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 – From There to Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

It just has to have made a difference.

Island Blog – Connectivity

As my departure day moves inexorably closer, I think on the ties that bind. Some I can see, like a rope fence or the woollen threads in my jumper, but many I can not. The familial ties of parent and child, husband and wife, friend connecting friend, distance between places, people and things, all quite invisible, but strongly there, nonetheless. Both ties need careful and attentive attention, all ties do. There are threads connecting us to our past, some of which need the snip, some need untangling from the falsitude of memory and some just need untangling for a more intelligently wholesome second look.

On the ground I have complete control over my ties that bind. I can choose the flavour of my message, text, tweet or letter as I can choose my response to those sent to me. There is an awesome and awful power right there in my hands. I can create and I can destroy just by letting my fingertips dance. They say the tongue is the most dangerous part of a human body. What you say can kill or it can cure. But it isn’t just the tongue. The way I think is the true beginning of everything, for if I think all people are intrinsically good, then this thought automatically controls my tongue. It also opens my heart to acceptance, compassion and humility so that my tongue has no desire, nor motivation, to wag unless, that is, it wants to support another’s dignity, in which case, wag on tongue, wag on.

Connectivity requires intelligent attention in all things, from rope fences to woollen jumpers, from familial ties to a worldwide spread of proffered threads. I have often been astonished, when someone I barely know wanders into my head and then astonished again a short while later to receive a message from them or a phone call. At times when I have met a friend or child or family member in my mind, I discover that on the very day I thought of them, they were going through something tough. However, I don’t believe I ‘thought’ of them through my own undeniable genius as a medium. I don’t believe I thought of them at all. In fact I know, without doubt, that it was absolutely nothing to do with me. Some higher source connected us because that is what higher sources do – they see the whole, the eagle eye view, only they fly even higher and can see a whole lot more. This connection opportunity is just that, and it has a name. Love. My task, down here on the ground is simply to let go of my need to control and to open my mind and my heart.

Doing this brings rewards. Not things, not status, not an ego polish but instead that elevating sense of being connected to everyone else. Deep inside we are all damaged to varying degrees and we all need each other to heal. Think of that smile that some stranger sent your way the day you were late and flustered and cut them off at the roundabout. They could have sworn but they didn’t, they smiled and in that short moment everything changed inside. Think of that WhatsApp message that came through on a rainy morning as you battled with your year end accounts, saying “just thinking of you my old friend” and adding a heart. If we pay attention to these times, we open our hearts and minds for more. We are also inspired to give back in the same way. But paying attention is a decision. it doesn’t just ‘come’. We must invite it in and walk with it wherever it may lead. We don’t need to study. We just need to take the time to notice everyone. There is no feasible excuse for not paying attention. ‘I’m too busy’ doesn’t cut it because we are all too busy if we decide to be. Busy is not productive. Productive is productive and Busy is just making noise and loneliness. Busy cuts us off from others and it is Others we need, not Busy. When people ask me if I am busy I say an emphatic NO, because that screen between me and everyone else has done me no service at all in my life beyond cutting me off from my healing source of light.

Keeping connected to family and friends is comparatively easy, although even then we can erect that Busy screen. But the real and proven way we can heal ourselves and the sadness, loneliness and war right across our beautiful world is to pay attention to connectivity; to let those threads flow out from us.

Every moment, busy or not.

Island Blog – Tribute

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

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

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

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

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

Island Blog – The Ambience of Time

‘Ambience – the quality or character given to a sound recording by the space in which the sound occurs.’

That’s just one meaning of the word but one I like, on consideration. Quality, Character, Space In Which The Sound Occurs. In other words, the Moment. Life is but a series of moments, so many missed, wished away, ignored, rejected in a lunatic hurtle to either a new beginning or to the end of it. In a quest for happiness we can miss it all. No wonder so many lie on their bed of death in a cloud of regret, not, perhaps at their whole life but at those moments missed, ones that now take on the aspect and the voice of the Final Jury.

Ah, foolish man, foolish woman. There is enough well-crafted literature out there for us all to become professional livers of life, words gifted to those with eyes to read, ears to hear, minds to learn and feet to stay grounded in each moment, turning up for every one of them. It is easy to understand the rightness of such thinking, such a way of being but the world is loud as a bully and equally as daunting. Although we know that a bully is all fur coat and no nickers once ignored as we might a persistent bluebottle, the daunt is still there like an overwhelming fear, and it can confound the best of us.

However, knowing something is for the logic brain. Feelings, by contrast, riddle our minds, our hearts, our choices and our definition of self, like bullets from a machine gun. It’s spaghetti junction inside, a tangle of ups and downs, rounds and backs again, and appears beyond our control, as indeed feelings are. But here we have a choice. My choice is to say ‘Okay, I hear you all. All the feelings, all the logic learned from others way wiser than I and nothing makes a jot of sense. There is no flipshot way I can sort this tangle out. None of you agree for a kick-off and I am down here, little me in my frock and wellies wondering how deep the puddles will be today, bothering about my piddling worries, the state of the world and whether the battery on my phone will last until I get home again. So here’s the plan. You carry on disagreeing and tangling and arguing with each other and I am going to spend this day watching the moments as they come to me. I’m going to notice each one, be thankful for them all as they come and go and when this day is done I might check in on you bickering brats, or I might not. I know you are a gift. I know that all you feelings and all you counteractive logicians are, and have been, wonderful guides throughout my life, barring the times you meet each other across the valley of my mind with staves and spears, guns and a lot of yelling, but this day you are too much for me. There is a life down here being lived and it is I who am living it. So I choose to ignore you and to settle like a fatling hen upon her eggs for this day alone’.

I only have today. So do you. So does every living soul, regardless of status (perceived or real), colour, creed, race, history, size, plans and wealth. Just today. How will I live it? How will you? Will we hurtle in our steely rockets, slicing the moments into forgettable fractions or will we stop and share a smile, buy a beggar a burger and mug of hot tea, ask a colleague how they really are, phone mum, write an encouraging letter or email, study the pidgeon on the window ledge until we really see it?

There will always be a tangle within. We are humans with tangles. But if we forget to live our lives moment by moment, our life will still be lived without us being a part of it. Letting go of the tangles won’t bother them much, at first, but in choosing to notice everything and by some magical and out-there process, this tangle is no match for a person who lets go and who lives just this day as it is, who simply turns up, curious and wild at heart.

I leave you with a wisdom from Sarah Manguso:-

‘Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments – an inability to accept life as on-going.’ and, in her writing about keeping a journal…..

‘I just wanted to retain the whole memory of my life, to control the itinerary of my visitations, to forget what I wanted to forget.

Good luck with that, whispered the dead.’

Island Blog – Little Fires

I believe that grandparents have a gift. One that is gifted to them. They also have a gift to give, through translation, nothing lost, unless they choose to ignore the opportunity it brings them, and by extension, the generation below and the one below that.

On the first gift, I can say it comes as a surprise. This gift is one of a second childhood. Not physically, of course, but in a renewed lease of life. From banging on about arthritis to clambering over a fence with a cackle of glee; from medication programming to random acts of play; from soup at midday on the button to fish finger sandwiches just because we’re hungry – with ketchup, naturally. The awakening of the sleeping child is painless. Sparkles return to rheumy eyes and stolen carrots from the veg counter at Tesco’s are an absolute must. An old woman who has plodded, fallen- arched, and for many years, up one aisle, politely rounding to the next, might suddenly find herself speeding up for a swing-wheelie at the top. The giggles of the little ones egg her on and she just can’t help herself. Her mind is full of naughty ideas that came from nowhere. After all, these half-pint charges of hers have been sternly groomed for a perfect public face and mummy never does any of these things.

As mummy, we don’t either. Many of us are so caught up in right and absolutely wrong that we contain, without intending it, the free spirit of our children until their bodies can barely bend at all. And here comes the second gift, the one given. With granny we can fly and fly high. My granny was like that and we all adored her. The mischief in her eyes set little fires in our own and although she was in all ways the perfect lady, she showed us a side of her true self that my mother rarely saw as a child. I feel sad about that and wonder how much, and how often, I contained my own children in boxes at least two sizes too small for their exuberant personalities. But how else to protect, teach and develop a child into the adult we want them to be, hope they will become? This, in itself sounds like a box, but only to my granny ears. So is it just that we can ‘hand them back’ or is it that second chance to what, make amends? My own children, now parents, are not always delighted at granny’s antics. Initially I faced a few stern reprimands on my behaviour, feeling like the child in trouble and most uncomfortable. Can I say God or should I pretend he doesn’t exist? Can I answer questions on where babies come from, asked by a ten year old, or should I say “Ask Mummy’ thus making it very mysterious and serious? I get my nickers in a right knot at such times, and dither like an old woman who never thought an original thought, or was never allowed to.

9 grandchildren in, I now am more relaxed about the nicker knot thing. I pause a lot after a question is asked. I might distract, as I would a puppy chewing on a cat, suggest some toast or a bounce on the trampoline. I might answer the baby question, but vaguely, with something safe, like ‘Mummy’s tummy’ and leave it at that . As to God, I might say, some believe he exists, some don’t, and round with a question for them. What do mummy and daddy say? Always a safe bet, that one.

I don’t remember my mum having any bother with dithering. She just answered as she saw fit, no matter what parental bans we had put in place. And blow it. Thats what she said. She had no intention of bending to our whims and I cannot imagine ever being brave enough to challenge her. In my day and with my mother, challenge was verboten. However my generation have been confounded with all the new information about parenting. Strait jackets were out, for starters, and choices offered to small people on the best dinner plates. My own children, and I have heard them all employ this, would ask their 3 year old what she would like for supper. I managed to keep my snort silent, although it gave me indigestion and required my scrabble into handbag depths for a Rennies. Now, I am used to it. I remember, once, tapping a child on the leg when her tantrum threatened the entire neighbourhood, and being strongly warned never to touch a child again in anger. It wasn’t anger, I began to say, but said no more after making eye contact with the parent in case. The Childline number is readily available, after all, and there are posters in every school in most of the rooms, and at a child’s eye level.

However, the joys of playing hooky with grandchildren are the best. Naughtiness and mischief fan the embers of my internal fire any time I am with them. And I am reminded, often, of the gift I have received and the gift I can give – that reconnection with my own childhood and the chance to be the child free, the child outside the box, setting all the other children free from their own boxes and, together, heading off into a fantasy world of mischief and fun and laughter.

I am going to have to live for decades more, it seems.

Island Blog 162 Blue Moon

Blue moon

‘A blue moon traditionally marks a time of change and possibility in the astrological world. The blue moon is the first since August 31, 2012, and won’t be seen again until January 31, 2018.’

It won’t be blue, however. The Blue bit refers to the fact that there will be two full moons this month, this lunar month; a phenomenon, and we like those.  For the star-friendly among us, it denotes a time of change, of possibility.  We say that something happens ‘once, in a blue moon,’ as we refer to the rarity of an event.  We, on the island, might struggle to see any moon at all through a closed and soggy sky, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going on beyond our vision.

Although I usually avoid anything political or strug-mental (my word) inside my blogs, there is a time for every season, one of which is to be counted, to stand tall for something I believe in.  Okay, I’m not so tall, not so important that my little stand can change circumstances, but perhaps, by becoming one of a crowd of ‘standers’ I can make a difference.

On the island, no business, no charity can survive without extra oomph.  That old ferry boat divides us from access to all the instant supports you mainlanders take for granted.  Every one of us has to work that bit harder, that bit longer, our wits and ideas our lifelines.  Tourists come in the Summer months, in the main, although a friendly Autumn or Spring can bring stout-footed walkers and hikers, lycra-clad cyclists to pump their calves into balloons as they rise and descend our endless hills and valleys, eagle-nest watchers and so on.

So, the work we think about all winter long is distilled into a powerful action once the snowdrops begin to show and what should pass for Spring (but forgot this year) lifts the sun a centimetre or two higher in our skies, to illuminate the snow patches, many of which have only just thawed.

One of these worthy and high-profile attractions is our theatre and arts centre, Comar.  I remember, and many of you will too, watching excellent theatre in the barn in this village, where the idea was birthed and delivered to the world.  The Smallest Theatre In The World.  It attracted thousands of thespians and the excellence of this theatre spread far and wide.

Nowadays, it is bigger business, grown from that tiny seed and tended and loved and fed and watered by those whose passion for theatre, music, dance and art led them to invest themselves completely in its development.  Today, amongst its ranks, chaos reigns.  It seems that some now consider it not an island thing anymore and, in their eagerness to make money, have removed the control of it from the very hands, the talented and caring hands of two men whose life revolved around little else, such is their passion.  Being made redundant is not fun for anyone, but on an island it is tough indeed.  Jobs are few and there are many more months without visitors than with.

I am not able, nor willing to state accurate facts about this situation, but the press is doing a good job thus far.  You can read it for yourselves.

http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.heraldscotland.com%2Fnews%2F13521125.Equity_calls_for_board_of_Mull_arts_company_to_resign_en_masse%2F%3Fref%3Dtwtrec&h=DAQExViOo&s=1

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-33728339

What I can do is stand beside these island folk, and I am and I will.  Too often we overthink ourselves into stillness, watching precious moments pass us by because we feel the fear of challenging the bully and we logic ourselves back home where life is safe enough, where we can pretend everything is okay.

Theatre and art and music and dance are quite without logic, and all about emotion, about passion, about the red blood of who we are. The island is like no other place.

Once, in a Blue Moon, we must stand and be counted.