Island Blog – Ice, Clarity and Skeletons

An ice-white day, from start to finish. When I awoke at 3.30 a.m. I walked out, barefoot, in search of the Aurora. She wasn’t playing, not yet. But if we are graced with such weather again, maybe next month, she will dance in the skies behind my home and I will watch her as my bare toes meld with the earth. I recall, well, coming outside from a robust and loudly musical ceilidh, to see her dance her lights across the stars, and for quite some time, until my mouth threatened to freeze wide open and my toes grew chilblains I wouldn’t meet till the morning. I will never forget that night. March 3rd 1993. Funny how dates can stick when others flounder grey and insubstantial within the soup of memory, like slime.

I walked the whole round today. I have avoided it for days, maintaining to myself that I am always tired and, thus, justified in my short walk which isn’t a walk at all, not really. Some of my friends, my sisters, my brother, speak most jauntily of a mere 7 miles and twice a day, and, whilst they cover this ground in my mind, I am left slouched and idle in my 20 minute trudge through a ‘not-walk’. So, this day, this ice day, this day of clarity when Ben Mhor, so clear and so near, looks like the whole mountain might suddenly appear in my kitchen, I decide not to agree with my trudge self, but, instead, to walk on. And, I am glad of it. I could feel the eyeball searing cold of the Atlantic hit me as I curved myself around the apex, even though there was not a stitch of wind, nothing even enough to shimmy a leaf. I paused, often, to really look. Striations of ice lay on the stand water, water that will, possibly, give birth to tadpoles in the Spring, whereas now it just reflects the sky in rainbow connections. The trees, skeletal and defying identification for I am great with leaves and considerably less great with bark and shape, lean over me like big sisters, strong and well rooted. The ground is caramel with fallen beech leaves, glowing eerily in the light of the sinking sun, sienna with a touch of ochre. The track is puckered with ridges of frozen mud, elevated by boot trudge, by the hooves of horses, the snatch-track of bikes and I feel a peaceful calm run through me. My pace is timpani inside the silence. A jay screeches, a woodpecker cuts the silence and I watch it lift and flip away. Ravens, their voices so confident, commenting on the day, black and slow in flight, flap lazily through the blue. Lady Larch, the queen of the woods, catches all the orange of the last sun. In a human world, she would be a model. She is certainly tall enough.

A constellation of star moss lines the track on my homeward walk. I stop to marvel at the frost-bright crowns each stem wears upon its head. On the track, the grey stones have grown an old man’s stubble, white with light, but, unlike an old man’s stubble, it melts beneath my fingers rendering the stones an immediate ordinary. I come back through my little wonky chops gate. The latch no longer meets its docking. T’is a winter thing. Come Spring, it will happily click shut again, but, for now, I must needs elevate one side of the gate in order to connect with the other. Inside the fire yet burns and as merrily as it always does, the smile of welcome; welcome home. I make tea and press play on my talking book, resuming my place as observer to another’s taut and well paced story. My story is not well paced. It is only in the re-telling of a story that any well-pacing can be brought to bear, as if distance from the drama matters. And, I concede, it does matter. In the thick of the drama, however undramatic this drama may be, everything is sharp, frozen even, and with no recourse to sensibility. On the other side of any story, the eyes of the observer are essential, even if the observer is she who lived through that story, or he for that matter.

Veg roasted, candles lit, fire encouraged into a new and warmer flame, I am content. I have walked further this day. I have watched ice halo star moss; I have laughed at my ignorance of trees without leaves and stood beneath those massive skeletons in awe. I saw the Atlantic buffet, albeit kindly, the basalt and granite shoreline; I studied the ice diamonds on the track, one I walked today. Walking on diamonds.

Every girls dream.

Island Blog – Lift

Some days awaken me dark. I never know why nor when. All mornings are dark on the other side of window but on the inside there can always be light. It doesn’t seem to be up to me. My days are ordinary and samey. I do my chores, eat, sew, write, clean and wash. There is almost nothing in the diary beyond reminders to call someone or to write a thank you letter to all those who sent condolences to me and the kids.

On mornings when the dark permeates through my skin tissue to bury itself deep in my interior being, I just know that, day long, I will need to work hard; not at tasks but on myself. In fact, tasks can take a running jump on mornings such as these. I had one yesterday, closed down the phone, hid from passers by, and barely managed a stitch or a word. I didn’t speak out loud and my walk was a trudge.

What I know is that these days are random and could be lethal if I believed in them, if I thought, for just one minute, that this is IT. It isn’t. All I need to do is to open my eyes to the outside world, to see, to feel the enormity of eternity, of nature, of circles, of life living herself on, no matter what my piddling day is like. It isn’t easy, not for any of us. But, if I engage with the dark, I spend all day blind and I refuse to go that way. Just because I am a sexagenarian and counting, just because I am disillusioned, doubting, noticing aches and pains, feeling old and stupid and hasbeen does not mean it is all over. I may have found my way through a long and complex marital relationship with a less than uxorious husband; I may feel anger at thoughtless words and unkind acts of dominance, but I survived it did I not? Better, I am still dancing, albeit slowly nowadays. Inside my heart I am Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Tigger, Owl and Kanga with a touch of Eeyore and Rabbit on dark days. And it is ok. It is all ok.

This morning woke me at 5 am, as usual, and I felt light and bright and ready for anything. This is how life is, at least for me. I sat with a strong black coffee and watched a tawny owl on the telegraph pole. I heard it mew and then shriek and fluff its magnificent feathers before silently flying away to rest. I considered the day before and the other such days. If I didn’t ever experience them, might I believe that life is always easy to live? I might. Thus, these dark days are of immense value because they teach me resilience, patience, humility and more. I know that my core strength grows with me and 67 years of core strength sounds pretty good. Instead of weakening, that power is still mine to wield and wield it I will. If all it does for me as I grind my way through the uncomfortable process of bereavement is to show me that, although I am a small ordinary woman, I have power, tremendous power, power I choose to use for the good of all of us. If I can lift from the bog of eternal stench with a chirrup and a good measure of Tigga then I can, perhaps, lift others up too. I can reassure, show the way out and up. I can tell them it is ok to feel dark. It will pass. It is, obviously, better to feel light and bright but that will pass too, and it is a mistake to expect the world or other people to keep that light shining for us. The key is to accept we can feel dreadful without dumping it on anyone else; without blaming someone else for it, as I have definitely been guilty of; without giving it any power at all.

And on dark days, I recommend looking out. If the dark is not getting our attention, it gets bored pretty damn quick.

Island Blog – Natural Colour

I am seeing people, the ones who walk by, changing colour. I ‘m not saying I see auras, because I don’t, but the colours they send my way from 6 feet away remarkable me at times. I knew them as one colour, or one set of colours, and, now, they have changed. The look in their eyes has changed. No surprise there. One month of lockdown is manageable; we know we can do it. We can do dry January, after all, or Lent which is even longer, and we can see the end. Not now. We have no idea when the end will come and it is beginning to bother us. Maybe not our innate tigger mentality, but deep inside, we are changing colour. We look out, feeding like greedy, on the the new life, the migrant birds returned, the lush of wild violets, the unusual spread of primroses, anemones, wood sorrel, trip tides, new moons, that twisting eyelift chance of an otter in the saltscape. But we can tire of life, if we are not in renewal. Long term, anything dodgy can become a prison warden, bad relationship, wrong home address, a lockdown. I watch faces as they pass. They look at me, and I at them and we see different. And, you know what……this is good. The chasms in between mountain ridges make us pause for thought, and think we must.

Early on, in this lockdown thingy, we brought out all our colours because that is who we are, and who we will always will be. We saw and loved the alpine frocks of pink and blue, clutched in the fists of a crevice and holding on to life by a skinny holdfast, and we smiled. We saw the insect life, the colours of beetles, the jewelled flit of butterflies and other beautiful things without names; we watched sky born spectaculars cut the sky in two on their way to somewhere else and we snatched their colours for our own heart palette. We thought we could use them, and we did for a while, but now is the tough time, the time of pall and frustration, and all of us feel it to some degree. This is the long haul, like mid term for schoolers, except they know the end date, whereas we do not. Now, it is, that we must go back to those colours and remember them, notice how they have changed, as we have all changed. As the whole separation from loved ones takes root we plant new seedlings in our gardens. We decide to hear, anew, the rise of a wren song from a random fence, watch the flounce of goldfinch in fight, see the slowflow of a gannet draw a wavy line across our looking, because we must continue to find the beauty in everything around us.

Before she whipped our ordinary lives out from under our feet Mother Nature sent all these glories, free of charge, to every one of us. Perhaps we see, now, how much we took for granted, for it has been a long time, and as Mother Nature knows only too well, we are impatient. Not yet, she reminds us, not yet. Stay well and just breathe. In breath there is a rainbow. Let us consider this. It may be a long time before we can walk out again, never mind fly, never mind colour up, but Nature is working with us, not against us. She is Mother, She is Earth and she knows more than we do. We are down here, small, fretting, bothered about chasms, but she is not. We can trust her. And, if our colours change as a result of this new way of living, then that just may be in her long term plan, and we are wise to thank her for opening our eyes to our precious earth.

Island Blog – A Chance to Bloom

As I walked yesterday along an empty track, empty of people, I mean, life is springing into beauty. Nesting tits dart in and out of the gaps in the drystone walls, primroses leap like sunlight from beneath the old pines, bumble bees scurry into their mossy burrows and the sparkles on the sealoch popple diamonds, as if a thousand fireflies fly low across the surface. The air is crisp and blue and, above the sky, we are healing. Who would have thought it, thought this? That, just by not driving everywhere, flying, catching a train or a bus, we could, in one week of lockdown see a noticeable repair job going on the in ozone layer. How utterly remarkable and what a surprise. We can mend our world, if we take serious note and if we all decide we will not go back to how we were.

Going back to normal is something I have never got my head around. It is actually impossible to go back to anything at all, never mind ‘normal’. Although things may well resume in a way similar to that which we once knew as normal, we ourselves have changed. The process we have encountered, gone through and learned from has made new neural pathways inside our brains. These pathways are opportunities for change and new growth, for a new bloom to flash revealing light in our eyes. Understandably, those who need us to ‘go back to normal’ will be pushing for our business once this is over and done, but we are not sheep. We are big brained humans with a collective and deep need to protect our world.

The wildlife abounds, the waters are cleaner, effluent free and offering safe habitat for all species. Including us. Although I am one of the most fortunate women on earth, to have this wild place to wander through daily, I still know we all really want things not to go back to normal. Not to go back at all. How we turn this desire into action is way beyond my thinking. I found it hard enough to do that with five kids pulling on my apron strings, never mind a whole flipping world of apron string pullers. But I do know that it takes one, then two, then a street, then a village, then a town, a city, a country to make an impact on the whole. There is always a point in making personal change and it never fails to affect someone else. They say that if you want to receive love you first need to give it. And, much as it has irritated me in the past, I believe it to be the truth.

We have been gifted a reprieve, new steps to dance, a chance to bloom.

Shall we?

Island Blog – Stasis, Statues and the Extraordinary

And so it is. The ferry will not carry anyone who cannot prove they live here; the shops are closed, as are the pubs, hotels and hostels. We are held in stasis, like the statues we see dotted around our cities. Whenever I walk past one, bronzed and frozen in some public place, I wonder what was happening to that notable person before that moment in time and after, if, indeed there was one of those. Did he or she live out a mostly ordinary life until he or she chose to perform something remarkable? Was that laudable moment his only laudable moment? Or was her life so very laudable that we, living out our own ordinary lives (that never epiphanied us into statue material) have to keep being reminded of our ordinariness every time we pass by? Did his feet ache in ill-fitting shoes or no shoes at all? Was she late for school/work/choir practice and did her teeth hurt eating ice cream? What does this laudable dude think of the pigeons that perch on their horizontals and shit them white and greasy grey? Do they notice the baggy coated homeless wanderer who slumps beneath their lofty limbs glugging poison from a bottle and staring out at the world through nearlydead eyes?

Who knows. Statement, not question. I would have to stop, obviously, and read the plaque, the blurb about this hero or heroine but I rarely do if I’m honest. I notice, more, the face, the expression, and I follow the trajectory of their gaze and even that cursorily because I am on my own trajectory from A to B, and this bronzed or marbled elevation of one human being (or been) will still be here should I come this way again with more time and with my specs on.

But now we are not marching from A to B, most of us. Those who aren’t directly servicing the good of our fellow men and women are at home behind window glass and doors with sterilised handles and knobs. The walks and talks and coffee meets and random encounters are now forbidden as we work together to prevent the unnecessary spread of a killer virus. Silent, deadly and very much alive. But we are enterprising, we ordinary people, and I am daily delighted as I hear more of this online idea or that distance contact. I laugh at the online videos created by minds with sparkle and am thankful when they are forwarded on to me. We are not statues. Most of us never will be anyway. But, in our ordinariness we are showing strong signs of the extraordinary. I knew we would. My granddaughter is doing a co-ordinated bake off with her school mates through WhatsApp or Skype. And what she is learning, what we are all learning, is that our ordinary brains are capable of so much more than we ever knew. The world will be forever changed once we come out on the other side of this war and although some won’t be with us, those who are left will walk into a new world and, although not many of us will warrant a statue in our name, there are those who would surely deserve to be remembered in such a way.

I remember a statue once, in Amsterdam. A rather splendid fellow in frock coat and tights with an ebullience of rakish hair and a fabulous face. He was holding out a painters palette in one hand, a paintbrush in the other. I was not on my way from A to B and he was worth a second look, so I did read the plaque. ‘Barent Fabritius – who lived till he went back to Amsterdam, whence he died’. Not a great ad for Amsterdam. It made me chuckle and look back up into his face. And then he moved.

He moved, he moved! I screeched at my friend who raised one eyebrow and shook her head. See that glass of white you had for lunch….? she said and walked away to check out some tulips. I risked another glance upwards. He smiled at me and winked and I laughed delightedly, upsetting the pigeons who burst into the sky, and the old homeless man on a nearby bench swore in technicolour, then slumped back down into the folds of his baggy old coat.

I knew then, as I know now, that nothing and no-one in this world is ordinary. Oh no, not at all.

Island Blog – Into the Mirror

Last night I dreamed the strangest of dreams. Everything is acceptable, believable, in dreams. The craziest happenings are, well, just normal. I had driven miles to a place in the middle of nowhere, a place of one house at a time and hundreds of miles apart. In between, vast cornfields. Poppies and other wildflowers grew at the edge of one such field, although I never found the responding edge. Chances are it was a three day drive away, so huge was this crop of golden stems. Man food. I considered those who were here before, the wildflowers, the great trees, the wildlife, all working together in a synergy we have never successfully simulated.

I parked at the end of a track but could see the guest house nestled in a halo of man-planted, fast growing shrubbery and whiskery trees. I was extremely tired and considered, for a while, sleeping in my car. But the longing to lie down between crisp cotton sheets overtook such thought and propelled me towards the door and check-in.

My room had no walls. Not one. It seemed quite normal to me. Furniture, a desk, a cupboard with hangers, a chest of drawers and a chair created the illusion of a contained space. There was even a door in a frame, attached to nothing. I lay awake a while staring out at the cornfield, watching it vanish as the dark intensified. Then I slept and deeply.

I awoke to the sound of the door opening. A manservant (I knew him by his dress and his demeanour) came in with a silver coffee pot to fill my cup. I asked him the time and when he told me it was 9 am I was astonished. I never sleep beyond 6. I rose, dressed and headed out for a cornfield walk. A man walked by on stilts and I greeted him, watching him lope through the corn in long easy strides. Two children played with a stuffed giraffe. I heard their laughter before I saw them. This giraffe was a fully grown male, or had been, once and it was lying on its side. The children jumped over his neck, a skipping game of their own devise. The girl, breathless, sank down to wrap her arms around the long neck, her little fingers scratching over the glass eye. I watched them a while. All still perfectly normal.

On my return, I found a woman entirely dressed in pink in a warm motherly sort of way, sitting at a trestle table upon which sat pots and bowls of red jelly and a round mirror on a stand. She tipped jelly from one container to another, studied her work and noted her findings down in a little book. I stopped to greet her, thinking she was my hostess but she assured me she was not. I lingered awhile watching her work. She was lost in it until she suddenly came back to me and smiled, turning the mirror around until I saw me looking back.

It thinks me; not what it all meant because dream divination is not my skill, nor my interest, but more, why the mirror? I know that at the end of every road is a mirror. I read it once, heard it said often. The mirror shows me, me. It also shows what is behind me, the places I have been, my part in a created past, my past, my creation. How I felt, how I feel when catching sight of my reflected self is always a surprise. I look like that? Seriously? From behind these eyes of mine I see ahead. I see you but I don’t see me and when I do, it takes me a few seconds to acknowledge my own face. It brings me back to me and a lot of questions. Am I happy with myself, proud of my achievements? Am I kind and compassionate, strong and vulnerable, humble and yet ready to fight for my beliefs, for others, for justice? Only when I have made answer, settled my initial fright, can I turn back to looking out.

I remember one counsellor (been to hundreds) suggesting mirror work. Back then I could barely look myself in the eye, turning hurriedly from a snap reflection in a shop window. Now I get it. The mirror is vital as a reminder that life is not someone else’s problem, but my own. The walking out, of Me, matters. Not just to others but much more so to myself. All the great and good know this, taught it and still do. All religions hold loving self as a basic truth, a first step, the very heartbeat of life. Until we can look long and steady into that mirror, sorting out all those failings that make us turn away, we will live only half a life. We will snap back into our shame and blame as great pretenders. We will arrive at the final day and wonder what happened.

I want to meet that last mirror with a long hard look, no secrets, no shame. I want to see the miles and miles of my past just as it was and know I did more than okay. And then, to move on.

Island Blog – Wildsong

We have a January Hooligan blowing around us today. The gusts are enough to throw a girl against things, or people and I am overly aware of the ancient Scots pines behind this old stone cottage, waving, as they are, like parents at a kids sports day, only with the whole trunk falling menace thing, unlike parents. Who knows how deep the roots go? I can see them lifting above the grass, the thin layer of grass covering the rocks, big strong looking roots the width of my arm. All very fine, you might think, solid and fixed and probably so for many decades, but these winds are real hooligans, gusting enough to blow a whole ferry off course and to stir up massive waves in the bit between us and the solid hen of a mainland. Nature is our mistress out here on this brave soldier of a rock and we are more couried in, by a long chalk, than those islands in the Outer Hebrides, the ones where only gannets fly and then with difficulty. Ideas and stories up there in the blast of Nature’s ferocity must struggle to keep in line. Not surprising, is it, that old tales morph and change and become as potent as a drug in the telling and the re-telling. This happened once to someone. Then it happened in perpetuity to a generation and please add the lifeboat and the bagpipes and that wispy maiden ghost who still haunts the basalt and gannet flying shoreline. Add a fishtail and bring in a song and before you know it, Sirens are doing their work. It is as it has always been. Wind, water, wide skies, fickle moonshifts, lonely people and no electricity will stir up a right drama before you know it and nobody can pin it down. As soon as it is written, it changes, it shape shifts, becomes another creature altogether in another set of natural unnaturals.

I watch a silken ribbon of gulls fly through the narrows, away from the rise of what will be a full moon soon enough. Last night, she, the moon was all wonky chops, soft around the edges, not gibbous, wrong time for that, but firming up as she always does for the big show. The clouds are running from the hounds of hell and nowhere in the sky is there peace. The damp patches make swirly patterns of amber across my ceilings and the windows luff and suck their way through the nights. I remember, once, at Tapselteerie, when an old huge window luffed and sucked and blew into the garden in the midst of a dark winter night, leaving us fluttering along with our bedding and ornaments and grabbing the curtains into the wild where they cracked against the frame, heavy with skywater until I cut them free with a kitchen knife. I have no idea where they ended up.

Tonight may send a power cut. These dottery poles stuck into the rock do not grow roots. There are hillsides here that defy any pole affixment. And, yet, affixed they are, like soldiers across a wildscape, confident enough most of the year, barring January, to stand tall, giving buzzards a better view and the chance to realign a confluence of feathers. They are marks for fishermen, for sailors, not that any sailor in his right mind would be out in this. It thinks me.

The gale, just now, shrieking and moaning around the house is in E Minor. Of course, that will change, and I clock every change in key throughout the night. Last night, I barely slept. The key changes awaken me, as does the shift in the wind as she flexes her muscles, happy to be free and loud and in control. A bit like me on the dance floor, which is what she is as she takes over, demands the super trooper light on her alone and makes the most of that limelight. We whispering mortals, all in bed holding our books and pulling the duvet right up tight, are nothing compared to her and she knows it. The gulls knew it, as I watched them ribbon with her, making her beautiful, defining her as she whiplashed by, exuberant and utterly wild. They were not stupid enough to fly against her, not like we do, out on our walk with the dog, pushing into her motherly breast, her fire, her E minor. You cannot, will never, win against a strong mother, and, yet, we try because the paths we can walk are not nature’s paths. They no longer follow ley lines but go where it is convenient for us to manage a covering of ground. When we lived at Tapselteerie, we honoured Ley lines. These are the lines that wild animals walk and have walked for generations. In honouring these ‘walkways’ we didn’t upset the natural balance. New owners came in with fences and I recall gasping out loud as I saw a ley line fenced off. I couldn’t believe my eyes, wanted to scream, to cry out, to say something, but those people would have laughed me out. So, I said nothing. But, one day……..

As I walked the small dog around the fences (to keep out the deer, which nobody can ever do here btw) it was the darkling time. That cusp of still when day gives in to night, but not quite yet. The sky was full of gulls and divers and blackbirds out way too late. I heard a tawny owl cranking up her vocal cords, could see her eyes black bright somewhere inside the woods, sense her hunger. I could feel mice hunker down, sense the exciting tension around me. The little dog wasn’t looking, but I was. A fine young stag startled right beside me, on a bluff. He stopped. I stopped. We looked at each other. Behind him, as my eyes acclimatised, stood four hinds, equally disturbed. Nothing moved, not even the dog, for what felt like a month. Then, suddenly, the fine young stag took off, across the path I challenged and, in doing so, took down the deer fence that blocked the old ley line. His hinds followed and to my amazement the small yappy dog said not one word. She just watched. it was a historic moment, that time when Nature, all wild and fiery eyed said No. And No it was, and is still.

E minor is fine for me, if that is what Nature wants to sing just now. To be honest, I would love to be as flexible in my key shifts as she. All I can do, as a wee wummin is to let my fingers flow over the keyboard, to listen to music long written down by those who had the gift of Natural Connection and who captured what they could when they could, and to love every lift into the wild.

Island Blog – From There to Here

Leaving 40 degrees and arriving back to zero in the belly of a couple of planes with the ambient temperature of an airport or two in between requires a person to be vestment canny. Well, I really don’t know what I was thinking as I packed for Africa but it appears I put little thought into my return. Today I am wearing most of my frocks over jeans with a vest at skin depth, a long sleeved tee over the said frocks and a jumper to complete my shapeless bulk. When I step outside, I add to that a puffa jacket and a scarf long enough to wind into a neck brace. A most fetching look.

I noticed, among my fellow passengers, as a foggy Glasgow appeared at the windows, that they had considered a vestment strategy. How had I not? This question has thought me a lot since I returned to zero. All I can guess is that I was in such a flapdoodle as I packed for the sunshine that my brain dealt only with the immediate. Then I realised that dealing with the immediate has become my default, for everything is immediate around dementia care and any unnecessaries are pushed into the shadowland. Although it is delightful, in many ways, to realise how much of life can be unnecessary when necessary, it behoves a girl to remember those things that still await her in the wings of her life. In Africa I went to a spa and had my nails done. This was a first for me as I usually just bite them off or clip them to the quick so as not to scratch anybody by mistake (or intentionally). I have enjoyed watching my French polish flash little white moons into my looking and this little indulgence will not revert to the shadowlands again. Although this indulgence may not be a regular thing, at least I know the pleasure of it. It isn’t just the nails and how they look. It is the time taken for myself, to sit and watch someone else caring for me. This is important, for all of us, not just me. Taking time to spend time with Me is not something many of us talk about without either getting embarrassed at the blank faces around us as we try to explain what we mean, or getting the giggles. Well, it does sound a bit ‘out there’ does it not? I think the key is not to bother explaining it at all to a world completely caught up in logic and the daily dash to Nowhere. Of course, not everyone is doing this dashing thing but most of us are if we are honest.

But the wisdoms keep coming. They go back to Rumi, to Ancient Greece, and further back, and we still don’t listen, because we have not learned how to live this way, the way of emotional intelligence, the way of good health, calm hearts and heads, peaceful sleep, gentle breathing and love of self, not matter what the demands of our lives. I don’t think it’s easy, far from it, but I do know we need to wake up to a different way of being. In a hysterically busy world we are but cogs in a million wheels, or that is how it seems. children, work, families, governments, religions, rules rules and more rules can overwhelm the very best of intentions. We can feel like tumbleweeds in a desert wind.

So how to change that feeling of being out of control of a life? I am no guru with a mouthful of answers but what I have learned in this decade of dementia care with all its associated ‘immediates’ is that I want to come out of this as intact as is possible. Too many of my compadres have fallen sick as a result of intense caring over a long period, wherein any time for self was intermittent and without a plan. Perhaps, like them, I thought it wouldn’t drag on for years but it does. Perhaps, like them, I thought I could wait for me, that I would be there at the other end, just as I was before. I don’t now. Now, I know better. This is a journey and there is no map, no destination I can stick a pin in. And it’s ok. In fact, I would not have learned the valuable lessons I have learned had dementia not come knocking. One of these lessons, the one I most value, is the importance of self love and how it never seemed important before. I don’t believe I am alone in this. With accusations of selfish up-yourself coming from older generations, schoolmarms and all the other ‘For Your Own Good’ ies, it would have cried anarchy and that meant trouble at any age. But I have learned to own the ‘selfish’ accusation and it fits me well. Let them think that, is what I said to myself and myself grinned wide.

There is no rule book for self love either. Only this. Stop and listen, as the world threatens to swallow you whole and the noise of it is deafening and the demands relentless, to what your heart whispers. Hear it and do as it guides you. Just once will do for now, because when it whispers again, you will hear it more clearly. Then go with it a second time, a third, a fourth and on and on until your heart is a match for both the outside world and the inside mind. I admit there is quite a lot of stopping required at first, until you get in step with You, but the rewards are endless. Eventually the outside of you fits the inside no matter what Life brings.

I arrive home tomorrow. Let’s see how clever I am at walking my talk when the old ways and I collide on a familiar doorstep. One thing I do believe in is all that stopping to listen to the inner whisper.

It just has to have made a difference.

Island Wife – Hallo Happiness

Today the temperature stands at 36 degrees and feels like 40. I know this because, by this time I have got the hang of 40 and I recognise the colour of it and the weight. Add to that baggy-bellied air a humidity count of twice that and you just know I am melting. The pool, to date a pleasant cooling aid, is hot enough to make tea and the bobbing thingy full of chlorine has a sun-twisted top. As makes perfect sense in the aforesaid scenario, my son has just lit the braai and the smell of the wood shoots up my nose, propelled by a lot of over-excited flames. We will feast on chicken joints, butternut squash brushed with rosemary olive oil, a crushed garlic clove au centre, roasted peppers and maybe a corn or two on the cob. From time to time we all dive inside for the blessed coolth of the aircons which never go silent out here. I cannot imagine what it must be like for the shanty dwellers in the townships and, in remembering them, I know I am very fortunate indeed.

This being fortunate indeed way of being constitutes my library of inner thinks. Despite the truth of getting older or feeling scared about pretty much everything or, perhaps, looking back over my 67 years with a critical eye and with a resident judge to pluck at my vocal chords, I focus on things that make me happy. I know that many of us set orf to India in search of this holy grail but I have never needed to do that, not least because I discovered some 30 years back that although Happiness may well reside in India, she also lives with me, and with you and with everyone else to cares to notice her. Although life at times may deal cruel blows or bore the bejabers out of me or trip me up so I fall and break my spirit, Happiness doesn’t go away. She is there at the end of a whisper. She shows herself in moments with a loved one (Oh……why couldn’t it have been longer…?) or on spotting a bright blue dragonfly on a flower (Oh, NO, I forgot my camera) or even in that moment when a stranger smiles at me (weirdo..) but it is entirely up and down to me to notice and to keep the moment without blemish. I could miss all of her visitations if I allowed the negative responses to her beauty. In short, nothing of her is kept and I have not changed for she has not changed me. I need to control my mind not the other way around. Even if life is tough, even if I am hurting or afraid, full of doubts and delusions, my mind is under my control alone. Will I let it keep Happiness moments from me?

Okay, now back to the library. I cannot sort this dichotomy out by myself. I have always known that the only way to learn and to understand a hidden depth is to pull up someone who has already plunged it. I find these sages in books. Only a fool with an over-active ego thinks she can move on without guidance and I am no fool. I know how noisy and compelling the shouty world is. I know how easy it is to believe that this world is all there is and how much disillusion lies in that belief. I know about getting lost and going hungry for something to change. I know about disappointments and sadness, grief and rage but so does everyone else. This is the human state and when I last looked we are all humans. What makes the eternal student stand out is their decision to control their mind. To practice noticing everything that lifts a heart. To stand in Nature and to watch light move across the hills, or to study (as I did this early morning) a single dung beetle pushing a huge giraffe poo along the sand track. I watched it succeed for a bit and then topple over and get stuck underneath . I saw it push its way out from under, only to see the prize roll back down the incline. I watched it go back and start again. I had no camera to hand. I just watched, holding my breath, willing this brave soldier on. And I was happy.

The practice of Happiness costs nothing. It requires no level of education (in fact, academia can present a big stumbling block) no required apparel or status. It doesn’t mind what colour your skin is, nor how old you are when you decide to whisper Happiness in. The only thing she needs, in order to blossom and flourish, is for a person to decide to notice everything that lifts his heart – the polar opposite to the way the world thinks. Instead of grumbling about someone’s rudeness, look elsewhere in search of beauty. It could lie anywhere so look up, down, ahead, behind you. I promise you will find something that lifts, and, when you do that as a daily practice you will find that when someone is next rude to you, you will see their hurting spirit and be gentle with your thoughts on them, because your core thought control is on Happiness – and not just for you – because once Happiness is a choice, you want it for every living soul.

And then the magic begins. No matter what turns Life takes, if I am in control of my thoughts, every part of me is filled with something I have yet to find a name for. All I do know is that this nameless thing has stopped my acid reflux, calmed my heart, grounded me and shown me the great wide sky. Something has changed because I decided to change and that something is showing me how, in seeking Happiness, I have no need to travel further than my library of books; no qualifications beyond my desire to learn; no appropriate clothing, footwear, status, colour, creed, religion or history.

I only need to be open to new learning and willing to make it my daily practice.

Island Blog – Tribute

Yesterday at 0600 we set off for a day in Kruger Park. This vast expanse of wild bush covering over one million hectares is the home of the Big Five. Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino and Elephant. However, there are many more species living in symbiosis. The Ground Snail (size of my clenched fist), Leopard Tortoise (the only one who can swim) Golden Orb spiders whose webs are as wide as I can throw my arms, Giraffe, Zebra, Wild Dog, Jackals, Vultures, Fish Eagle, Warthog, Hyena, myriad birds of spectacular colour and size and so much more. My eyeballs threatened to fall out with all that looking. Just a tiny movement through the thorn trees could mean, well, anything and it is so easy to miss a sighting. Camouflage is everything. Although we didn’t manage to find Lion or Leopard, we saw many species just doing their thing over the course of nine hours, including a newborn elephant beside his dauntingly huge mama. A gaggle of parked cars meant ‘something’ and so we stopped too, to look. Refreshment stops en route kept us sustained and it made me see how easy life is for us in comparison to all those creatures who must always be on the hunt for their next meal.

As I sat in back of the truck I thought about that. I also thought about the driver, the guide, our protector, my son. He, who has lived a long time surrounded by wild animals and the ways of Africa, marvels me. All my children do. I observe their traverse through adulthood. I watch them deal with daily thingumabobs and disappointments, news both good and bad, ups and downs, people, animals and things, horizons foreshortened and expanded, and, most tricksy of all, unforeseen changes to their inner maps. Although their innate goodness and respect of all life may have had something to do with the way their father and I guided them through childhood, they have each developed their own set of rules, grown their own characters, chosen their own considered paths and set out to walk them down. They have moved on a long way since those days of learning values from us, and now they are parents themselves, teaching values to their own children, probably as clueless as we were, stumbling in the darkness of inexperience, their lights always in need of a re-charge in order to keep the momentum up and the noise down.

But it is their core selves that lift my heart. How did you become so strong and wonderfully good? I whisper that to myself, for I fear they would not have an answer to that. Not one of them is a ‘product’ of their parents. They have become themselves, each one different to the rest and yet with a set of principles that sing in harmony. I admire them beyond admiration and observe their daily ordinariness with a smile. I have also learned #amstilllearning to observe without comment at times when I can see things going a bit diplodocus, for my own words can only come from my own experience and there’s the limitation spelled out for you. It doesn’t mean I can’t be of use at times of trouble and strife but go canny old girl and keep quiet unless asked for help. That’s what I whisper to myself. This is their life now.

I reckon I am blest beyond blessings. In ignorance I helped to grow these remarkable human beings. Each one has gone through a big load of trouble on their journeys and from that trouble, they have grown strong and light. Their ability to see the fun in life, their attention to detail, their love of and respect for all living things and the way not one of them ever gives up marvels me. And now, they teach me too. They tell me that life will always go on, that hope is full of beans and goodness will never be out of fashion.

And, yesterday, traversing Kruger Park, I thought about all of that, as my youngest guided us through one of the last reaches of natural, unspoiled, raw beauty; where life and death walk hand in hand and where very few live to tell their tale.