The smell of woodsmoke on a dank late afternoon, eerie plumes snaking their way across the darkening canal like thoughts I no longer want emptying from my mind.
Wet ropes, cold fingers, old gloves—there is no fashion show needed.
The joy of leaping from deck to towpath, easing our hulk of a home to its mooring. Metal on metal rings through the air as I bash pins in; the delicious weight of mallet in hand.
Looking around at the view — a new view, every day if the fancy takes you — and spying a "sunshine" tree right outside our window.
Being rocked to sleep as a boat passes slowly in the darkening night. Waking to watch the sunshine tree come to life at first light.
The sound of ice cracking around my ears in winter, fish and ducks nibbling at the waterline in spring and summer, the raining down of magical leaves in autumn.
Reflecting in the watery ripples that soothe my mind.
Then there is the shunting, rocking, manouvering - the throwing of ropes, jumping to other boats, ducking to tie up; slipping on mud.
Mud. Mud. Mud.
The smell of a boatyard—heavy, oily, like my dad's workshop—the cheery faces, "just chuck us a fiver mate."
And the peace. Always the peace.
The taking ourselves off to the countryside where we watch the sliver of a moon appear and disappear behind cloud, our gaze stretched across endless fields—from pitch black to orange glow.
But being in that glow if we want. And after the year we have had, perhaps that's the main reason afterall:
A home that moves, so we can be close to loved ones as we need and wish.
Nothing can replace our beautiful Highland hideaway - our yurt in the stone circle. But at least we experienced it, no matter for how short a time. And if there is anything I have learned this year, it's that our time here can be short so we must grasp every opportunity and absorb it with utter delight, yet not be afraid to leap as needed.
So now; now it's back to boats, to living afloat. And trying to write words again that right now feel jarred—lost somewhere in the depths of my mind but somehow, slowly finding their way out, albeit in mixed-up ways.
Grief comes in waves.
Sometimes like needles; fast and painful.
Other times like a blanket; soft and gentle.
And I miss her, my mum.
Yet there is so much more undone.
To face, reason with, and explore.
But for now I simply seek beauty in each step,
Whilst forever missing those words:
“I love you, pet.”
My mum: October 1938 ~ July 2021
I walk early, before the world wakes. I want to stride out and feel nothing but joy for the hedgerows brimming with summer flowers and grasses that wave; knowingly. But instead I saunter silently, my beloved four-legged friend by my side, methodically plodding.
We learn from our friends—both animal and human—and right now I am open to receive those lessons: to slow, listen, be kind to myself.
Some days I do yoga in a daze, looking out to the green with a hunger to feel something. Anything. I fall asleep in meditations, lost to lingering longings. On other days I bounce and smile and laugh, gulping up each drop of delight.
Because life’s like that. Isn’t it?
And so I am grateful for friends who share this journey. For souls who dig deep, see beyond all that we—all of us—put on display. Friends who welcome and share, who do not hide behind walls for protection. For friends who are open and honest, wild and free; who give their love without question.
But mostly, today, I am grateful for the most loyal friend of all, and the walks we still get to share, no matter how slow.
Words: 1 July 2021
Photo: June 2009, French Pyrenees.
I sit on a stone from a long time past, hands cold as my fingers dance up and down the recorder. Dried gorse rages the fire into life and our friends walk from across the way, smiling through the dark to Highland Mary.
The moon glows in her halo of gold—of cold—and looks down knowingly. The pitch black sky stretches out across the glen; wide and open, long, and filled with possibility. But we… we sit in the warm embrace of this circle of trees, this circle of stones; a circle that has called us home.
Juliette de Bairacli Levy (a herbalist and wanderer I greatly admire) once said that wherever she travelled there was always a little corner of land, or a simple home, available to her. Well it seems our joyful (yet unexpected) return to this croft in the Highlands of Scotland, has brought us to a corner where we can now rest our own weary feet a while.
As Juliette also said:
“Every land has its own special rhythm, and unless the traveler takes the time to learn the rhythm, he or she will remain an outsider there always.”
It has been a while since we have felt the pull to root down, but now the feeling is so strong that as I write this my heart feels light and fluttery, yet my feet—grounded. This land is special and I am awed every day as we walk through winter in her embrace. Trees call to me, earth grasps me, and the sky envelopes me. We are still travellers, but here we are, ready to throw down anchor long enough that we may know and learn the rhythms of this Highland space.
We have come to rest a while; the land says so.
And so that means a dwelling, one fit for these nomadic hearts that so long to stay connected with the earth. One befitting this circle of ancient stone and tree, where robins dwell and hearts swell; where all feels drawn from each corner of our life, towards this central point. So we asked,
“But what shall we live in dear circle?”
And she replied, “Why, a house of sticks of course!”
Driving into the Cairngorms on a day of snow and spectacular skies, we visited a man about a yurt and now the course of our life has taken shape and we have never been more glad, more excited, more in tune.
As poems flow this Burns night
As music dances in our circle
We know we have come to rest
Amongst this land and people.
There is a deeper whisper
There is a hidden call,
And if you listen carefully
It says, “Here you are home.”
And so this Highland Glen
And so this Northern sky
Upon and beneath
We will rest a while.
The other day an interview I took part in twelve years ago was brought to my attention. I ended it by saying,
“I don’t fear change; I embrace it. Whatever happens it will always lead to something else and I never want to live my life wondering what would have happened ‘if’ … the day I don’t follow that if, is the day I will feel that I’m not really living.”
Wise words from my younger self, and so we are embracing this unexpected change and throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into log cabin extensions (facilities) and a yurt base, ready for the arrival of our new home in the spring.
Beneath the Wolf Moon
My heart slows
And I stand
Lost in thought,
In darkness mixed with light
Longing to meld with all that is bright.
For us, solstice celebrations started with a four-hour mandala-making session on the beach with friends and ended with poetry around the fire.
The shortest day, the longest night
We stand in awe of nature,
With respect for all so perfectly right.
Into darkness we curl in
Nurturing the light that lies within
Safe in the knowledge sun will come again,
Just as the moon doth wax and wane.
So look around these darkest skies
Trust in how the earth lets go
That life will continue to ebb and flow.
🍂🌲Warmest wishes to friends near and far🍂🌲
My latest newsletter, filled with words about our four months in Portugal—as well as links to recent writings—has just been sent out. Please click here if you would like to receive my thoughts directly to your inbox.
“We walked around the village with them in the warm evenings—Ernestina’s arm looped through mine for steadiness—and sat on the old wooden bench soaking up the night sky. My Portuguese is limited, but there it grew as we talked. There will not be a day I won’t miss this place and yet, I know I soaked it all in fully so that in that longing, I will not feel pain for something I should have done differently.”
Every moment we are in—this moment right now—is worthy of our attention. 💚
Handmade with love for nights such as these.
Messy with sweet chestnuts.
Wine bottles and cups.
Fingers black from peeling those fire-hot shells.
Cheeks rosy, hearts swelled.
The sound of children's laughter.
Trampolining by torchlight, is a thing.
Connections from mind to mind.
Heart to heart.
Around which, we grow.
I reminisce about all the tables we have sat around this year—this year of disconnection, of fear. And I feel thankful for the brave hearts that wonder, that question. I feel thankful for those still willing to share.
Since December 2019 I've been writing the 'Characters of the Cut' column for the Towpath Talk Newspaper. Each month I feature those who live their life on the canals of England and it's always enjoyable and fascinating to write their stories.
Having previously lived afloat for a number of years myself, narrowboating as a way of life is endlessly appealing to me. And by writing about others, it allows me to keep my hand in on this unique lifestyle!
So far I have featured roving traders, artists, signwriters, environmentalists, families in search of a simpler way of life... do visit my Characters of the Cut page to read their stories.
You can also read a few articles about my own narrowboat life, here.
On our last morning in the UK I walk my dogs alone around the two fields near my caravan. I wonder if it will be the last time—ever? Or for some time at least… The long grass is heavy with dew, but still I can make out the well-worn path. My flip-flops feel cumbersome, so I slip them off and walk barefoot.
For me, there is nothing like that feeling of freedom from the ground up. It’s something I work hard to remain connected to—the surge of nature to keep me rooted to what is real. There is nothing more real than the solid world beneath our feet, is there? TV, books, social media—they show us things, inspire, but equally they detach us and allow us to simply become receivers of noise. The force-feeding of ideas and beliefs can play havoc with our true sense of freedom and so, as much as I long to stay connected, I ensure I remain disconnected, too. I try to remember to stand on the earth. Root down. Jump inside my body and mind and say, “Hey, Alice, what are you feeling? Deep down? Truly?”
What I’m feeling right now is discomfort—in this moment of walking barefoot; in this moment of life. I look at my dogs walking ahead and wonder if they too feel each sensation: each thorn, each soft spot. Do long lengths of grass wrap themselves around their toes (paws) trying to catch them out too? Do those same toes feel like individual ice-cubes as we step into the shade? For a moment I walk, feeling little sensation, only an all-consuming coldness and I ponder whether to slip my flip-flops back on. I persevere though, and as I round into the second field, I feel glad because this perseverance has connected me right down to that discomfort again; allowed me to get in touch with myself.
I know I am fearful. I sense I too have been pulled into the panic of this virus. Friends and family express their concern over our packing up and heading off for an unspecified time and I know the worries of my community—the world—have permeated me. But I can’t stop; something drives me forward. The other day I turned to my husband and declared, “I feel like I am sleep-walking into this next chapter and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.”
Things are strange everywhere right now and sometimes it’s hard to make out what is real—what will truly affect—from everything else and so, as focused as I am about following my path, don’t ever think there is not fear. Just as with everyone—choices are sometimes hard-won. The emotional and physical drain: heavy. And sometimes, it is only by walking barefoot—by reconnecting with the solid earth beneath—that the true way becomes clear. It’s not always well-worn or obvious. Sometimes it’s downright prickly and uncomfortable. But often it gives way to softness and moments of sheer delight and I’ll take that, because I believe there can be nothing true that does not bring both discomfort and pleasure.
Words on Life
Here I simply share musings on my life of wandering, writing, home-educating & dreaming with my little family. Welcome and do please say hello!
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