Island Blog – The Still People

I walk today, the same route, the ever-changing route, the route that is a right fidget. It never settles, even over a mere 24 hours. The story of this landscape can never, could never be captured in a photograph, a still, for it is never thus. Every leaf changes, every blade of grass. Blue beetles march the track one day and are gone the next. Moss rises emerald and fades dry the next. Water courses overflow, lifting the water plants high enough to drown and then, the next day lower them gently back into the mud. Even natural springs (my absolute passion) falter if rain is cut off for days. I call them sassy. Yesterday we were a torrent. Today we trickle. it just shows how adaptable we are, don’t you think, you moving person? And the otter doesn’t mind, being as flexible as we. Yes, I acknowledge. I agree. It thinks me.

At this point, and at many other points, I am the moving person. I walk through the trees, wander deep into the woods to follow the tracks of night deer, as they stand still. Watching me. I know they are, just as I knew when I passed by a group of humans who drop silent. You just know they are watching your ass and it isn’t always comfortable knowing suchlike. I don’t feel the same way about the trees. They are older, kinder, wiser after all. Even as they are the still people and cannot walk with me, they do inside my mind. This huge beech tree, this spindly sycamore with no room to spread her arms, this alder, this willow. I notice and pause to connect with a fallen larch. You were so rooted and for so long my friend and then you fell. Did you decide that for yourself? I see others who are coming to their end of days with their bark peeling, or that suffocation of ivy determined on strangulation grasping at their bodies, and I wonder when they will simply and perfectly and politely decide to lay down their burden of care. All that growing, that big fight for light, those nesting birds and the endless production of buds and nuts and cones as food for those who, in turn, perpetuate the very you-ness of a tree. This fallen pine is still breathing. Something of the roots remain buried deep inside the nourishing soil, still offering food to flight life, insect life and to creature sanctuary. Wild honeysuckle snakes across the limbs, the flowers not yet beckoning me to a sudden catch of fragrance. Brambles entwine the trunk, snaking like a hug, the promise of blackberries for the autumn birds. I move on.

There are dead trees, stand-ups, arrested in flight. They stopped. Just like that, or so I think. But I know enough to know that this old tree that now looks like a home for a Hobbit, knew fine it was dying. I just didn’t notice. The woodpeckered holes tell me that this old, dead, tree is still offering life, even in death. The mosses that have grown from ground to about breast height, agree with me. Fingering the moss I can see macro-life. Tiny creatures that need this moss on this dead tree in order to survive their own little species. A bumble bee comes in. I hear it and know it is coming to check on me. After all, I am in the natural world now and a visitor. It rounds me once, twice, thrice, nearing at every swoop. I pause, stop my feet. Hallo, I say, Friend. And it is gone. It smalls me. I see how much of nothing I am in this world and how, if I was a bumble bee, I would so need to check out this stomper yomper who has just invaded my space.

On the return flank of this wander I stop beneath an almost fairy circle of beeches. They are hundreds of years old and, so the story goes, planted as a hedge. To be honest, this makes little sense to me, but wait. I am in my this century thinking that every poor planted soul will be trained and clipped and felled and carved into shapes. Back then this would never have been in anybody’s mind. It is, I believe, a sickness. We have forgotten how important natural nature is to our own future. These trees are millions high now, fat bellied and with outlimbs that defy gravity. Crisp cool barked and solid with deeply strong roots, these big boys are, quite simply, magnificent. I see them daily. I say hallo but they, I notice, are a bit distant, not like the chatty hazels, the moody silver birch dancers, the scholarly alders. The willows too, are friendly. But these beeches hold something, a wisdom. They have seen generations pass this way. They have watched fire and flood, death and life, beginnings and endings. They are silent.

I respect that.

Island Blog – Not One Word

Although I make a considered choice to live in the present and always did, there are times when my brain and I are not working in sync. Like today. Today I feel 107 and furious at myself. I ask, Why are you feeling like this? even as I know the only way to trudge through such a day is to allow the unpleasant feelings to come to me so that we can have a wee chat. I don’t want to, nonetheless. I want to bat them away and for them to go bother someone else. But they are ours, says Myself and I roll my eyes at her. So damn wise she is and infuriatingly so, especially as I know her to be right. I whine a bit and decide to write a blog on the whole fiasco because writing is my therapy. There is nobody here with whom I can discuss this, speak out my feelings and receive reassurance. Not any more. The ordinary little conversations of old are now firmly parked in the past as I would not assault a passer by with my whines and moans. It just isn’t done, duckie, I hear my old ma say to me and I bat her away too.

My way of meditating is to walk entirely in the present moment, noticing everything and so I trudge out for a walk, noticing. I notice that the hungry deer are stripping the moss from the base of the big old trees. I notice a new primrose and the fat slug of an incoming tide as it squeezes through the narrows. I notice the sky, flat white and remember I need milk. I notice that the potholes have been filled in and that my neighbour’s attempts to keep out the rabbits is failing again. By now I am bored stiff of noticing and my brain still whirls and whorls, chuckles and gloats. Shame, it hisses, guilt and shame, regret and a refusal to accept that it is as it is and it was as it was and it will be…….Stop! I yell, and startle another walker, causing her wee dog to bark. Sorry, ignore me, I say and she smiles kindly. We wander together, my brain finally silenced with its ‘you are never enough’ nonsense, its criticisms and judgements, its false truths, the lies it tells me about me. I tell her I feel ancient as those trees today and she tells me she is going stir crazy with being stuck at home. She also finds her meditation in walks and we laugh a bit together. It helps.

I listen to an audio book for distraction, empty the bin into the wheelie, lob the wine bottles into the glass bin, the empty ones, of course. I think about supper. Good lord girl, its miles till supper! I know, I know, I snap back but this day has lasted a whole week and I am bored of Time and her achingly ponderous walk, as if she’s in trudge mode too. Next door my young neighbour is busy with planks and angle grinders. He is doing up the kitchen or the somewhere inside the house and he is positive and occupied and productive. As you were once, says Goody Two Shoes. I sigh. I remember. I also remember wishing I wasn’t any of those things but could, instead, sit for a long while watching a sunset or a bird or the grass grow. How strange is this life, so full of care etc etc. Used to be my favourite poem. Nowadays my poems of choice are on loss and loneliness, empty days and long. sleepless nights. Perhaps I need a poetry rethink.

I know that days like these come unbidden and unsought, that they blindside me and that I am always ill prepared for their assault. I know I have to get through them and that they will, like all things, pass. I imagine I am stronger, have grown in some way because of them but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time. Acknowledging that I am only a newish widow, lonely, looking back on my life and the mistakes I now regret, is key. The judges are there and probably always will be but they will fade if invited in for that chat, or so the books tell me. I am not sure I can trust myself to be civil, however. What will they look like? My mother? My husband? That crow of a teacher who decided I was the devil in a frock? Probably all three and others too who helped me feel I was never enough. How does anyone converse with such a group without losing their cool? I don’t have an answer for that, not yet, maybe I never will. But wait……maybe I just let them in, pour them tea, sit them down and let them have their say. Once the tonguing is done, perhaps I rise with dignity, smile and show them out, saying not one word.

Yes, that’s what I will do. Let them think what they like. They think they know me but they don’t, not as I do. I check my brain. It’s asleep.

Island Blog – Rain Light

I walked today with my eyes open, as best I could in the slanty rain showers. I need to see, and everything, not just the odd one or two things of spectacularness. Actually, if I look with intent, a great many things take on such a quality. Marching past, thinking ‘rain shooting up my frocks or stones kicked inside my boots to irritate my bare toes’ I can easily miss something I should not miss if I want this walk to mean anything more than a mere mindless exercise for both myself and the Poppy dog. She, needless to report, has no issues with frocks or stones in boots and I am glad of it, for her sake.

Lifting my mind from the aforesaid, I steady my gait, slow my footsteps, turn my face to the rain and all the skinly benefits it has to offer me, for I know it does, I can feel it prickle and stipple my wrinkly face, making it really quite lively. My mascara will not run, and if it does, I won’t mind because the feel of this heavenly water is so much more refreshing than the slosh of chlorine controlled tap water. I look about me. The leaf mulch is like burnished copper and the stems of strong-backed bracken think me of bare trees in a fairy forest. Rose Bay Willow Herb (such a mouthful of a name) stems are of similar beauty. I wonder when they will all finally fall to earth. Perhaps never. I forget.

Moss coats the trees. Beech, Alder, Sycamore, Hornbeam, Oak. All of them gleam and glow, luminescent, elvish, the tiny moss tops holding the droplet diamonds. Thousands of them, on closer study. The sycamores or plane trees patched like the necks of giraffes show me burnt siena and umber. Some trees are bald and the rain has shone them into beacons of light, like wraiths among the living, standing without breath. All sung out. The flash of a Jay overhead, the greyling light illuminating its colours, the translucence of its wings in flight. A buzzard hums the air, holding it, balanced to perfection, almost still as punctuation. Poor rabbit, I think, or mouse. You will see nothing coming as you scurry from cover to cover, always hiding, hiding for a lifetime.

The track is puddled, the extraneous rain pitching down through little gullies, down, always down, as freshwater will always down to the mother sea. The loch popples, tiny drops peppering the surface whilst beneath, salt meets fresh and the inevitable collision shows me a frothy curve of resistance and attack. Sticks lie here and there, thrown perhaps for laughing dogs with play in their mouths and dance in their legs, abandoned like dropped kindling on the path of a forager. I remember each Autumn walking up here on dry days to forage for kindling. There was something wonderful about knowing who lit my fire. Buying bags of split wood never felt the same. I like provenance, stories, meaning behind things. I felt the respect owed and due as I lifted, carried and then lit my fire with something from the woods of Tapselteerie. So much of my life lived there. It matters. Thank you, I breathe, as I lay the gathered sticks, marking, in my mind, the tree they fell from, the one still living, or the wraith that once flowered and spread, following the seasons and just begging to be noticed.

Almost home and I hear the chatter of a very busy household. I can see the evergreen shrub shaking with all this noise and bustle. Hallo Sparrows, I say, but quietly so as not to disturb or alarm. I toss up a prayer of thanks for their safety in concealment. I like that they can live together this way, as I absolutely could not. A commune never attracted me but sparrows seem to love it. They are safe for now, for this time when the sun, barely able to lift his head over the horizon offers a shortling day in which to feed or to forage. T’is the season, I tell them, as I walk by and they, having paused at my footsteps, in an alert concern, relax and chatter back to me. I know how to move around birds; slow and with a soft, reassuring voice. In the mornings as I fill the feeders, the birds come close, even the male blackbirds and that was my best delight for they are the biggest panic merchants I have ever encountered, screaming alarm at the slightest twist in proceedings and frightening all the other birds into bushes and over fences, their little hearts beating like a drumroll, and oft for nothing.

Another day passes. This one with rain light in its eyes. I meet those eyes. And I see.

Island Blog – Buzzard One

Earlier in the Summer, there was a young buzzard that wheeled and crash landed in trees, all a-feather and gripping talons and noise, floundering, gathering itself together as if nobody had taught it how. I marvelled it didn’t flip 180 degrees at times and considered how interesting and how bizarre the world would look like when upside down and hanging on to a tree. I remember it. Not as a buzzard, but as a child, upside down, held fast by my knees, on our metal climbing frame at the end of the garden, far enough away from the adults so as not to cause them noise. It was beside the hut, that place where apples and onions sat on wooden slats to keep them air-flowed and individual. Individual, it seemed, was critical to survival. As it is, now, for this buzzard, as it is for me and for you.

In the world of buzzard, the parents have flown. Or, is it that the mother and son/daughter have flown, or the father with a ditto combo? Who knows? The buzzard does not speak to me. However, I can report that it no longer lands all a-feather and with no speed control. In fact, it is mellow and effortless in the air, lifting and luffing with the capricious winds and the bend and flex of the sea-blown trees, as if it had learned their language and can now speak it easy. It leaves me behind. I can only watch it lift and luff and spread its glorious wings to protect it from both the ground and the sky. I watch the way its feathers flex to deflect and to catch the wind. Flowing down from the hill on which I live, it will meet catch-winds, sideways blasts, warm air rising and cold air pulling down and it adapts to that with barely a murmur, without a sound.

Where did that sound go? It mewled and mewled every day in the early Summer. Was it calling for mummy or was it asserting its dominance in the reign of the sky, taking its place, demanding it? The mewling sounded so plaintive, so pathetic and yet my ears don’t know what they hear around animals. I cannot speak their language. And, yet, it teaches me. And I learn this; that life lives herself on, moving from an old body to a younger one, and that is it life herself that teaches. We all have to crash land, all a-feather in our lives and, some of us many times, as things change and as what we knew as fact crumbled into dust. Now, this magnificent creature is silent. I watch it every day for it seems to want to stay and that tells me this is the young one sticking with what it knows, what is familiar. It flies low. It flies just above me in the trees as I walk, just watching. It might stay there, watching me, watching it, if the noisy terrier didn’t chase it along the track, barking as if barks would scare it away.

It thinks me. Barks, wind, lift and luff, life and being alone. I’m ok with all of it for it reminds me of me. If I can do all of the above and still hold on to who I am and what the world is, then I have all that I need. If, in my grounded mind, which, btw, has never been all that grounded, can move through the air, through the change and the moods of wind, sky, tide and tree-stops with. conscious grace, always learning, always adapting now matter how old I am, then I am akin with the universe. I know that I know nothing. I know that I must always be open and ready to learn. My old ma would have sniffed at such nonsense. In that generation the telling was that you learned, then accepted and fixed. I think, like the wild things, that my generation is different, more aware, more ready to live mindfully. And I celebrate that. I may be alone, as many are (or feel) alone, but this does not take our strength from us. In fact, it might just make us wilder, more questing, more adventurous.

The mewling buzzard is silent now. Not subdued, not at all, but living completely, in itself, in this world, as it is and as the world is right now. I’m in.

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 – 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 – Silence, a Woodland Choir and the Moon

It’s raining today. It should have rained for the funeral, spilling into the next day, the day we sent his wreath out on a rip tide, and on into day 3 when we all cried and hugged and farewelled in sunshine. So it is perfectly okay for the rain to rain today. In fact, it must be a relief for all those Cumulus clouds, pregnant with 1.1 million pounds of water, the equivalent of 100 elephants. Thank you, I tell them and get soaked, as I wander down the Tapselteerie track heading for the woods.

There is a wind blowing. Nothing whooshy that might tip me over and send my wheelie bins into Lucy’s garden, but just a woowoo sort of wind, warm and damp. It shivers the woodland canopy, making it sing. All those leaves twiddling, catching the air on their dying surfaces, lifting it into sound, into music, into song. I am walking underneath a choir and the piece they are singing is delightful. My moving feet create the percussion in dry spots where the fallen leaves and stalks are dry, and a marvellous squelch where they are not. It’s danceable to. I don’t, however. I never found it easy to dance in waterproofs. I am more of a lycra/bare foot sort of girl when it comes to dance.

I stop to stare up at the vanishing point, where the trees appear to bend towards each other in their final moment before touching Sky. Clouds move without argument, pushed by the wind and birds tilt and skitter among the fir trees, picking at cones, chattering to each other. Flit, chatter, chat, flitter. The wood is alive with life. And so am I. For I am not the one who died, the one who had marvelled at this natural magic for 77 years, captivated by that over which he had no control. The one who now rests in the goodly ground he tended, planted, developed and cared for all his life.

The sea chops, ruffled by the wind, catspaws. The rain on my face is soft as I push into it. Lichen abounds on the trees lining the track and star moss fills the ditches, sparkling with droplets, a diamond catch. Back home the fire warms the rooms even if the towels still aren’t dry on the kitchen pulley. I am resisting the autumn re-light of the range, holding on to the full tank of fuel, for the winters here linger longer than in other places. We can have snow at Easter and the cold finds its way into every crack and cranny for many months. By the time I have exposed my arms to sunshine, the rest of the country is tanned bronze. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Seasons here are magical, natural, and the land beyond the busy tourist season is left to itself, not needing to submit to human will nor to compete with the sounds of vehicles, sirens, bells, elevated voices.

He loved all of this too. Peaceful is the way to live, he said. And, in the end, peaceful was the way to die. A perfect circle, like the moon, the moon who decided his every single day. What she says, goes, he said. Tides, weather, wind, rain, all of it. Even the Father Sun backs down when she decides to rise.

Sounds like a fine plan to me.

Island Blog – The Overstory

I walked yesterday among the trees in the Fairy wood. I barely glanced up into her leafless arms nor stopped to touch the bark of the tallest Fir, nor paused to consider the tangle of roots thrust into visibility by endless erosive rains; roots as thick as my arm, conifer fingers, gnarled and scarred over hundreds of years by hundreds of human boots, marching boots, tramping across the overstory with little enough thought. I didn’t look, nor see, nor stop to garner soft peace from the whispers of these gentle and protecting giants. I just took my place in the march. I didn’t pause to consider over what I did this marching thing. I just wanted to get back out of the nipping wind and into the warm.

All evening, staring out at the dark, I considered. The understory thinks me. What brilliant planning, synergy and sharing goes on down there, in a deeper darkness that Night could ever bring? In a clutter wood, where new springlings struggle towards that wee patch of sky, of sun to hear the stories carried on the backs of the winds that dash across this rocky island from all points on the compass, how can life go on? Is there a finite of trees within the human boundaries of this wood? And how do they know not to crowd themselves out of sunlight, water, food – to leap across the track to where that fallen beech has created, in its final death cry, a whole rack of gentle space just asking for a friend. And not only space, for in its dying, in its soft slow submissive return to the earth, this giant is preparing magical layers of nourishment for that seedling to grow strong and straight-backed.

Roots will be under my feet even on this track wide enough for a whacking great lorry. Roots don’t bother with our boundaries and it isn’t just that. I think they conjoin, I know they do, merging and melding together for the greater good, the good of the wood, of the family. Unlike us, separation is not their main thing, not a thing at all. Unlike us, they do not judge by species, sex, type, shape or achievement. They care not what colour your leaves might be, nor if those leaves are bigger than their own. Like us, they need each other. Like us they sing better in a choir, a unison of voices rising into the sky sending harmony, melody and rhythm out to warm a listening heart. They know it. We are only learning.

Life is lived in the overstory. Although the underneath matters a great deal, it is easily hidden from the world. I can do this as well as anyone. I can slap on my smile and pretend just like you do. And there is no wrong in that, unless, unless, either of us forget our tap root and that of others with whom we share our life. The good news about tap roots is that, like the trees, they grow in silence, whether we pay them attention or not. As they grow in the silent darkness of our hearts and souls they find other roots. This meeting is not confrontational, nor constrained by fear but a vulnerable reaching, meeting, greeting; a gentle slow winding together of fingers, a melding perhaps, or a share of time before moving on. We can learn from that time of open curiosity, the lack of fear, the acceptance of another life doing its very best to grow and to grow right.

Today, when I walk beneath those same trees I will be witted-up and open. I never tire of the woods and have walked through and around them for almost five decades but sometimes, like yesterday, my overstory is so shouty that I forget where I am and thus I miss the nourishment on offer beneath those ancient wise giants. I miss the startling gasp of star moss on a rotting trunk, the shelf fungi holding on even as its host crumbles away, the rain-betrayed spider webs cast between a spindle of branches, long since empty of life. I miss the patchwork of sky, the squelch of peat under my boots, that sudden realisation of the understory, always working, always growing, in gentle silence. Today I will see it all, hear the voices of the wood and they will bring me calm and a real smile, no pretend.

Island Blog – Spring into Winter

Tomorrow I leave African Hothot, traversing space and time over 24 hours, to land in what sounds like an icebox. En route I will meet, without meeting, thousands of other travellers going back the way I came or on to lands I may never see for myself. Many, like me, will be confused about what to wear during our journeys, knowing that what lies ahead of us is drastic change. I find change is often like that, but that’s another blog altogether.

I will miss the sound of inexhaustible cicadas and frogs. I will not miss the mosquitos. I will find myself listening for the lite bytes of sound across the bush from maids and gardeners I cannot see, who josh and laugh with each other all day long as they go about their work. I see them delivered and collected, standing together on the bed of a truck, butterfly coloured, their teeth white dazzlers in the sunlight. They look but never wave unless we do first, at which point they leap into action and we feel like famous people. Always friendly, always smiling, always generous, proud of their work, with a strong faith and a strong community, these Africans could teach us all a thing or two about how to be an effective human.

In the local town when buying food or cogs for machines or plastic grommets for piping, some folk recognised me, as I did them. Two months of exposure does that. I will miss the crazy drivers and the dirt tracks in game reserves; a sudden 6 metre giraffe by the roadside or a baboon family under a shade tree, invariably scratching. The jacaranda, coral, frangipane and other wildly coloured up trees will be just brilliant memories as I wing my way into winter. And Spring, back home, will come again. The dead time is Nature’s rest and she needs it as we all do. Unlike many, I love the winter as I love the sunshine warmth. Winter is a time for reflection and reading by the fireside, for bracing walks, long johns and hot buttered toast.

And Christmas is coming……

Island Blog 125 Wind in the rigging

 

 

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When we sail, the rigging is something we attend to at each shift of the wind.  The sails may be full-blown, wide and tall, blocking the sun and catching bellies-full of breeze to take us all the way from A to Z.  Sometimes, the wind luffs or fizzles out, causing the canvas to flap noisily, unsure of what to do next.  A good sailor will see it coming and adjust the rigging accordingly, winching in the sails, tightening them, or going about, which is the time I always duck, never sure when that big ass boom is going to take my head off.  We always had to sail close to the wind.  That point where we could jibe and lose a mast (slight exaggeration) or, at the very least, lose someone overboard.

Me.

Coming into harbour, my skipper would never lower the sails and motor in like every other sane person, trotting into a parking place with minimum whoosh and flip, avoiding the wide sweep required to avoid turning the smaller boats to matchwood in a heartbeat.  He didn’t mind squashing the bounce-back variety of white plastic so-called yachts, all squeezed from a giant toothpast tube onto a production line and given fast names to bely their ordinariness.  It’s not me who is the yacht snob here.  I’m just repeating what I heard from my own wooden J-Class sloop-loving skipper, he who sailed oceans beneath real canvas, hand-sewn and made just for one boat at a time, bespoke.  He who loves the creak of timber as the mast strains to stay where it was riveted with huge brass thingies that nobody could ever remove once driven into place.  Hulls laid, larch on oak or teak and varnished to a shine most winters by us with freezing fingers and miles to go before sleep.

In life we are all sailors and we all sail alone, although we can travel together through the wildest of oceans, if we so choose.  Ultimately, the set of our sails, the tension in our rigging, the way we listen to the wind’s voice, and bend to her will, working with her changes of mood, her tantrums and tempers, will decide, not whether or not we arrive at Z in the end, but how well we notice the rest of the alphabet on the way.

I speak, not of the wind that blows around the corners of our homes or bends the strong backs of our ancient trees making them squeak and groan, or call out in agony as their ribs crack and break, but of the winds of life, of time.  These winds rise and fall in every life at some time, and if we are not ready for change, we will get hit by the boom as it swings across our boat, and we may even fall overboard now and then.  All the time, each one of us is dealing with something we find we have not prepared for.  Miniature disasters come into every life, just like a little rain will fall, and if we are really ready, we will find a solution comes more quickly, for we are human and creatively agile.  We just have to tap into that inner gift and develop it into a strength.  We may not know this new set of ropes, but if we are fully engaged with taking responsibility for our own self in any situation, we will find a way to sail again, only better.

I remember learning once, that, in order to play an instrument well, we must learn the discipline of it first, before getting clever with counterpoint or spontaneous harmonies.  For me, that instrument is my voice.  If I want to ‘play’ as I sing, I must know my limits, the boundaries of the song, how my voice will sound singing it.  If I leap enthusiastically into a gritty blues number, I will sound like Snow White trying to be Eartha Kitt and just know that the audience is saying ‘Oh dear….’

But all this is a metaphor for life experience.  We are human, not ‘only’ human, as some would have us believe, and there is power and a magic to being a member of such a wonderfully well-rigged race.