Island Blog – Wind Rock and Stories

A huge bag of wood arrived today, just as it began to rain – again. I love the sight of all those split logs, fine and red and full of stories. I had heard the chainsaws for a few days way out across the sea-loch inside the forestry depths just knowing that my huge bag would be craned over the fence in a couple of days. I drew my trusty and rusty barrow out from the garage and began the transfer from bag to wood store, feeling each log and enjoying the way I simply know how to stack, which log to place where with barely a second’s thought. The pile rose as I considered the stories held within that precious wood. The importance of trees, that’s what I was thinking as my hands held each log, each log of stories. These pines will have only lived for 50 years, t’is true, prior to felling for the warmthly needs of the likes of me, but it reminded me of the huge beech tree I saw at the weekend. It had fallen across the track, all the many tons of it, and politely, as big trees always seem to fall, thus making sure nobody is squashed. The victim of wind rock.

The lines on this big soldier spanned hundreds of years and the bleeding sap made me sad. In death there is a bleeding, even if you are a tree. I touched the newly hewn bare face of the trunk and could feel the stories run up my arm. Even if I am too stupid to actually hear the details of these silent stories, I know they are there held within the warm mother trunk and protected by her coat of bark. What had this tree seen in its time? The estate was formed in early 1800 so, chances are she observed many things. Grand people coming and going, carriages, horses, escapes and arrivals; farm workers on carts with ribald in their mouths and a flask of something stiffening. Children off to school, beautiful sons and daughters off to grand parties, old women out to tea and a gossip and sturdy clan chiefs kitted up for a skirmish. All of that, for this tree stood at the gate to the big house and would have been the envy of the other trees, relegated to a yearning life in the bleachers.

Aside the track, bracken stands tall, copper filigree on burnished stalks. It looks beautiful in death, unlike in life when it suffocates the ground and harbours myriad blood-sucking pests. Few birds today in the bare trees, beyond a few long-tailed tits whipping off doomed buds and a pair of jays, screeching horribly at each other from one side of the wood to the other. Jays always surprise me; a dreadful scratchy call, like fingers on a blackboard and then they fly out, a rainbow of fabulous colour. A line comes to mind. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. It takes me back to my youth; beautiful men and women, all sparkles and smiles and convincing words, and without a story. I met a few of those. At the time I was so embroiled in the minutiae of young life, I didn’t pull back to see the bigger picture. I do now. As I watch a female sparrow hawk take a blackbird right outside my window, I see her beauty, her colours and the ebony black of her eyes. I hear the cries from her prey. I am not cold to this. It physically hurts me, but I know the story. She is as hungry as the blackbird. Her life is all about precision and focus, unrelenting focus, day after day for life. Now that is a story.

Back to the tree. I think about it. Some will look at this mighty giant, now sawn rudely in half and bleeding, as firewood in a couple of years. Others will feel great sadness at the loss of yet another tree. And I? I will keep walking by to hear the stories it holds, even as it dies; even if I cannot tell them out, I can hold them within and, somehow I know that this matters.

Island Blog – Taking the Biscuit

My album is out. Who would have thought it? Edge of the Wild is a compilation of my own songs, worked into magic by my musician/music producer friends at Wild Biscuit (www.wildbiscuit.com) who came up with the idea and then gentled me through the process. I was scared, lacking in confidence and quite certain I had no song left in me. They knew I was wrong and they were right.

It took 3 years to bring it all together. The demands of dementia care meant I could only work with them in fits and starts, short stays and intense effort on all our parts. Staying with them in a delightful farmhouse in Argyll was the perfect place, not least because I met the piano to outsmart all pianos. I could not believe the beauty of this big grand and it seemed to me that all I had to do was to come up with melody and lyrics and the keyboard did the rest. My fingers, creaky after years of no dance with ebony and ivory, were set free. They seemed to float across the keys all by themselves and I hardly had to look or think at all. It was a taste of magic, and heady. For periods of 2/3 days with many days in between, we focussed and recorded. I know the talent Wild Biscuit brought to the process as I was guided firmly but gently up and up and up till my Achilles heel was suitably stretched and my tiptoes elevated me higher than I had ever been before. It was exhausting and exciting, rising me early each morning with more stories to sing, more ideas to explore. The dynamic between Wild Biscuit and me was electric.

Now it is done. Now my album Edge of the Wild is out in the world, on Amazon as a CD or download, on iTunes and on Spotify. (https://open.spotify.com/artist/69ZRY6E6uKAcUmD8G5cF4Y?si=_rlES-ADR8OGIg5s8s7-Cw) I am proud. I am a singing granny and I wonder how many others can say this? Had Wild Biscuit not approached me all those years ago, saying ‘You have a voice, woman. The world needs to hear it.” I might have died with my songs still in me. Thanks to them, this is not the truth.

I invite you to listen. Each song is birthed from an experience, a memory. I recall each of them, remembering how I felt at the time, how the outside of me belied the inside of me. I hope this comes across. Many may relate to each songstory, and to you I say Hallo. We walk our own paths through this extraordinary and complicated life but there are meeting points all along the way where we can share, laugh, cry and find the ‘brave’ to move on.

We all, if we are honest, live on the Edge of Wild. Our dreams and hopes may dash against the rocks but I have seen enough boats pull themselves back to safety, enough courageous people turn their backs on those rocks, to know that it is never too late to make a songstory. I don’t mean everyone needs to make a singer/songwriter album, but I do mean that for a life to mean anything at all, those songs need to be sung and that will take introspection and jack boots.

Island Blog – Seed Pods, A Hawk and Me

Today there is a breeze – a welcome one, even if it is already 27 degrees out beyond the cooling thatch of the stoep where fierce old Father Sun is warming up for a ten degree elevation. Little brown seedpods scurry across the velt as if chasing each other. The big stones, left behind as the bushland erodes even more, show me their shoulders, rounded from a thousand years of ocean turmoil. These huge stones have stories to tell. I remember years ago flying in a tiny plane, not much bigger than a swan, through the fjords of Iceland, heading north to where the houses run out and only the ice tundra remains. The sharp toothed mountains reared into the blue sky like pointing fingers, young still, in the lives of mountains, unlike their Scottish cousins whose stories go way further back. These mountains, these teenagers, could still fell a man (and a plane the size of a swan) just by falling out with the sky, thus creating a synaptic flu. And, as with we humans, one person with flu affects everything and everyone else.

As I sipped my coffee and watched for a giraffe visit, I heard a guinea fowl. The distinctive sound is not usually heard in solo, for guinea fowl, those comical hen-like birds travel in groups, all talking at once. The singular sound alerted me and soon I saw, first, the bird running at a surprising lick between the still-bare trees followed by what I thought was another fowl in flight. the guinea fowl lifted into the air somewhat clumsily, still yelling its head off, still alone but for its follower. Ah……not another fowl but a hawk! The chase was lost to my view and I had no phone with me to capture such a sight, nor would I have had the time to focus and press ‘video’. It all happened so fast – the large hen fowl, the smaller hawk in pursuit, an unlikely meet. Who knows? Not I, said the cat. Not I said the goose. And nor do I.

This all thinks me. The seed pods tippling along in the wind, powerless to change a single thing. The guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. The old round-shouldered stones and their younger cousins poking at the sky to trouble it as all teenagers will do around authority. In my days and weeks here I have studied and rested, read and watered the plants who could never wait a week for refreshment, not in this dry heat. Sometimes, and for no reason I can find, I am like a seed pod, trundling this way and that across some bare-assed tundra and the best I can do is to make little trundling noises as a bully wind decides where I go next. Someone might say something that reacts inside me like an axe-chop and all my anxieties rise to welcome the blow, confirming what I always feared, that I still haven’t got it right, whatever ‘it’ is. I might hold my ground (mindfully) but my rational mind has abandoned me and all I want to do is to hide in the dark of the broom cupboard with all the other old brooms whose bristles are more like whispers but which nobody quite got round to chucking on the bonfire.

Other days I am the guinea fowl in the wrong place at the wrong time. I can feel the terror and hear the hawk and a greater part of me just wants to give up and wait for the inevitable, however slow and unpleasant that would be. Funnily enough, I never feel like the hawk, not in such a chase. Even if I do know that hawks need food like all the rest of us and is not able to pop to Tescos for a weekly shop, I still prefer to envisage such a magnificent creature soaring over my head and enjoying the upthrust of thermals.

In my studies, I am learning both to ‘ground’ and to ‘elevate’ in my daily meditation (well, almost daily). It’s all done through imagination and I have plenty of that to spare, too much most of the time to be honest, and the imagery really does calm and restore me. But, and here’s my jagged toothed poke at the sky, I really do wonder at the efficacy of loading one wee woman with so much imagination whilst others seem to have just enough to live a normal and pleasant life. I think things nobody else thinks, or would admit to, perhaps. I go down into valleys and up the rocky mountains whilst others walk calmly along the road. I can see them. I can talk to them but I cannot walk that way it seems. My way (thank you God) is a daily bother about appropriate footwear for a terrain I did not choose and am quite unprepared for. Are there others like me out there, I wonder? Yes, I know there are and the reason I write all this in my blogs is not just to reach out to all you others who have to abseil slimy rock faces instead of take a wee donder along a road built by man and following the line of least resistance, but to know I am not the only one who fights life every single step of the way. It isn’t that I am unhappy with my lot, far far from it. I love my life, am in love with my life. I have the imagination to see far far into the void even if it terrifies the bejabers out of me. I can climb mountains in the wrong footwear if I have to. I have something extraordinary within (thank you God) even if I do wonder (and often) what on earth I am supposed to do with it all. I have envied, many times, the folk who just get on with life, who don’t think too much and who appear rarely, if ever, consumed by doubts, fears, anxieties and predatory hawks; those who see what is visible and who are not concerned with what is not. It looks like such a pleasant way to live, but I could not live that way however hard I tried. My inner nutcase is way too strong for me to conquer. I know. I’ve tried to kill it off since way back when. She, and it is obviously a she, so obstinate, so strong, so defiant, so stubborn and loud and ornery. No hiding in the broom cupboard for her, dammit. I have even tried to outwit her; wearing clothes that look like other people’s, or practising normal ways to live, to speak; voicing opinions that present me as #notme but it never lasts for long. I get the giggles. This me is this me. End of.

And here you are, my fellow crazies. I see you on your own rock face and I am waving from my own – in the wrong footwear with the hawk screeching in my ears and a bully wind buffeting my ass. Above all of us who take the path less travelled, if indeed you could call it a path at all, so invisible at times, so thrawn with roots and other trip-ups, is Father Sun, Mother Moon and a sky wide enough to hold all of us down whilst lifting all of us up.

And so it is.

Island Blog 68 – Songs for the Girls

Island Blog 68 (futureengagedeliver.com)

fig via: futureengagedeliver.com

I wrote a song for Jenny and one day I will sing it out, perhaps after the funeral.  And then I wrote another for my little grand-daughter, the youngest thus far whose naming ceremony is being celebrated the weekend after.

How life organises these things I cannot say, but she always does and it makes a sort of sense.  It’s not about one life replacing another, but more that the sharp-edged void created in a heart, when someone dies can be softened by a new life.  These two girls will never know each other; will never come together except in my heart, and that is something rather wonderful and quite uniquely precious.

When I write my songs, or create my paintings, or lampshades or cushions or whatever, I work for one person.  I think of who they are and what colours they wear and what stories lie in their eyes, and I work to honour and recognise them all.  This is why I won’t create a production line, nor paint the same, but in blue, to match the furnishings.  Every single piece of work is a one-off.

Much like a life.

The song for Jenny celebrates her as a woman of the sea, of the world and now, of the beyond, wherever that is.  The words are taken from a well-known poem and personalised, and I don’t suppose anyone will mind, because they will hear what they want to hear and think what they want to think about Jenny as they take it all in.  The music will lift them and pull on their heart strings and someone may well recognise parts of other melodies and other phrasing from a different song for there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, everything is always new when someone catches a thing and forges it again in the fires of their heart.

The song for my granddaughter is different in that the words are all mine, and the melody pinched from a couple of other musicians who won’t know and wouldn’t mind anyway.  We are not talking chart topper here.  The words had to be bespoke, just for her, and with respect paid to her mum and her dad and the fabulous crazy wild people they are, and all those attributes now handed on to one little girl.  It’s light-hearted and fun and will bring smiles to all the faces watching me stand and deliver.

We are all unique, but it is a rare bird that can fly alone into a busy sky, with its own song to sing, certain that just by singing it, everything is new.

Island Blog 14 – Oh the falling snow

First it was a threat, an amber warning, and then, by 8am, a reality, falling in big soft silent flakes, from a sky that looked like my granny’s double damask table cloth.  And every single flake is different- no two ever the same.

In no time the snow is over my boots- something I discovered fairly smartly as I rushed out to build a snowman.  The first of the year.  Even at nearly 60, snow people fascinate me. With our frozen fingers, we can fashion these crystals into a magical creature, letting our imaginations fly.

I read a book recently called The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey and it took me into a fantasy world of snow and trees and silence and magic.  Even though the story is unbelievable, in that a snow girl comes to life, I believed it, because I choose to inhabit such a world where anything can happen way outside what is seen and explainable.  Too many unexplainable things happen and not just to me.  What I see, can touch, and explain, ends right there;  it can never go any further, but if I turn instead to my imagination, there is absolutely no limiting punctuation whatsoever.

 

Snowman - Boog 14