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 – Windstitch,Cloud Shadow, Birdlight and Fox Gloves

This wilderlight dawns a beauty. Sunshine goldens the little garden and birds catch it in their wing feathers as they lift and flutter overhead. Rainbow snow. Birdlight. I wonder if they know how much they delight, these little wild things. How on the grass they look like jewels and how, above me, they trill a healing melody. The poppies have survived another night of sea-wind and I welcome them with a smile and a word or two of encouragement. This morning, however, someone has sewn a stitch or two into that cloak of chilly salt-laden breath, arresting it, offering a challenge to change, to turn about face. The resulting warmth eases my bones, kisses my face, softens the tension in my skin, like a promise of something wonderful.

This morning a carer came back after 18 weeks of me managing on my own. She was almost as beautiful to see as a bird caught in sunlight, which is what she was. Together we showered himself and tidied up and the bubble of chatter, the catch up of news and opinions on various subjects lifted me yet further. Although I would not have welcomed any incoming before now, I am glad of human encounter that isn’t all about one person’s needs, moment by moment. Suddenly I found myself present in the unfolding dialogue. She complimented me on my hair cut. I told her she looked really bonnie, even though she was gloved up, face half hidden by a mask and crackling like a bonfire in her plastic apron. We discussed the village, a place I haven’t seen for weeks, the number of visitors cars, the walkers, the camper vans, the motor bikes. I had not realised how empty my mouth has been of anything that isn’t care related and the words flew out like birds, the laughter too.

Although we will remain isolated for some time to come (my choice), it is good to hear that life is waking up once more. Some folk have been trapped in small flats in cities, or alone in bed sits, and these folk must be twisting in the wind by now, desperate to catch on to its tail coat and to fly once more. To share a view, a joke, a meal, a conversation is what we all need and what we all miss, like fresh water when access to it is denied.

Sunlight tunnels through window slits as we move around the sun, illuminating the ordinary. A line of carpet, a vase of garden flowers, the shiver of iced tea in a sparkling glass. The doors are wide, the soft breeze fluttering the bird-curtain. Before the bird curtain, there were oft more birds inside than out, bashing against windows, terrified hearts pounding in tiny ribcages. When we are suddenly trapped, we panic. All of us, humans, animals, birds, insects, all of us. And we were trapped for a long time.

I watch cloud shadow on the far hillsides. Foxgloves disappear into it, then leap back crimson purple. We are like that. Lost in shadow at times, or caught up in a twist of wind, swept off our feet or shivering in sudden dark. It passes. Everything passes, be it what we want or what we don’t. Over this, over wind, time, sickness, cloud shadow; over times of exhilaration, loved ones, intense joy. Over all this we have no control. The very best we can do is to stand tall, rooted, blooming, ready for whatever comes.

And equally as ready to let it go.

Island Blog – A Crescendo of Growth

I can see it coming. The new shoots pushing through cold ground, like babies being born. One minute, safe, warm and dark, and suddenly thrust into the light, sharp, blinding. Flipped by the wind (or the midwife), smacked by the rain (ditto) and cold, so cold. It is understandable, the heartfelt desire to return to B4, but that option has been taken away for ever. Moving onto A1 is what Mother Nature insists we do, all growing things. If she is always moving on, then so must we. Instinct drives, timing is life or death. We must comply.

This, sadly, also goes for bodily hair. I think we women will all look like scarecrows with moustaches and caterpillar eyebrows by the end of this enforced lockdown. Unless we have a family member who can offer us smooth passage and who happens to own salon scissors. Ah…….there may not be many of those who inhabit such fortunacity. My word. But sticking to the subject, I wonder how we will grow through this time. The people I have talked to on Skype, messenger, WhatsApp and the Alexander Bell are all thinking we will grow better. I am with them on that. I know folk who have faced down death and returned to live a stronger, more focussed, more sensitive life, letting more unimportant stuff go and ferreting around for the things that really matter, but felt like ordinary and uninteresting. Before this. In a way we are all facing down death right now and it will teach us many things.

As I come down the stairs to see the moon face to face instead of letting her think that her sneak through the cracks in my curtains will ever be enough, I am thankful for the stairs holding up. There was a time when holding up caught a fever and wobbled a lot, requiring skilled assistance to de-wobble. I am thankful for my washing machine, car, ability to scrub the inside of those flaming mugs that will not let go of tea tannin, go for walks with my frocks always at odds with the capricious snatches of the west coast wind. I watch primroses push out more colour, a siskin or a goldfinch on the nicer seed feeder, the way my dwarf willow dances flamenco on the hilly back garden. I am thankful for the postmistress #suchacrazytitle delivering mail in her disposable gloves, smiling and joking with me through the window as I stand on the laundry basket from Nincompoo Laundry, Calcutta. I’m thankful for that too.

My finger nails have never been this clean. Neither has my husband. What I am learning in this time is what really matters, such as looking after him myself. I am cooking good food once more having absented myself from any meaningful connection with pots, pans, process and palavers. For what seems a long time I have served him one of his ready meals (good quality) from the microwave and then boiled myself pasta, added pesto and salad. One of my granddaughters was horrified, not about her grandfather’s ready meal thingy, but my pasta on repeat thingy. Granny… she admonished. This is not like you! But it was like me, back then. Now I am purposed up, my extra busy imagination coming up with all sorts of marvellousness just as I did when cooking for five hungry kids plus hangers on. There were always plenty of those, and nobody on this island ever sends anyone home without something in their bellies. It just isn’t done.

Now I am about to start finding out how to make face masks. This should be interesting. I wonder if I will be able to stick with the J Cloth plus ribbons rule? What…..no macrame flowers or beads and bobbles? Abso- flipping-lutely NOT. Rats. I am also knitting dog blankets for our dog. She is currently the lucky owner of 3 colourful/wool and easy wash blended reaches of bonkers colour. The easy wash part washes, well, easy. The wool part is obviously sulking and retreating into itself, so that a part of the blanket looks more like a ploughed field, but Poppy doesn’t seem bothered all that much. She just turns a few circles and flops down on the easy wash, resting her delightful black nose on the ploughed field, so she can see out all the better.

I am daily delighted by all the entrepreneurial posts on social media. People are doing things they probably always wanted to do, but didn’t consider their work to be of notable value. Now it definitely is and this is what the human race is all about. I remember, as you will, the oldies saying that what the world needs is a jolly good war. Although there is nothing jolly about any sort of war, they had a point, one that now makes sense to me. What they meant is that, during wartime, a family, a community, a village, a city, a country, the world has to pull together, as we are all now doing. How does it feel to you? I think it is marvellous partisan excellent quiddity. In fact, I am quite astir just thinking about how wonderful folk are. We are learning to care outside of our boxes and demonstrating that care in ways that fulfil and nourish the givers as much as it does the receivers. In short, we are finding a new currency.

Hats off to all of you doing whatever you are doing for others. I am just waiting for that balmy summer evening inside a city when all those musicians, isolated in their own homes, communicate with each other, fix on a song or a piece of music and open their windows to delight a whole street, to lift, just for a short while, the anxiety and the fear, turning them into birds and butterflies and telling us all that together, we will grow through this.

Island Blog 125 Wind in the rigging

 

 

2014-02-19 16.34.00

 

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.

Island Blog 30 – Force 10 and Rising

'Force 10'

‘Force 10’

Photograph courtesy of James Fairbairns

Today it’s cold, sleety and wet and with a gale forecast, again, and the maudlin in me could take over if I was less than vigilant.  The thought of going for a good brisk walk, or even just driving Miss Daisy down to the shop, makes my neck sink deeper into the high neck of my big woolly jumper of which I am more than heartily sick.  Although I do need to cover myself from neck to bottom and beyond, every day from the moment I rise, wear fisherman’s socks over my chilblains and a big jacket just to feed the birds, I still look longingly in my ‘skimpy’ drawer.  Strappy tee-shirts, a pair of shorts, silly frou-frou tops, a short denim skirt.  When did I ever wear any of them?  When was it ever warm enough, or when did my pale blue skin ever allow such nudity?

It wasn’t that long ago, I tell myself, as I shut the drawer on my finger.  Fingers move slower in the cold, and sometimes, too slowly to avoid being shut in drawers or doors, or knocked painfully against surfaces that somehow seem softer in the warm sunshine.  Conversations are all about how-to-pay-the-bills and who ran up this cost anyway? And everyone I meet is aching or has lost their greenhouse, and it’s not over yet.  We are exhausted being so positive, but therein lies the key.  Whether you believe in global warming, or not, have a faith or not, there is a spirit within us all that keeps us going and we are glad of it.  We are tough cookies and built to survive, no, more than that, to laugh at ourselves, our situations, our daily disasters.  We can lift, cheer and support each other, just as we are designed to do, and it is the stuff of life.  In cheering you I am cheering me.   Whatever gales and tempests have assailed us and will assail us yet, whatever gets flattened or damaged, torn or ruined, we have ourselves and our sense of humour and we can share both every single day.

So, I tell myself, stand up girl, and be counted. This is much ado about nothing.

‘Life is either a daring bold adventure or it’s nothing at all’

I am off to bake a chocolate cake, visit someone, and tomorrow, I think I’ll wear my jumper inside out.

Island Blog 27 – Sea-words

We walked on a wide white beach today in the late afternoon light.  The little dog ran here and there through the machair in search of rabbits.  She has never caught one.  I don’t think she really wants to.  It’s the chase she loves, the journey.

Because of the recent storms, the kelp is high, almost on the machair, settled in loops as it was pushed in by the waves.  It looks like curly hair.  In one curl, lay a dead seal.  I knew it before I found it, as the hooded crows and a bird of prey I couldn’t recognise in the shout of blinding sunlight, lifted into the sky as we came near.

Something dead there, I thought.

And there was, its skin blistered pink, at its final resting place.  Food, now, for a hungry world.

We found driftwood and bits of flotsam and jetsam, and I love that around the ocean, there are so many wonderful words.  Not one of them boring.

I saw bladder-wrack and bubble-wrap and plastic bottles and lids and bits of toy, a piece of Lego and another thing, an emergency water bottle.

Whose boat, I thought, and what journey and where did you come from, or go to?

I remember someone found a soft toy rabbit in the harbour car park.  Soaked in the rain, we dried her and placed her for all to see with a sign asking…….Am I yours?

Nobody claimed her, so now, she is mine, with her raggedy ear and her eyes wide with looking.

I call her Anouk.

Grace.

It takes grace to allow ourselves to be moved from one state to another.  One place to another.  We may not choose it, but if we can bring our whole self with us, without looking at what we left behind, with just our wide-looking eyes hungry for right now, right here, we can make a smile appear in the most unlikely faces.

 

Anouk

Anouk

Island Blog 26 – Safe and Sound

They said there would be no ferries as the wind was forecast to rise beyond acceptable bouncing-over-water limits. At such times, ordinary old waves suddenly turn into the Salt-water Alps, and we struggle to hold down our children, our cars and our skirts. Words are snatched from open mouths and everyone wishes they had gone to a health spa in Basingstoke, including me. I may be married to the ocean through my family, but she and I have had plenty of disagreements over the years.  Trouble is, she is way more confident than I am and with the wind up her tail, she can batter ordinary law-abiding folk to their limits.

We decided we would set off anyway, although the ‘we’ part of that is never the result of a discussion. When I married my husband, he became ‘we’ and I remained ‘I’. So we set off because we always set off. To not set off is to be a big girl’s blouse, and we don’t do them in our house.  Even the girls don’t.  To show fear is to appear weak. To hesitate is to be run over.

We spent a happy ten minutes behind a huge mucky lorry, and, having left home a rather cute sky blue, we gradually turned brown in the spray from its many wheels.

What a lovely gentle speed, I yelled over the hysterical blapping of the windscreen wipers. One of them hesitated mid blap. This is it, I thought, and waited for it to ping into orbit.

The moment passed.

Then so did we. Well, he did. I just closed my eyes as we plunged into the brown darkness on the wrong side of a very narrow road.

We passed gritters and snow ploughs, and tourists at viewpoints, holding on to each other to avoid flying over the edge. Anoraks billowed out like kites and nobody looked like themselves, as nobody ever does in woolly hats, scarves and multi-coloured mountain jackets, their hoods pulled right up tight.  I have walked past family in the winter with no flicker of recognition. All I can see are a fistful of features peeping out from the dark.

Eventually we arrived at the ferry point and could see its beak was closed.

We were not to get home this day.

Now, settled in a warm little hotel sipping tea and watching the storm dancing through the wide windows, I find it all rather exciting.  Home will still be there tomorrow and we are safe.

I think of the homeless on the cold streets of a cold city before I sit down to write.

 

Ferry Cancelled