Walking in gratitude

winter-walkIt’s a chilly, frosty morning, the lawn is white and spiky, the dogs’ water bowl is full of ice, but the sky is a multitude of peachy pink hues that bleed from behind the trees on the horizon, seeping towards the heavens, as the sun rises lazily. I woke this morning with Leo curled up into my chest, as Poppy came bounding on to the bed to lick my face awake, whilst Platon waited patiently from his protective post on the sofa. Poppy is always the most impatient for the day to start, and bounces about, ‘talking’, as she demands cuddles, and pleads with me to get up. She goads Leo into play, and once he has unsnuggled himself to respond to this whirling dervish, I give in and leave the warmth and comfort of the duvet. Having thrown on a big snuggly jumper and shoved my feet into cosy slippers, I let the dogs out and stand at the patio doors watching them and the sunrise, whilst waiting for my coffee to brew. Then twelve paws need wiping, and I fill their breakfast kongs with kibble, before settling down on the awesome sofa with my latte.
Today Platon lies on my legs, a mirror of a memory from this day a year ago (thanks Facebook for the reminder), when I was so grateful I could feel this lump of love on legs that I was at risk of losing all feeling of, (prior to my spinal surgery for Cauda Equina). And as I savour his warmth, and reassuring, loving presence, I am reminded that the little things really are the big things. As the sun breaks through the clouds, a pool of sunlight spills over the wooden floor, and Poppy stretches out to sunbathe. The dogs have taught me many valuable lessons; living in the moment is one of them. They keep me grounded in the now, with their joy at simple pleasures, and ability to love and trust so much, after the abuse each of them has previously suffered. The sun also highlights the dog hair that peppers the floorboards, and the smeary nose marks at dog height on the French windows. Our home is lived in and full of love, these are tokens that go with the territory, I am reminded of the poster saying ‘dull women have immaculate houses’, and smile at the notion.

Beyond the smeared glass, our view is typical English countryside, unmarred by a single building, as paddocks of horses are framed by the wintry silhouettes of the spidery branches adorning majestic trees in the distance. Behind the trees, hills of fields rise to meet the skyline, and it’s a view that I appreciate every morning. We only moved here about 6 weeks ago, so I am still discovering new things, and yesterday a new friend showed me a lovely walk for the dogs beyond the line of trees, up a muddy track to the gallops (we are on a large farm estate with both a professional yard, and amateur stables), where rabbits darted bravely across the wide open spaces before disappearing for shelter, into hedgerows of thick undergrowth. Much to Poppy’s delight as she danced around like Zebedee on the end of her lead. Platon was trusted off leash, but thankfully was too busy in his own game of bounding around, to notice the vulnerable wildlife, apart from stopping periodically to stick his nose in the ground or bushes, sniffing at trails. Leo pottered along patiently, sniffing all the new smells with excitement, and periodically leaving his own ‘eau de pee’ to enhance the fragrance.

I have moved here looking for a more dog friendly home, wanting a private paddock and plenty of safe country walks. This has taken me over an hour away from my friends and family, the familiar places I grew up in, and the proximity to my old home in London. It is a new adventure, and after a year of many changes, I have a lot to be grateful for, including reconnecting with friends who live in this direction, and grateful for dear friends who have come to visit me. The dogs are happy here too, and wait patiently for their morning walk and playtime, so I’m going to wish you a beautiful day, get dressed in lots of warm layers, and hope you notice those little things that really are the big things, and what you are grateful for too. Many blessings, Hxx

{Photo credit, via Pinterest (but so similar to my view it is uncanny), Words by me, Hayley Darby ©2017}

Dear 2016..

maria-koutala-1

Dear 2016,

You have been brutal, by far the most difficult, painful, expensive, terrifying, sad and challenging year of my life. You commenced with life-changing, emergency spinal surgery (x2); and culminated with the heart-wrenching demise of my beloved father, cruelly snatched from life, so suddenly and unexpectedly. I have gritted my teeth determinedly, bitten my tongue patiently, and cried several oceans, unreservedly. My body aches daily, my mind worries anxiously, and my heart is repeatedly smashed to smithereens as the waves of grief crash over me. Yet, I am grateful, you have been a year of my life, I have learnt many painful lessons, and I am ready for 2017.

You have been a year of struggles and loss, but loving light has pierced the darkest depths of despair. Every day, as my world fell apart, the sun still rose, and the world kept on turning, even though I had wished it would stop and let me step off, momentarily. I noticed sunlight dancing gracefully in the leaves of a tunnel of trees, as I drove from the hospice, blinded by tears I couldn’t curtail. And once as I crested the brow of a hill, overwhelmed with sorrow, strong shafts of light poured through the clouds, reaching down from the heavens to steady me. When I felt hopeless, rainbows magically appeared to comfort and encourage me, and when I was tired and defeated, sunsets gently soothed and nourished me.

Amongst all the difficulties, angels have emerged to help, support and care for me, friends and family who held me when I fell apart, and picked up the pieces of my life as they lay scattered around me. I have been enveloped by kindness, as I learned to walk after surgery, and again as I learned to walk in a world without my Daddy. Dear friends have shared their understanding that the gaping hole in my life will never be healed, but that I will come to accept its presence, and learn to live by filling it with never-ending love and happy memories. I am eternally grateful for these loving souls that have shared my journey.

My mornings greet me unfailingly with the wet nosy kisses and joyful tail wags, of unconditional love. My dogs have been my best medicine, strongest motivators, and most comforting, loyal companions, through everything. Because of them, I have found the strength to get up and embrace the day, and found myself admiring beautiful dawns, when I thought I wanted to hide in sleep. They have licked away my salty tears, snuggled lovingly into my broken body, and found smiles in my face when I didn’t think there were any. They have silently acknowledged my pain and let me bury my face in their warm furry necks to weep, sought me out for snuggles and cuddles, and accepted the changes they couldn’t understand, patiently. Leo is such a loving boy, and continues to fight valiantly against the life threatening disease you bestowed upon him. Poppy is becoming affectionate and sweet, learning to trust and settle, despite the many moves and upheaval. And Platon remains my rock, protective and patient, unswervingly loyal and devoted, even when earthquakes unnerved him.

2016, you have been horrible, the world has lost some amazingly talented souls, you enabled Brexit, and voted in a disastrously dangerous choice of American president. Many desperate refugees have drowned fleeing war torn countries, terrorists have ripped apart the lives of many and their families, and atrocities continue to be inflicted on innocents as their homes are destroyed by militants. The world is full of hostility and cruelty, it is plagued by anger and swamped in sorrow, but light still shines through the darkness, beauty blooms amidst despair and misery, courage clings on through adversity, hope remains steadfastly, and love is still stronger than anything. Please tell your successor 2017, to bring it on, I am ready!!

Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo credit: The talented, Maria Koutala, Kefalonia. Words by Hayley Darby ©2016}

Summer mornings

yellow hammock

I seemed to arrive in my body from somewhere else, as if sleep had released my soul to explore another realm, and on waking, gently deposited me back into a physical form. I first became aware of the loving weight of Leo, (my terrier cross), his chin resting on my ankles; and the reassuring pressure of Platon (my big dog), leaning into my side. I lay perfectly still, not to disturb them, but they can sense changes in my breathing. Leo must have been coiled like a spring, waiting for his signal to jump up and tickle my face with his whiskers, touching noses, and then stretching in a deep play bow, before settling into a down position as he balances on my supine body for a cuddle. He really is the most affectionate little ray of sunshine, and greets each morning with enthusiastic delight; it’s impossible not to start the day with a smile with his happy presence. Platon is a much cooler customer; he slowly stretches out, pushing against me as he extends to his full length, exposing his tummy for a tickle. He is my rock, reassuring and comforting, protective and vigilant, willful, independent, and stubborn, but loving, calming and fiercely loyal.

I lay for a few heavenly moments, enjoying my morning ‘love in’, watching Leo playfully nuzzle Platon, for a few brief seconds before Poppy (GSD/lurcher cross) bounded in, and bounced enthusiastically but haphazardly, onto the bed, landing on top of all of us! She is the chaos to Platon’s calm, the minx to Leo’s amenable nature, the diva of the pack, and she whips the bed up into a frenzy of playful wrestling and lands exhaustedly beside me on the pillow, panting heavily and eyeing me expectantly. By now I am completely awake, there is no chance of drifting back to dreamland, or floating in the ‘hypnopompic’ lucid dream state, I used to search my mind for clues of subconscious understanding. There is no room for wakeful dreaming, my dogs keep me firmly grounded in the present moment, it’s one of their charms, that we are engaged in the simplest pleasures of the here and now. As I lie with these three dogs that have changed my life, I am so grateful every morning, for my pack, and that they found me. Each dog has their own sad story of abuse and neglect, and yet are so loving and trusting, Poppy still struggles trusting new people, but within our family, she is confident and happy, and a little monkey!.

Eventually, I roll over onto my side, feeling the familiar ache in my back which I am now accustomed to, and I snuggle the dogs, tell them how much I love them. I then raise myself carefully into sitting position as they jump up and off the bed excitedly. Platon or Poppy will ring the goat bell that hangs from the door, if Poppy gets there first, the bell often ends up crashing to the floor as she impatiently demonstrates her desire to get into the garden. She leaps around like a slippery salmon swimming upstream, excited, insistent, and ‘singing’ a high pitched tune of frustration, as if demanding I hurry. I make them all wait, and sit in a row as I slowly open the door, reminding them to “perimenete” (Greek for wait), until I am satisfied, and release them like rockets as they charge out, into the morning sun.

We are currently in Greece, our summer home on a pretty Ionian island, where my days start with coffee on the terrace in my pyjamas and sunglasses, as the dogs sniff around the garden for evidence of our nighttime visitors. I sit noticing how many apricots have fallen from the laden tree, as I nurse a cappuccino and the dogs linger around the table in anticipation of their share of biscuits. It’s our morning ritual, as I dip cantuccini in my coffee, and feed them the Greek version of plain ‘Rich Tea’ in exchange for kisses (nose touches) and other good behaviour (sitting, lying, chins on my knee). As the morning warms up, I check my online media, and the dogs stretch out in the sun, playfully wrestling, gently until Poppy goads the boys into a pack tornado, that whirls around the garden, twisting and bouncing, occasionally yelping, when Leo bounds back to me for protection (he has an injured leg that can’t cope as well with his boisterous siblings), and finally Platon and Poppy will flop into the cool, fragrant earth under the fig tree. These are our summer mornings, and I savour every single moment, listening to the crickets (yet to fall asleep), birds chattering in the trees, and the occasional goat bells tinkling over the hill.

This is my happy place, and I commit these precious, golden moments to memory, stored up for rainy days or difficult times ahead. I feel even more blessed to be here this year, following emergency spinal surgery in January. It was my motivating goal; to be well and fit enough to drive the dogs back again, which I managed with the help of a friend (my surgeon has insisted I no longer undertake the journey alone). I am still recovering, but as I reflect on my progress, I’m proud of my journey, and so grateful to have made it to this place; where I can sit in my hammock swing, watching pairs of butterflies dance around the garden, smell the potted herbs (basil, mint, coriander) that scent the terrace, and watch the dogs lie contentedly under the dappled shadows of the fig, peach, apricot, orange, lemon and apple trees. I hope that wherever you are, you notice the little things too, because trust me, the little things really are the big things! Love & blessings, Hxx

{Photo, sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby © 2016}

Petrichor

raining

Every morning I’m greeted by Platon’s loving stare, as he patiently waits for me to join him in celebrating the day ahead as an opportunity for affection and adventure, with a dose of mischief mixed in for good measure. Today as I woke, I became aware of a warm weight, resting on my hip bone, and opening my eyes found his deep pools of love staring back at me, above the chin planted firmly on my hip. I recently taught him to put his chin on me rather than paw me for attention, as my bare legs in shorts were getting a bit scratched and bruised. As I curled round to cuddle him, he rolled over playfully, accepting a tummy tickle with a stretch, before coyly placing his paws over his face and burrowing into me. Each day I am so grateful for this big bundle of love, in the shape of a not-so-little puppy.

After some cuddles and a quick game where I hide one of Platon’s chews under the many pillows for him to hunt and recover, we got up for coffee. This morning was cooler than usual, with some fluffy clouds and a mist over the sea. So rather than habitually heading off to a beach on the west of the island, I decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and walk down the winding road on the eastern sunrise side, to another small beach facing Ithaca (our neighbouring island).

The walk downhill enjoys beautiful views of the channel of sea between the islands, often busy with sail boats, crisp white triangles dotted against the deep blue water; and little tourist boats for hire, hugging the shoreline looking for secluded beaches, a plume of wake trailing behind them. Today however there was less ‘traffic’, and the cotton-wool clouds cast shadows, dappled on the rippling sunlit surface. Platon trotted jauntily on the lead, pausing frequently to sniff the interesting hedgerows, and we admired the hardy geraniums on top of lichen covered stone walls, amidst the long dry grasses and dense bushes. This island is much greener than many of the Greek islands, with lush vegetation covering much of the mountains, lots of olive and cedar trees, as well as an indigenous pine and evergreen oak trees, that run right down to the sea.

We had barely passed through the next village to ours, when Minas stopped in his passing car to offer us a lift, which I accepted more for his company than a rush to get to the beach, as it’s rare to see him away from his post surveying his popular restaurant in the square. Platon refused steadfastly to sit in the back with the tiles, off cuts of wood and other scary building materials, opting instead to share the passenger seat on my lap, with his nose on the windscreen, and a paw on our driver. He is not a small dog, and at almost 30kg quite a load, as his paws dig into my bare legs, searching for balance. Minas is my favourite grumpy Greek, his dry wit and satire are a hard shell disguising his soft, squishy centre. As he barks complaints at his staff, only the sparkle in his eyes gives him away, that and the loyalty of waiters who remain, and return each season to be chided again. He loves Platonas with the broken heart of someone whom has loved and lost a dear dog, unable to contemplate replacing the irreplaceable. He understands the indescribable connection of unconditional love and uncompromised trust, between a canine and his person. He chatted to Platon, encouraging his barking as we passed dogs in their gardens, and on arrival at the beach asked him for a kiss, before turning his car around to go back to where we came from, so I realize the lift was a gift for all of us, not simply a convenience as if we were heading in the same direction.

Once at the beach, Platon ran through the olive trees to sniff at the shoreline, running away from the boisterous waves as if being chased, and returning again to play the game. We played chase, taking it in turns to pursue each other, and ‘breakfast’, where I throw his kibble just above his head for him to jump and catch. As we both started to tire, we made our way to the nearby Taverna for a bottle of water, and started back up the hill as the skies gradually darkened. There is a footpath, steps cut into the steep woodland, favoured by shepherds and their flocks. Often I walk down on the winding road and back through woods, but today Platon wasn’t keen on sniffing goat smells, and the rumble of thunder convinced me the road was perhaps a better bet. Platon isn’t afraid of thunder, ‘just Zeus moving the furniture’ as my friend Hilda describes it, or even the lightening that cracks like a stinging whip and flashes dramatically; but heavy rain is another matter entirely.

It started slowly enough, just as Nikos and Panagis passed us in their van, smiling and waving. Big heavy drops, landing noisily and then rapidly, turning the steep road into a fast running river, with all the olive tree leaves ‘dancing’ as the drops bounced off them. We trotted up the hill, waving at our friend from the beach, (the little mermaid’s grandfather), as he passed with a car full of grandchildren, and the water delivery tanker, who honked his horn loudly as we waited on the verge of the narrow lane, dripping. After so long without rain, the earth welcomed the storm with a wonderfully aromatic celebration, richly fragranced with the refreshing wild thyme that grows on the side of the road, as if it has exhaled a scented sigh in gratitude. Petrichor is the name of this aroma of rainfall on dry earth, and is derived from Greek (but of course!), Petra meaning stone, and ichor which is apparently a golden fluid that flows through the veins of the gods, an immortal substitute for blood; the knowledge of this makes it smell even more deliciously pungent for me.

As the rivulets of rain ran down the back of my neck, and pooled in my Birkenstocks, the tropical downpour suddenly felt as if someone had opened the faucet fully, as I struggled to see amid the drenching. Platon distinctly decided enough was enough, and scuttled under a bush at the roadside, lying prone, chin on the ground between his paws, refusing to move on the end of his lead. I however, would not fit under the bush, and just as I was calculating how far we had to go, the little mermaid’s grandfather returned in his car, after dropping off his grandchildren, to collect us, with a towel on the back seat. Initially Platon stayed stubbornly under the bush, but eventually allowed me, begrudgingly to lift him in to the car, for some unknown reason diesel engines frighten him, although I personally couldn’t hear much above the sound of the rain hammering. I held on to him, soaked to the skin in my vest and shorts, as our kind friend drove us right to our home, very grateful and sopping wet. Platon then didn’t want to get out the car, but as soon as I hauled him off the back seat, he darted up the steps and scratched impatiently at the door, as I followed hot on his heels with the key, shouting my thanks as we dashed. Once inside he ran straight to his favourite rug, and settled down prone again, into a position I recognise as a peaceful protest, otherwise known as downright stubbornness, and hopelessly immovable. I stood laughing and dripping all over the floor, whilst he watched me quickly find towels to mop up, and then relented because of his love of being rubbed dry, and a game that involves him hiding under the towel and blindly leaning into me.

After a quick hot shower, and a steaming cup of Jasmine tea, we’re snuggled up on the sofa together as I write, meanwhile the storm has blown over, the sun is shining, and the laundry is ready to be hung out again. I hope that wherever you are, whatever your weather, that you’re having a beautiful day; and if you’re not, remember that however bad the storm is, the sun will always shine again. Lots of love & blessings, H&P xx

Photo via Pinterest, sadly uncredited. Words ~Hayley Darby ©2015

Writing again..

Platon smiling
A cool breeze slipped through the shutters, and the tinkle of goat bells crept into my consciousness. The warm, breathing, body beside me sighed and rolled closer into my legs; wagging his tail, before lifting his head to check whether I was awake, finally! As if he’s been waiting for all eternity for the pleasure of my company. Every morning I am greeted with the happy expectant face of Platonas (my puppy), eager for another beautiful day of playful adventure, full of joy and optimism, which must be contagious, because I never feel any different. Once he is satisfied that I am actually awake, he gets up to inspect my face, and pushes his big black, wet nose into it, in response to the kissing noises I make. Then he stretches his bottom high in the air and his chest low, in a classic play bow; waiting for me to stir, giving in to a slightly impatient cuddle if I’m not quite ready to get up. As soon as I push back the covers, he jumps to the edge of the bed, showing off his impressive ‘downward dog’, front paws on the floor, back legs still on the bed (and he’s a tall dog), until he gracefully jumps down, and scampers around, wagging his tail, waiting for me.

Our home on our favourite Greek island is an attic apartment; which sounds very urban, but is actually on a small farm in a cute little village. We have the most amazing view across the sea to the neighbouring island to the east, and across the valley to dense forests of olive and cypress trees to the south and west. Platon impatiently rings the goat bell I have tied to the balcony door handle, even though I am only a few steps behind him, and we step out together to watch the morning sun glisten on the sea, having spilt over the mountains of Ithaki, bathing the early fishing boats and the occasional cruise ship on passing. Platon then pops up onto the sofa to watch patiently as I make coffee, he knows that the day starts with a leisurely cappuccino and sharing of cantuccini (those deliciously crunchy, Italian, almond biscotti). I potter around the kitchen, tidying up the crockery in the drying rack, shaking out the table cloth over the balcony, and watering the herbs (basil, mint, and chives) on our doorstep with the water from the washing up bowl. Our water is delivered by tankers to a big stone ‘sterna’, and we are much more careful than mains usage. Then as the coffee pot starts to gurgle, I froth the warm milk and Platon makes a space for me on the sofa. He sits with his paws on my lap, lowering his chin to look up at me most appealingly, as I dip each biscotti into the froth, and waits for his share (once I’ve nibbled away any almonds in his half, as they’re not good for dogs). My mornings are no longer my own, to check in and reflect on my feelings, but are filled with more love than I could ever imagine; and more than a little slobber as he dribbles in anticipation for each morsel of our shared breakfast. I wouldn’t change them for anything!

I don’t really know why I stopped writing before Platonas and I found each other in a barren wilderness; him literally starving, me (with a car load of food shopping) wondering which direction my life would take. I guess it was a combination of things, moving to California for a summer, finding myself anxious to get up and out in the mornings rather than savouring my thoughts and feelings (hideous, nosey landlady vs. coffee at the beach watching the early surfers, no competition really!). Then there was a feeling of change, lacking a plan, full of uncertainty, and a fatigue from giving, (which I am sure sounds selfish, but was actually a form of self-preservation). After my summer in Cali, and a brief encounter in London, I came to Greece, (my sanctuary), and just let myself ‘be’, as I waited to see where the flow would take me. Floating in turquoise seas and walking ancient paths through olive groves and crumbling ruins; choosing quiet and solitude, and adoring the simplicity. Then I travelled a lot, (Mexico, Florida, Colorado, New Orleans, and more of California), worked with some Olympic athletes, and got caught up in a relationship for a while, none of which was conducive to journaling. Then I returned to Greece for a few weeks holiday, found Platonas and stayed for the summer, briefly moving to Italy in the autumn, before driving home with my best ever travel companion to London (a tale I will write about soon). Winter was stressful, for all sorts of reasons, but my loving ‘little boy’ never failed to warm my heart and induce laughter at his comical character. Every spare moment was spent snuggling on the sofa together, walking around the vast and enchanting cemetery, or chasing each other around until we both collapsed panting and exhausted. Writing was not a priority.

It felt like months of waiting to return ‘home’ to Greece, and now we are here, we are appreciatively soaking up every sunny second. And each day, as we head to the beach after breakfast, wander along shady goat paths in the afternoons, or pop into the port for shopping and coffee, with a cast of delightful characters; I can feel my thoughts forming sentences, committing to memory the feelings as I relish them, and feel pulled to write to share and remember these precious moments. And now, as my attention is drawn to the raised head that angles inquisitively, I am being called to walk up the hill, amidst my landlords garden of tomatoes, onions, (and all sorts of vegetables) as the goats potter around them; to sit under an old olive tree and feed Platon ice cubes in the heat of the day, him crunching noisily, and me telling him why I’ve started writing again. Because I never, ever, even for a nanosecond, want to forget any of this chapter of my life that he’s spending with me. X

Blessings & love, Hxx