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Don’t Let Me Die In Phoenix Article 12: Come Home

Article 11 explained that I was finally home but that getting home was only the start of things.  Something of the experience, of getting home but things never being the same again, is captured in this Gal Holiday song called Come Home:

I, previously, wrote about Gal Holiday’s song Come Home in this article posted on this site in 2018 when her album Lost and Found was released:

Come Home tells the story of a young woman who has experienced an extreme loss and is brought home to her family.  The song is a triumph of specificity in the sense that you can visualise the painful, yet loving, scene; ‘Mother and father, brother and sister, all waiting there, show me they care’. With vocal clarity, lilting melancholy and lament strummed sadness, the song gives timeless context to the oldest of emotions: loss, sorrow and tragedy; emotions that tear your heart out.

Vanessa Niemann’s voice was made to sing this song.  The accompanying drum beat, harmonies, piano and horns open you up to why the underlying theme of this album is hiraeth.  The singer pleads to come home but home is a place now lost and changed for ever.  This song will touch everyone who hears it and it will have specific meaning for anyone who has lost a loved one in unexpected or tragic circumstances.

The first time I listened to Come Home I felt it was an important song, even before the lyrics started Rose Cangelosi’s drumming had indicated that this song was different. Niemann’s ability to authentically tremble as she conveys a sense of loss, love and pain is one of the reasons why I buy her albums.  The first line of Come Home has that emotive unsettling feel to it that enables the track to reach into your chest and grab your heart.

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I knew this song was very important the first time I heard it.  Indeed, the first time I heard it, the song released feelings I had suppressed about the loss of close friends and loved ones.  But, this song became even more special to me during my stay in the USA and on my return to Scotland.

Some people would say that I had shown great resilience to have reached this point where I was back home.  But, the journey to a better place was only just starting and the overall trauma of what I had been through was, yet, to fully hit me.

When we got back to Scotland my close friend Mary Smith made the comment that I looked very unwell but my wife looked even more of a shell of her-self (she had lost two dress sizes and nearly as much weight as me).  And there is no doubt that, in spite of all the physical trauma I went through, I did not have to experience the emotional trauma that my wife suffered of waiting, day after day, to see if her loved one was still alive.  She watched, ‘her rock’ be reduced to rubble.  The guy who had always been there for her, the person who had always shared the load when the dark days came, was changed for ever.  As my wife later put it, ‘The guy I knew, never came home’.

I had shown resilience, I had shown a determination to live (that still surprises me), I had endured and I had survived.  But, I was not, and I am not, the same man – In some ways I’m an improved and more thoughtful version of who I was.  In other ways, I am stuck trying to understand the meaning of what I went through.

Prior to the lock down, when I encountered people that I had not seen for a while, they would often say how sorry they were to have heard about me plight.  But I would say to them, don’t be sorry, tough though it was, it is one of the best things that ever happened to me.  By that, I mean that the experience was a privilege because it involved me having to stop, slow down and understand what was important in life.  It also filled me with such a joy for the small things in life.

But, that does not mean that the experience was OK or that I am now OK.  Most of my friends have been wonderful but some folk just want me to be suddenly OK.  Some people can’t deal with change – people who are lost in the speed of their own lives, do not ‘get’ the need to give disabled people time. Disablist people have no interest in adjusting to other people’s differences.  Many people just do not understand that inclusion, e.g. in the work place or to social events, requires a different approach.  Disablist people just want you to be ‘OK’ – so that they can chuck work stuff at you, or, so that the rhythm of their social life does not change.

At present, I do not have any time for disabilist people and there is a great deal of pent up emotions just waiting to be vented on them, which I am trying to ease away with music and exercise.  But it is tough, I would like nothing more than to be able to  get on the rugby pitch and work out my frustrations but that won’t happen for a while yet, if ever again.  I do not look for sympathy, I look for empathy, dialogue and help trying to fucking understand what happened, what it means and where I am now going.

In the work place, I need people to understand that I can not deliver things at the speed I used to.  They can have quality but not quantity from me.

One extremely selfish, self-centred and self-loathing person I have previously worked with on disability issues recently asked me for a cast iron guarantee that I would not become ill again – before they would deign to work with me.  I shut our collaboration down – this person claimed to have an interest in disability and social justice but had no idea how to make reasonable adjustments for my changed circumstances.  It felt like they were blaming me because I could not deliver for them in March/April 2019.  I am a changed man but I have not lost my inner toughness, it will be a cold day in hell before I let that person near me again.

As I keep saying in this blog, it is amazing how many people who talk about social justice can not behave in socially just ways. Jo Biden looks dangerously close to being such a character, In the next few months, we may need to give him a bit of lee way to up his game but he needs to take off his status quo – cold hand – old man suit, if he is to awake the masses. He needs to roll up his sleeves and get stuck into the need for radical change, if he is to take folk to the place they need to be.

When I finally returned home, the speed of my discharge meant that there were no friends or family present to welcome me back.  But, in time, friends and family provided exceptional support as I struggled to come to terms with what I had gone through and continue to go through.  I have 6 or 7 very close friends who have spent time with me, counselled me through regular telephone conversations and encouraged me to travel and go on nights out (prior to the corona virus lock down).

I went out in Edinburgh with a close friend, Murray Smith, when I was off the pain killers and could drink again.  We walked about 20,000 steps that day/night and I even had a wee (very short) dance at the end of the night.  I had put my stick behind the bar whilst I tried to dance and when retrieving it from the bar staff, I over heard a local guy asking my friend if he could buy, ‘your blind friend a drink’.  To which I shouted, in teasing voice, ‘you disablist bastard – yi could uv spoke directly tae me am nae deaf, yi ken – mines a whiskey and coke’.

It is tiring how often people won’t speak directly to disabled people but will speak to their perceived ‘carer’.  To be fair to the guy he was very apologetic for not speaking direct to me and we had quite a bit of banter with him after that and for the rest of the night.  However, in spite of the banter, he never got his head round the idea that I was not blind.

My friends constant support and advice has been invaluable, their willingness to reach out has helped to start to mend a very heavy heart and their compassion, kindness and understanding has given me hope, when I most needed it, that there is a way forward through the constant physical pain, tiredness and forgetfulness.

From time to time, I meet people who understand my present situation and some of those people understand my inability to fully express my feelings, because, they have been there, and/or they know what it is like to yearn for a lost way of being.  The lessons I have learned from Gal Holiday’s music have been invaluable.  The concepts that underpin her album, Lost and Found, relate to the Welsh word Hiraeth, (n.) A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was, the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost place of your past.

A grief for a lost place that never was, for what might have been in the past and/or in our futures.  Hiraeth is one of the few words that can explain my feelings about what happened to me – I have loved the ability to slow down, but I have a huge sense of loss for that mad, over worked, adrenaline junky that I used to be, who so passionately spent so much time trying to help other people.  The emotive melancholy of Gal Holidays music helps express that sense of loss:

In Come Home Gal Holiday teaches us that there is something important about slowing down a country song so nobody can escape its meaning.  And, so the tortured lyrics have time to capture the audience. .. …It is hard to say that any single song on the album is my favourite song but Come Home touched me the most out of any of the songs.  It affected me a lot.  There are plenty of other songs on the album that might well make similar connections with other listeners; but I won’t quick forget the first time I listened to Come Home.

After hearing Gal Holiday play in Edinburgh, my friend and colleague Nik Bizas sent me a podcast entitled ‘Why Country Music Makes You Cry’ by Revisionist History.  It utilised Bobby Braddock’s writing to argue that a song makes us cry; when melancholy collides with specificity.  Vanessa Niemann does, ‘don’t spare me, sister’, specificity, extremely well.

Lots of songs on the album enable Gal Holiday, with great melancholy, to grab your heart.  But, for me, Come Home is different because it tears your heart right out.  It does so, by placing you at the scene and inviting your empathy.

Jonny Cash suggests that the use of I and you in songs is emotive.  Faith Hill did this on the Albums Faith and Breathe; when she posed questions like ‘Who Am I’ and ‘What Do I Want?’.  Such titles, may, beg for your attention a little too much.  Gal Holiday is much more sophisticated in her approach which often poses as many questions as it answers….

…It should be noted that in Come Home, Niemann’s specificity does not stretch to telling the audience the full story of her loss.  The full story remains untold.  In interviews, Niemann enjoys blurring the lines between Gal Holiday and herself and states that she is happy to respond when people call her Gal.  This enables Gal to express an ‘authentic’ narrative but this authenticity does not mean that every aspect of Vanessa’s history is revealed.

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The song Come Home teaches us (and has taught me) about the need to avoid bitterness.  The final lines demonstrate immense dignity:

And when the flowers blossom once more,

The ground marks with rain,

I will smile for them

Again and again.

With tears in my eyes.

This duality of these emotions is important.  Gal Holiday’s song demonstrates a lack of bitterness  be able to smile with remembrance/respect at the same time as shedding a tear.

When I was in hospital, this song was never far from my mind.  It engendered a need, with in me, to work towards a way of being that avoided bitterness.  Little did I know, when writing about the song in 2018 that I would, in similar circumstances, experience my own homecoming from hospital.  A home coming that also coincided with the flowers and trees in the garden producing their blossom.

Questions such as, ‘Who Am I?’ and ‘What Do I Want?’, that were posed in the extract above, have become so much more important to me since I left hospital.  The realisation that the first act of resistance is the act of self-care, has led me to be much more focused on the needs of my body, mind and soul.

I first heard Gal Holiday and The Honky Tonk Revue play in August 2014 when visiting New Orleans.  They were playing in a lovely place called the Three Muses on Frenchman Street.  That night, they played a great version of the Jonny Cash song Fulsom Prison Blues:

The lyrics to Fulsom Prison – especially the words ‘And I ain’t seen the sunshine Since, I don’t know when’ have a different meaning for me now.  When I was discharged from hospital, I had not been standing up outside for almost 34 days and it had been around 41 days since I had been anywhere I could call home .

Luckily, my physical confinement was temporary, but I have great sympathy for those who are finding the lock down draining or those poor souls like the character in Jonny Cash’s song who have had their liberty taken away from them.

This year, 2020, I captured this brief video of the blossom fall which created a beautiful carpet on the grass;

Whilst I captured the video, I thought, again, of the song Come Home  – I have such a yearning to return to New Orleans and let the music heal my soul.  The petals seemed to symbolise the shattering experience I went through as I struggled for my existence – it was as if they represented the pieces that were torn from me and every tear that I might have shed (but I could not) for the person I once was.

Though I was able to shed a brief agonised tear on that first day outside my new home.  For many months, I was unable to show much emotion because I was still on very strong pain killers and because I had, on a day to day basis, so committed myself to surviving the experiences, I had blocked out most of my emotions.

In 2018, I used the word ‘authentic’ to suggest that there where different strands and truths to Gal Holiday’s stories.  The problem with the word ‘authentic’ is that it can be misused to assume there is a single truth to be told about a story, an event or a person.  Words like truth and authenticity are, currently, very controversial.

Traditionally the idea of a single truth have been criticised by writers on the left because such ideas are used to iron out difference, ambiguity, uncertainty and they grey areas in life.  E.g. when the story of the Second World War was re-told in movies and books, the idea that there was one way to portray the Second World War led film makers and writers to leave out the role of Black African American people, people from Common Wealth countries and First Nation people.

Ironically, this concern about single truths, in relation to who writes/constructs history, has now been employed by conspiracy theorists and divisive politicians on the right to promote the, contradictory, single truth that nothing that is written about the world is true and there are, especially, no truths in their opponent’s perspectives.

Do you get that – their truth is that there is no truth – everything is fake news (you can, apparently, have it both ways with out seeing the implicit contradiction!). From the outset, he right’s myopic way of viewing the world sets out to divide people.  To prevent empathy, to stop perspective taking, to close down dialogue and to fuel suspicion, labelling, stigma and prejudice.

You do not have to have witnessed the video portraying the disgusting and barbaric way that Derek Chauvin (and potentially 3 other officers in Minnesota) took George Floyd’s life, to know that at times there is only one ‘truth’ about an event.  Yet, context is everything.  In the USA, a single individual asphyxiated an innocent black man (with the alleged support of other officers), but, the political, economic and socio-cultural system that fosters and enables discrimination is also guilty of killing black men and women.

Systemic/institutional discrimination in the police force includes: a lack of training on the use of minimum force; a lack of rules prohibiting choke-holds; a lack of anti-racist policing; a lack of compassion for people of a different ethnicity; a lack of regard for human dignity; a propensity to draw arms on Black people; a lack procedures to hold officers to account; the re-hiring of officers previously sacked for misconduct; a propensity for cover ups; and an inability or unwillingness to use the pathology, court and prosecution systems to convict police officers guilty of murder.

Hence, there are always many layers to a story.  In telling my own story, for ethical reasons, I have not told the whole story.  My hospital experience involved more dark moments than I have portrayed here and out of respect for those superb health professionals currently struggling with the Corona Virus, I have reduced the number of negative stories in the 12 articles that make up this series.  Similarly, out of love and respect, I have not portrayed myself or my wife’s worst moments in our journey, nor, told the whole story of what we are beginning to conclude the experience means for our futures.

All writing is a construction that leaves things out.  For example, these posts have tried to use music to convey my feelings about what happened to me but it has been difficult to covey my emotions concerning my experience because the events are still relatively recent and I am not sure what they fully mean, yet.   Hence, some of the articles I have posted have taken a lot longer to edit than others, as I have been very unsure of what to include and what to leave out.

As I have said, it was difficult to understand my emotions because for the 5 or so weeks I was in hospital I was on a high dosages of drugs that masked my full feelings (the next article will seek to address this in terms of what my longer term emotions were and are).

One of the drugs, gabapentin, was, designed to prevent epilepsy but was also found to inhibit neural pain – it is a very dangerous drug It was so effective at blocking my brain, after about 10 minutes I would forget I had taken it.  I had to keep a visual note of the times I took it during the day – least I took to much and overdosed.  I could not concentrate on any activities when I was on gabapentin and was not allowed to drive whilst taking it.

I was finally allowed to sit up on the 1st of June 2019, 45 days from the final operation that took place on the 10th of April 2019.  But, in reality that day was a big disappointment.  My core muscles were non-existent, the scars where agony and I could not sit up without excruciating pain that made me feel like passing out – I was gutted, in more ways than one, that my recovery was going to be so difficult.

That day, it finally dawned on me that many of my impairments would be long term and debilitating.  It would be a couple months before I could sit in any meaningful way and, to this day, I still encounter problems.  Indeed, this week, in a telephone conversation, the occupation health doctor at my work confirmed that they now considered me disabled and that the legal definition would be used when negotiating the reasonable adjustments and support I require to continue to work.

The stitches were supposed to come out in the last week of May but they were persistent and hung around causing pain and problems for a couple more weeks than expected.  Our New GP practice was excellent and sent out a district nurse to regularly check on the wound and to remove the stitches – she was local born (in Perth) and had that lovely kind and generous way about her that you often notice in folk from Perth and Kinross.

I was very fearful of damaging the plastic surgeons work.  Indeed, I was, initially, fearful of any new activity or task.  This song critiques the idea of fear:  Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Be Afraid:

Fear, can be a useful emotion, when you use it as an aid to help you know when you need to work stuff out, when you use it as a helpful boundary and/or when you can channel it into determination.

I developed an instinct on the rugby pitch that whenever I felt fearful I had to double down, understand the feeling and build from it.  I learnt to use fear as a helpful friend, to recognise the feeling as an indicator that I had to push on and to enjoy the liberation when fear turned to determination and success.  This ability enabled me to push through some of the physical problems that I experienced.

Overtime, I experienced very small moments of liberation.  For example, when accessing the garden and subsequently walking on the farm tracks around my home.  About a third of my new house is on the same level.  I could not walk up stairs – so the lack of stairs on one side of the house proved to be very helpful.  I could access the entrance hall, my bedroom and the kitchen/dining room.

My new bedroom had an en-suit bathroom off it, but the shower had three steps down to it.  Initially, I showered on the top step because I could not get down the steps.  This, in itself, was another sign that the Scottish hospital had not done its discharge process properly.  When my son had his back operation, he had to work with physios for a week until he could managed steps.  He was not allowed to be discharged until he could walk up and down steps.

The nursing staff and physios in the USA, were appalled, dismayed and annoyed when they heard of the complete lack of physio support provided in Scotland.  They were frustrated that their work had not been built upon.  The waiting times for physio in Scotland are atrocious.

We had been in a temporary rental place prior to going to America, so coming home to a house I had never lived in made it easier not to be myself.  Over the months the garden has been a calm source of healing and was the area where I put into place a walking and exercise routine that has built my strength back up.

My self-developed exercise routine included singing drills to strengthen my core and walking round the garden to build my confidence and balance.  In time, I would include pilates exercised and recently in March 2020 I  started to do press ups and sit ups.

The second day that I got out of bed, I did ten steps and felt like an Olympian.  The next day I walked 30 steps towards the garden and felt it was progress.  The day after that, I did 200 steps over 3 different sessions. The next day I did 200 steps in one session.  I then set myself the task of adding at least 200 steps per day to my personal best.  On the 13th of May I walked 1700 steps.

At that point, I looked online and measured how far away the local pub was  from my home (about 8000 or 10,000 steps).  I set myself the target of being able to easily walk to the pub by the time my Welsh cousins visited in September 2019.  There are actually several pubs in Kinross but the furthest away, which I set myself the goal of getting to, is called The Muirs.

On the 19th of May I walked 2100 steps and by then was navigating stairs.  And on it went, each day ,until by the 6th of June I could walk 10,000 steps.

Every step was complete agony and I could only take them with the aid of my sturdy Sharpes of Aberdeen Seaforth wading stick/staff which I had previously used for fishing.  I chose that stick, many years before, because my great grandfather William Yourston had been in the Seaforth Highlanders (there is a picture of him here). He was killed in the First World War a few months after haven written home about taking part in the Christmas truce.  The name of the wading staff made a connections with me and I hoped that connection would bring me luck in the water.

The wading staff had gotten me out of many a scrape in the fast flowing rivers of the south east and north east of Scotland.  It comes with a lanyard, so you don’t lose it in the water.  Every day that I put the lanyard across my chest, it gave me the confidence to know that when I fell over, which happened a lot, I had something sturdy to catch my weight.  I used the wading staff in the house to get down the steps in the shower and to get in and out of bed without bending – it was an absolute saviour and I love the wading staff so much, for what it did for me, including allowing me to jump ahead in the queue on the occasional night out.

I had to work up to the target of 10,000 steps three times.  The first time I achieved it on drugs.  When I came off the drugs the pain meant my distance plummeted again to 2000 steps a day and it took me a week or two to build things back up.  The third time it plummeted to 2000 steps was n February (shortly before the lock down) when I stopped using the stick on the flat.  I can now walk 10,000 steps on the flat without a stick, nor drugs – yipeee!

Standing up and fully clothed I now present as non-disabled and a lot of people do not understand, particularly in work settings, the pain that I go through each day.  Any time anyone bumps into me, it is complete agony.  The wading staff (and I have a shorter walking stick that I got from my grandfather when he passed on), is useful as it signifies the need for people to avoid me.

However, sometimes the staff leads to misunderstandings, for example when I am mistaken for being visually impaired or when people assume because I am not using it as much as I sued to, that I am permanently fixed. But mainly the wading staff is useful and particularly when walking off piste.

I still use the stick in the hills and on some of the roads round Kinross where you have to quickly get up on the verge.  I am also going to use it when they left us go fishing again.  The farm road between my home and the pub has no pavement.  When a farm vehicle, car or four by four comes bye you have to be quick to get up on the verge.  Mostly, I would only come across about 3 cars but if I walked between 17.00 and 18.00 in the evening the road might have 5 or 6 cars on it.  The stick was great as you could quickly test for pot holes amongst the grass before stepping up off the road.  I was used to checking the depth of rivers with it but now I was checking the depth of the hedge row and verge.

The local folk where very kind and it was lovely to be in that environment again where folk wave a hello or stop their car to have a chat when the see a fellow traveller out walking. I was born about 12 miles away from where I now live and it was so good, after over forty years of wandering, to be able to call the area home again.

One day I was caught out in the most terrible rain storm.  There had been a lot of lightening that day and I had left it quite late to walk and had tried to go for a gap between storm fronts.  I thought I could get to Kinross before the next storm came in but the wind turned the storm, that had just passed over, back on me.  Luckily, I had quick dry clothing on and an excellent storm proof jacket – but, when a car came by, I had to pause in between the big puddles in the road to ensure I was not swamped by the waves from the car wheels.

You really appreciated the drivers who slow for the puddles and one car actually stopped to offer me a lift, which was lovely. I thanked them and, whilst declining their kindness, explained that I may have looked drookit on the outside but I was warm underneath and would continue with my exercise.  I think some of the neighbours may well of thought me mad to be out in such weather – indeed, the passenger of the car that stopped just shook her heads in amazement – but boy, for the first time in ages, did walking in that storm make me feel alive.

It turned out that a couple of guys I used to play rugby with live near bye and one of those guys took me out for walks and introduced me to folk in the town.  He is a great character, seems to know everyone in town and his humour raised my spirits.

The garden also raised my spirits.  Some of the sun sets have been fabulous and seem to capture the cherry blossom nature of of the garden:

sunset 2

The property is on almost an acre of land, is surrounded by over 100 trees and there was about ten tons of dead would lying about that needed sawn, split and dried out for the log burner.  As soon as I was able, I used the wood sawing and splitting to strengthen my upper body and my kids came home for a while to help with the heavier stuff and to fell a few dead trees that were looking dangerous.

I owe a great debt to the garden and the nature within.  This song, Don’t You Think I Feel It Too, sung by Carson McHone and written by David Ball explains some of the feelings I have had during the healing process which required a lot of drifting through the blues, listening to music, whilst pottering in the garden.

 

In a world of my own

Where the ground is my home

And the lights shine only from the sky

And like you, like a fool

Lost in the blues

Don’t you think I feel it, too?

I was not physically up to using a chain saw.  So I bought some old fashioned saws off the internet and we had to learn how to use them.  The two handed saw needed a lot of cooperation, rhythm and trust to bring down the trees but I just loved the fact that it required brain not brawn to work it.  A couple of friend also sent me a fantastic bow saw which is beautifully weighted for getting through the bigger logs.

They did so because they had visited over night and, coming from a outdoors back ground which includes staying in bothies, they were used to having to do a bit of work for your nights stay.  We had such a laugh trying to work together to use the long two handled saw on the large logs that they worked out I needed a different tool.

Similarly, the splitting axes are all about timing and having an eye for the strengths and weaknesses of the wood.  We lose something when we over use technology like a chain saw.  The simplicity and beauty of the hand tools was a wonderful antidote to the technology of the hospitals.

I have noticed that since my hospitalisation  I am able to appreciate the beauty of nature in a different way,  Doing lots of small and repetitive activities, such as picking up branches and splitting logs for kindling helps to take my mind off the darker things I have gone through.  You need to have patience when you use hand tools to work with wood.  You need to have patience when you are waiting for wood to dry, some of the wood the kids split last year, won’t be properly air dried for another year yet.

As I mentioned in previous articles, I have always had a passion for butterflies that I don’t quite understand and am constantly trying to make sense of. In august 2019, where we now live, near Kinross, there was an influx of Painted Ladies, otherwise known as Vanessa cardui.  Millions of them swarmed to Scotland in what is a once in ten years phenomena.  It was so special and wonderful to have them landing all about me in the garden during my rehab.

The garden has taught me so much about slowing down. I spent hours in the garden and began to notice so many things about the nature around us.  I tried to capture all the birds that visited us in a poem.  I had been writing this poem since the summer of 2019, gradually adding verses about different birds, as they visited the garden.  But, I never quite knew what its meaning was about.  And then, when the Corona virus hit, I suddenly understood its meaning, it was about equity – the garden teaches us about the right to the natural environment, nature, beauty, hope, sustenance and life itself:

The Garden At Chance Inn

The clouds rippled across the garden

Like a sea of streaking light beams.

A chase of dark crested waves,

Surfed along sky, horizon and landscape,

And, floated over bush, shrub and tree.

 

Moody gusts, intermittently, set alight

A flush of Magpies,

Wood-pigeons, and, Pheasants.

And, then parted the heavens to reveal

The generosity and beauty of the Sun.

 

Beneath this ever changing light show,

Perched a queue of

Tits: Coal, Blue and Great

Sparrows: Wood and House

Finches: Green, Bull and Chaf.

 

An uneven stagger

Of different Sized,

Coloured,

And, sounding,

Birds.

 

Awaiting, their chance to swoop down,

Next to the occasional

Dunnock, Wren,

Blackbird, and, Woodpecker,

To prize peanuts from the fine feeding frame.

 

Like a line of pilgrims,

Processing through,

A stilted wooden temple,

Balanced a top,

A slender, yet, broad based post.

 

A co-dependent pecking order,

Twitchingly taking turns,

To pick, pick, pick, away,

For their fair share of the crumbs,

From the pyramid shaped bird table.

 

High above this thankful cavalcade,

A trio of graceful Buzzards

Carefully, turned, slow and, calculating, semi-circles.

Surveying, for future luncheon vouchers,

Whilst exchanging doleful, and, yet, very meaningful calls.

 

The Buzards would later be replaced

By the speedy winged hover

And sickle shaped plummet of a Falcon.

Hunting over the weather washed walls,

Of the distant furrowed fields.

 

Vainly competing with the Buzzards & Falcon,

A group of aloof stunt pilots pulled tricks fir fun.

Greedy playboy Swifts, Martin and Swallows,

Ever flitting along the airwaves

Sometimes policed by a swooping cordon of Crows, Jackdaws and the odd Rook,

 

A self-appointed display team of dark figures,

Swingjng, soaring, and tumbling,

Between the long branches, bushy crowns,

And, tall trunks,

Of the garden’s perimeter.

 

Their bodies arching,

As if rejoicing,

At the plentiful fruits

And freedoms

Of their elitely accessed acrobatic heights.

 

Such fly boy antics,

So alien to the rotating hedgerow shifts

Of the Red breasted Robins,

Ever searching for morsels

To feed an open mouthed family of five,

 

Also, made no impression on

The shamanic rhythm of the grounded Song Thrush.

Who,

Diligently.

Worked her way through the tree roots,

 

Picking up treats and pleasures,

Without thought of:

Permission,

Reprisal,

Criticism, nor shame.

 

For she,

So close to,

And touched by,

The earth.

Knew what many others had forgotten!

 

That,

In a landscape so full of plenty,

All creatures,

Should have access to sustenance,

Whatever their age, creed, gender, or, colour.

Since my operations, I have found myself focusing more on the beauty of the countryside.  For example, taking endless picture on my rehabilitating walks and appreciating the light and texture of lough-sides, hilly-slopes, fields and hedgerows.

One day, I was walking near the south side of the lock when a small flock of pink footed geese crossed my path from my right and entered the field on my left – what followed was pretty cool.  It was difficult to catch on video as my still weak hands had to work out how to juggle my walking staff and my phone, to get the shot.  But, it was worth it.

Video 1 shows the small group of Geese taking off into the sunset:

Video 2 shows them coming back teamed up:

I posted the videos on Facebook and a friend sent me this poem by Mary Oliver, which I have always loved:

Mary Oliver Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

I have never felt so wonderful, yet, so alone than that day the Geese flew off into the sunset and then returned as if they were the massed ranks of the air force in the film the longest day.  But, the poem reminded me to be patient when understanding my place in the family of things and the Geese and butterflies reminded me to be humble in the face of how awesome nature and natural events can be.

Though many aspects of my articles have highlighted my negative experience.  I hope that you have also appreciated my ability to pick out beautiful moments in all the carnage.  We will need to do this so much more as we try to understand what each of us has endured during the Corona Virus crisis.  The previous article discussed my discharged from the Scottish hospital which demonstrated the impact of cuts on the hospital’s ability to provide patient transport.  It, briefly, explained that the drugs prevented me from fully engaging with the trauma that I was experiencing and that as I began to recuperate my overall feeling was one of grief for the man who left Scotland on the 28th of March 2019 but never fully returned from Phoenix.

It has been a little over a year since I took off on a plane to the USA, but it is as if it was half a life time ago – I have little memory of the weeks and months leading up to my hospitalisation, I remember feeling unwell on arrival in San Francisco but thinking it was jet lag.  By the Monday, when I arrived in Phoenix I was seriously ill but still convincing myself I would fight off the illness and by the Thursday the 4th of June I was in hospital and nearly dead.

I have sought to highlight the healing benefits of our natural environment and to demonstrate that we all hold in our hands the opportunity to define our own narratives and our own truths about our experiences.  But, my story here is only ‘the half of it’ and different people mentioned in the stories will have their own take on things.  I have greatly appreciated the comments I have received from people that have contacted me to let me know that my story has helped them to articulate, make sense of and/or better appreciate events that they have gone through in their lives.

The experience of writing these articles has been liberating but also extremely difficult. And, yet, the effort has been worth it because of  the connections I have been able to make with other people.  The articles are full of contradictions and multiple realities, some of which are intended and others unintended.  I do not want to control how people interpret what I have written here – I value all responses, even the critical ones,.  Indeed, the critical responses tend to teach you important things.

Many thanks once again for tuning into this story the events of which took place in Spring 2019.  This 12th article was meant to be the final article in this series.  But there will be three further posts – A 13th Article which discusses my ‘recovery’ and brings the reader up to  date with where I am now 13 months after exiting hospital./ And, a kind of Epilogue double bill which pulls together the key ideas from the 13 the first of which discusses the longer term issues I had with post-traumatic stress and the second of which exposes the hidden (and at times not so hidden) political allegory that can be drawn from my experience.

Tune in next time for Article 13.  Until then, a special thanks go to the people who encouraged me to write about my experience and who have responded in such kind, caring, loving and sometimes, teasing ways.  You will never know how much your encouragement has enriched my life.