Saturday 19th November
Ten past seven in an apricot dawn. Watching birds, their feathers fluffed up, a single leaf falling, the silent frost. It's minus 4. And the house is silent until Nootka comes and chirrups hello. Truthfully, I suspect she's chirruping that the food trays need filling. We're late today.
It's so cold I don't want to be first up. So cold, it reminds me of when I was a child. When thick feathered fans of frost were on the inside of the windows, and you could see your breath inside the house. We used to put two fingers to our mouths, then puff out warm breath, pretending we were smoking. It felt very sophisticated. It was the sixties, when smoking was cool. Before central heating and thermal clothes. Before BBC2. Before a lot of things. Before duvets came to Scotland, and it was a extra woollen blanket that squashed you down into cosiness. I missed the weight of blankets but hated candlewick. I longed for a satin quilt cover. My mum had one in honey gold. Big plump squares of shimmering luxury, cold but silky smooth to the touch. Completely impractical. It slid off the bed all the time, and there was no heat in it, but I longed to have one like it.
So, for the people who danced the dance and invented central heating and thermals, some Roman and the folks on the space program no doubt, today we give thanks.
For honey gold silk quilts, and impractical sumptuous things everywhere, thank you for them, of course.
I include cats in the latter category.
There is an old sycamore outside the left hand window, beside my bed. One of those trees which has five trunks and looks like a hand, well fingers, held upwards like a surgeon waiting for rubber gloves to be put on. The very last of its leaves bravely hanging on, the occasional one gently falling. It's so soothing slowing down. I've watched it thrown about in gales, sparkle with heavy frost, iced with snow.
In this moment, it's a calm dark silhouette is showing the stripy apricot dawn off to perfection. Through the skylight, a huge V of geese. Perfect moments in the early light.
Eight twenty, silence is broken. Time for 'Lord of the Rings'. Obviously. If you're seven.
It's another Sooyang Do class today and the who's doing the lifts phone calls start about 9. The sage's best friend's dad is going to take them, but his friend wants to talk to him. It's adorable to watch him on the phone, he looks so small. Telling his friend in a wee quiet voice,
"I've got a new bow and three arrows. And a dagger just like yours. And a short sword just like yours. Can you come over after Sooyang Do?
He's so quiet and full of shy friendship and I'm just thinking how lovely it is to witness boys loving each other like that, when he says 'Bye' and blows a big raspberry down the phone.
I'm not supposed to laugh, it hurts my stitches, but I can't help it. The making of a man. Strikes me some of them never get out of the raspberry-blowing stage.
To those they love.
Then he drags a chair over to the kitchen window to check the bulb.
"Still no roots he says, accusingly.
I already know that, am checking it every time I'm at the sink, like a mental person, willing it to wake up.
"Patience. I say. Hypocritically.
As we're waiting for the lift, he's firing his bow and arrow.
"Look at that ball, I can easily hit it.
I stand and watch as he misses, then turns to me and says, in all seriousness,
"I don't perform well under pressure.
A man in the making.
My stitches are proving to be very strong indeed.
They leave to kick the air and his sage's mum and I take a quick car ride into Alford, for cash and a newspaper. It's so beautiful, lots of hills, but they are distant, round and rolling, like English hills but a bit higher. Not like the in-your-face scary hills on the West coast.
I have been paid, hurray, and buy the Guardian and pick up their subscribed magazines. I feel a bit foolish asking for 'Horrible Science', but the newsagent doesn't bat an eyelid. I wait for my friend outside so I don't buy chocolate, she's gone to get vegetables for soup.
I read the notices in the newsagent's window. Aerobics in the hall, furniture for sale, and Theatre Modo will be performing 'The Snow Queen' in Tullynessle Village Hall 16th December. I think I will invite them all as a thank you. I feel a pang as I read it's playing at the Universal Hall, Findhorn on the 10th.
Then I see it. An advert for a cottage to rent. A single room open plan cottage. Â£250 pcm, and a plan hatches. I suspect there's no way it's still available, but it would be a lovely way to continue my country sojourn once I'm allowed to lift more than a half-filled kettle. Carry on stepping outside of myself. Outside of my life.
Next time we go to Alford, I'm taking a pen and paper with me. Just in case.
We come straight back as the bow and arrow boys will be back soon, and I go for my walk. Sitting in the car, getting in and out of it twice and hatching a plan just isn't enough exercise.
Hah! I can do the whole maze today, hobbit-like, "there and back again no stepping out of it. Was so happy I did eighteen rounds of the chi gung Commencement exercise in the middle of it, gazing at the snow-covered hills in the distance. The distance where the Â£250pcm cottage is nestling.
I was wondering why eighteen, although there are eighteen moves in the chi gung routine we were doing, when Barefoot came to my mind and all the people all over the world who whoosh the chi on a daily basis. Connection. There is no separation.
Is there any better chi than in the middle of a maze surrounded by all this beauty? The cows were watching me. When I finished I gave them a wave. Have been waving to them since yesterday. They haven't waved back yet, but it doesn't mean I can't.
If I feel like it.
And I do.
Walking out of the maze, singing along to 'Sunset' I resolved to add one chi gung exercise every day for the next eighteen days. How to make a repetitive walk more interesting.
Well, you might decide to spiral walk in and out and around the whirling beeches for instance, and in so doing, find yet another surprise line of mushrooms.
Have stopped telling the country bumpkins when I find mushrooms, all they want to do is pick them and eat them, and a foodie lives in the house opposite, no fairy ring would be safe. Will keep my mushroom discoveries top secret in future. Mushroom espionage.
In this fungi line each one is the size and colour of a rich tea biscuit, and looks covered in big sugar crumbs with the thick frost. They are in a cold spot. I spiral walk back around them and the Dervish beeches, the one at the end is very flamenco, after 'doing' the maze and a circuit around the poly tunnel. The tunnel door has a big rock jamming it shut which I can't move - not allowed, stomach muscle-wise - so I can't go in to see what's growing, or fantasize about what I'd do if it was mine.
After the maze success, I find an allium skeleton, so beautiful in the silver bed. With a silvery green fir. Tomorrow's photographic models already in my mental can.
Three-thirty, back in my room, and the sky is like Genesis 'Wind and Wuthering'. I have to take my walks earlier in the day, really notice the light fading as we come to the solstice. I love this time of year. I love that I'm slowed down enough to be it this year.
After the expedition, what else, but a cup of tea and the paper. Coincidence. In today's Guardian magazine there's an article on the joy of tree bark, with glorious photos of various trees. The silk ribbon one is there. I know what it is now. Prunus serrula.
The photographs are spectacular. One looks like an aerial view of a landscape, complete with pale blue lakes, another like the belly of an antelope, yet another of mud flats or those plateau salt waterfalls in, Turkey I think. Indonesian terraced paddy fields. Microcosms.
The world in a tree.
I'm going to cut them out and hang them in my kitchen when I get home. I may cut them out and hang them here. They are so beautiful I don't want to turn the page.
Quiz night tonight. Up late and out and about. Best have a nap before it. Only Nut joins me today. The others are outside, admiring all the beauty and having a prowl.
Hundreds of geese are flocking in the next field. It's like Findhorn bay, they stop there too, and the fields on the Glamis road to Perth. I'm not sure if it's the same lot of geese having a rest and practising making V's or if a new bunch come every day. It's lovely to be out when they fly overhead. You hear them before you see them though. Honking like an Italian traffic jam.
If ever you think you might regret not being able to have a child, have dinner with two seven year old boys, one an excitable red-head who's father is always, understandably, late picking him up, plus one bow and three arrows. That'll be reality check enough to let you know you're on the right path and that those days go for a reason. We have a noisy dinner and I go upstairs to get changed for the big quiz night out. I'm tired and if I wasn't stuck around the house all the time I'd drop out, as it is, I don't look a gift night out in the mouth. I wear my green velvet skirt, the one that looks like the North Sea in summer, a white lacy thermal top and my pale green fleece. Should be warm enough in all that, plus the long skirt hides the DVT stockings, although I'm more and more glad of the heat of them. I feel small and really feminine, even if swelly belly is still an issue.
In the healing.
And it's fine.
Forty minutes later out in the black sheet ice, black clouds scudding over the moon, we take the short drive up to the village hall. I tell the gardener by the end of this four weeks, I'll know the garden intimately. I tell him of the colours in the beech tree trunks, the apricot and gentle baby pinks, he has an artist friend who goes mad trying to capture it. I'm amazed at all the colours there are. I ask what the pink and orange tree is. It's a Spindle tree, because they used to make spindles from it's wood. He offers a guided tour the next day. Fab to go around a garden with someone who knows the names of the trees and plants. I must ask him what books he used to learn them all.
We go into the village hall, which is beautiful with fairy lights and red glowing wall heaters up high. There's a big turnout and the competition is fierce, wine and nibbles flowing, waving and nodding to people we know at the various tables. But it's all taken so seriously, hiding answers in the break when they come to mingle. It's an exciting ending. Only half a point in it, one hundred and twenty-one and a half to one hundred and twenty-one. Round seven we were in the lead, round eight we were third, round nine we were still third, but we steal on the general knowledge cards that have been circulating, castles, flags and birds and win! Ha ha. A tenner each. The stakes are high in Craigievar.
It's the curator's knowledge of birds that wins the day. I'd never heard of half of them, she knew every one. She's the curator of Craigievar castle, just up the road. Beautiful fairy tale National Trust property. It's one of the prettiest Trust properties up here. No ghosts though, but the views from the turrets are fabulous. She lives in a cottage near it. She is so lucky. But a lonely life I think. Not ready for that yet. Although I'd sleep in the castle during off season, and have it full of candles and take the piss totally. If I were her.
What a great day, and I only had to ask what day it was once.