Island Blog – The Overstory

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

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

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

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

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

Island Blog 157 Light on Dark

 

 

Blue eye, close-up

 

We rarely draw the curtains against the night.  Even in the winter, when the dark creeps out from the woods so much earlier to dim our eyes and send us running for the long life light bulb switch – even then I hesitate to make that final call, so entrancing is the ‘out there’.

Out there a massive power shift is already playing out.  The creatures of the night are waking, alert and ready.  Their eyes are not ‘accustomed’ to the dark, they are made for it right from the very beginning; it is their light.  The rest of us whose vision is, at best, impaired in darkness, must draw in, draw our curtains, hide from danger, sleep.  There is a strong pull of the wild in me as dark descends, a longing to be a part of it, and without a torch.  Turning back from the window, having reluctantly closed off the night, I face warmth and safety, some polite crime on television, or a read beside the fire, supper, and I wonder what I’m missing.

Rabbits know fine what they’re missing, ditto hens and rodents.  Although the latter do pop out at night, they must needs scurry beneath the dense shelter of undergrowth for the screech owl is about.  Even scurryings won’t save them from the neighbouring cats.  So, it isn’t darkness we, or they are afraid of, but the creatures who inhabit it.  In our case, imagined ones too, demons and lurkers and no-gooders with an eye for weakness. And we are weak in darkness, compromised and slow to focus.

And so, we turn in, pushing the darkness back into the woods and back across the sea, flooding our night with light, and more light, neon and flashing, computer screens, television, digital clocks, standby lights on printers, sound systems, streetlights lighting our hurried steps until we find our own doorway, unlock it and step into our nests, leaving the stars behind.  We cook, argue about homework, phone mother, answer emails, bathe and sleep until the light begins to rise again, a slow green at first, then lifting white or blue or pinkly clouded into the full light of day.  But maybe we miss something.  Maybe that’s what I feel so strongly.  The way we divide our days and nights into themselves, stored neatly, controllable, separate, and, yet, they are one.

To stand out inside the darkness, to feel it’s soft mantle about our shoulders, and to stand long enough to see is a wonder.  Even without visible stars, even on the blackest of nights, there is still light.  We make it.  It emanates from our ancient human spirit, this light, and all I have to do is wait until I am fully present.  Dashing out with the recycling is not the same.  I need to stand, to let the inside worries slip away, to move, without moving, into the wholeness of the dark, to let it become one with me.  I become aware of movement, of sounds, of the depth and texture of the dark.  My ears hear, my eyes see, my mind empties of everything that lies behind the front door.  It is, as if it is another world, one of bustle and of chaos and the quack of televised nonsense, of clatter and youtube, of the ping of an arriving email, of the whirr of a fridge, the hum of a computer, the ticking of a clock.  There is no time out here, no hum, no white noise, only the immediate and raw darkness, broken by the rustle of mouse deep in the dry stone wall, a triumphant hoot, a warning cry, the rush of spring water over rocks, the wind through the pines.

No currency exchanges hands out here; no bartering or negotiating required.  No clothing, fashion, menus or public transport.  No strife over friendships or loyalties, no business sense, no degrees, no difficult mother in laws.

I stand for a while, a part of the darkness.  I feel vulnerable and alone and I thrill to those feelings, for this is real life, real dark, real and raw and sharp and edgy.  This is Order.

Then I turn back to what the world calls order, with a twinkle in my eye.

Island Blog 5

Did I tell you I cook and clean for Old Harry?

Well, I am now, and I do.

The job sort of came to me.  I wasn’t looking for work, but Old Harry has looked after me and my family for over 35 years, doing odd jobs and bringing those little bits and pieces to us when we were without them.  A short length of roofing felt, perhaps, or a special size of bicycle screw, or a bit of wire fencing to block up a hole in the fence.

Well, since his old wife died, he has had to fend for himself in a kitchen he never knew existed.  He did outdoors and she did indoors and that was that for a whole lifetime.  So, Old Harry found someone to cook meals for him, freeze them and deliver once a week.  There was a bit of washing, a bit of cleaning too.  When one cook left him, he came to tell me and I said, quite without thinking, I’ll do it Harry.  For you.

And I do.

This morning I was supposed to go over with supplies, clean washing and my rubber gloves for the cleanup which is never much as Old Harry was a Regimental Sergeant Major in the war and still lives that way.  But, it was raining again, cats and dogs so I knew Harry, whose work is all outside, remember, would be stuck at home and not wanting a merry little cleaner like me moving him around whilst I cleaned.  So, I stayed home and cooked extra meals for him instead, which is timely as we are off to see our new grand-daughter in London on Wednesday and I will be away for ten days helping out.  I will still keep up my blog, though, so no worries there.

I’m bushed now, though.  Time for a walk in the Fairy Woods.  I’ll tell you what I find tomorrow.

Island Blog 4

Yesterday, my husband the old sea dog, turned 70.  Nobody really believes he is THAT old and he certainly doesn’t look it. When we were young, people that old were bordering on fossilisation, but we seem to be ageing differently these days, and keeping ourselves young and fit.

We had a great day, just pottering about and took a lovely walk up into the Fairy Woods with the little dog, managing to lose her during games of hide and seek! The wallow, used by the deer, was more like Lake Titicaca with all the rain we’ve had recently. We lit the fire and played scrabble and laughed a lot over tea and crumpets (or that’s what they called themselves on the packet)

 

Later, we went through to one of our boys, James (the tv star!)and his family, for a fondue and indoor fireworks.  The fondue was delicious and lasted for hours – the best sort of meal.  The Birthday Boy was truly spoiled and celebrated with the generous birthday present of five gold tickets.  I’d never heard of such a thing, but think it quite brilliant.  As the kids are dotted across the world, busy with their own lives and families, their gift to him, a whole day one to one, is a fabulous idea.  When they were little, they were a collective – inevitable when you have five and an extremely demanding work life, and, as they grew, he had to find out anew, who they are, as they did him.  They had to learn a new friendship.

 

We stayed over, and woke to play with the grandchildren on another rainy morning. Then, after a cooked breakfast (as if we needed more food) we went for the wettest walk in years, getting completely soaked, even through big ass waterproofs and we didn’t mind at all.  Once you’re wet, you’re wet!  The massive waterfall was spectacularly swollen with the rains, and the sound of it drowned out all conversation.  We just looked up and marvelled.

 

Back home, we booked our flights to London next week.  Another adventure and this one takes us to meet our littlest grand-daughter, born on Boxing Day.

Can’t wait!