Island Blog – Slow Day in a Big Life

Sometimes a day begins as if someone has a finger on the pendulum, slowing it down. I know about pendulums. I have been working with an old stable clock, a beauty, for the past ten days tweaking said pendulum up a bit, down a bit as the minutes either raced away, leaving the morning behind like it never happened or slowed down so that the morning was still the morning at 3pm. I think this day me and the pendulum might just be in sync. It is extremely exciticating, as if I have found a new friend and wonderful synergy. I swear that clock is grinning with an all-the-credit smile from high up on the kitchen wall. I remember the stories about it, the way it told accurate (hmm) time in my father-in-law’s stud in Yorkshire so that the time for exercising the horses worked with the grooms, the stable hands and the master. Quite a feat. In my shared life with this lovely clock, its tick and its tock kept the beat in our farmhouse kitchen and its old yellowed face with Roman numerals was my go-to when children needed to get to school or it was time to scoot out and open the veg shop. This clock was our time keeper. This clock has hung in complete silence for 2 years, since I could not be bothered negotiating with truculence, too busy with the demands of caring. Nowadays it is a rare thing to encounter a pendulum clock because, perhaps, it is just too much trouble to work with pendulum time. And I get that. People want instant and digital which, in my view, takes a lot away from the understanding of time and says a great deal about how impatient we have all become, even though I was there myself not so long ago.

So, back to this morning. Yawn, wake sharp. Tell you why. Right in front of my face was a woodpecker intent on wood pecking. It scared me. I could see in its eyes that it was certain I was a dead tree and was preparing to hammer a hole. I am most thankful I woke up. Lord nose what state my face might have been in had I not. It was 4 am and light and the garden birds were dinging about in a singalong sort of way which definitely helped the getting out of bed process. On mornings when most other folk are sleeping deeply and I am fighting off woodpeckers, it is a given that the day will be a slow one. Anyone who breakfasts at 05.30 will know what I mean. I will be ready for lunch by 10.30 and so on. But this morning was not just about waking t’wirly. I sometimes find the business of widowness a tricky one. It isn’t that I miss the man overly, even as I do, and it isn’t that I am depressed or miserable or any of that stuff that doesn’t come into my mind. Actually, I don’t know what it is. There is, quite simply, a sense of whatwhat?. What shall I do. What shall I think. What matters now and what doesn’t. What should I cook for dinner. What is the point of all of the aforesaid whats. Answer comes there none. So, Hallo Slow Day.

I read a bit, wandered a bit, swept a bit, chopped wood a bit, walked a bit, watched a bit of tv. A bit day and a slow one but there is, from my experience, only one way to tick and tock my way through the hours and that is to keep moving. I am sure there are many who know such days. I watch walkers, drivers, birds go by, all purposeful and planned up and I feel a twinge of envy. They know where they are going and what they doing and when dinner will be and what time it is and I do not. However, I am no fool. That thinking is delusive. So I auto correct many times in a slow day. It is just a day. Be open, be curious, be mindful, just be. So I just be for many hours, longing for the slow change from day to evening whence I can finally decide that it is now acceptable not to invite Henry out for an excursion around the downstairs carpets. Such a relief. I have heard him knocking all the day long. Tomorrow I tell him, and I just know he is rolling his eyes in the dark because I told him tomorrow, yesterday. Tomorrow never comes I say and the poor chap is confounded. I can tell from the ensuing silence. I feel a bit bad. Hoovers are not really intelligent enough to understand such a concept. They are more play school intelligence.

As the evening sun shines, warm against the sharp cold of this morning, an elevation of attitude, I feel a softening, an acceptance. It was always there, the sun, but not prepared to shine. I was this jumper, no, the warmer one, no, a cardy too and a fire and now I am stripped of all of the above and ready to remember something I think I might have forgot. This slow day was just a slow day. I look back over the months, over the past year, and I remind myself of how far I have come. Try it. I see the way I have come through woodpeckers, pendulums, time constraints, self doubts, slow days and loads of time and times and I smile. Well done warrior. Well flipping done. In a Big Life, there will be slow days. Accept that and keep on keeping on.

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 – Feeling the Bones

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

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

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

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