Island Blog – To be seen and heard

The tide is pushing out from the sea-loch in such a rush I wonder if it is late for something. As the tides change to fit the pull of Mother Moon, everything, including we humans, respond, even if we don’t know we are doing that responding thing. The light is lower in the sky, the skyscape more dynamic and suddenly there’s a chill out there, a chill of clarity. Against a Payne’s grey this afternoon, just as the rain stopped and the sun appeared, 12 hooper swans cut through the sky. Such beauty, their white wings on slow-flap, their pattern not for my pleasure but for their ease of passage. Nonetheless I can marvel at their passing as they curve the sea-loch, change leadership and fly on to God knows where. Moments like this come suddenly and, I have realised, only because I want to witness such moments, such passing beauty, and that means refusing to spend too much time inside the limitations of my own head.

A nature walk with two of my little granddaughters yesterday took us along the same track, the Tapselteerie track, the one that offers a glimpse of change every single time I set foot on it. This particular walk was one that required a deal of looking. Naturally, there were two of us who needed to run, to jump in the puddles, to throw laughter up into the Autumn air, but old granny just walked, just looked. We found acorns, beech nuts, brave wee oak saplings, rowan berries, autumn coloured leaves, lichen, old man’s beard on an alder, shells on the beach, bits of sky, reflections, a change in the wind. Some of these could be popped into their collecting bags, some just wanted to be seen, to be noticed, as we all do.

It thinks me. These little ones are already forming their view of the world as they know it. They are learning to win, to be bigger, faster, kinder, brighter than someone else. It isn’t that parents teach this. It is survival and the wee ones are hungry for it. Although they are dependent for now, they long for a degree of independence. They want to be safe and they want to be free. They want friends and to be alone and above all they want to be noticed. As I watch them and the others grow and shape themselves, I know that my role is to observe and to learn, to bear witness and to really see them, for each one is longing to be him or her self, and that self is as delicate as a candle in the wind.

On the final leg of our walk in Nature, one girl ran far ahead, the other calling for her to wait. Being the older sister she reluctantly stopped and waited only to watch her sister run right past her and on. ‘She just wants to beat me, she said. She ruins my fun.’ I thought about this, about what to say. ‘What do you want to do right now?’

‘I want to run all the way to the gate.’

‘Do it’

‘What if she cries?’ (kindness. I’m impressed)

”Let her cry.’

She took off with a big smile, running running past the wailing sister and I just watched whilst I caught up with the ‘left behind’. Holding her wee hand I told her about a snake her uncle had found in his swimming pool. Although it looked scary, it was non venomous. It’s not a snake natural to Spain, I told her and it isn’t good for the snakes that are.

She thought for a moment and looked up at me, not a tear in sight.

Maybe it came in from South America, she said, skipping along beside me.

She is five in November.

Island Blog – Grace of an Otter

Life comes and goes in waves. That’s what I think, but as I think the think, I wonder what I mean by that. Life, by definition, as long as I am alive, is a constant. More a line than a wave, like a path I walk each day. It is my nature to deviate as often as possible, but even my deviations are visible. Oh, yesterday I must have pathed off this way and last week, accordion to the way grass has grown back, I meandered that way. Unless the path is well-trod and regularly, grass will grow over quickquick, beginning it all over again as an opportunity to head off piste and, perhaps this is good enough in the limitations of my deviousness.

One of the most infuriating, at worst, or thought provoking, at best, sayings is ‘I always do it this way, or I usually walk this way, or I always have lunch at midday and so on. I work on not falling into the always and the usually, simply because of my desire for deviation and also because it heralds a setting in of routine and the shutting down of curiosity and imagination. Living this way is living in the past and not with an eye on the future, in my opinion.

Today I set off for my ‘usual’ walk. Oh, Hallo. As I wander up the track towards the sea, I stop to locate the sudden of fragrance, stand quite still and just breathe it in. Honeysuckle tumbling over a long fallen pine trunk. I watch the bees disappear into the cream and yellow trumpets, whizzing like an electric egg whisk pulled from the froth of albumen, and then emerging laden with pollen and free to fly. I notice brown leaves beneath the Horse Chestnut and find my eyes looking for conkers. No No Silly…….not yet (please not yet). These leaves just fell and turned brown on the track, that’s all. There’s a soft warm breeze and I shuck off my jumper to feel the sun on my skin, nice skin, brown skin thanks to these glorious summer days. My tattoos catch my eye as my arms swing. Each one marking an event. This one, Pegasus the Flying Horse, affixed in Glasgow when Himself was airlifted into the Uk after a massive African stroke. I had to do something that flew me above it all and Pegasus came to life. That one, the dragonfly curlicues, on a visit to Edinburgh with a lovely friend. She bought a lighthouse and I, a tattoo. This is my favourite. The artist so talented. There’s a Butterfly, a Quill, another dragonfly and I am not done yet. I have a date with my niece in Glasgow to visit her tattooist and, although I cannot go there yet, I enjoy searching through designs and placings. It matters not to me that my skin, my lovely skin, is wrinkled. Not one tiny bit.

I turn down towards the sea on a sudden whim, open the gate and read the sign affixed. YOU ARE NOW ENTERING…….and then nothing. I enter. Walking through thrift and wild grasses we reach the flat rocks, smell the salt and the kelp. I sit whilst the wee dog bolts in and out of the shallows barking at nothing. The tide is flooding, the air warm, the sun hot, the peace complete. There is nobody here but me. I remember things, like the whale-watching boat departing from the pier just behind me, returning with happy visitors, day after day after day. I hear their voices, their laughter, their whoops of delight if they had encountered whale. You will sleep well this night, I told them, and they always did. I remember Himself, all grizzled and strong, the Whale Father, the cantankerous hero. Suddenly a head pops up, sleek, black, fleeting and is gone again. I watch the water for some time. A young seal perhaps, a big otter? I am not sure, it was fleeting.

I am just about to leave when the sleekest finest dog otter rises effortlessly onto a rock not 12 feet away from me and the wee dog. She doesn’t see it and I grab her collar to stay her with me. The otter rests on a rock and crunches away at something. He is so clear to me but with his poor eyesight, he doesn’t see me. I watch him complete his meal, slide back under the kelp and reappear moments later with another crunchy thing. He is even nearer now, looks straight at me, but still doesn’t see. The wee dog makes a small bark and he looks at me square, holds, holds, then goes back to his meal. I can hardly believe my luck. I watch this wild creature, flow like liquid, sleek dark, effortless, easy in the tide tow, the flood and ebb, the wild and calm of an ocean. Elemental grace. I totter carefully away across the rocks looking back again and again. The otter just keeps being an otter. It reminds me that my very best bet is to be what I am. A woman aging, a woman strong, a woman who likes adventure, deviation and tattoos. A woman open and wild. A woman who cannot take on an ocean but who surely can take on her own life, the tide tow, the flood and ebb, the wild and calm and with as much grace as an otter.

Here comes a wind change. A door slamming, fly curtain whipsnap sort of wind. Puff clouds rise above the Blue Ben and the sea-loch ruffles and skids to the shore where, if I could hear it, there would be an argument with the rocks. From up here I can only imagine it, unhook the fly curtain and retreat into my home. Changes. At times infuriating, at best thought provoking. I like the latter best. I will be an otter inside my life of changes. I may have to swim faster or hunker down within the safety of rocks. I may enjoy sunshine kelp slip and slide days when apparent threat just observes me but does not confront. I may face off fears, imagined or real. I may bask in family or feel completely alone. None of these are in my control but I am. I. Am.

Think Otter and take on your ocean. It works.

Island Blog – After the Rain, Relation Ships and a Blackbird.

This weekend my daughter came with her girls. I know they all love it here, the freedom, the wild swimming, the spontaneous Let’s Do it thingy. Even I did that. Boots at the ready. My daughter knew little else other than ‘here’, the wild places, the free flow of life, even as she had to go through the awful teenage years, the indecision, the lost and found of herself. But, still, she, like her brothers, think of this place as home. It was a wonderful two days, jam packed with pretty much everything and nothing really planned. We went with our moment, as you have to with all the sudden island rain and the shapeshift of seasons within a single day. If you are busy not paying attention, a whole gamut of weather can swamp you, or, worse, you can miss a sunlift, an elevation, an invitation to connect. Get involved with Spotify or something on TV or your FB page and an opportunity moves on by, missing you as you, with hindsight, will miss it. As a result of this missing thing it is easy to see rain as a continuity. Which, btw, it is not.

The day my girls left, it rained stair rods. I doubt all of you know what the heck stair rods are. They are those rigid steel rods that hold (or held) carpets down on stairs where the horizontal meets the riser. They were ferocious in my rememberings. Meeting one of those in bare feet with the enthusiasm of youth in an exuberant push t’wards elevation and the ensuing pain did stay with that foot for some time to come, gaining no sympathy, despite the bruise. Those were the days when I knew that butting up against a rigid was altogether my fault, as was pretty much everything else involving collisions. Too fast, not thinking, not planning ya-di-ya. But as it still happens to me, although not with stair rods for they no longer exist, I can still bruise and bash myself through sheer exuberance, acting spontaneously and without considered thought. It is either that with me or it’s frozen immobility. I have never managed to be grey.

My daughter is the opposite of me. She always was. She is very obviously a lady. She is calm, quiet, considered, gracious and thoughtful. She would never dive into a swimming pool before first checking it has enough water in its belly. Our differences have been both a perfect match, like yin and yang, or a pulling away. This visit brought a new light to our connection. We are learning to grow an adult friendship. Now it may seem that this beginning has come a little late to those who managed to forge adult relationships with daughters when the daughters first became young women, but in my family it could never be that way because himself required full spotlight, leaving only a little glow for the rest of us to forge anything at all. He was unable to allow us time together without him and so his departure has gifted just that to us. I observe all our relation ships now have new rigging. Slowly, slowly, we are setting sail on a different sea and in a new direction. It is not something I ever expected but I am loving it. How strange life is. How heavy is the influence on children when parents still hold on to their own childhood baggage, that learned behaviour that, on reflection, can be destructive and can keep a unit confined to barracks over many long years. I know I colluded in that confining thingy but, as is obvious, there is nothing I can do to change what was, what I was, who he was and what we did to our children. They are, each one of them, strong, dynamic and good loving people. And, like us, damaged. But I can do something about the Now. I can change, say sorry, listen and learn. I can be humble and encouraging, I can leap into the new with open eyes and an open heart. I can sail alongside each one as we adventure on, working with the wind shifts, the tidal turns, the clouds, the sun and the rain.

‘After the rain’ doesn’t always apply to the outside stair rods making way for the sun. Rain will fall on the inside and the outside of us, and rain is life-giving water. We need it and when it does slow and stop and the world opens up like a smiling face, we can be thankful for both the rain and for the stopping of it. Taking every moment as a gift, not missing a single one, watching, learning, observing and listening, we can change or begin anew at any age. I find saying sorry for being crap at times very freeing. I am learning how to honour whom I was as a mother. Both awful and wonderful, rain and sun. It is the best anyone can be. To have the courage to be vulnerable, especially around children can mean so much to those children. I recommend it. I don’t recall ever hearing my parents say they were sorry for the things they got horribly wrong. Their generation held it all inside, too afraid to be humble for fear of losing control and status. I can see that. But we, my generation, have learned from this and have discovered that, contrary to old beliefs, it is a strong and brave man or woman who steps up, palms open and says I am sorry and who really means it. And, after the rain, the blackbird’s song is pure and bright and completely new.

Island Blog – Feeling the Bones

As I walk beneath the coppering beech trees, the bare bones of ancient larch, the garnets of gold on this tree and that, like halos, I become suddenly aware of my body. Paying attention to this I can feel each muscle ripple and stretch, contract and stretch again as my legs take me down the track. In my mind’s eye I see my bones, my skeleton and it makes me laugh out loud. I think, What if someone saw me like this? All flowing frock and skinny bones. I hear the creak and grind of ball and socket, the constant movement deep inside my skin, my protecting armour. I think of all that movement, that silent and secret life of very important organs and other bits of gloopy squidge that mean the bones can keep me going. I stretch my bare toes inside my furry boots, consider each one and its unique purpose. I feel the stones beneath my rubber soles and notice how that foot, those toes, work together without me doing anything conscious at all. One toe less and I would be wonky chops for as long as it took my brain to catch up, to readjust, to set me level once more. I flex my fingers, the only part of me not moving, as they hang limp inside my warm fingerless mittens. They curl in repose and are colder than any other part of me. I lift one hand to my face and study those gnarled old digits which have worked hard and for many many years at all sorts of different things. These bumpy looking sticky-out appendages can play soft and soothing piano. They have held newborns and adults in times of joy and times of grief. They have obediently frocked me up of a morning and then deconstructed me at bedtime. They have made tea, dinners and beds. This finger has pointed. Often. In anger, at an astonishing sight, at the openly merry mouth of a welcoming cafe in a rainstorm. This thumb has pressed, eased and held down string for knotting. So many important actions I simply took for granted.

Moving on through the canopy of beech and alder, hazel scrub and ancient pines I notice a newly dead pine, tall as a building and now naked as a skeleton. A peppering of holes tells me of woodpeckers and unfortunate bugs. The spine is almost white, all sung out now and suggesting firewood. The tide flows noisily out followed by a shriek and cackle of gulls, snow-white against the smoky grey of a raincloud. Earlier I had watched 3 otters fishing in the sea-loch, when the tide had stopped to draw breath before turning back to Mother Atlantic. Flat water. Otters like flat water, I have noticed. I suspect it is a more peaceable hunt for them.

Still aware of my body moving, still feeling and noticing, I realise I haven’t done this before, not quite like this. I didn’t set out to notice. The ‘notice’ just came as if something had changed outside of me drawing my attention. Staying with the moment and allowing it to take control I consider what this body, this mind, this vital combination has achieved through life and what it is achieving now. Perhaps as we age we grow more aware of such things, whereas in youth we just expect everything to work without question. Perhaps. Does it matter? No, it does not. What matters is simply that I respond to the gentle nudge of awareness and that I engage with it.

I am happy to report that the walkers I did meet on the track were not horrified by a skeleton in a frock and furry boots and I am glad of it. This special and powerful invitation for an inner dance was for me. Just me.

Island Blog – Poppies, Tides and Hugs

There is something deep about a hug. Like an ocean flowing over, through and around you. It won’t drown you because you can breathe underwater. Enveloped inside big strong arms, feeling the pressure of warm fingers, the familiar smell of home. I am home. You are here. You and I are, for the length of this hug, as one body. My love flows to you as your love flows to me, right down to my very core, fizzing along my capillaries and through my muscles and over my skin like the first sip of champagne. When we part, the tide has turned. From slack water to ebb or flow. Birds lift in anticipation, fish swirl in the depths, sensing a change; seaweed flutters in confusion. Which way now?

After months of slack water, these son-hugs turned the tide. Tall, strapping men, fit and healthy, warm and soft, gifting love and support, hugging. They have to bend down a bit for a hug with me and even further down to hug their wheel-chariot dad, but they can flex and stretch, rise up again effortlessly, as once we did. Buried in their chests I breathe them in, remembering. Not so long ago they dandled on my knee, fed from me, squealed their delight, screamed their anger and now look at them, fathers themselves with knees for dandling their own little ones. How fast life travels, how fragile it is and yet how strong. How long is a life? There is no answer to that. What matters, it seems to me, is what we learn during that life through observation, sail correction, through the anger and the joy, the near drowning.

Moving through a morning of poppies, I feel the inner shift. Tomorrow, if the wind rises, these crimson wide-open petals may be ripped and stripped. I saw them as buds at 6 am. By 7.30 they showed me a cadmium red mandala. By 8 they were face-up to the sky, black mouthed, anticipating insects, their petals combing the breeze like silk. To seize the day, the moment of lift, as they do, teaches me. To show me life is beautiful, fragile as poppy petals, strong as sons, and, most of all, to be truly lived, no matter how long or short. No matter at all.

Island Blog – Composing History

This morning, around 4 am, the chaos awakened me. I cannot call it a dawn chorus because, by definition, a chorus is a group of musicalities singing, or playing the same melody with sensitively selected harmonies plus the odd discord for salt. This gradually escalating cacophony smacks more of jazz, country, classical and pop all playing at the same time and yet, bizarrely, it is far from discordant. It flows in a glory of counterbalance through the open window telling me the day is rising and so should I because light is my thing and this music is the most uplifting I could ever wish for. Wherever we live, birdsong is a daily gift, whether it be given to us on the island, in a flat in Glasgow, on the coast of Spain or in Crinkly Bottom, Englandshire. And it is free, no need to download an app nor pay a monthly sub. We cannot see the music, but we can see the musicians, if we let our eyes roam the landscape. They are free, wild, not in lockdown, not separated from loved ones, and they can do so much to uplift a flagging spirit.

I come downstairs, make tea and go check on the moon. I know she is there, could almost hear her and most definitely saw her light seeping through a crack in the curtains. She is gibbous, pregnant with a burgeoning rounded bump, about to give birth to fulness. The tide is waiting, I see her, sitting there, flat and rising as the undertow pushes more sea beneath her bulk, swelling her until she will reach her full height on May 7th. Gulls shriek above her, their sharp eyes following the fish just below the seafoam, occasionally to dive, with no grace whatsoever, thus erupting the surface into splash and bother. Greenfinches bounce along my fence, Goldfinches flit like butterflies across the field and a lone heron, yelling abuse as always, flaps over the narrows heading for the sea.

All of this looking and seeing thinks me. Of us, of all of us, all people, all colours, shapes and sizes. We are a chorus of humanoids, no matter what melody we choose, and in singing together we have the same power to uplift a flagging spirit. I know that in this crazy-bonkers time we cannot meet each other to compare notes, and all of us are changing, will be forever changed by this. There is a new score being crafted, new melodies unfolding, twisted and turned by capricious tides, pushed along by a strong undertow, powerful as the pull of the moon. 2020 will never forget what happened, what is still happening. And, there will be stories, millions of stories, myriad hearts speaking out, singing out and the chorus of these songs and stories will be remembered and resurrected long after we go back to dust. How remarkable to be living in this time! This period in history will be taught and learned in schools for generations to come. And we were there, we are there, we are here, living it, seeing it. This is our time. May we take it all in, really look and really see everything, employing all our senses in order to round the story gibbous, pregnant, like the moon, ready to give birth to a brand new world.