Saturday, 11 July 2015

The thirty nine steps

"One step at a time," said Holly to Alannah as they journeyed together through the woods
on their great adventure.

The thirty nine steps - written this time last year year on the cusp of turning 39...almost a year out of date! So time to publish methinx..

The 1st step was in the 70s, more than likely to a Jimmy Reeves beat (with a dash of Elvis) than a Jimi Hendrix kick.

The 2nd was finding a new world by falling down stairs and standing in awe of big brother and sisters.

The 3rd was more aware – it had to be? - an independent stance while full acceptance of last in line of pecking order, a bellyful of laughter.

The 4th I remember - kind of - packing up beds and stuff out of presses and moving to a new home not too far down the road but far enough away being a whole other townland and a whole other outlook in so many ways: the first of many travel adventures. That fourth step also beckoned first entry through the great giant doors of National School surrounded by green fields and stone walls. How brave was I holding on for dear life to handle of brand new pink schoolbag that somehow has vanished from existence except from the pictures taken by my mother and father on that very first day, tongue-lolling wiry terrier by my side for support.

The 5th step was learning, learning, learning. Playing with the boys and sometime knitting by the fire after school while waiting for the bus to come; playing games and ‘ring a ring a rosy’ with the grown up girls from the master's room – them playing mothers to the high infants in their twelve year old skins.

6th was skipping and running and falling, tattered dolls and playing ‘house’ in hayfields and straw sheds with the nearest and dearest.

7th was a rite of passage all dressed in a barely white dress as candle burned through netted veil and dripped onto sparkling black patent shoes - the only thing new after two sisters before.

8th and 9th were passed watching and waiting not patiently my turn as brother and sisters came of age in remote disco hall under the watchful eye of father; the baby at home minding the mother and suffering the un-fairness of it all. Being small. Old enough to know I was waiting, waiting, waiting.

By 10 I stepped on to football field and local stage - recitations, dancing, play acting and more dancing; still watching as brother and sisters went through the trials of teen-dom before me, me with shy wonder.

11th and 12th saw tomboy emerging - more jeans than skirts, and pink bag of four traded for red of the Gunners big brother's chosen team. Playing gaelic on grey and damp Irish evenings; changing with the boys already uncomfortable in emerging form.

Hair grew long again by 13th and boys were becoming a different species. First kiss was had and by 14th step I might have been used to it but it would take some time yet. Valentine cards came but never from the beloved; always the ones that persisted – god loves a tryer – but they got nowhere for all of it.

Step 15 was looking beyond school walls and into career and I stood firm on the earth and vowed to be her champion companion. Though persuaded to a different route by those that knew better  – what would I know in my 16th step? - but fate kept my path. A brief tryst with religion and love just enough to keep me grounded, and sounded, and wiser - not cynical - for years to come.

Just turned 17 comes tender and excited long step down concrete tunnels of UCD towards beloved ecology. At seventeen those long cold tunnels saw rural child dragged up through rock band and heartbreak, and sudden urgency of peer acceptance, to become young adult of sorts. Inbetweener. I found – they found me? - The Cure – what a night in a packed Point!, The Doors, The Pixies, the rich country of music made solely for the purpose of late teenage adventures. Blissful tragic soundtrack of Smiths to first kicks in the heart guts - that pain to linger a long while. Touching the face of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder when it seemed most important.

18th  and 19th steps buried in learning – sometime head up to view world changing about me – but I stayed focused with bruised heart – or was it just ego? - as the obvious soul-mates and long haired fians admired from afar turned to the glamour and comfort and those more experienced in matters more fair. In over-sized and home knit jumpers hanging over leggings and army boots, I peddled my way to botanical and zoological scholarships and browsed topic irrelevant novels in the spider web-strewn library (not a hint of the other kind yet), the loneliest Arts section.

How sweet the coffees on study breaks that 20th step watching the innocents in all my experience. Growing into my skin, aware, concerned but still not steady. Loving every delicious lick of it. A summer in US of A was the cherry on top of it.

By step 21, I was done and dusted, head full of ideas for saving the planet and the need know more – for what did I know? - and want to do better. In a rain sodden crowd I sang along to Radiohead. And somehow I chose a path that led west – to freedom? – To wilderness, I bared my soul to the best.

What drives us on when uncertainty and confusion reign? Blind foolishness, trust, belief in our instinct or is it just mein insane? It all began to change beyond then as light hearted student bore responsible next steps – quest for scientific knowledge, clarity, right enquiry, right impact – for that is PhD if not pure more insanity. A car equals freedom, petty cash more experience.

And so, steps 21, 22, 23, 24 – all peppered with adventure between west and eastern shores. All packed to the brim with music and clan ship, back of the motorbike trips up Dublin sunshine mountains and shennanigans galore. Glad for the invisibility of it all now and the delicious absence of social media folklore from back the,. Loves were found and lost, limits tried and tested, but just trial runs for the real thing, lessons in how to be sure. And defining unsure which is happiness undone.

The 25th step saw east come to an end and west won out and the PhD thesis did end. Oh joy of joy – to me like wedding day. Four years of sweat blood and tears, and questioning and self doubt and poverty – though no poverty of adventure. And after that came the real world – PRSI and pension and stamps. And strong minds of a different, conflicting opinion. The war waged, but I was ready. Mind struggled to get around it but I made of it the best. Restoring the wild to fund adventures South American, Italian, Spanish and Canada’s best Quebec, and shopping in Galway and Sligo - travels to test.

26th and 27th were blissful steps in music while work life outdoors in the wild formed the gel. Long days in the rain and nights by the fire of the devil’s darkened nest The river flowed, the winds blew and the musical spirit poured.

The 28th step saw me singing for sure – up there with Takamine beauty – oh what might have been? Five minutes of fame in Hotpress and local radio fm. Oh what could have been, what has been – femme fatale with Fender plugged in? And I was so ripe for it, then – all brimming with harmonies and lyrical tales to tell.

Step 29 and then 30, brought me deeper in work, music brushed aside and guitar lay to dust as I learned how to run and to run, and create a life by the river that just wasn’t to be. Diving deep in the blue of Madagascar’s clear water – saved by the angels and saints of pure reef, that had never seen human before – clarity of vision from shores near and far.

Somehow I found myself, again, alone – two Cranes wrapped in love on the shores of the Biebrza – a Polish Shannon, but joyous in being there, in 30-some skin. All shiny and glossy and scars hard won, despite a brush with malaria and a month out of the sun. Living alone in the bliss that had come.

Oh shenanigans they court you in times that you need them and shenanigans and more music they came and the pleasures that meet them. The learned steps of 31 and 32 didn’t make for wiser moves just more adventures or twenty-two. Mature experiences shall we say? Glad to have made them but glad to move on. 

Headstand to relieve feet as 32 wore on – a month in the Alps to connect mind, body spirit. But only baby steps on lifelong sadhana. Back home to snowdrops and a diversion of conference, an arduous course that led my feet to the One. And there he did find me, and we became One. Sweet. 

I had foreseen Step 33 to be christ-like - all monastic with sharp insight – longing for a chance to shave my head at last, but the loving twas done was near on fantastic. Work in the background – still leaving room for more diversions – music, writing, some yoga, more work and of course, lover. Adventures in Nawlins, Memphis and Greece, not least of all in the People’s Republic. 

Baby steps at 34 with long distance loving – just missing and knowing we needed each other. Another plunge and a foot into debt at hoped for mature 35th step. But the halls that we walked and the cottage we found feels more right as years pass and cosy comfort abounds. 

Married in Cuba, warm sea ‘neath our feet - the 36th step the lightest I felt.

Step 37 we gardened and reaped the fruits of our labour, a crazy dog Holly to join us and keep the ancient woods in our favour.

The pain at 38 was heavy to bear but we faced it together at little one lost. Soft steady steps treading the water - turtles at home from home in a warm, Bajan sea reminding how precious is life and the love that we share.

And now here I stand at this thirty ninth step – one foot light and lifted, the other firmly rooted in depth. Me, all that I am, was and ever will be - daughter, sister, lover, mother, sometime friend and colleague, mistress of Holly, custodian of Holly Cottage and the ever-giving garden. Still aspiring to champion of earth, her mindful companion.

Foot lifted I wonder - is every step pre-empted? Guided, baited, fated? Will I know the next step to take or will I just follow blind?

Thirty nine steps – maybe the end, maybe mid-way but it feels like beginning.

I am armed with - the wonder of a toddler, the hope of tomorrow’s warm weather, the readiness of Holly to go for a run and not know the turnings, the wisdom of 39 steps of experience, the acceptance of chaos and change ever present. The fire of childhood that has always stayed lit, to light my guide on this journey so far. So keenly aware, so thankful and grateful, for the greatest love of all.

And now, here am I, keeper of the flame for one just like me, but even more. A small bundle of blond only just begun – first step taken and close to a second. Best not to think too much – just follow heart, stay mindful, stay hopeful.

Face and foot forward, my armour around. One step, then another. 

Infinite possibilities abound. 

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