and noisily, where the seaweed lays across the out-tide rocks, copper, flaxen, lime, blood and where a heron squawks at me and lifts in lazy flaps; where oystercatchers fly above the tide, turn to me, catch the sudden sunlight and turn into fluttering pearls; where the chance of seeing some wild thing lifts a head above the water in an hour’s watching. We yearn for the wild encounter. We always did and we always will.

Let the seasons be. They are not as we once knew them, predictable and uniform, to a degree. They are wild now, and free. We have a hand in that but it is not the hand that gives up, that turns, that lifts in latent anger. It is done. We are here. We can dance through them, adapt and welcome. We can be a part of what is happening now or we can whine and criticise from the sidelines of life. Eish…….don’t do that. Engage. Join me in the frontline. We’ll get the best view.

Island Blog – The Sky, Skerries and Staying

Today it is falling, the sky I mean. Earlier the pocks of deeper grey sat like skerries in a white sea. A few spots of soft rain fell, hardly worth a mention, but the wind was cooler than of late. Now the sky is leaking down onto the land, covering the hills, blanking out the trees, undefining contours of a land I know like I know myself. But do I know myself, I wonder? I think I do, and yet, there are times I catch my reflection and stop, mildly astonished (oxymoron). You do know, I tell myself in my best English student remonstratory voice, that it is impossible to be mildly astonished. This is lazy ‘speke’. Astonished, is, after all, a superlative and ‘mildly’ does little more than dilute with too much milk. It blands itself. And it thinks me.

I studied and loved language. English, French, German, even Latin, and am still a devotee of the way language flows like a river. Or it can do but, if I am honest, less and less nowadays in the ways learned by me. I remember my old dad with his linguistic brilliance, puffing like an old pipe should he encounter poor English, poor grammar, the ‘wrong’ use of punctuation. I also recall a conversation with him about acceptance. As cultures collide and collude, language shifts. We adopt and adapt and before we know it, words fall away like birds. When I read a classic novel, superbly crafted and written, it seems effortlessly and in lingual confidence, I can see that without incursive verbalism such writing would indeed flow like a river for a creator of stories. So do we, the now ‘we’, who must work with the fast moving changes of our world, go with what is, or resist and remain in academic slippers? We could, but we would risk losing a load of readers because language is changing. We might find ourselves moving up a floor, and up again, until the only person left is a lonely one. All the rest have died off, and their slippers are too worn for a charity shop, and burned as litter.

I find new language dynamic and fascinating, even as my eyes roll at much of what I read. Get with it old woman, I tell myself, because if you do, you remain in the game, the game that is life in motion. To refuse to abdicate the throne of those torn and floppy slippers is to choose loneliness. As writers, and we can all be a writer if we just pick up a pen and are ready to learn and grow in the world of words, we are duty bound to be gymnasts. Not actually gymnasts, the thought exhausts me, but acceptance gymnasts. There is another type, the one that holds on to the slippers for grounding, and who does a lot of eye rolling and pipe puffing and shuffles from room to room as if there is no world out there and if there is then I want none of it. I am not this person.

We live with danger, threat and menace. We are hacked and hi-jacked. We are compromised, surprised, confined and defined. Out there racial and sexual prejudice is alive and kicking, literally. The sky is falling. But wait. Look at how the sky reaches down both to confuse and to alter our perceptional lens. See how, in the not-seeing of what we know invites us to look at something another way. We can dismiss this as an opportunity, ignore it, even, say Mist, say Fog, say Close the Curtains. Or we can actually look and if we do, we will marvel. It is the same with words, with language, with change and with people. I get that it is exhausting (nearly said pretty exhausting #oxymoron) to be always required to adapt and adopt, but it is the way the world is spinning, faster and faster. New technology brings both healing and death, the whole circle, and the greys in between are like the skerries in a white sky sea. There are millions of them and each one offers footfall. They are like stepping stones. We might not know where they lead but if we don’t keep leaping from one to the next, we remain lonely, in slippers and pipe puffing at what only we consider lost.

I can write into the mist, or it can blind me. I can see banks of clouds or I can see skerries in a white sea. I can allow new cultures to enhance me or inhibit. I can hold to the old or I can estew the new, allowing myself to simmer and to blend with whatever comes in. Together we can make a delicious meal. I am not a new writer. I am honed from past teachings but I am curious and interested and I want to stay in the game.

Island Blog – Still

A word with more than one meaning. This morning I awoke about 5 and thought, rats, but only one, so, rat. I love the dawning mornings even if I am ready for lunch by 10. I came down for coffee, could smell it long before it was brewed, the good strong ground stuff and black as soot. I heard chaos in the skies, gulls in a frenzy. Hallo, I thought, there’s a big predator bothering these noisy sky-jackers. Then I saw them swinging and dinging around a faraway tree across the sea-loch, circling, rising, punching their white bodies into a space between the woodfull banks of the other side. I pulled on the bins, eyes still cloudy with unslept sleep and the lenses kept clouding from the heat of my eyeballs. Ffs, I muttered, wiping again and oh, again, with my wiper thingy until the glass and my eyeballs stopped posturing. Finally I catch them, two huge sea-eagles sitting quite the thing on a branch that already looked exhausted from the weight of their task. I saw the heads of the two, beaks moving langourously from one sky-jacker to the next with a barely visible shift of the neck muscles. Still. They were still in the face of the frenetic. I like that.

The sky was still, the clouds, not bothered, no wind. They sat like fat observers of my village, my home, me, no judgement, just watching. I felt the calm of both the clouds and the eagles move towards me, me in my jim-jams with soot black coffee on my tongue and in a way too early moment. It calmed me, smiled me. I said Thank-you for waking me at just the right moment to see the very perfect thing. I looked again and the eagles were gone. I missed their gone-ing, but here’s a thing – the sky-jackers kept pinging about the tree, squwalking and squealing like unwelcome thoughts. I have these too, I said to no-one there. I might be stilling myself, madly, only to find that, although no human interrupts this stilling process, my sky-jackers are within. Well, blow that.

Let’s take a look. I know I can’t ‘blow that’ because blowing that is what I have done for decades. Now I actually want to notice the interruptions when I am madly being still. I confront them. What do you want? I ask. The minute the voiced out loud question spills from my mouth, they begin to reply. They’re flapping like dingbats in a turmoil. What does this tell me? That they want me to listen to them. Ok, ok, I say, patting down the air around me. Form a queue. And they do. Ok, first…? I hear First. First reminds me that I had decided to check my household bills about 3 weeks ago and procrastinated because the thought of doing that is the ultimate yawn. I write it down and promise I will check that list this very day. Next? Next marches up with yet another thing I knew some while back demanded my attention and action. And so the list goes on. I actively respond to all of the demands. Then I still. I am like the not bothered clouds with no wind. And that is all it takes.

Cousin to this process of sorting out the immediate buzz flies or sky-jackers in my life is to respond to those who sing at me in a lower key. They come from way back. They are the Dodo, the Great Auk, The Tasmanian tiger of my life. They are, so called, extinct, but they are far from that. These other selves, our past selves, are still alive and kicking inside us and longing for love. I know this. My little girl and my teenage self were both angst ridden and for many years. And that is how it is and was. But because of studies into connectivity with our past, and with the exciting knowledge and support we now have access to, to heal our young hurts and breaks, there is the chance to be still again, to be at peace with the strong, bright and beautiful souls we have made of ourselves, no matter our beginnings. And we did, those of us who did the work. Just look at us! We changed neglectful, unthinking parenting into warm protection for our own children. We did that. We became eagles on exhausted branches not fussed by sky-jackers. We decided not to be bothered by old thinking peckers and baiters. We stood strong and our children are free-er than we ever were.

And for those of us who are still working on ourselves, allowing the mistakes we made as innovators of a future we had no manual for, we might like to say to ourselves this:- Well done. You shifted the time belt. You decided, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make a change, to do the old in a new way. To love instead of judge, to let a child think for his or her self. Go you. It isn’t done yet. But it is on its way if (thanks Maya Angelou) Still we rise.

Island Blog – I would tell you

This is for you my one and only husband. As you know (I am sure the angels will have reminded you) today is our 49th wedding anniversary. I can barely believe either of us stuck it out for so many years. I see you smile at that. Neither of us had a scooby about such an intensely complex relationship, speaking out the vows with all that enthusiasm and emotion and blissfully unaware that things would change. That we would change, not at the same time, which was always deeply inconvenient, but singularly and fully expectant of the other to adapt immediately, without a cross word spoken. How naive we were, how trusting in our own set of plans, dreams and expectations. We said we would do it different, remember that? We would never alienate each other, never endure long periods of stony silence, never break apart, never run away, and yet we did all those things. And we survived it all. Did our children, I wonder? Do any children? They are so aware of parental strife, of tension within mother, within father, it cannot leave them undamaged. I suspect we are all damaged, bringing into all our relationships the breaks and black holes from our pasts. As much as I look for the ‘perfect’, there is none.

I would tell you these things. Today I walked beneath the rain-heavy boughs and caught the raindrops, the water from heaven. I cupped them in my hand from a delicate larch limb and drank in the rain. I watched the grey above me, saw the light over the Isle of Coll, open as a window into the sky beyond. A beckoning of light. Look, I said to you, can you see? I wonder how it looks from wherever you are now. How I look, a pinprick dodging puddles in my favourite boots. Did I tell you how hard I have looked for a repeat pair? I find them nowhere. I found five orchids beside the track, no idea what sort of orchids but that doesn’t matter to me. Pink and sudden, for they weren’t there just yesterday and to see an orchid is to find myself in some foreign land. The walk today was the short one. I find walking in the rain jacket a cumbersome sort of walk. My frocks are curtailed from their desire to swish and they mutter beneath the waxed waterproof coat thing that weighs a ton and is far from a pleasant covering. As you know, my slim puffa jacket is as ready to absorb the rain as a sponge might be, although I have donned it pre a rainy walk purely out of vanity and respect for the swish of my frocks, returning drenched.

Then I showered and changed. In other times, this would have been in anticipation of an evening out to celebrate. Not this year. I walked barefoot through the garden to pick myself some flowers and you would not believe the rose you planted some years back, the one called Wedding Anniversary, the one that has heretofore only ever produced 4 or 5 buds. This year it is heavy with blooms and I hope you can see them. And I have been remembering past anniversaries, even as I do have to dig my way back before dementia to find the happier ones. I remember you saying, we are going out at 7. I held the excitement all day long, thinking about what I would wear, what we would talk about, where we would go. You were always the best at celebrations, thinking of everything. Even during dementia years, when you could barely eat, let alone drive me somewhere, let alone walk, you could still smile up at me and I would smile back, so much said, so much unsaid.

I want to tell you I am ok. Better than that, I am doing well. I am learning how to let go and how to make myself into a whole me. I am supported, safe and warm. I am also, finally independent. I know you hated that word, fought like mad against it, but it means something different to me. Independence does not mean a person needs nobody. Oh no. We all need somebody or we die of loneliness. What I mean by that word now is that I have confidence in myself, in my choices, my actions. I take full responsibility for everything in my life and I lay no blame, not even on myself. Although there are things I would have done differently given the chance, I am proud of who I am. And I am thankful. Thankful to you for being my broken rock, for protecting me and our children in the only way you knew; for loving and living as you did and you did your best. I can see that now, for all the squawking I did along the way.

I touch your face in a photograph and remember the feel of your skin. I remember your hands, strong, warm. I remember your smile and the ice blue of your eyes, a gift to our daughter.

These are what I would tell you this day, my husband.

Maybe I just did.

Island Blog – No Matter the Sky

The sky, umber grey, day long, a greasy cloud cover like soapy water on old chip fat. Not cold, though, not as it has been which tells me that Siberia has recalled the wind and I am thankful. It is high flipping time the grass stopped feeling sorry for itself and got on with providing the food these sheepish mothers need for their babes. Daily I check the seedlings I put out too early, reminding me that my exuberance, once again, blinded me to the truth. Why did I, why do I, year in year out, think that early April sunshine indicates a first night in mind, when it is always just an endless process of dress rehearsals? Well, I just do. A long winter, covid restrictions, loss and loneliness together with a natural human craving for other human contact, all drives my sensible mind out of the park. I think we all know what I mean.

It thinks me deeper. I know I have always been what you might call a party girl, although the girl is not a girl anymore on the outside of me. I can recall so many times when skies within or without were a relentless umber grey and I took it upon myself to be the colour. Now, for the artist in you, you will know how one single dot of red or vibrant blue in a canvas of umber grey lifts the whole thing into something quite wonderful. You don’t need much. In fact much will just make mud or confusion, but that little dot, that tiny eye-drawing spot of colour lifts the watcher into a world that the umber grey alone could never do. Before it just looked like a wall of nothing much with nothing to draw the eye, nothing to ignite, excite, delight. But with this tiny suggestion of the Other, our imaginations can take off like rockets into space. Banksy gets this, bigtime. His images of ‘almost nothing’ lift and elevate not just his work but anyone who looks in. There is a something, a wotwot, a subtle shift of perspective and an invitation to dance.

Anyway that was me, is me. I don’t bring this dot of colour because I have studied dots of colour on the umber greyness of most people’s lives. I don’t do it because I want to be seen as the dot of colour. That could not be further from the truth. I do because I can’t not do it. It is, I believe, a gift. If I see someone down or sad or lost or afraid, my heart actually hurts. I want to do something to make them smile, anything, everything. Of course, in our extremely broken world with all its dangers and threats, I cannot act as I might want to. I am not a fool and I have the same fears as everyone does. So I think on this. If I believe I have a gift to lift some other human being, no matter if they smell awful or I don’t like them or if they appear to be ‘bad’ people, then what do I do with this gift that will not let go of me, given the aforementioned? I can hide away, run away, like most of us do, avoiding the people who upset us, make us feel vulnerable, threaten us, or I can dig deep to find a way where this gift of mine can be of use to another human’s suffering. I am never going to be a media heroine. I would so loathe that. But this drive is strong and my job, as I see it, is to accept it and to wait for direction. That is not easy. The desire to fix the world is lively as a dancer in me but I am just me, small and here on an island and growing older.

That’s ok, says my inner guru. Nae worries, lass. Just keep digging, keep researching, keep peaceful and trust. It may seem like a big ask but I find I am pretty okay with it. In this more peaceful time of my life, with himself at rest and me alone now, I have plenty of time to let my thoughts emerge to fly like butterflies from a cocoon, wings wet, vulnerable on a branch, inviting sunshine and light for the first lift into sky, umber grey or blue. No matter the sky colour.

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 – Mountain, Tomorrow and Me

Not every day can be positively thinked. Some days, randomly, it seems, come slam dunk, presenting little positive, no matter the incoming. Could be a card through the post, a gift, some encouraging words in a text or just a lift of light in a dark place. On those days these gifts mean little or nothing at all. The sun might be doing his best, huffing up to the top of the sky and beaming like a beatific parent but all he does is blind me and I blink or shade him away. I am impervious to positive on those days. I read that I am supposed to accept such times in such times and to ‘allow’ myself to do whatever I can and to not do whatever I can’t. Enter my ingrained teaching. You do not give in my girl. You get on with it, whatever it is. You present as positive and not only to the outside world but to your own self. I am up and down on those days, battling with guilt and shame. I am lazy. I am giving in. I am not presenting the positive. I avoid speaks. I avoid texts that ask direct questions about how I am. My finger hovers over the answer bit and slides away. I put the phone on silent and avoid mobile calls.

Tomorrow will be different, I tell myself and together, me and tomorrow, will deny and forget this day. We will. But a part of me knows another will come slam dunk and both tomorrow and I will flounder like goldfish outside our bowl. We will gasp for an air that is denied us and we will both think back. Could we have prevented this unpleasant situation, this day of nothing, of no purpose of no point at all, with an ending that doesn’t bear thinking about? I say no. I have worked through this before, many times. The days of nil point are just that. All we can do, me and tomorrow, is to really celebrate those random gifts of words, texts, flowers and smiles and make them bigger, in order just to get through the very long hours of pointless. Because that is how we feel. Pointless. Our purpose, our plan of action, our very raison d’ĂȘtre has died, is gone and with this gone thing, he took us too. We don’t want to believe it. We don’t want it to be this way, but this way it is. For now. That’s what tomorrow tells me. But it feels like a life sentence. These gifts that come are lifts for sure. They move my heart, jig me into thankfulness and light but they don’t last long, not on those days. I see them as hold points on the mountain I am climbing. That rock that juts out just enough for a foothold, that sturdy branch, that ledge. But they are not enough, never enough because I have to climb this flipping mountain and it looks to me like it touches the sky. I go through cloud, ice, snow and darkness, through fear, loneliness and loss. It is just me up here. Tomorrow stayed at base camp, wisely.

I know I have to keep climbing, accepting the giftly footholds, resting on safe ledges and then going again the next time dawn shows her light. I know this. But in my wildest dreams I never thought me on the flank of a mountain and certainly not one that is in collusion with the sky. Cloud covers me wet. Cold. Then the sun warms. This is how it is. One day at a time. Nothing I expect is what I get. I used to know who I was and where. Now?

No clue.

Island Blog – Ice and Fire

The past 3 days have been glorious. Cold, freezing, in fact, with clear skies and sunshine. T’is rare on this rainy promontory to enjoy such clarity on joined up days. We mostly slop through puddles, our frocks flying out like sails and our wellies musty with damp. Although the faithful rain returned last night, somewhere in the middle of it, and the wind rose to shouting point, it is enough to have had those 3 joined up days. People’s faces shine with light, cheeks pinking, noses dripping, as they stride out along the track. Even the dogs bounce, no slinking, no wet backs, chasing sticks and each other. The stones hold fast to the ground and the puddles are all but gone. Stands of pooled spring water show me a tapestry of ice lace, greened brightly by the strangled mosses. Long grasses, now the colour of sand, stand proud and stiff, frosted with crystals and the cobwebs white-lace in between. I watch the sky through the branches of the trees, lit as they are by sunlight in shades of red and gold. Songbirds chitter all around, a musical accompaniment, their colours brighter, their flight light-hearted in the absolute stillness of the air. Ducks fly fast just above the surface of a sea-loch, cloudy with ice. Water sprites shimmer like mist, ice maidens dancing. Geese lift into the cold sky and I wonder how high they can go before their wings freeze, Oystercatchers twitter down by the water’s edge and closer to where the sea-loch becomes the sea, I watch curlews and herons and scan the water for sight of the resident otter and her cubs. A bright red fishing boat gentles its way back to harbour and I consider the haul of lobster and crab on board. It must be cold work for those human fingers, bringing in the fleets of creels in such low temperatures. I wish them hot tea and safe home to the fireside for the sun is sinking now and the sky is taking centre stage. The cold sharpens, nudging us all back home, reminding us that darkness is coming and she will bring a billion stars for our delight. Even when the sun has dipped below the hill, the colours remain. Blood red, platinum, gold and silver twists of cloud like angel hair, slowly disappearing into the darkling air.

Walking out in the night I see those billion stars, recognising only a few constellations, which doesn’t bother me one jot. What difference would it make to them, to me, to anyone if I could rattle off each name? Zip, that’s what. I don’t need to know, don’t need to photograph, don’t need to understand or explain any of this majestic beauty to anyone, even to myself. I simply need to watch it, notice it and to move into it, fully engaged. All bothersome things, all worries and concerns are not welcome as I meander along. I am intensely focussed on what I see, what I hear and smell, the sensation of extreme cold and the clarity of the air I breathe. And, after it is gone, blown or washed away, I will be able at any time to take myself back into those 3 days and to feel as I felt inside them.

This day, the day of rain, I will walk again, this time my frocks flying out like sails and my boots bravely rejecting water ingress as best they can. Ice stands will be puddles again and rising, birds will need to look to their flight plans and trees will drip. The fisherman’s fingers will thaw and the wind will cause my wheelie bins to buck and dance. I will notice the beauty of raindrops held in the branches and shivering on the tall grasses. I will feel the bite of cold wet wind on my face and hear the wind singing the pines into melody.

It is as it is. This day, those days, all just days, but there is nothing ‘just’ about any of them. Whether ice clear and light or dusky with rain and grumpy clouds in varying shades of grey, each day is precious. Many won’t have this day at all. For some it might be their last. All that really makes us truly alive regardless of weather or worries, ailments, lacks and losses is the noticing of each and every day. To mindfully walk through the minutes and the hours, paying attention to every small thing, is how to feel well. If each day is noticed and engaged in, mindfully, there is no waste of time, no ungrateful thinking and see that chattering jibber jabber of bothersome worries and concerns?

Fire it.

Island Blog – Eating Crow and the Saltbreaker

This morning opens wide, unfractured by rain, rain we have enjoyed for what feels like weeks, although it is probably only days. Funny that, how much heavy rains weigh on a soul. The ground is soft and boggy, the puddles digging the ground deep as if a mighty spoon had dipped at random into the earth, tasting it, and leaving we-with-legs at a disadvantage. In among the trees, the stand-water is peaty brown and clear but for the drowning mosses, a vibrant green for now. Coppery beech leaves and sienna needles lay on their backs looking up. I see the sky in the gaps between, the arms of the overhanging trees, bare now, skeletal. On the track the puddles are the colour of milky coffee and blank, saying nothing much. The road mix does that when so rudely rained upon, releasing the concrete from the concrete bits and, then sulking. Jumping in these scooped out holes can be risky. I have lost half a small child before now and had to carry her home soaked and wailing in fury at this assault on her trusting young self.

Along the shore the freshwater springs bubble in excitement. They love heavy rain, as do the burns that slip over old rocks, tumbling into a wild froth as they plash into deep pools. Under the track, over the track and down the track this clear clean life-giving water flows with confidence, pausing only to navigate a fallen branch. I wade in to remove it and am rewarded with the music of uninterrupted water flow. I think on the endlessness of such a flow on the island and it gives me comfort. I tell myself that the turning of the world, the rise and fall of the tides, the lift and glow of Father Sun and Mother Moon all contrive to assure me that no matter what goes on for me, for the rest of us living out our lives, all these are magnificent constants. For all my sins and mistakes, for all my errors of judgement, my flapdoodles, my panics, doubts and fears, the earth keeps on keeping on. And I am instantly at peace. After all, can I add one day to the rest of my life by worrying about it? Obviously not! I am surely better to engage with the magnificence of life, reminding myself by walking out into its ever-changing beauty, regardless of the weather, paying focussed attention to every single thing I see; being curious; stopping to really look and to notice how I feel about what I see.

There is a crow in my garden. It entertains me daily as it heralds its appearance with flaps and caws. First it lands on the fence and looks rather stunning against the cloud-shift sky. It eyes me, black jet, and obviously decides I am no threat. Then it performs a loop and twist until it (just) manages to duck under the roof of the bird table, landing clumsily among the spread of songbird seed. It’s songbird seed, I tell it through my window, not crow seed. In fact, I thought crows favoured carrion and rubbish from dustbins. Not songbird seed. It ignores me and scoops up beakfuls of what does not belong to it, quite without guilt. I wonder what it’s like to be without guilt? I have no idea, being more than ready to feel it most of the time. Eating crow. It thinks me. The past is, well, past and I can do diddly squat about it beyond giving it my appreciation and gratitude. It did, after all, get me this far. It made me who I am and I am mostly okay with I Am. But, and here’s the rap, I must be consciously aware all of the time, of the power of inner heavy rain and drowning puddles. This is my work. This is my purpose. I am that purpose and from me will come many wonderful things as long as I am vigilant and curious, grateful and looking up and out, always ready to learn.

When saltwater meets fresh they work together. Saltwater is dense, heavy and a pushy creature; freshwater, bubbling spring water from deep deep down inside the earth is lighter but an equal to its cousin. Fresh water dilutes salinity, floats on top of the mighty ocean, reflecting the sky, bringing in nutrients and stories, creating more. The saltbreaker. I like that, this synergy, this endless, boundless wealth of water, and it reminds me that all of this is living inside me too. The ebb and flow of days, the wax and wane of the moon, the golden glow of an inner sun, the healing rain and the odd crow.

Island Blog – Shift, Fly and a Dog’s Questions

This afternoon I walked into Tapselteerie, as I do every single afternoon, small terrier bounding afoot. She is always full of ridickerluss bounce as if we have never walked this way before; as if she and I are about to discover a gruffalo nest or a ferocean of fairies. I pointed out the conkers to her, the star moss, the positive pebbles I hid that someone has moved on, but she just looked at me like I was a weirdo. Her plan is to locate the biggest and longest stick she can find and then lift. She waits for me to forward, then runs full tilt, whacking the backs of my legs with half a hazel tree, thinking it hilarious and most satisfying. I don’t mind. She thinks I don’t know what’s coming, but my advantage is my human brain. I have worked out the math of this particular pole, considered the level of scratchy branch activity, the then width of the track, the level of recent rainfall and its ability to soak my calves. It’s a daily game and only infrequently I am required to say enough is enough. This day was one of those times. The pole would have held up an elephant’s weary head, no bother.

Up in the woods I heard childlaughter, my favourite sort. Poised on a rock and looking like a dream, a little girl squeaks with delight as her father completes the construction of a swing. I can see she will begin on the rock, but the fall away of the hill and the subsequent leap into the sky takes her 20 foot off the ground. She is tiny, wiry, slim and excited and I want to hide. I see a thousand disasters, but she sees none of them and nor does her father. He has swung many times higher in his time, almost to the moon and back, and, for all I know, touching moon base. He is, after all, my son and all of my children are risk takers and always were. I have no idea where they got that from. After successful launch, momentary panic as she looks down to see the blue planet below her tiny butt, followed by a happy landing back on the rock, the game is on, the shift from land to outer space completed.

Back home there is a shift. A sudden shift. In the journey that is dementia, this is oft how it works. Plateau, shift, level out, plateau and shift again. Everyone involved needs to catch up, learn, accept, take action. This is where we are now. Just 2 weeks ago the plateau felt like it was staying flat, for some long time, with only little skips and twirls that showed a gradual demise. But now on this road, the pilgrim has met landfall and it seems there is no way around it for him. He doesn’t want to eat, cannot move anywhere or anyway without help. We, his family, are coming to terms with that but I won’t say it is a natural nor an easy thing to come to terms with nor accept. How could it be? This is Dad. This is the strong provider of 50 years and then some, the one who knew the answers to everything and, if he didn’t, never let on. I remember a violently horrific North Sea crossing when I was so terrified I thought I would faint clean away (but didn’t), with a force 10 gale battering our boat, full sails up because it had come in so fast there was no time to reduce, nor crew (me being terrified) to strap on, walk the slippery deck in lashing rain, and then find the strength to work the winch. But, and but again, he never left the helm, navigated us home to within a few maritime feet of home harbour, using his skills and whatever stars he glimpsed. 17 hours of rocking and no soft cradle in sight, but he got us home and intact. This is the Dad who took risks, flew high and taught all of us to trust in him and to shut up and fly.

This shift is tough. I want to reach out to anyone and everyone who is going through this end game or who has gone through it. My utmost respect and admiration to you all.

Even the dog knows something’s up. She keeps looking at me, a million questions in her eyes.