Island Blog – The Nothing

It rained today. A lot. The track is more like a little stream despite the culverts, now all clogged with copper leaves, hesitating the flowaway. I stop to watch the trickle that should be a steady flow. This rock, this island, is good at sloughing off water and it needs to be for we would all drown otherwise. There is enough height, enough of the waters need to return to Mother Sea, to ensure we just require wellies and macs and a good attitude. Our skin is good up here, less drying wrinkles, more flow and adjust, much like the land upon which we live. I skim the puddles where the land lifts like a shrug, just enough to allow a sort of dry footfall. My old boots, my beloved boots, are more than happy to share the wet with the wet and I can often squelch homewards. No matter. Things can always dry unlike sad hearts, hearts that just recently have filled with salt tears with nowhere to go. Not my heart. Mine is dry as a desert and there may be a problem there, but this is not about me. This is about them, the ones who cannot see beyond the rain, cannot see the bright light in between clouds, the geese flying black against the darkling sky, the swing and waggle of some shrub grown way beyond its boots and needing a cutting reminder of its place in the garden.

I see the old pines out back, quiet now that the stripping wind has exhausted itself. Larch and pine needles thicken the steps up to the compost bin as I walk them today. The burn is loud and wild with peatwater, brown and luscious and thinks me of whisky. So fast it falls, crashing down into pools and slowing like a slug as it builds and bubbles golden froth in the waiting time. I hear it at night as I try to sleep, listen to its song. I love to hear living water, I love the tidal crash. I love the argument between land and sea and I love the way they work it all out. But it does think me of where something stops and another something begins, such as a life, a death.

As I diddle about with should I, shouldn’t I in the confines of Covid fear I think of those who are in the place I was over a year ago. They are there right now and I can do nothing to ease their pain. They will be feeling everything and nothing at the same time. They will be numb and practical, baking, cooking, serving, anything to fill in their moments, anything to keep their feet moving, their smiles bright. I know this place but I know nothing about their place. It confounds me, thinks me of the crash of the burn as it falls into a pool, almost a relief, about the slug in the waiting time. It is, in a word, tapselteerie and yet they will be fighting to hold on to normal because for decades normal was normal. Effortless. She knew who she was and he knew who he was. Now that he is gone, who the heck is she? What is normal?

And Nothing is waiting at the door. Nothing is but a bit player on this stage. But, for some time she will give him the limelight. As I did. As I still do at slug-froth times. My respect to her, to any of you who know what the heck I am talking about.

Island Blog – Fear+Courage=Brave

I remember ordering a dress online and when it arrived and was miles away from wonderful on me and in itself, poor material, wrong swing or no swing at all, duller than the image I ‘bought’ promised, I realised with a sink and a rise that what I was really buying was the young, fit, beautiful woman who modelled it. Hey and Ho. Life lessons that really teach us are rarely pleasant like ice cream. They are more like constipation medicine, good for you but utterly vile in the taking in. And Life doesn’t change her style. No, indeed. You begin to realise that which you have fought against for longtime is never going to be a perfect sunshine sail across an expanse of gentle water with just the right breeze to luff and exhilarate, beneath a cloudless sky and with a nice landing ahead, accessible, safe, easy and without challenge from other yachties. It does happen but never expect it. Such is Life. She is always feisty, dammit.

Anyways, this covid/bereavement thingy has certainly sucked out my self-confidence which was never strong to be honest. The expanse of time between what I took for ordinary to now when nothing will ever be ordinary again, is huge. I can’t even see the other side of it as I come into land, into a new land, one with hand sanitisers at every docking point and the whole world hidden behind masks. Even the thought of driving the switchback into the harbour town scares me. I must not, I must, I have to, I am in chains. The skipping across the little harbour road into the arms of a friend is no longer okay. The touch of a friend, no. And, as the island opens up again to visitors, albeit monitored and controlled the volte face of it is very alarming. I know we need their cash but all of us have loved the year of just us. The wildlife has benefited, the flowers too, the roads are in better condition, but the businesses have really struggled to stay afloat and, sadly, some will drown. I don’t like the thought of that, these brave islanders who came in better times, worked to establish something vital and beckoning and then who had to shut down, and for a long long time, maybe too long time.

Today I walked with a good friend. I told her, when she told me her possible plan for our walk (way further than I have gone for decades) that it scared me, that I might not want to go that far. Was it memories? After all, I had walked, driven on a tractor, a quad, that far out into the Atlantic so many times without a single dither. Maybe. I don’t have a handle on an answer to that. But it queried me and I thought about it. Maybe, as older folk, or as a folk with a trauma on their shoulders, we stick to the small world we have created for protection. Over time, this small world begins to challenge our breath, our breathing, as if we had pulled a polythene bag over our own head. Maybe. It makes sense. I haven’t been anywhere for well over a year and even before that, whilst caring, I pulled in my world like a comfort blanket, for safety and also in order to feel the edges of it, to be in some sort of control, when the daily demands threatened to take me over. But now things want to change, so they tell me. I am fearful but, somehow, equipped with the courage to brave up. It sounds ridiculous that I feared walking over land I know as well as I know my own body, land that is soaked with over 43 years of memories, land with which I bonded at a physical, emotional and spiritual level for a pivotal catch of my life, above which my children grew into feral crazy beauties, where decisions were made, changed, adapted and developed hour after hour, day after day, season after season.

But, the truth is, I have allowed my comfort world to smallen and now it is time to brave up. Although this, this walk, this day with this good friend was just a baby step, I loved it. I felt no anxiety, no fear. I knew as I always know with her that I am safe. She is feisty as hell but so kind and so emotionally wise. I already knew this but I can still doubt myself listening instead to the rubbish inside my head, the judge talk, the fear. I am learning to notice and to control my thoughts. It will probably be a slow process so I will be required to live a lot longer.

That’s ok with me. I am braving up, no weapons, no defence, just trust, good boots and caution on buying online frocks.

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.