The solace of trees

With everything else going on, I have a profound desire to walk into this picture and sink my face into the soft, cool, damp moss. To lie down in this forest and let go of the deep fears that rock up in the wee small hours and are rekindled with every doom-laden post or news item that I am unable to ignore. In these feverish days, I would love to feel the spongy living carpet under me and look up at the sky through a filigree of branches.


It’s not a complete cure, alas. I have taken my fears outside, run/walked into nearby woodlands, hoping that a spot of forest bathing (or whatever the current fashionable term is) would effect some change in the places that mindfulness meditation, counselling, magnesium, camomile tea, lavender oil, Laphrohaig and everything I could think of have been unable to alter by so much as one iota.

How big is an iota? Anyone?

Nope, me either. Anyhoo. Back to forest bathing. Forest bathing is soothing. It costs nothing. It gladdens the heart and takes one out of oneself. It’s amazing but…it doesn’t come even close to touching the sides as far as my worries are concerned. And while I’m here, can I go back to using the servicable term walking in woods? I bathe in my bath, or a stream, or the sea. I walk in woods and forests. Just as I wouldn’t dream of walking on the sea ( not in the least bit divine, me) nor would I imagine myself bathing in forests.

So. Worries and fears. You’d have to be a block of wood right now to not admit to the odd night-time worry-fret. Waking in the wee small with the vague, pre-conscious -oh, isn’t there something I need to worr- And then the thud of realisation. Oh. Oh boy. And then waking up fully to engage in talking myself down off the ceiling. The bed is warm. The Visigoths are not at the gate. There is, for now, toilet paper. The darkness is just darkness, it is safe. I do not have a temperature. Or a sore throat. I am a lucky human. I am loved.

It will all be fi- ( you don’t know that)

It’s o- (it’s so not)

Everything’s gonna be alrigh- (will it? I mean will it? Really?)

Here’s the one single thing I learned this week that I’ve found to be massively helpful. It comes from neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor, stroke survivor, TED talker and exceedingly smart bunny, who, amongst other studies, discovered that the physiological mechanism governing automatically triggered emotions like fear and anger lasts just ninety seconds. That feeling of being overwhelmed by surges of fear or rage? Ride it out. It’ll only last for a minute and a half unless…unless you feed it.

Feeding is achieved by attaching a narrative to the emotion. What if…? And then what? And if that happens, then…

If we can almost float over the top of the emotion, a bit like surfing a wave or riding out a labour contraction in childbirth, observing it but not engaging with it or running away from it, just allowing it to surge on through, then ninety seconds is all it’ll take to pass.

So. Maybe it’s just me, but that helped.

I’m still awake in the darkness, but it’s ok. Are you ok? We’ll get through this.


Stormy Weather

At times, I manage to forget the wider world and focus on what I’m supposed to be doing – be it painting or writing or faffing around on the internet. Then, with a feeling like an infant’s startle reflex, I remember. And the world comes crashing in.

That would be the World v.2.0 Our new, altered world. Oh, people. This is a strange and dangerous time for us humans, isn’t it? Full of rumour and fear and people behaving in very strange ways. There are acts of magnificence and mendacity ; intelligence and idiocy side-by-side but please would you maintain the 2m approved personal distance or I might start screaming and never stop. And what’s with the toilet roll? We’re all going to die but our bums will be squeaky clean? Not the most glorious epitaph for this sorry chapter of human history. I know, you know, we all know that we can do better.

For small furry comfort, I watch my last and solitary guinea pig, the surviving Boy of The Boyz. He’s unaware that his kale supply is about to run out. His last romaine lettuce got frosted at the back of the fridge, but he’s not going to starve because I read the runes a fortnight ago and bought him two bags of nuggets and a sack of Timothy hay, so he’ll hopefully come out the other side of lockdown as a lean, mean, fighting machine. And best of all, he doesn’t know that the world has changed. He’s secure in his little guinea pig world, tunnelling through hay, gnawing my fingers and settling down each morning for an extended huddle with his adoring slave.

So that’s good.

In other news, we’ve had a very sad and difficult few weeks. My Dad died at the end of February and thanks to the amazing organisational abilities and sheer unflappability of my brother, we managed to organise a funeral in the increasing storm of the onrushing pandemic. We sent out two contradictory letters to all Dad’s friends, the first inviting them all to come and take part in his farewell, followed ten days later by the second, begging them to stay away for the good of their own health.

Sitting with a civil celebrant two weeks ago and trying to compose a eulogy to give some sense of a man who defied characterisation as a father, brother, grandparent, husband and son was an experience I would hope to never repeat. Every question our increasingly baffled celebrant asked proved to be impossible for my brother and I to answer. Had we ever heard him laugh? What made him smile? The fact that neither of us could manage any coherent replies drove us to the Laphrohaig after the celebrant had gone.

And yet…

My Dad is everywhere and nowhere now. He is present in each and every one of the beautiful musical instruments he spent the majority of his 95 years making. Present in my big blonde fiddle. Present in my daughter’s cello. Present in every harpsichord, lute, viola, chair, table, chopping board, Maltese dispenser(!), rocking horse, baby swing, manuscript cabinet, bow, Baroque bow, Hardanger fiddle, clarsach and, amazingly, a hurdy-gurdy. But especially in the violins.

Peer into the secret unvarnished heart of every fiddle and there, in his beautiful italic hand ; his name and date. He was here. He walked the Earth. He breathed the air and made beautiful things from wood. And then he slipped away, alongside so many thousands of his fellow Italians. We are not alone in our sadness, my brother and I. We are not alone in our fear and uncertainty.

One of the loveliest things seen in recent weeks was the news of a message of support stencilled on crates of medical supplies sent from China to Italy:

We are all waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.

One world, one heart. Better days will come.

Lots of love from LockdownUK