One Step at a Time

It takes a lot of getting used to – finding out just how much there is to do, just getting by after the death of a long term partner. In most marriages there are many things that are shared but also many things that are left for the other person to deal with. When that person is no longer there, then there are so many questions – how did he do that? Where did he keep that? What do I do to fix this? And so on….

It can be daunting – it is daunting! It’s also very easy to get snowed under with piles of paper waiting to be dealt with, a to do list that gets longer in spite of crossing  some things off.

How to get through all the unfamiliar tasks, how to stay calm, how to cope? Life is full of questions after a death. One thing at a time – take time out to meet friends, don’t hide away, go for walks, spend time in the garden, don’t be overpwered by the feeling that everything needs to be done now. Take time to adjust, take time to focus on what you have to get used to as being the new ‘normal’.

I’ve realised that it is still possible to be happy when still grieving – strange as that might seem. There are still beautiful sunsets and sunrises, friends and family are like a comfort blanket, life goes on, we still have happy memories. I can look back on our time together  – better to reflect on that than feel resentment about not having more years together.

There are times when just looking at a photograph will bring tears, listening to a piece of music will bring a lump to the throat and be painful. That’s not unusual – just normal. Sorting out clothes and other belongings is hard – one of the hardest things. I’m finding that having those around for a while does help, but not everyone does.

For me, taking one thing at a time, not trying to cope with everything at once is the way to stay sane, to stay on an even keel and keep positive. Life after a death is like climbing a mountain – we have to take it slowly, not rush, not be daunted by the steep climb of the unknown that looms ahead.



Zest for Life – a reminder

Today I was reading Jan Fortune’s blog and was reminded how important it is not to get bogged down in the stresses and tribulations of  our world. It is so easy, too easy, to get depressed about how the politicians are behaving, what is being done or not done. We feel powerless to change things, we fret about how long it takes for things to happen, when we really need to focus on the present and remind ourselves of the simple joys in being alive.

Jan writes – As writers we care, passionately, about what animates and motivates other people, about the conditions of our planet, about life in all its colours and nuances. It’s zest for life itself that is one of the things that keeps us writing.

Zest is a way of living that embodies hope. It’s the opposite of living from fear and helps us to get out of our own way so that we can be more outward-looking, grateful and generous.

There are times when we do need reminding that even in the darkest times when we struggle to come to terms with a string of obstacles that life seems to put in our way, it is still possible to find joy and discover our zest for life.

The Joy of Living

Lockdown continues and on a rainy day there is less time spent in the garden and more time to think, reflect and write.


The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living*

Summer in lockdown and a heatwave;

we walk each day – average three miles.

Stay local we’re told, so the hills remain

tantalising, too far away for now.


Each morning we look out on Larg,

Lamachan, Curleywee, Cairnsmore.

Can we stay fit to stand again on the tops,

to gaze down on our home in the Machars?


The months slip by, the sun beats down.

I think back to that cold November day

we climbed Cairnsmore, reached the

snow-capped summit in sunshine.


Resting backs against a drystane dyke

we sheltered, drank the wine of the air,

feasted eyes on feathered cirrus and frosted grasses

while our thoughts drifted hundreds of miles


south, to where you lay, immobile. Once,

you would have shared this walk with us,

quoted Ewan MacColl. That November day

we toasted your friendship, and the joy of living.


We knew you didn’t have long; that fact made

our own lives seem more precious. You were

one who lived mindfully, who lived for the now.

On Cairnsmore, we followed the map of your life.


*The Joy of Living – written and sung by Ewan MacColl

not long before his death.

Re-reading Books


There are some books that we read when young – perhaps because we had to as students. We might have enjoyed them but reading a book because it has been a set text is approached with quite a different attitude to one that has been recommended by a friend.

It might be decades, many decades later when we return to one of those books and how different they seem. Some books are meant to be re-read when you’re older. When they’re read again it’s like discovering new paths through a familiar woodland or looking at a painting and finding details that you’d overlooked before.

Poetry that was studied when young takes on quite  a different aspect years later. Tastes change and taste for literature alters just as much as tastes for certain wines or spirits.

Our bookshelves reveal much about our lives – looking along them we can see how certain subjects dominated different times. We can see developments, we can see how some authors retained our interest for longer periods while others appear just once. The non-fiction books might say a lot about how our interests developed over the years, but perhaps some ended up in charity shops rather than gather dust on the shelf as they were no longer relevant.


Books around the house

become our biographies.

Looking along the shelves

are stories of our past.

Old childhood favourites

now dog-eared and faded.

Books on flowers, trees, birds

show interests that we shared.

Reference books for holidays

on canals or among mountains.

Weighty books on furniture,

and other texts reflect careers.

New Age, Buddhist and Quaker

themes reveal  spiritual journeys

and changing philosophy.

Novels of the sixties, spines faded

on collectable orange penguins –

memories of student days.

Many recent texts on gardening

hint at a change in emphasis.

Now there’s more time,

poetry books never gather dust.

Giving books away is like

parting with our shared past

and that’s hard to do so

more shelves are added.



That Time of Year

Over the last few weeks we seem to have been either going to memorial services, funerals or visiting/hearing about friends who are seriously ill. When commenting on it, the usual reply is ‘Well it’s that time of year.’

This has all led to me realising that more than ever we need to make the most of every day, be thankful of what we can do, focus on the ‘now’ and not dwell on the past or worry about the future.

There are some days when it’s possible to climb a mountain and other days when even a mile proves a challenge. This I suppose makes us more aware of the importance of living for the now and doing what we can when we can.


We have been remembering the Reinhold Nieber quotation God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Whether we believe that there is a God or not, that’s a good philosophy to live by.


Thankfully, the book ‘From the Mountains to the Sea’ has at last been launched. Life remains busy but slightly less hectic …

Avilable Now flyer

Catching Up

Last month flew by with life presenting more than one challenge. However, hopefully things are now, for a while at least, getting back on an even keel.

It’s maybe an appropriate time to include a poem of mine that was published a few years ago by Indigo Dreams in the anthology in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support Heart Shoots.

‘C’ and Faith

 This thing ‘C’

It really tests faith alright.

That Don Cupitt,

he talked about the Sea of Faith.

Me, I’ve just had problems with

‘C’ and faith.


How come someone,

only half way through

a normal life-span

finds they’ve got a relationship,

an all too close relationship,

with big ‘C’.


All too soon that relationship ends

and so does their life.

Why them?

What did they do to deserve that?

Who has the answers?

‘Have faith my son.’

Show me the faith that

can give me a good answer.

Being faced with the possibility that someone close to you may not have long to live certainly makes you reassess priorities and look at life from a different perspective. Acceptance is a lesson that takes years and many experiences to learn.


Inspired by Shells


Many of my poems have been inspired by the coastline of the Machars. The various beaches all have different characteristics – some have been a treasure trove of sea glass, some present my favourite colour as they’re edged with swathes of marram grass, while others have pebbles that look as though they’ve been tie-dyed.

Yesterday we wandered over shingle that was dotted with limpet shell rings in and amongst the marram grass and I was reminded of my poem  Shell Villanelle  which was published in Markings magazine some time ago.

 Shell Villanelle

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell,

we search the beach for your limpet rings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


We gather until our pockets swell

‘Just collect limpets, no other things.’

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell.


Patterns of brown, ridged lines on the shell,

some with colours of young gulls wings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


Once your eye is in, ‘There’s more!’ you yell

Our search continues as the curlew sings.

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell.


Your pockets are bulging, mine are as well

as we make our way to the landings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


We empty our pockets of those magic shells,

gaze at the colours and patterns on the rings.

The hard ridged edges, the smooth inner shell.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


Remember the Power of Now

I’ve just been reading Dan Pederson’s piece The Chase where he writes –Life can’t always be about getting somewhere. At some point it has to be about now. At some point now has to be okay. Otherwise it never will be. We’ll just keep chasing a fantasy, an ideal version of life, an imaginary place in the future where everything is the way we want it to be.

Sometimes we need reminding of the importance of ‘now’. It’s all too easy to get tied up in worrying about the future, regretting things that happened or didn’t happen in the past. If we do this then we can’t be making the most of the ‘now’.  We can’t know what the future holds for us or how many more ‘now’ moments we’ll have.

Eckhart Tolle wrote a bestselling book The Power of Now and also A New Earth. It’s always worth finding time among the busyness of life to read. These I read some years ago.

Just now I’m discovering the wisdom in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass – watch this space …

But we do need to take time out to just ‘be’ in the moment. Sometimes a beautiful sky can make us stop, empty our minds of ‘to do’ lists and drift …



Over-egging is perhaps not the best choice of expression for a vegan to use, but it does come to mind when I’m writing rather than baking. I suppose the phrase ‘less is more’ is also appropriate when writing a poem or story – it can be spoilt by saying too much, using too many adjectives, being too wordy generally. A story can ramble around with sentences that don’t really move things on – don’t give us more insight into the characters.

How do we know when to stop? One thing I discovered many years ago was that when drafting and redrafting poetry, it’s important to keep all the different versions as sometimes the first is the best.  However, very often we look at poems that have been published and see things that we would like to cut or change in some way. Yes, we can say that a poem is never finished  – it can be work in progress indefinitely and appear and re-appear in a number of versions. But – we do have to stop at some point and there is always that danger of making things worse.

Life sometimes teaches us that less can be better than more. We can try too hard and achieve less. We can worry too much about the things we can’t change.

Changing Direction

There are times in life when we think we know where we’re going but we find that life  takes us in a completely different direction.

We wonder why and may even try to fight against whatever path we seem to be taking. But, if we are to follow the words of Rheinhold Niebuhr …

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference

and remember amor fati , then life seems to begin to make sense and we can accept that the road not followed was maybe not the right one. We are perhaps heading where we should be going after all.

Occasionally, we see that there are times when even trees find themselves changing direction.

It was taking this photo in the Wood of Cree earlier today that prompted me to write the above post.