Island Blog – To be a Mother and Saying Farewell

An eclectic role for sure, if such is possible and if say it is then it is. Although I’m about to lose a lot in the translation of such a word, let me play. When a woman becomes a mother she is about as lost as a goldfish in the ocean, barely able to breathe, exhausted and completely lost. She finds no others of her species, everyone else being salt-friendly and busy. However, with this new little one, she knows that it is she who must be eclectically “IT’ for……for….where did he go? Oh, there he is over there, chuffing away to a sea snail who is not all that interested, and if he was it would take him at least three days to turn around for a look. She hasn’t got three days to spare. She is on demand every moment of every day plus seconds of panic, of despair, of constant checking. She is wild now, thinking wide, way beyond her understanding of normal thinks, and nobody, not even dad, gets anywhere near even if he or they might have an awfully good suggestion. She is all Bugger Off and tail swipes. She is deadly. She is Mother.

When she considered this Mother thingy, she might be forgiven for thinking Disney. However, Disney was obviously never a mother. The sweet glory of an instant co-ordination between mother and child is, I am sorry to tell you, a load of tripe. This baby is everywhere but where he should be. This baby shrieks loud enough to call in the Whales and upset the Navy in their sonar missions. What is this? Naval Officer Jenkins might ask, his eyebrows lost in his fringe, quizzical and holding out the ear plug thing for his upline to hear. The whales, happily traversing 35 continents via the swirl and twist of oceans, stop and founder. Let me tell you, a founder among traversing whales can cause a tsunami 10,000 miles away, upsetting fisher boats and slopping Lady Merriweather’s gin all over the Captain of a luxury cruise ship, thus informing him that she is a secret drunk and that his trousers are in an embarrassing state. The butterfly effect, sort of.

This day my firstborn, taller than me by about half a mile, left again for his next shift as ship’s Captain and no matter his age and height, I am that goldfish mama again. When he is here, everything is wild again, everything is fun, anything is possible. His attitude to life is upbeat and can-do. I wonder who taught him that. Does he remember upsetting the Navy, the fishing boats and the whales with his baby screams, or me with his curiosity? I doubt it. But I remember. And now, when he is gone I go back there, back into that ocean, back to where it all began. Tomorrow another son departs and I swirl inside the loss of them even as I know I gain more just because I am their mother; because I am the only one they will ever have; because I have the memories of this shared time and those memories are enough, have to be enough.

It isn’t that I want to be ‘IT’ anymore. I don’t, but don’ting doesn’t stop the feelings, doesn’t weaken the bond. I never knew it would be like this. I doubt any mother does. But here it is and for us all. Confounded still, up and down with the whole gamut of role changing at every level all day and well into the darkling nights, still learning, still thinking eclectically, I am at the heart, a mother and one who will never not be. Not never. And, for all the sadness at saying farewell, it is enough. It has to be.

Island Blog – Reflections, Imperfections,The Wild

Such a strange time of year. The build up to Christmas is so frenetic, so full tilt and then cometh the lull, the pause before Hogmanay. I remember it well, that time at Tapselteerie when crumpets were toasted on devil forks at the open fire, when rules were ruled out and when parents left routines out of all equations. I remember walks into the days with skips and crazy games. I remember the cold and not caring about it at all. I didn’t force my feral kids into jackets nor woolly hats. We just laughed and ran for the Atlantic, her call wild and face-biting. Inside my downy coverings, I pushed my lovely silver flask, a gift from himself and the best I ever received. Whisky and green ginger wine, for the cold, you understand, and to gift a parental kindly pause from the children as they whooped and swooped like birds on steroids over hummocks and across bogs, rocks and slippery kelp to find the end of things; where the land stops, where we stopped, and where forever begins.

Looking out there today, this in-between day, I have an outfall of memories. They spill from my mind and scatter across a land I know as I know myself. They tinkle and sing, they lift into the air and cause me to follow them into the cold bright air. I see them when I look out to the little isles, so clear, so close and yet, as I know, a long boat journey away. I can hear the childish laughter from way back then, from when these, my children were tiny, bouncing over these rocks. I can hear the call of seabirds, see the inlets we landed on, find my slippy way across the basalt and granite and up, up to the sunlight. Now, their own children are tiny and I look into eyes and watch the gymnastics of a face hoping to find myself, himself, the ancients. No longer do I need to be The One in such times. No longer am I expected to present, prepare, plan. It is both a loss and a release.

This in-between morning, I took a saw to a couple of big bushes which, in my opinion, needed culling years back. I cut and wheeched and was pricked and somewhat compromised at times but determined. This may well be the wrong time to prune whatever they were but if they survive and grow again, then good. If they don’t, then good. I am done with the rulebook at this ruled out time of year. I look up to the hillback, the new and open view and I wish them well. You can do this, I tell them, as I have told myself for decades and I did; do this. When ‘this’ changed, as this always does, I know I learned new dance steps, new ways of seeing, new perceptions. That thinking has served me well. When I see an imperfection, according to my perception, I jig my head. Hmm, I say to myself. I want (not need) to look at this with new eyes. Oh, still my own eyes, of course, but slanty or pullback, lifting wider, higher. What this thinking did for me, it still does. From girl to fiancĂ©, from wife to mother, from domestic non-stopper, to feral child releaser, from carer to widow, I am proud of me. I know I strained at the harness, broke it, ran wild, came back (with the wildness) and am still, even now able to stand strong for my beloved ferals and their own little crazies who believe life is every single moment, lived at top volume.

May the wild live on. There are too many people out there who have buried their wild. Wild isn’t a danger, but you might be. To it.

Island Blog – Watching, Waiting, Wondering

The morning begins well in that I wake up and it’s morning, well almost, still dark but the clock tells me of others who rise at this hour, dark or no dark. I slip into my dressing gown, thank my bed, pat the dog and glide down the stairs. I remember actually doing that once, for a dare of course, on a tin tray and an oak stair case that dog-legged into the room. Not a good plan. I started off well, gathered warp speed and just knew I was about to be sliced like an egg when I hit the sharp corner, all balustrades and newel posts and rigid as if it had rooted into the earth’s core. The wails arose in me, alerting all inmates who were quietly sipping Earl Grey from china cups and pretending they didn’t want another scone. My mama was livid even if she feigned compassion. I could see it in the slit of her mouth, the narrowing of her eyes as she scooped me up and marched me away, my knees bleeding, my face scratched and my mouth yelling out a storm. This morning’s glide was more gentle, my hands holding both bannisters and my cautious eyes wide open for the fall that always threatens old folk, the one that leaps out for a rugby tackle from somewhere in my blind spot.

I descend in regal safety and round the corner for coffee and a peer into the darkness. No moon, but she is coming, the Beaver Moon, tomorrow I believe, although why the moon has to keep to a schedule un-moons me somewhat. I had thought her above such calendar control. I perceive her as reckless, upskittling, wild, and that’s because her full bellied lightshow creates that reaction in most women I know and some men too. I tap tap wait for the light to rise. I iron something, sweep another thing, flip through Facebook, write some notes about what I will do with my day, this day, today, most of which will be scratched out by breakfast once I realise that the ladder to any of them has faulty rungs, most of them missing.

I WhatsApp chat with my best friend and she laughs me and we share all our familial concerns and delights. We have done this for years now and her face takes me right back to her, the way she waggles her head when telling me of something that pains or puzzles her, the way she looks straight at me when she asks how I am. I know why. When I say ‘Fine’ she smirks and challenges, but I will always say ‘Fine’ because mostly, I am just that. However, as the day rolls on, not like chocolate, more like a stubble field and with me barefoot, I am ratty with the dog. It shocks me for I am only occasionally ratty and I don’t like it in me at all. I watch the wind, hear the roar of the whips and twisting punches of it, see it scrape rain across my window and bend the trees like torture, laughing at its bully power. Reluctantly I decide to walk, no matter the rain, the bully punching wind, the darkling grey, the wet underfoot.

To begin with, I stomp. I know I am stomping and the track looks up at me, eyebrows raised. I pause and smile and slow my boots. Then, as I rise into the woods, the rise of the track lifting me from my earthly grump, I begin to see, to notice, to watch. The bare limbs stick out like old fingers, old friends, the ancients who still stay to protect and to remind. Leaves still holding on, copper, gold and blood, tremble in the wind, showing me this face, then that. I hear the tic-a-tic-a-tic of their dance and I stop to watch. Beneath my skinny soled boots, a bronze carpet tongues out before me, inviting. The wind lifts again and the pines sing as the wind combs the needles, the ones that don’t ever give up, the ones I will see all winter long. A stand of ditchwater has been claimed by water moss and I chuckle at the emerald courage of this survivor. Well done you, I say, as I pause to wonder and I swear it shimmies. Tree ferns waggle like random hair tufts all the way up an alder tree, flapping at me as I meander beneath the high stretch of ancient trunk. Geese navigate the sky wind adjusting their positions and I wonder again at their understanding of all this power and of my complete lack.

I will never understand the power of watching, waiting and wondering, will even thwack it away with an irritable flap, but once I step out into it, bring myself to walk, to stand as a part of it, engaged with it, no distractions from it, I return with hope. Where the hell I found that hope, I can not answer, but it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that in my reclusive sadness there is a beckoning, one irritating enough to get me inside my boots and out there.

Island Blog – The Wild

I walk this day through copper gold and spandangles of sunshine. The track, wet, muddy from all the rain, dapples into light, peckled with mosaic, the light glinting off the water spots, the puddles, and lighting up the prints of yesterday walkers. I watch the down, erstwhile forgetting the up until it calls me to me in blue and gold. Me and the Poppy dog keep the beat, or I do, for she scoots and slows, sniffs at pretty much everything, oftentimes right before my feet and it thinks me of tripping. Old folk do think of tripping. I never considered making such a foolish error before, but now I do. How odd that tripping, a simple fall that comes with an answering bounce back into the upright, now holds menace. I could be here for hours, days, should I allow this tripping thing. Then I wheesht myself, saying, out loud, Nonsense, and loudly enough to startle a quiet other walker with his terrier who rounds the bend in a way that wonders me. Is he a ghost, so quiet is he? No, I have seen him before with the same little terrier, politely held on an unstrained leash. Hallo, I say, unable to quell the launch and startle of the Poppy dog, the gap between me and her ears being too great to prevent a situation. I say Hallo in my quietest tone, in A major, I think, and muted, so as to calm things.

He is unfazed. We talk. He suggests unleashing his dog and I nod in agreement. Dogs are always better off without the strangle-throat of a leash. Always. At best, they will sort themselves out in moments. At worst, the one who knows they are about to be dishevelled, right here on this peaceful track, can get away. Humans always cock things up, these sorts of things, their fear, their ignorance of the animal kingdom. It rolls my eyes and often. Just let them spar, just let go, just let. But not everyone gets that ‘let’ thing. I suspect my life as a farmer’s wife has loosened my desire to control something way more powerful than I. The animal instinct is definitely a ‘let go’ thing for me. And, I have a lot of opinions around the rules of controlling wild animals, even dogs or cats, but I keep it all to myself. Anthropomorphism is a big deal in the human world, and practised to our detriment, but try explaining that to someone who thinks their pet is their pet.

We humans forget our wild too. It is a big mistake and one we can rethink. During lockdown a lot of folk bought puppies and kittens for their own pleasure, to entertain and to fill a lockdown hole. I am really hoping that most realised they had taken on a wild creature, no matter how domesticated they may have been over many decades. The wild is strong, it never goes. It can be battered into compliance by fear but the worm will turn (whatever that means).

I can see a happy and respected dog or cat immediately. Any cowering, any slink back when a hand is raised, speaks me volumes. A canine or feline who is loved and understood will walk straight-backed, will wag a tail, will merry a look, be curious and open, like the terrier and his man I met today in the dapples and around a quiet corner. A good man, a happy dog, a merry, and a bit shouty, encounter. I thank him. He knows the wild.

Island Blog – From Four Stone Walls to Wild Places

I have been too scared to go anywhere beyond the safe confines of the little village. Most days I spend right here within my four stone walls (best song ever, in my opinion, by Capercaillie) or out there in the out there-ness of a wild place. I can walk a whole walk and meet nobody. Well, nobody with two legs and coated in either lycra, weather permitting, or waterproofs. I meet plenty of other-legged creatures of course. Spiders spinning, deer bolting, rabbits wiggling noses, an otter or two and plenty seabirds. I chat with the trees, imagine their long strong roots and know they help keep each other up, much as we humans could do if we just understood the power of it, instead of jousting at windmills.

I am mostly content with my life, the island wife without a husband. Mostly. Some days are black as the soot in my flue, some days bright as a lighthouse and I never know what will be which. It doesn’t matter what I do or do not do the day before the soot day, it dogs me like the shadow of a giant and no matter how fast I move, I am always in the dark of it. I have spent over a year searching for an answer to this upsy-downsy nonsense and find no answer at all and this is why. It is not a question with one answer at the other end of it. ‘Why’ is never a good question. ‘Why’ is a journey within, a quiet and solo traipse across a mind, not one to be voiced because any answer will fall short of the mark. The voiced question invites opinions. The one who receives this Why question can never respond with a solution. Not never. No other person in the whole wide world, across a zillion continents across all those wild oceans tossing stories and songs into the air, through the air that blows around the globe, can ever know the answer for someone else, because each one of us, like snowflakes and zebra stripes, is unique and therefore alone. So don’t bother with a ‘Why.’

I digress.

I am fearful, yes we got that. I am mostly content, yes, yes. Where is this leading? Ah, thank you. It leads to a phone call from one of my marvellous sons, one of the skippers, the skipper who skippers right here. Would you come on a cruise mama, a loch cruise for four nights on board? We have had a cancellation. My heart takes off but I catch it before it makes a hole in the conservatory roof. I hesitate, visualising massive waves, those ones I remember in a small bouncy thing of a boat crossing to Coll in a hooligan, the ones that, when they rose up like my swimming teacher in a furious mood with her eyes on me, blocked out the light. Then the fall, the slow slip down the other side in the sure knowledge that we would just keep on going down all the way to Atlantis. Or Hell. I breathe. Yes, I say. Yes. And then I twist to look at myself in horror.

I have days to organise things. How many things, I ask myself, noticing my endless pacing and the 2 pages of A4 lists. Well, not much in truth. Just some loving person to look after Poppy dog and my four stone walls. At short notice. A text to friends, a link, a number and she is found. Yes she can come, yes no worries, yes yes and yes. Committed now and planning my approaches, my frockstock, my beanie, socks (never wear socks) my underpinnings, enough for 4 nights. I wait for the fear to giant-shadow me. Nothing. I wait for indigestion, doubt, sheer terror, nights dense with 40ft waves and not a mermaid in sight. Nothing. Momentarily I wonder if I am finally going the way of the senile, that time I remember with Himself when nothing really mattered beyond his clear traverse up to bed. No, I am not there yet. But this is odd, this is strange, strange and rather wonderful.

On the day, Susie arrives, Sunshine Susie and she beams just like the sun which is a timely reminder that there is one at all, a sun I mean. I had quite forgot inside all these days of endless rain and cloud cover. I depart and manage the ferry thing just fine, staying outside the minute I board and arriving on familiar concrete, knowing my way. I keep my new mask firmly affixed to my face but find I am struggling to breathe, so efficient is it in keeping out all breaths, coughs and sneezes including my own. I walk around the harbour, among the visitors, along to the North Pier where the boats will meet and greet us. There are two boats ready for us this wet afternoon. The company is Hebrides Cruises and I recommend an online check. We, the guests, gather atop the pontoon and begin to introduce ourselves to each other. Some have travelled the length of the country for this cruise and me? Oh, me. Well I live over there, I tell them, waving my arm towards the island. I can tell they are amused, interested and disappointed all at the same time. I notice this and turn the conversation back to them, their tales of train changes, delays and clogs on the motorway. I just stepped on and off the ferry after all, did I not? They, on the other hand have much to say and much to share and I listen in pleasure because other peoples’ stories are always a fascination to me. They live a life I just don’t remember, one of limitations, of traffic, of timelines, of restrictions and rules whereas I am always free. Leaning against some metal thing that appears to have no reason to be there, I listen and watch and wonder. These lives, a glimpse. Just a glimpse. Faces, eyes, body language, baggage, all of it a wonderment to me.

Then the metal walkway rattles and we all turn. The skippers are rising like gods from the pontoon, together with the guides and the squeaky baggage trolleys that nobody ever bothers to oil. Relieved of our cases, we walk down the narrow ramps, back in our own thoughts, moving ever closer to the shining bellies of the boats that will be our home for the next 4 nights. They gleam, the superstructure white and all aglow. Our confidence rises yet again although it did already once we met the skippers. This one for you, that one for me. We separate on the floating pontoon and turn to the steps that will lead us all in to an adventure. I don’t know who is scared, who is dealing with something sad, who is hoping that this time will teach them something new, open a new window, show an escape. But as I wave goodbye to those on the other ship and move into the arms and the safety of my son, I know I made the right decision. To go or not to go? Always, always go.

Welcomed with pink champagne, cake and introductions, we heave-ho as the skipper turns the snout of the ship seawards. Into a pink cloudlight, into a blueing sky we move smooth as melting chocolate. Everyone is on the fly deck, binoculars at the ready, looking, searching, hoping for the wonderful.

And so it begins.

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 – It’s okay that it’s not okay

I could have said that better, my English tutor would have told me, her huge bosom leaning over me so that the whole room went momentarily dark. I can still smell the tweedy smell of her fitted (very well fitted) jacket and hear the scritch-scratch of her thickly nylon-ed thighs as she travelled the distance to my desk, then home again jigetty-jig to the safety of her chalk blown upfront tutor desk. And she is right, was right then. I am very thankful for my English tutors down the ages, who challenged my brain to dig deep for words, old words, old ways of saying, poetically, what turned into street talk. Not that I mind street talk at all, for it has rhythm and beat to it and I am ever the dancer. But when writing it is important for me to stretch my brain, to find a way of saying an ordinary thing in an extraordinary way.

Forward to the point. I honestly believed I had got away with it, the grieving thing, this widowhood thing. At first, I felt only relief. 10 years of caring for a big man who was slowly falling away, was horrible, even though he himself was always positive no matter the declination. His peaceful and accepting dying brought relief to him, to all of us. I thought, maybe this lovely gentle leaving after all those years of angst and battle (on my part) would rub out the horrible, like my old India rubber did for my spelling mistakes. A foolish thinking. Here I am two months off the anniversary of his death and everything hurts. A bird caught in a fence (thankfully freed and flown), a child crying, the hearing of someone else’s pain, the fact that the stairlift has stopped working, the leaks in my ceiling, the stubbing of a toe en route to the wood pile. Sharp as needles, these ‘small’ things that were okay are not any more. I tell myself I am doing okay, that this is normal, that it will pass and myself rolls her eyes and goes “ya-di-ya”. What did we say before ‘ya-di-ya’ I wonder?

I know of others. Those who, since the Covid lockdown and the fear and fallacy this past year and more has brought to us, are scared of going out, unsure if they actually want to do the going out thing at all. I know I can be confounded at the gate of my gypsy home, in the so called middle of nowhere, if I see walkers moving up the tiny track on their way to Tapselteerie and her wild delights, her vision, her stretch right out into the Atlantic Ocean. And I pull back, hide, wait. This happening-to-us thing is what is happening to us. And, although it feels thoroughly not okay, it has to be okay. Our clenched teeth, our fears, our resulting flip into nowhere, well, owe have to find a landing. I haven’t yet, even here, even in this free, gentle land, and if I haven’t then how the heck is it for those who have survived in cities? I have no answer for that. Only respect.

And then there is the grief. Not mine, not just mine but the everyman, everywoman grief because it is loud in my ears and a strong part of the music that sentient composers will play into our future days, in our remembering days. As will poets and novel writers with their prose. They are working on it now, this omg (sorry) in our lives and they will come up bright, intelligent and colourful, I just know it.

Till then, I, and hopefully you, have family, siblings, kids, grandkids who lift us into ourselves, the ones we knew so well a year and then some ago. They are still with us as we are with them. This connection is rooted and unbreakable. Friends too, formed way back or even more recent. Roots grow quick and they need to.

I am thankful. I am broken. I am me. And, I am okay that I’m not okay.

Island Blog – Potluck and Possibilities

As the island opens up to visitors and there’s a load of thronging going on where not so long ago there were long stretches of nothing and nobody we didn’t know by heart, there is a natural confoundmentness. We who live here still long for connectivity, for friend meets, for adventure and for the chance to enjoy our glorious wild spaces and yet, it is almost as if we are on trip alert. I know it is not just us here. It must be the same all across the country. We want to share, of course we do. We want to welcome, to accept and acknowledge that there are so many who have felt trapped and confined for many, many months. We do indeed live in interesting times.

This day my friend and I plan to meet for a cafe lunch above a beach. So simple, so ordinary, once. But I falter and she agrees. The sun is out. It is warm. It is half term for Englandshire. There might just be a great big thronging thing going on at lunch time. Fortunately, neither of us are throngers, so we opt, instead, for a potluck bench picnic at my home. It is the best. Uncomplicated by orders, masks and hesitations, we just flow. We talk of everything, of anything and nobody interrupts us. We don’t have to fuss about distance or touching or standing in the marked spot. So very freeing. We also talk about how much we feel we need to tidy up if someone comes into our home, and we laugh because who the flip gives a damn about a clean floor or whatever when the chance to connect is the main goal? Did this thinking, I wonder, make us into islands? Did this need to be, what, perfect, prevent us from free flow, from potluck? I think it probably did. When I remember the ordinary take-for-granted freedom of movement among peoples, my biggest panic was how clean is my house. What hilarious nonsense! I am hoping we can all learn from this, learn to be more spontaneous, more adventurous and less caught up in the old games which were never games btw, but more like paralysing strictures, as if we were in starting blocks with a faulty release mechanism. We long for contact, for connectivity, for connection and yet our nonsense heads tell us we can not unless the home is spit spotless. Let us think on that.

I walk in the sunshine with my little dog, now shaved and looking marvellous. I can see all her wiggles now that the overlay carpet is gone. She trots beside me through glorious tree hang. Bees come to check me out, like right up to my nose in spectacular hover control. Hallo, I say. Welcome. I watch greylags with goslings in tow cross a narrow inlet and there’s a load of chat. These parents are strict about safety, vigilance and behaviour. I can see that. A female lesser spotted woodpecker comes in, close. She is on a fence post, her head snapping left, right, her colours fabulous. A single movement, my hand to my mouth in awe of her beauty, and she is gone. I hear young tits deep inside the drystone wall cheeping. They hear my footfall crunch, think parental boots and call out. You are safe with me, I whisper, but be cautious little ones. Not all incoming is friendly. The wood floor is alive with blooms and the grass still soft and emerald. As the Summer progresses, these grasses will tire, grow sinewy, yellow. This is the time to see the island, when the green is filled with new life and hungry to lift towards the sun, when birthing is so very important. It thinks me. This strong reach is all about the next generation and we are not so different. Creation is a very important word.

As I watch my own children creations parent and adult up, I know they are all good strong humans. They learned how to live adventurously in a wild safe place. No matter that they did not get the latest overpriced something-or-other for Christmas or birthdays. They learned to make their own fun, whooping through trees like monkeys, devising potluck games and surviving them all with just a few cuts and bruises. They had strict parents when it came to table manners, respect for all others, kindness and wide-open thinking. Possibilities are always right there, we told them, just waiting for you but it is you who need to grab them for they won’t grab you. They will just catch your eye, or whisper in your ear and you must be vigilant, ready, prepared for action, my little birds. Always. Now they are teaching all that to their own little ones and it happies me. We did ok, no, we did very well considering the fact that parenting is a terrifying and turbulent process and not one of us can lean on experiential wisdom because we all learn as we go along. It is only when looking back to join the dots can we see how we succeeded and how we did not. The did nots can confound in later years, the guilt glueing a parent to the past. I know it, but I choose to focus on the dids. It is always a choice, the thinking thing, the remembering shape and colour, texture and dimension. I can build on either, as can you.

Possibilities can find me at any point inside this day. I can decide to be curious, open hearted and ready for them. When, as always happens, self doubt or fear or anxiety nudges my elbow, I am vigilant, ready, strict with them. You are not helpful, I tell them, please leave. Then I reconnect the wild in me with the wild out there. It has to be a daily practice because if I am not vigilant then I open up the runway for incoming unfriendly. And, it is not complicated at all, but simply a decision. A decision not to waste one single moment of this beautiful and fragile life.

Island Blog – Fear+Courage=Brave

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

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

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

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

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

Island Blog – Wild Pesto

Today began a tad early. It was still dark, so I guessed about 3 am. I am good at guessing time. Himself taught me how to read the sun, his position in the sky and then to trust what came into my head. However, 3 am is sunless, but I seem to have learned the darkness too. I don’t have nightmares anymore so waking is just waking. I pad downstairs for a cup of herbal tea. I check to see that I did remember to bring the doglet in last night. I do that often, having once, only once, left a before dog out all night. It was summer, I remind myself soothingly. She was warm and curled up when I found her on one of the soft cushions of a sun chair, but still…….the memory has not left me unshattered, the image of her sweet face a morning welcome to one who deserved no such thing. Funny things, memories. Anyway, dog was in of course. I went back to bed with an audio book, most of which I didn’t hear as I did doze off, arising at five.

When I wake I am filled with beans. Always. No matter what my body feels, my Alice mind is like a drone already heading out into the wild, into the morning, the sunrise, the retreat of the darkness and I struggle to keep up but I know I want to follow. Each day is an adventure, even as I know that it will probably be just the same as its predecessor. However, this morning I have a mission in mind. I want to garner wild garlic to make wild pesto. It is my sister’s fault. She sent me a jar and I have never tasted anything so amazeballs. Well, maybe I have, but not in the world of pesto-ness. She is, after all, a professional chef.

I watch the goldfinches in my garden, six, 3 pairs, such beauty. Dave the dove and his mates, greenfinch, robins blackbirds #alwaysfighting, siskin feeding young, chaffinch, sparrows and they have to arrive in the plural, as this is how they live. The sparrow babble from the rhododendron bush nearby wonder me how it is able to remain rooted for all the household drama being played out within its depths. A starling. Well, that’s odd. There is never just the one. Maybe he/she fell out with the rest. I love the rainbow feather flash as he fidgets about on the bird table, his beak primed and ready to fell a small tree. I walk beneath a hovering honey buzzard, scanning, canting, holding the wind. It says nothing which tells me it is not this year’s young or it would be mewling like a lost kitten. Neighbour’s hens scritch and scratch the ground into early flatbeds and the rabbits dig burrows and the moles come in and spoil the whole plan with hummocks and interruptions.

The sky is wide and blue. Ice blue. I am on my way to gather wild garlic before it flowers. Into the fairy woods. On my way I cantilever towards my daughter-in-law’s house with a gathering in my arms for my grand-daughters. They love the fairy woods. Together we have discovered many fairy homes and left acorns and leaves and a flower head as a respectful gift. They are caught, as I was, in the wonder of fairies and elves and their parents encourage such adaptive thinking. But, they have a play date with friends, so not today. I head off alone, me and the doglet and my basket deep into the wild woods, sun dapples guiding us in. The garlic is young, holding back. We had frost, you may have noticed, they tell me, all straight-backed and not very tall. I wasn’t judging, I reply. I imagine frost is a big hazard. Ah, they tell me, their voices all coming at once, we can survive it but for the future of the species we need to be cautious. I get that, I say, and the leaves settle. The doglet cavorts through the woods without me, ahead of me but always, and I am sure of this, knowing exactly where I am. I can walk off anytime without her but within seconds she is beside me. I always see you, she says through those velvety brown eyes. Well, thank the holy crunch for that my girl as I am depending on you to be the eyes. We trot away from the wild, the garlic (I did ask if it is ok to pick) the old hazels, the witch trees, the honeysuckle, the primroses that flank like a battalion bank of golden strength, the violets and the celandine’s buttery faces that follow the sun. We emerge onto the grassland. A horse has been here. I see the hoof prints. A quad too, I think, or are these the tracks of Himself’s quad from last summer, when the bracken had dropped and he hated it enough to drive over it again and again? I have no answer. I have no answer for a zillion questions now.

But I do have wild pesto.