Groundlessness, islands


Blackberries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I took a ferry to the island, a pitching, horrible journey, in which the horizon waved wildly, and I almost vomited over a rail. The island is serene, wind-swept so everything is low, the houses are exposed, the stone walls, castle, unsoftened by trees, except fuchsias and stunted willows. The islanders weave island willow, allowed to grow back from rootstock on abandoned plots, into baskets and craft. They sell seaweed. The boat bottoms are tarred. Little parcels of land are divided up all over by the dry-stone walls. A lady said that to avoid seasickness, you should find a spot on the horizon and keep staring at it, it tricks your brain, or reassures your brain, and indeed, you don’t get sick.

Went to sit in a bar and listen to music. The musicians sat around a table, had a drink, had a chat, played, one of them could have been eating nuts. A man bought me half pints of Guinness.

The next day I walked along the main road, and then in a loop through farmland, along narrow sealed roads, beside blackberries practically  black on their creepers. I grew up learning that you shouldn’t eat wild blackberries because they might have been sprayed, but I ate them anyway. I think they remove them manually, anyway.

An article I’ve been reading describes ‘the finer things in life’ as ‘intimacy, trusting others, and being relied upon’.

Strolled to charity shop to make a donation, spent afternoon scouring bookshops for the perfect book, settled finally on the happily titled When things fall apart. Sat in the shade of the Remembrance Park, a pond in the sunken cross. A man called out to me at the traffic lights Excuse me! Excuse me! And came over to me: Excuse me, are you a Hare Krishna? No. Jesus! You look like a Hare Krishna, he said accusatorially, and hurried off. I surveyed my knee-length mustard skirt (slit up the back!), grey shawl wrapped around my shoulders over baggy grey top, yellow ashram shoulder bag, black stockings, tan open-toed sandals, disheveled hair. It seemed plausible.

This has no relevance. When I was doing an induction session to volunteer with a charity, the leader said that you cannot help everyone all the time. She described a woman in the floods whose house was above the water line. From her porch she noticed a man in the flood water clinging to a structure across the way. She must have waved, and he must have waved back, but was well out of reach. When it got dark, she lit a candle on her porch, and stayed up sitting there, and from time to time he would ignite a cigarette lighter and she would know he was still there. But at some point, she stopped seeing his light, and when the sun came up she could see that he’d gone. Maybe he’d let go and floated to safety. She didn’t and couldn’t know. So she went into her kitchen and made herself breakfast and sat down to eat. This is how to help people.

I’m aware now that I have only a few months left of travel, probably,

Now I’m in S—, on the prettiest train route in the world, except it’s twilight. Green is folded into green that’s almost black with sundown. The further hills are a pastely grey. The sky is grey, the clouds are wads of grey. The train has just detached, cleaved two carriages to one place, and two to another.

In When things fall apart, Pema writes: This is where tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realise that we are on the verge of something. We might realise that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality….Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing… When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what‘s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know… Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad, we call it good. But really we just don’t know.


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