Island Blog – Moss and Otherness.

Underneath a humungous fallen pine, some years down, is a dazzling carpet of moss. There is Fingerley moss fronding through the cracked bark, delicate falls of emerald stems, each lifting softly in response to the heckling rain. It isn’t heavy, not soaking me or the little dog, just pinging wet drops at us all for the fun of it. The puddley dyke is drying up so anything damp is going to help revive the frogspawn I noticed a few days ago, although it’s too little too late, methinks. Old leaves mulch down, retreating back into the earth as food for the next thrust of life. It’s coming, at last.

Star moss grows down in the peaty bit, stunning bunches of delicate stalks with a star on top, facing up. Big rocks, upon which this giant landed, are coated in Afro moss, so tightly affixed they could fool you into seeing a soft landing. To throw myself onto one would end me up with broken ribs and embarrassment rising, so I don’t. Then there’s Moss moss that covers anything it fancies covering. They all look fabulous and green and very much alive. The otherness beneath the lonesome pine, which, in its dying grabbed a larch tree on the way, poor love, and has pinned her to the ground ever since, includes little yellow things that tell me they are dandelions but are obviously lying, Monbretia which doesn’t bloom till after lockdown and other coloured things I don’t have names for. None of them seem to mind that at all.

The sky is milk with a whisper through of grey. It is also shut if you don’t count the spits of rain. Sometimes if I look hard enough at a shut sky, I can find a smile of light, enough to believe in, but not today. Today it is just a flat white. Walking under the sky always marvels me. It stays up and I stay down. Such a synergistic friendship, and long may it remain that way or we’ll have Chicken Licken getting into another flapdoodle. A raven floats overhead, that sharp-eyed carnivore with a taste for lambs, parping like the horn on Noddy’s car. His mate follows. There is something both regal and scary about ravens. All that black and so much of it and so intelligent. Way back in the days of Tapselteerie we tried to get rid of a pair of ravens. It probably wasn’t legal but they took too many little woolly jumpers at lambing time. They nested on a cliff face which made it extremely difficult to get anywhere near them and they would have known our intention from the very moment we donned our balaclavas. Needless to say, we didn’t succeed and I imagine they live still as they have no predators save man.

Across the sea-loch I see a holiday cottage. Empty, of course, as they all are now. Elevated standards count for nothing in these times. You could have Moss moss on the inside of your windows as we always did or an immaculate palace of a moss-less place and still nobody would come. It’s all rather levelling. This virus is catalytic and no mistake. I look ahead a month or two, seeing the same road winding on into the distance, every walker keeping 2 metres away from any encounter, touching nothing, holding breath. Then I look around my home at the books, the things, the bibelots that gather dust now that my lovely cleaners are holed up in their own burrow. The news is just numbers where it once managed a few words in between the latest statistical revelation. Drink is bad, drink is good, children are important until they drive you bonkers whence that importance retreats into the latest Pixar movie with enough popcorn to rot the collective teeth of a whole country within 45 minutes. Meditation is calming unless you get they giggles as I do and exercise is an excellent plan as long as you do it alone and in the wilderness or at midnight.

And we knit on, we tough, inventive humanoids, or sew, or paint, cook and sort out drawers and cupboards, and we dust the bibelots. We are learning to move more slowly through each project, taking time, perhaps as a first, to consider the minutiae, maybe even to read the rules. And this will do us no harm at all. Watching moss, any moss, takes considerable self control. My legs are all a-jiggle. Stand still, I tell them and they huff. But it is good re-training. It is good to sit and read, even in the mornings, to call a friend, to FaceTime, to start a jigsaw (that’s as far as I ever got with a jigsaw), tend the garden, watch the moss.

Mother Nature has called a halt. She wants her finery back, her intelligent order and we, who have turned her world into a veritable tatterdemalion must listen and we must learn.

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 – Turn a Feather

People are living. The lucky ones. Watching from the ridge, balancing afoot the cat sharp rocks, teetering, our heads in the sky, bodies somewhere in between, and, in our breath, a question. Will I, will we come out of this alive or not?

We are one, now, we people of the world. We have un-countried ourselves as we face down a terrifyingly powerful enemy. And the heroes keep rising like the sea-eagle I just watched playing with gravity as it slid through the wide blue sky, master of it. We are showing out true colours and making rainbows for each other. It is good.

When the day avoids me I remind myself of this. However isolation goes for those of us isolated, there are people who find that fear defines them. Otherwise strong and confident, this invisible monster lurking in every action, every move, confounds them. It is not good, but it is understandable. It is one thing to face down a big swashbuckling opponent who stands square and loud and inches away, and quite another to face down a ghost. Much is at stake and most of the much is me. And you.

We cannot enjoy a commensal meal, perhaps for months and certainly not on Mother’s Day, not if the mother in question is a bit past her sell by date. We older mums must stay doggo, take up our handiwork and make gallons of nourishing soup for the freezer, in preparation for whatever is to come. Our mums and grannies did it for years during the wars, but they didn’t have to isolate and this is the hard part.

So we must look up and out. We must listen to the sounds of Spring wherever and whenever we can. We can write letters, send emails, make calls to bring cheer to someone else. There may be a hole in the universe right now, a big black one into which many of us are falling and will fall yet, but above us is a huge sky full of weather and birds, painted with daylight and the soft black velvet of night. Those of us who can muster belief must spread that belief to those who are cast adrift from the joy of Life. We must scatter laughter like wildflower seeds, seeds that will sprout under the warming sun, no matter what comes.

This morning a sparrow hawk took one of my visiting doves. I didn’t see it but I saw the resulting scatteration of feathers around the bird table or caught in the branches of a potentilla hedge. It looked awful and I was so sad. I watched the other dove wander endlessly around the garden in search of its mate and felt even sadder. Destruction standing alone, I thought, freezing the moment, and my heart. However, as I watched, a sparrow fluttered down to grab a feather, soft as down. Other small birds followed suit until nothing was left. They had taken the destruction and turned it into hope, a soft lining for a nestful of new life.

If Nature can turn things around so beautifully, then so can we.

Island Blog – Fun

So, yesterday was all about love and cards and flowers and romantic dates. For some. Me……..? Well, I busied myself with the craft of housekeeping and caring right up to the evening, my favourite time of day (or is it night?) when the northern hemisphere teeters on the cusp of transition. It’s time for a shower, to put the tatties on to boil, to gee up the woodburner and to check the garage door is shut against Dennis. He could flip that old thing into matchsticks, taking out several solid things in passing, the way he is growling behind the sky.

On this cusp, after delivering a meal to himself as he sits encased in his pyjamas, his ears clamped shut inside the headphones, some TV series playing out on his screen, silent mouths moving in a dialogue to which I am not privy, I return to the kitchen, light myself a candle or two and pour a glass of wine. Happy Valentine’s I told myself and myself smiled. I love myself enough not to bother about such lovey dovey nonsense. I could clean the faces of the kitchen units; I could have another shower; I could sweep up the crumbs or I could go to the pub. Which is what I did. The kitchen unit cleaning thing almost got me. I had tunes playing and candles flickering shadows up the walls and it all looked rather pretty until I put on my specs and noticed that there was more to cleaning the units than I had thought heretofore. Some reddish blobs had the chutzpa to stick themselves right across one door and there was much dust along the horizontals. Blow that. This is not evening work. It was a quick shift into a jacket and boots and off I toddled, giving Growling Dennis a quick and filthy look en route.

It was fun. Fun is what I love best and the one thing that isn’t always available here unless I fun the flames of it all by myself. I’m pretty good at it, though I say so myself. By the time I left, I had hugged old mates, commiserated, reassured, discussed the excitement of historical geology and understood better the palaver involved in building a new house on an island already drunk on rain. Conversation and communication in a life that has lost so very much of both are as welcome as 12 red roses any day.

When I was a recalcitrant and bloody-minded teenager I sent myself valentine cards. It saved anyone else the bother, after all, and guaranteed that I wasn’t the sad girl without a boyfriend, horribly visible in the school playground, awash with shame and certain that she has terrible breath. Nowadays I believe boyfriends are highly overrated. It all starts out rosy but mostly that’s where it begins to stop. I heard of someone who was incandescent about not getting a card from her husband. I held in a smile because if that is how he feels about her then its better out in the open. Others keep the flame burning, I know that. I met a couple of them last night, still dancing and planning to dance right up to the end of love.

And I smiled at that too.

Island Blog – Snow Angels

This very day I set sail, winds permitting, for the mainland. Destination the French Alps. I travel with family, kiddies and adults and am away for a week. In theory I will don ski boots and give the slopes a chance to delight and excite me, but my last efforts at maintaining the vertical in such conditions warn me that I may not continue with my lessons. Back in the day when I was a tricky teenager I really hated ski lessons. In fact, I only had one and that was enough. I am a walker by nature, taking my time, gathering no speed and certainly not at the mercy of those long Turkish slippers. In walking, I control myself.

It thinks me. Although I am not interested in gathering unnecessary speed either grounded or in elevated position, such as on the back of a horse, or inside a car, or, even, on skis, I always like to give something my best shot before saying this is not for me. It is the same with anything I do in life. To say ‘this is not for me’ without experiential knowledge of that to which I say No, is just plain foolish. How can I possibly know from the outside of anything? Of course, there are many things in this life, in any life, to which saying No is just not an option. But there are ways around that too.

Say I am stuck in a job I dislike, that doesn’t float my boat. I may dread stepping into another day of this arduous drudgery, among these people who aren’t of my tribe, who don’t respect and value my work, and yet it seems I have no choice if the bread is to be earned. There are two ways to change how this goes. Either I tell myself that these people do not define me, that I know my work is of value and that I wholly respect myself, leading me to research new work and to give in my notice, or I take a good look at my perception of the situation and work on changing it. I know, from experience that this is entirely possible when giving in notice is a million miles from possible.

Snow is both cold and exciting. If I don’t continue with my lessons there is a vast array of alternative pleasures. I could walk over it, listening to the scrunch of it beneath my feet, look back on my footprints alongside all the others of those who have walked this way before me. I could consider their lives, their size and weight, their choice of boot. I could look up to where the mountains point into the sky, imagine the cold up there, wonder who climbed so high and how it might have changed their view on life. I could see the flowers in Springtime, now sleeping beneath their winter blanket, careless of the weight of human trudge. I could hear the laughter, ride on the chairlift, laugh and play with snowballs, breathe in the ice and feel it freeze my face. I could watch the skiers and marvel at their skill, my heart in my mouth as they hurtle down the breast of this huge majestic mountain. I could even see Hannibal and his elephants and wonder at his courage.

In ordinary times, as the West Coast rain rains and rains without ceasing, it is hard to imagine that in a few hours I will be in a very different landscape. I have my writing pad, my books, my waterproof kit and, most important of all, I have me. How this holiday goes for me is down to me, no matter how many others I may share it with. In order to really ‘see’ it all, I must clear my misperceptions and step out naked, obviously not literally or I may not get home at all, and be as a child, ready for any mystery to open out before me. It is no different at home, just much harder to believe in, but it is the key to life and I have proved it over and over again. The drudge is inside a mind, not out there, as is my definition of myself, my love and respect of self, my childlike sense of mystery ahead. And, although it could be hard to make a snow angel from rain, I will give it my best shot when I get home.

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.