Island Blog – Me, the Swan and the Marvellousness of Life

Walking this morning over tree-fall of burnished gold – larch pins, beech and rhododendron leaves, wet and flat on the peaty floor, I see change all around. It seems to be happening daily. Water, still, in stands, rain-heavy. I remembered tadpoles, watched them clutch and fiddle about, only yesterday it seems, when the sun was high and warmth promised. Now, greasy and black, it looks subdued, tempered, level with the sky, reflecting nothing. My eyes cast upwards, as they always do beneath the magnificence of ancient trees. Beyond the skinned branches there are clouds. There is sky, a sky that looks so much further away than it did in the summer. Back then, it felt close enough to reach, to pull down some blue for myself, but if I shouted now, there would be no echo. My voice would be lost in space. The sky has retreated.

There are no fruits left on the rowan nor the blackthorn. The blackbirds have seen to that. No mistle thrush this year, no redwings swinging like ribbons through the woods. Only big black crows, buzzards, owls and seagulls. I feel a missing. Just once I heard the long-tailed tits working the nuts and fruits but caught no sighting. I remember times they danced with me along the track, unafraid. So close, those little survivors with tiny bodies and great long tails and with voices so easily recognised. Hallo, I whispered, so as not to startle them (I have no idea about Tit hearing tolerance) and they skittered about above my head as if I wasn’t there at all.

Coarse dead grasses flop drunkenly after last weekend’s gale #hooligan that screamed and crashed and threatened roof tiles and my peace of mind for two long days and nights. The first of many. The first I have got through alone in this solid wee stone-built home. During the worst of it, in the pitch black of an island night, I thought of sailors, of the animals out in this slashing hail and rain that fell like steel rods onto a goodly and patient earth. When I walk through the woods I can feel the ground move beneath my feet, as if I walked on elastic. This is how this land survives. It moves and bends with the winter’s boots. You will not break me, it says. You can change me but I will not break.

Returning down the track I see a single white bird right in the middle of the sea-loch at full tide. Too big for a gull and not a goose. Geese are never single and nor are gulls. I peer and watch and move forward. It is a swan, a Hooper, a visitor on its way to warmer climes in the south and already travelled all the way from Iceland or even further north. Now, wait a minute. Swans mate for life. Swans travel together. Why is this lone proud creature sitting mid loch? I hear its voice, haunting, echoing across the water, but it doesn’t move. Closer, I see it is looking out to sea, its neck stretched, yearning. I stop and wait. It calls on, gentle, soft, persistent. I look seawards and see nothing. What? I whisper. What are you doing here at all, all alone and with winter about to grasp us in her icy mitt? Suddenly it flaps itself into a run, lifting on great white wings into the air, heading west and out to sea.

And, then, I hear them. Miles and miles up in the faraway sky comes a huge skein of Hooper Swans, their voices responding to this left-behind loner. I watch in awe as they move overhead, as the left-behind rises and rises in pursuit. They move fast and they are high, so much higher than this single swan but in him or her I can sense determination and the adrenaline of pursuit, the drive for survival, for familial connection. This swan has lost its mate. That’s for sure. You don’t see a single swan. But it knew others would come. It knew that this was the route south. All it had to do was to stand out, white against black water and to be patient. And there stood I, clueless and wondering.

As I watched it fly, rising and rising and rising again, the skein disappearing so quickly, I whispered Go on, Go on, Go on, my brave friend! And, turning for home with a last look at the empty sea-loch, I saw the marvellousness of life.

Island Blog – Letting go

This year I decided to plant a few things and then just to wait and see. I have got my underpinnings in a right fankle during past summers as the so-called weeds reared like bucking waves and just as impossible to control. I never watched a weed flower. Out with you! Off with your head! I was the Red Queen to my so called weeds. Poor loves.

As I have completely forgotten what ‘few things’ I have planted, or where, everything is a surprise. My red crown is parked at the back of my Narnia wardrobe (please forgive fairytale confusion) and I am just sitting, crown less and watching. Of course, I have no idea what subversive hi-jinks are going on beneath the surface, what clutching control and which dominatrix is at work, but I do know that this letting go is beneficial to my abdicated soul. It is so very peaceful to just watch, to just let go. Past summers had me tutting, grumpy, eye-rolling, stomping, yanking and swearing. At what, or should I say at whom? Mother Nature does what she does and there was me (love bad grammar) thinking I was bigger than she, or is it her…..This ‘garden’ was hillside once, sheep shorn and wild, free to roam, free to collect seeds that could survive the salt blast and the sharp-toothed winds, the frost in May and the broiling sun that comes with no warning at all. Who am I to decide on control? I have seen land closed for 50 years by acidic forestry growth, burst into a riot of foxgloves when the trees are felled. I have seen this ancient land wait patiently for light and space, enough to make me gasp. Whatever shenanigans go on above surface bear no relation to the strong and peaceably waiting power of the below, the unseen, the guessing depth of life always waiting to live. Above surface, there are irritable fingers trying to control, a red queen or two, a factory spread, a car park, a township, and Mother Natures sighs, whispers to her own, Be Patient my little ones, you time will come again.

Well they are all coming again big time in my little patch of wonderful. I have not a scooby what anything is but everything flowers like it was their own personal Christmas Day and the bees are everywhere, plus the other things like look bees but aren’t, the flies, the triangular buzzing things and many many more insects pollinating and feeding themselves nectar at the same time. I laugh and I smile and I just love this letting go. It thinks me of other things I can let go of.

Well, once you start, there really is no stopping.

Island Blog – A Different Summer

Looking back on life, I imagine we can all remember one particular summer, for its joy or for its unjoy. Perhaps it was that one, as a carefree youngster, first in love, heady with dreams and hopes and madly keen to escape the confines of diligent parenting. Perhaps it was that memorable holiday, the colours, swirls and shape of which are ingrained in a mind, body and soul. Perhaps it was the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the time the wisteria went crazy up the walls, dropping sweet perfume and amethyst blooms every time you walked underneath.

This one, the one we are welcoming right now will surely be a collective memory, one we will talk about, write about and think about for a very long time to come. By definition, ensuing summers will still be summers but might appear ordinary, now that we have met extraordinary. I love this time of year. Less clothing, more colour, bare feet and crisp salads; sunshine skin and long bright evenings; new life all around, birds, animals, flowers; brown babies, freckles, picnics and barbecues. Everything in me shifts with the rising warmth, reflections of green at the waters edge, the sound of Earth singing us back to life.

Okay so this summer is different and although each summer is different, in that we have all moved through the winter and, therefore, learned new learnings, this one is more different than most. But, even as we are refused access to each other, to dinners out, lunch al fresco at a local restaurant, long walks together or parties on the lawn, we can still summer. I know that the isolation can chip away at us, because, as humans, as social creatures, we long to share. Witnessing something wonderful, something new and delightful all on your own is just not the same. There will be many, like me, who are talking to themselves. I tell me many things throughout the day, share jokes and stories and me is a good listener, wise, too, sometimes irritatingly so. I remember learning once that inside me are as many as 25 others, all still me but different aspects of me. There is the Judge, of course, the poker-faced harridan with a lemon in her mouth. She is the most vocal, but as her repertoire is unimaginative and predictable, I can soon shut her up. There’s the little Alice in Wonderland and I am very fond of her. She always wants to play or shrink or sup tea with the Hatter and, together, we have great adventures. Then there’s Mrs Sensible. She is the wise one who keeps me from sailing out to sea without a compass. There is the Wife, the Mother and the Grandmother, and together we are quite a team. We are the ones who move through each day in acceptable clothing and with a well-ordered mind. Keeping a balance of the females inside my head is sometimes tricky. Sometimes I want to run riot, to disappear into my imagination, to break the rules of the well-ordered daily routine. And sometimes I do.

We are all having to search ourselves to find the fun, at times. And, for all the worries and concerns that have cut us off from each other, we have the chance to learn something wonderful from this summer. How we live thereafter will be directly aligned to what we have taken the time to study and consider. Great things will grow from the ashes of this, much like the flowers are doing right now, just outside the window.

Island Blog – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.

Island Blog 117 Animals I have known

 

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It’s cold here today.  I’m looking out across the sealoch through a hail of white bullets. A huge white-tailed eagle has just flown past the window, pinching all the light. The trees are quite stripped of any whisper of autumn, thanks to the endless storm force winds that plunder the nights.  Last night the roof tiles danced as if there was a load of Gene Kellys up there, singing in the rain.  Sleep gave up on me around 4am and I woke to a lime green glow casting weird shadowy shapes around the room as the curtains fought to stay connected with their moorings.  Oh hallo moon, I said.  Full she was and quite chuffed with herself sitting there all alone in the sky, quite the big cheese.  I checked my clock, though what for I can’t tell you.  There was nothing to be learned whatever it said, with it’s luminous hands morse-coding the passage of time.  I suppose if it had read 7 o’clock, it would have meant I could get up and make tea.  But 4am is not the right time for anything other than going back to sleep, which I didn’t manage.

On summer mornings, when I wake early, I can bounce (quietly of course, although I bounce a bit more noisily these days) down the stairs, make tea and feel warm and excited about the day ahead, as I write.  In the sleety wind-battered winter, the very thought of pushing back the duvet and stepping into the chilly room is enough to remain me beneath the goose down.  So, I lie there thinking about things like sealing wax and kings and sundry other daft forays into the world of my imagination.  One such journey showed me a mouse, made of velvet and the colour of chocolate which is very swish for a mouse by the way, and I bet you’ve never seen one.

Animals often appear in dreams and play large parts in whatever drama unfolds before my eyes.  It has always been the way of things and not least, I imagine, because of all the hundreds of animals I have shared my life with.  I remember the working horses in the flatlands, those gentle chestnut giants with slow gait and kindly eyes, with broad backs and feet like meat plates.  I remember watching them pull a plough, bracing their wide chests against the harness and leaving, in their wake, deep straight lines across a field that reached to the horizon.  After their work was done, we unclipped them and turned the huge collars around on their thick necks to give them some relief.  The children, just toddlers, always wanted to ride them home to the stables and a welcome bucket of nuts.  They looked like coloured dots, perched high above the rest of us, and clinging on tightly to the wiry manes, laughing with glee as they rocked and rolled their way down the track.  We never had to lead the horses, for they were weary and only looking for food, water and rest.  I remember someone making a hoo-ha about the danger we put our children in and it made us laugh out loud.  They never fell off, couldn’t fall off, not with that width of back beneath their little bottoms, a back that could have hosted a small tea party quite safely.

Then we had collies, labradors, hens and cats, one, named Cosmic Creepers, whom we found with a rabbit snare embedded in it’s neck.  It was wild and had a set of extremely sharp teeth that it enjoyed sinking into arms and fingers.  Mum and I spent ages snipping the wire, bathing the wounds and minding our fingers.  Cosmic Creepers became part of the family, as did Isobel the hen as you will know if you’ve read Island Wife.  Isobel was also wild, but, thankfully, quite without sharp teeth.  We had pet calves and lambs who always got daft names.  Mint Sauce, for example, and Bovril, and Lamb Chop.  Once we had a crow called Jim who lived in a cage in the barn and smelled dreadful.  His wing was hurt, and after he was set free, he hopped around the garden as if he couldn’t quite remember what to do next.

Living with animals is never dull.  They teach me.  If I only think as a human I miss something, an extra dimension, for animals are quite honest and rather definite about their needs.  They don’t fanny about wondering if it’s convenient for me to serve up dinner, they just whinny or moo or march into the kitchen, which is okay-ish if we are talking Hen. A working horse might have caused a bit of a stooshie, had she got indoors, but I caught her in time.  She just followed me back from the stable and……well…..kept coming.  I fed her a carrot and turned her smartly around.  She did wander back, but not immediately, deciding to visit the farm veg shop on the way for a big mouthful of winter greens.  I could see them hanging out of her mouth as she sashayed up the track, and wee Polly, who worked in the shop had to go home for a lie-down.

I always thought of myself as a wild horse.  I said so, to the island husband one day.  He snorted, which was a bit rude.  No, he said, not a wild horse, oh no definitely not!

Okay……….thanks for that……….what then, if not a wild horse?

A hen, he said and thought it was terribly funny, for quite some time.

Island Blog 71 – Letting Go

Island Blog 71

 

Yesterday I took some washing up to the line like a good island wife, in a stout breeze.

That is not an article of island clothing, by the way, but, instead, a good wind for drying things.

As I climbed up the little mosaic-ed garden steps, a bush erupted beside me.  I knew from the sound effects that this was a Blackbird Hoo-ha, at which Blackbirds are pretty good.  They can make one out of nothing with their alarm calls, causing an island wife to drop her laundry basket, tipping her husband’s undergarments into a flowerbed and requiring her to wash them all over again.

I stood still, my back against the wall, my husband’s undergarments safely within the confines of the basket, and waited for the drama to unfold.  For a few seconds, I and the blackbird family listened for each other, neither of us daring to make a sound.  I knew they would give in first, through their natural curiosity and also because time is of the essence for them.  Not so for me.  I could linger here all morning without a shred of embarrassment or guilt, but, then, I don’t have to learn to fly in order to keep a hold of my life.

Or do I?

Anyway, the male jumped out of the bush first, which is quite proper for a Father Protector, and he locked eyeballs with me and said something rather sharp and double syllabled.  I looked away, knowing that this removed me as a confrontational threat, and waited some more.  He chirruped at the bush and out bounced three youngsters – all bigger than their dad, followed by a rather ruffled mother

After a few aviation tips, he told them to get on with it, and led the way, landing on the apex of the roof.  Eventually they followed, but not without giving dad a whole load of lip about this flying thing and his overly high expectations of them.

This morning I noticed them all around the compost bin, which has overflowed with an excitement of worms, thus providing the family with three good meals a day plus healthy snacks.  How wonderful it is, I thought to myself, that this adult pair are likely to have pitched their nest around this very spot precisely because of the overflowing compost bin and the excitement of worms.  I wonder if we are clever with our own nest pitching – considering what is best for the family, and, then, moving if we find a danger too close at hand.  I doubt it somehow, not with all that mortgage angst and debts and work commitments, although none of that makes it right to be living in the wrong place.

At my little grand-daughter’s naming ceremony, the words for her, in poetry, promises and songs, offered gifts and wisdom and freedom.  She must learn from her parents, her guides and then be free to take that learning and shape it her own way.  We all want this and yet few of us get it or give it, not really.  Through our own fear, we try to keep hold, of our children, our friends.  How many of us ever listen to someone, anyone, announce their new plan, a completely bonkers and impossible one, in our opinion and make no comment whatsoever?  No word of caution, no opinion, saying something like this:-

Wow!  That sounds incredible?  How will you achieve that do you think?

And then listen and learn and encourage and only ever give opinion if asked.

Bet you can’t do it.  We are all jailors of someone in order to feel free.