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}

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

Hello Autumn

platon oct 5

Good morning! Today I woke late, as Platonas (my puppy) who had been snuggled into my legs, stood up to peer over at me, angling his head inquisitively, before turning several times to snuggle back into position, possibly a fraction closer than previously. Autumn has arrived on our favourite Greek isle, suddenly switching after lovely late summer days, still swimming in the clear turquoise sea. We lay listening to the rain drumming rapidly on the roof of our attic apartment, a comforting melody when you’re cosy and warm, wrapped in a duvet with a cuddly puppy. We live high on the side of a mountain, with wonderful views over the sea to the next island, accompanied by a beautiful breeze in the summer months, that becomes a raging wind when the weather changes. It whips around the balcony, shaking the olive trees, tinkling the feng shui charm the previous tenant left hanging above the door, and blowing over our fragrant pots of herbs that sit on steps. It rattles the loose shutters, and drives the rain hard against the windows, even managing to push water under the French doors (we have 3 sets), that seeps into sizeable puddles until I remember to dam them with old towels.

All of this, along with the realization that the storm has cut our electricity, kept us happily ensconced in our cuddle fest, as I curled around this bundle of love with the softest ears; until after a while, he sighed and stretched, before leaping off the bed and trotted into the kitchen to ring the goat bell I’ve attached to the door. This means he wants to go out to the toilet, this means I have to get up and get dressed, this means the wind is going to push me as the rain streams down my face and trickles down the back of my neck, this means it’s time to walk in the puddles with my puppy.

I unwrapped my body from the duvet, and finding some cosy slippers and an oversized old jumper by the bed, I wandered into the kitchen, where Platonas waited expectantly. I opened the door to reveal the reality of the weather, and as he stepped back, looking up at me, thought momentarily that perhaps his call of nature wasn’t so urgent. Until I shut the door, and he immediately nosed the brass goat bell attached to the handle, and stood looking up at me with pools of love and trust, questioningly. I threw on some warm clothes, and dug out my duck down jacket for the first time since May, as he sat waiting patiently. Then we set off cautiously down the steps, righting the pots on the way, before trotting off up the country lane to sniff favourite spots and perfume plants with ‘eau de Platonas’.

We have a regular route that takes about 15 minutes; first we pass the field with the sheep, and our landlord’s garden with chickens and rabbits that hop happily around the lemon tree, orange tree, and (my favourite) the fig tree. Platonas looks longingly at the rabbits, it has to be said he wants to play with anyone and everything (other dogs, cats, goats, birds, grasshoppers, butterflies, hedgehogs, geckos, wasps) but the rabbits call his hound instinct undoubtedly, and he strikes a pointers pose. Next we pass the graveyard, and at the church steps, Platonas becomes terribly devout pulling towards the call of frankincense, and I suspect the mice that nestle religiously. It’s a pretty church, painted lemon with white window frames and steps, elegant arches, iron gates and an open bell tower, it must have once been the heart of our small village but in the absence of a regular priest, now only serves to mark the circle of life with funerals, weddings and baptisms.

We are distracted next by Millie, an elderly dog who barks at all that pass her family’s house. She knows us, but it doesn’t make a difference, she’s too well programmed. Platonas would love to play, and after two or three daily walks in this direction since spring, still hopefully advances; but she’s an old lady, not even slightly interested in an enthusiastic puppy. We pass the square, a place to meet and talk as children play safely by fragrant flower beds, on balmy summer evenings; deserted now as the rain runs in rivulets down the stone patio, and lightening briefly brightens the sky. After a few more steps the sky rumbled with thunder (or Zeus rearranging the furniture, as my friend Hilda describes it), and although Platon glances at me for reassurance, he’s unafraid and trots along happily sniffing for lizards in the rocks. I guess his stint living abandoned in the wilderness gave him some courage, as he must have witnessed the spring storms in an exposed environment. The thunder and lightening don’t really bother him, but the heavy rain certainly isn’t his favourite thing, luckily it has eased off for our walk this morning.

We continued on our way through the village, past the garden that smells so magical in the evenings, as stocks perfume the air, mingled with the honeysuckle that’s crept back into the hedgerows to accompany the jasmine. For now, we can just smell the rain, and the damp earth, as drops bounce off the leaves and Platon sniffs gleefully at all the scents this change in weather brings. We pass the ever so elegant, but empty, big house in the overgrown terraced garden, it’s shutters painted a gentle duck egg blue, to compliment the sandy colours of it’s old stone walls, with matching iron gates at the foot of all those steps that lead to the veranda, waiting for someone to grace them. We pass the holiday cottages, almost empty at the end of the season, and we walk along the edge of the road where the valley drops away steeply, full of goats we don’t see but hear as their bells tinkle merrily. We get close to the bins, where the cats usually hang out and tease Platonas with their tails twitching playfully, before we head back up the hill, him pouncing on acorns as if they were big fat beetles, and sniffing the rocks after any of the interesting creatures that climb them (he would too, if he weren’t on the lead).

When we get home, Platonas bounces up the stairs and sits on the doorstep, waiting for his person with the key. Then he patiently let’s me wipe his feet and rub him vigorously with a towel, before leaping onto the sofa, resuming his curled up position, waiting for me to join him for a cuddle with my iPad to write this. We watch the rain, and laugh at the rumbling thunder as wait for our electricity to return, looking forward to a pot of tea. Meanwhile, we agree that we’re going to enjoy autumn, with all it’s rainy walks, changing colours, and sweet smells as well as scented candles and snugly cuddles. Life is sweet 🙂 Hxx

Words & photo of Platonas snuggling this morning, by me ~ Hayley Darby © 2014

Introducing Platonas

platon skinny1

Good morning!! Today as I woke, I didn’t gradually drift into the shallows of consciousness, gently emerging from sleep, to languish in those sweet but fleeting moments between dreams and wakefulness; those mornings are just a misty memory of my past it seems. Today I woke when the warm mass, curled up beside me, tucked neatly behind my knees, in the crook of my bent legs; stirred and squished just a bit closer (if that was at all possible). This was momentarily prior to popping a heavy chin on my thigh, to peer over at me with excited, inquisitive, amber eyes, preceded by a big black nose that sniffed the autumn air and my sleepyness. His name is Platonas (Plato) and he’s impossibly loveable, but particularly cute and affectionate in the mornings, when the dawn of a new day brings all manner of possibilities for exciting adventures and puppy playfulness. We snuggled for a while, as my body unwound from the dreams I did not remember, until after a spectacular stretch (taking up most of the bed), Platonas jumped up and pounced on my legs, as if to say ‘it’s time to get up and embrace the day’, before leaping to the floor and turning to watch me as if imploring me to follow suit, as I dutifully did, unwinding myself from the sheets in search of breakfast.

We are living on my favourite Greek island, somewhere that’s been a second home for me for many years, a special place that occupies my heart, even when I’m not here; and even more special since late April. It was a ‘shopping day’ (read supermarkets rather than retail therapy.. it’s an island after all!), I had driven down to the main town (almost 2 hours from home) with my friend CS to stock up on groceries, and everything else unavailable in our remote villages, including gas tanks for the dive school. CS’s car was packed to the gunnels, and after a basic picnic of bread and cheese by the ancient ruins of the castle, we were busy chatting away like a babbling brook as we wound our way through country lanes. In the midst of a wilderness, where not much exists, save a quarry and electricity plant, our flow of conversation was interrupted by simultaneous gasps, as she swerved to avoid the walking skeleton of a dog that stepped into the road from the scrubland. We jointly agreed we couldn’t drive on, and turned to the spot, where he immediately ran over to greet us, wagging his tail high in the air, sinking his chest to the ground, twisting to look at us, simply fizzing with excitement. His protruding bones were painful to witness, and the greedy ticks that clung to his neck, quite revolting; but the beautiful face and happy attitude were overwhelmingly beguiling.

I found a tin of tuna with a ring-pull amongst the shopping, desperate to feed this starving weakling, and whilst he ate it, he was clearly more interested in our company, despite his hunger, jumping up and buzzing excitedly. CS and I agreed we couldn’t leave him, so we lifted him into the passenger foot well by my feet (the car being full) and I tried to calm him as we resumed our journey. He was frantic, climbing all over me, anxious to see out the windows, inquisitive and attentive, nervous and exhausting. It’s quite a journey from one end of the island to the other, particularly since the main road has been closed due to earthquake damage since February; with winding narrow lanes amongst olive groves and scattered villages, to climb steeply into the mountains, where the goats trickle leisurely across the road before scampering away vertically. CS and I lamented that we were two silly English girls, having picked up a puppy with no plan for his future, but admitted that we couldn’t possibly have left him, hoping that whatever happened we had done a good thing. We called the island’s animal shelter en route, a facility for 75 animals currently struggling with almost 400, so with no room at the inn, we pledged to take him back to our villages and find a home for him. As we drove, thinking it would be temporary I decided to name him Plato, since I know several Socrates, a Sophocles, and Aristotles a plenty, but had never met a Plato; besides it was close to Pluto and seemed to suit him.

Our journey was interrupted when the winding roads and anxiety finally overcame our friend, and he was sick in the foot well, revealing his meagre diet of plastic and faeces. CS was impressively resilient, cleaning up the stinking mess with only the recently purchased toilet rolls and drinking water, whilst I held our passenger on the side of the road and tried to reassure him. I felt horribly inadequate, my heart breaking for this poor soul, seemingly cruelly abandoned in an area far from food or shelter, and wondered who could be such a monster to neglect such a loveable creature. We arrived back to our village, exhausted and unsure, CS was worried her boyfriend would be angry at us picking up such a responsibility, so I agreed to keep Plato until we found him a permanent home. After acquiring some cord as a makeshift lead, and applying a flea treatment hastily purchased from the pharmacy, I took him home to the villa some friends were generously lending me. As my friends, like many Greeks, keep their dog chained outside, I didn’t feel comfortable taking Plato into their villa, so CS donated an old blanket, which we folded and made a bed, under a porch on the doorstep. After being fed him some kibble, Plato curled up tightly, no doubt worn out by his adventure, obediently quiet and slept. Throughout the night I have to admit I crept down frequently to check on my guest, peeping through the glass in the door to see him peacefully waiting for morning, untied but certainly not leaving the small comfort provided. He was leaning hard against the door so that he fell in when I opened it in the morning; full of joy and excited affection, less interested in breakfast than love and company.

It took about a week of me walking him around asking everyone if they wanted this puppy, until I realised it was a futile exercise, at the start of the tourist season nobody wants extra responsibility, and most people have several dogs already. Platonas followed me everywhere,(by this time Greek friends had insisted on the Greek version of a Greek name, Platon for short), was gentle and quiet, and cried if I left him to go to the toilet. He never once snatched food from my hand, despite his starving condition, and I fed him several small meals a day to gently ease in his digestive system. He continued to sleep outside the villa, but I never slept a full night without checking up on him, and always woke early in the morning eager for his joyful greeting, then he would lie across the threshold, watching me and waiting patiently for attention. I posted a photo on Facebook appealing to Greek friends to help me find a home, and had two offers from friends in California and Washington DC, who would pay for his shipping if I was unsuccessful. Then I met a British tourist who thought she might like him, so I took Platonas to the vets for his jabs, microchip and passport, to give him options.

The vets on the island are all located in the main town, a long, complicated drive from the village I live in, so very early in the morning after breakfast (big mistake), and a sunrise run by the church, we set off to meet Amanda, who happens to be an angel, as well as an excellent and most compassionate vet. After his appointment I asked her for some meds to prevent him being car-sick on our journey home, having discovered what a mistake breakfast was previously. Amanda sent us to the pet shop with a script for ‘calmivet’, where the assistant advised me it would take 45 minutes to take effect, suggesting I have a coffee and wait before starting back. It was a warm spring day, so I walked Platonas a fair way across the town to a favourite pavement cafe. It was here, that I decided as he slept peacefully on my foot (so I couldn’t go anywhere without waking him) presumably exhausted after his first visit to the vet, that although my life had no room for a pet, maybe I could find a way to change things, and give him the best home I could manage.

I am fiercely independent, travel extensively, and have white sofas, white bedlinen,(rather a lot of white everything) at my small but neat and tidy, single girl’s sanctuary, mews house in London. I’ve avoided unnecessary responsibility, am wary of dependency and value my freedom and capacity for spontaneity. But somehow, all of the reasons stopping me from taking care of this puppy, paled by the side of this bundle of love that trusted me to care for him. I finished my coffee and paid my bill, ready to leave the cafe, and rousing Platon from his sleep, got up to go; just as he keeled over comically, like a drunk dog as his legs crumpled. It appears the anti-emetic drugs were also sedatives, and I ended up carrying 17 kg of dead weight dog, across town much to the amusement of everyone I met. As I struggled with my arms full of puppy and my shoulders laden with bags of shopping, people asked if Platon was OK, or laughed at me, but nobody offered to help. Sweating in the midday heat, with lots of stops, I eventually managed to get poor Platon to the car, exhausted and feeling guilty for drugging him, vowing that I would do my best for this loving creature. I remember the journey home, and crying uncontrollably as I passed through the uninhabited wasteland where we’d found each other a week earlier, still so angry at whomever could have abandoned him. By the time we got home, he was starting to wake up, and by then, I’d realised that I loved him too much not to do my best to be home to him.

So that’s how, on a sunny spring day in April, Platonas came into my world and completely changed my priorities. Suddenly life is full of dog hair with pockets full of dog biscuits, my routine is disrupted and all plans depend on him; and I seriously couldn’t be happier about it. He’s such a comical character, strong willed and independent, friendly and enthusiastic, smart and affectionate, and I’ve already learnt so much from him. People frequently comment on my adorable dog, I just hope he’s as proud of his person ☺ Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo of Platonas a few days after finding him – he’s since gained 12 kg and looks much more healthy, like a different dog actually, more photos to follow. Words & photo by me 🙂 © Hayley Darby}

Spring awakening

contemplative

Good morning everyone! Today I woke early, something my heart is struggling with, dragged me from the sweet oblivion of dark nothingness and peaceful silence, wrestling me to the surface of consciousness. Despite the early hour (6.30am-ish) a pale light softly diffused around the edge of the blind, a small consolation that spring is slowly stretching out the days in preparation for summer, and the promise of such shone brightly in the distance, a spark of hope beckoning towards the future. I lay for a while in the present, wondering how I got here; stuck in some kind of holding pattern whilst I try to figure out which direction will lead me to wherever I’m meant to be; which is indeed the start of another interesting question whose answer currently eludes me.

I made an attempt to escape back to sweet sleep, swimming against the tide, towards the depths; but the questions I tried to avoid gave chase, until I surrendered eventually and headed them off by checking my phone for the time and other important information. I am reminded of my own advice to keep a clock or watch by the bed, but to keep the phone at a distance and save emails and texts for a reasonable time after waking. Advice, I realised a moment too late, to which I had somehow stopped adhering, so once the wheels of my mind were well and truly whirring, I got up for coffee and to embrace the morning.

It was a cool grey start to the day here in London, after two prior consecutive, blue-sky mornings that were a very convincing start to spring; the opaque, over-cast light was rather disappointing. I wrapped up tightly in a warm robe and descended the stairs to the kitchen, where the cool wooden floor greeted my toes with an icy reminder that Spring is indeed rather shy about her beauty early in the season. Turning to my beloved coffee machine for consolation, I sighed and inhaled the rich, comforting aroma and smiled appreciatively for the little things. I noticed the bunch of daffodils on the window sill have started to open, slowly unfurling their petals and stretching their trumpets, so I raised my arms and arched my back, then armed with my latte retreated back to my white fluffy cloud of a bed, snuggling back under the duvet to contemplate the day ahead.

Today’s weather may not be the crisp, fragrant example for which I was hoping, but it is definitely spring and a fresh start awaiting. The sky may be cloudy and grey, but I am reassured that there is a patient blueness above. I cannot see from a distance, but I know that the trees are adorned with tight little buds at each of their distal branches. A host of golden daffodils adorn the banks of The Heath by Kenwood house, inspiring all those who wander lonely as a cloud, despite the company they walk with. And in the undergrowth of the skeletal woods, tiny yellow Celandine flowers are smattered haphazardly as nature proudly asserts her intention. I found myself on an unfamiliar path, waterlogged and muddy, fragranced with damp earthiness, and after carefully skirting the edges, avoiding the nettles and brambles, decided to walk right through the squelchiness, which wasn’t so bad once I’d started.

Time ticks steadily by, and I might not know yet which steps to take, but I certainly do have choices; and walking through the messy bits, rather than trying to avoid any disappointment seems the best option. Meanwhile the clouds are starting to shift and I feel like writing. Sometimes I guess we are so busy searching that we miss the things that seek us, and sometimes we have to be patient with our hearts, because winter is always followed by spring eventually. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; Words ~Hayley Darby ©2014}

Grateful heart

beachtoday

This morning I slipped gently into consciousness as delicious slices of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the shutters, extending their invitation to grasp the morning and embrace another beautiful autumnal day. I lay under the sanctuary of the mosquito net for a while, contemplating my blessings as wakefulness crept over me and vignettes of my retreating dream flickered across my mind in farewell. I had slept soundly, and woke smiling, from some place in the depths, where the knowledge that everything is exactly as it is meant to be had retained a hold on my memory, restoring my equilibrium after a little ‘niggle’ had wormed its way under my skin yesterday. You know sometimes that feeling that something is amiss, but you can’t quite identify the reason, or even put your finger exactly on the concern, just a little bothersome ‘niggle’ you can’t quite ignore. Well whatever mine was, it had vanished this morning, as if something stole into my dreams to reassure me, and I woke confident that whatever needed to be resolved, in the halls of my heart, had been.

I swept back the net, feeling quite regal after waking under the swathed canopy, and found the sunny pool on the tiled floor to bathe my toes in as I got up to stretch and open the doors to the balcony. I stood outside for a few moments, appreciating the warm sunlight on my shoulders, and the peaceful quiet of this little Greek village in my favourite corner of paradise. A few goat bells tinkled in the distance, the birds chattered in the nearby trees, and I heard my heart sing gratefully as I looked over the olive groves to the sea. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and this place to escape to, to be alone as much as I need to be; to take time to listen to my heart, and ask it questions that only arrived once I gave it space to answer them. Although in many ways I’m none the wiser of the direction I’m heading, I feel more comfortable with the uncertainty. I’m practicing living in the moment, trying not to expect too much from the future, and allowing life to surprise me; which of course it does anyway, it’s just nicer to be open to it rather than resist the curve balls because I’m sticking too rigidly to where I think I should be. Letting go and going with the flow isn’t always easy though is it? I know that I have previously let stubbornness and stupidity masquerade as dedication and determination, and hopefulness cloud by judgment when I wanted things so badly

However, here where life is simple, it’s somehow easier to observe ones emotions rather than dwell in them; life has a gentler pace and it’s easier to see the wood from the trees. I am, in fact, literally surrounded by trees, twisted, wizened olive trees with their shady, silvery leaves that shimmer in the breeze, and tall, noble cypress trees, standing proudly with stretched shadows in the afternoon sun. The boughs of citrus trees hang heavy with colourful oranges and lemons, and bright red pomegranates along the roadside shine brightly against the clear blue skies of autumn. The countryside is beautiful, peppered with crumbling stone walls, adorned with honeysuckle and jasmine along twisting lanes, lined with long summer grasses that bask in the glow of sunlight. My ten minute walk to the village for coffee in the morning is as equally enticing as my fluffy cappuccino, and the walk to the next village to buy provisions is as rewarding with coastal views and elongated shadows as the ripe red tomatoes, and creamy Greek yoghurt.

Of course the jewel for me is the sea, spectacular clear water that stretches from aquamarine, through turquoise to teal, and eventually the darkest navy. Swimming one meets all sorts of pretty fish, whom are unabashed and unafraid of visiting humans to their world below the surface, where interesting patterns and rock formations can be seen clearly on the sea-bed at considerable depths. It’s the most peaceful place I know, and as I swim rhythmically my heart-beat slows to appreciate it. I cannot resist floating like a starfish in the setting sun, as the water sparkles like stars swimming around me, letting the salty buoyancy support my body as I surrender blissfully. I dream of this when I’m not here to enjoy it.

This paradise is filled with life’s simplest pleasures, and here I don’t crave all those things that seem so important in London, I’m satisfied with a few possessions (OK, admittedly my laptop is one of them!) and I guess I’m content with less because I feel so appreciative of what’s here naturally. I enjoy the simplest meals of boiled eggs and toast, feta or tuna salads and even cheese and tomato sandwiches, which somehow here taste absolutely divine; and my days pass by quietly reading, writing, walking and swimming. Here I feel so full of gratitude for my surrounding beauty, that it seems to eclipse the need to have, or indeed be, anything more. This is the gift of gratitude, and I find it here so easily, but the wonderful thing is, wherever we are, there is always a supply of it, because it’s carried in the hallways of the heart. Blessings & love ❤ Hxx

{Photo taken by me, the last to leave the beach.. again!! Words, also by me ~Hayley Darby © 2013}

Autumn morning

love autumn
Good morning everyone!! This morning I was awoken by thunder, ‘Zeus moving the furniture upstairs’ abruptly dragged me from sleep, to leave me lying staring up at the gauzy mosquito net as I found my bearings. The rain clattering at the windows and the wind howling round the villa, bending the cypress trees and shaking the olive trees, giving me a quick indication of the cause of my disturbance. So I lay in the half-light listening to the weather, and my heart beat as it slowed to a regular rate; wondering if sleep would reclaim me, and return me to the dreams from which I had been so rudely interrupted. The chill in the air caressed an exposed shoulder, gracing it with goosebumps before I snuggled back under the covers; heavy blankets weighing assuredly on my body, pressing me into the mattress. I let myself sink slowly from the surface of consciousness, and watched the light fade to find sweet oblivion and the gate to my dreams opened again.

At a much later hour, I awoke again to find the villa still shaking with the wind’s fury, which gave me an opportunity to appreciate how cosy and smug I felt, as I let wakefulness slowly wash over me. I slipped out from under the mosquito net, finding some thick socks to pad downstairs for some green tea, and settled with my laptop, to relax on the ample sofa. I addressed some correspondence and after a skype call noticed that the sun was trying to break through the clouds, so smiling, I dressed quickly and walked up the hill to Liz & Joes’ for coffee. The coolness in the air, heralds new scents along the lane, the honeysuckle and jasmine replaced by a damp earthy smell , complimented by the wood smoke that circles gracefully from a neighbour’s chimney. I met Nikos on the road, who laments the sea is too choppy for fishing, and we discuss his plans for garden maintenance and olive picking. We’re in agreement that autumn asserts a slower-pace, but with a responsibility to prepare for winter, and a reminder to appreciate the clement weather that allows us.

A large cappuccino soon put a smile on my face, as I sat outside to enjoy the sun that plays peek-a-boo amongst the clouds, and weigh down papers that flutter in the breeze, with the salt and pepper pots. The wind has dropped significantly, but the silvery leaves of the olive trees still shimmer as their boughs are swayed, and the vine leaf canopy, creates a dancing shadow on the road. The café is quiet, and I sat peacefully with my thoughts, enjoying not having to be anywhere in particular, or even have a plan. A pause to enjoy autumn, as delicious as my cappuccino, with it’s fluffy lightness, perfectly complimented by a balancing bitterness, and its rich comforting aroma. Just letting mellow autumn swell my heart with nostalgic tendencies and enjoy really being in this moment of transformation. I hope that you let autumn under your skin, and take a moment in your busy life to notice its beauty, and become part of the process. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest, words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

Autumnal acceptance

shoulderr

Good morning everyone!! Today I woke slowly, gradually drifting to the surface of consciousness, carrying contentedness into wakefulness from somewhere sweet in my sleepiness. I lay for a while in the gentle opaque light of another cloudy day, listening to the gentle patter of raindrops on the skylight, and let my thoughts wander towards autumn. Something has changed, and I realise I’m ready to let the last rays of summer slip through my fingers, to embrace the changing season. I suspect that after my trip to Cali, the arrival of cooler days in London felt too abrupt, but after a few sunny days on my Greek island, I feel replete with summery memories to face the cooler, darker days; as if my summer was incomplete without some Greek sun. Βεβαίως, φυσικά!

I stirred slowly, cosy under the heavy blankets, reluctant to expose my warm skin to the cool morning, but the thought of coffee became too tempting to resist; so I dressed quickly in a favourite blue sweater, and soft yoga pants, to keep snug despite the elements. I dashed through the heavy raindrops, noticing how they patterned the pool with their pretty concentric ripples, and jumped in the jeep (kindly lent), to drive up the hill to Liz & Joes for my grande cappuccino. There is a mellow atmosphere in the cafe today, the gentle flow of locals and tourists alike discussing the weather, and the conflicting forecasts. The rain falls steadily and persistently, but the absence of wind makes it feel quite calming, and I’m happily resigned to a day writing in coffee shops, noticing the nostalgia of autumn, and the slower pace it brings.

I ventured down to the port, where the choppy water bounced the few remaining yachts around their moorings. The quay was quiet, the rain bounced in puddles, chairs and tables sat desserted, canopies were drawn down, and waiters stood in doorways, watching the arrival of φθινόπωρο – fthinoporo (autumn) in the harbour. For them the end of the summer means a welcome rest, and for many a return to families and homes on the mainland. Autumn is after all a time for retreat, as nature gently turns within, to work on internal transformation, invisible till the spring. As the trees shed their leaves, maybe it’s also time for us to relinquish expectations, and observe our thoughts and feelings; maybe this is what makes it the season of the soul, a valuable time to pause and contemplate our journey. Wishing you a beautiful October day, whatever your geographic location, and hope that you find beauty whatever season you happen to find yourself in. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photograph sadly uncredited, via Pinterest; words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

As summer fades to fall

sea scape

I woke early this morning, the wind howling round the villa having found an unsecured shutter to bang rhythmically and intrude my dreams. I lay for a while staring up at the gauzy mosquito net, and noticed my body stretched out across the bed, having kicked off the heavy blanket I had thought was a prudent addition when I retired yesterday. So I snuggled back under the covers, and curled up in the hope of slipping back into dreams, but the errant shutter persisted, calling me to secure it. Dressing quickly in cosy jersey, I braved the elements, and whilst the wind whipped my hair about my shoulders, adjusted the noisy culprit and fished some wayward lounger cushions from the pool, before tidying the furniture and retreating inside for hot tea on the ample sofa.

I checked some emails, and chatted briefly with friends at home on FB, assuring them that sunny photo’s of yesterday were indeed a blessing in October, as we now have rain forecast here for several days. Then noticing the hunger pangs that echoed the empty refrigerator, bundled up in my sailing jacket and made my way up the lane to Liz & Joe’s café/deli for a huge cappuccino and their very generous serving of French toast with mascarpone and preserved figs. The café is a popular meeting post for locals, Greek and ex-pats alike, so that on a grey, drizzly day it was soon busy with lively chatter as the children floated amongst the tables, entertained by everyone. Liz worked tirelessly in the kitchen, whilst Joe waited tables, infusing his own eccentric brand of self-amusing humour into every conversation.

Deciding that today was a work (writing) day, I took my leave to find a quieter spot, abandoning my initial idea to travel to the next port since the fresh rain on the oily roads of a whole summer, can cause precarious driving conditions on the beautiful winding road along the coast. I chose instead to seek refuge in a quiet cocktail bar at the hotel with super-squashy sofas, and delicious homemade cookies, served abundantly with my tea by the staff that know my weakness for them. I hid amongst the books, which have doubtless been well read and left to share, by the seasons guests; and let the emotional Greek soundtrack wash over me, as sonorous heartbreak and melancholy filled the air. Perfect for a rainy day in Paradise, and as my dear friend ADS says, ‘there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing’, and maybe that should include ‘choice of perspective’.

The rain falls gently, as the clouds sit low on the neigbouring islands, and the sky lends an opaque light to the lush green landscape, that no doubt rejoices silently at this change in climate. The seascape is brooding and moody, with the blurred horizon seeping into the sky almost imperceptibly, devoid of the numerous white sails usually apparent. There’s a calm and cosy atmosphere, a feeling of surrender to the changing season, and an acceptance that summer has finally faded into fall, gracefully and beautifully to let us appreciate the soulful season, whose chill in the air helps us seek the warmth within our hearts, if we let it.

I hope that wherever you are, you are finding some gift in the weather conditions too; for life is always more agreeable when we focus on what we can change, and accept those we cannot, and beauty exists anywhere we are prepared to find it. Blessings & love, Hxx

{Photo sadly uncredited, via Pinterest, words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}

My favourite slice of paradise

PN Kef emblisi pic

I awoke late by the Greek clock, early by the British hour, and my waking thought searched for that peaceful presence, that occupies a space in my heart recently encountered. I had been wandering along, feeling remarkably carefree and unsuspecting of the impending intrusion, and am left floating in the uncertain ocean of possibility, a place I have learned to embrace passionately, for after all it is full of infinite beauty, if we choose to see it.

I eventually found my body, having previously only been aware of my internal territory, and noticed the disparate relationship of my physical topography and the typically unyielding mattress of my austere Greek bed. Sounds of the port slipped through the shutters with the slices of light that had spilt across the crumpled sheet, wrapped around my legs, entwined in a memory. Sighing I summoned some strength and managed to inspire millions of motor neurons to move my body, in order to check the fluctuating Internet status of my abode by opening my emails. I read those I wanted, then sank back into my repose to process my findings until coffee called me, when I dressed swiftly in a faithful pair of denim shorts and vest, to bound down the stairs to greet the lively port and all the characters that make this particular slice of paradise so precious to me.

I wandered around the quay greeting friendly faces and answering the familiar questions (What took you so long? Where have you been? How long are you staying?), until I found Kosta in the quiet shade of his bar, whilst the staff served the tables outside as quietly as possible, so as not to aggravate his hangover. His face cracked into the most beautiful smile of recognition before his headache sharply reminded him of his condition. We laughed at life and hugged tightly despite his temporary fragility, catching up over a cappuccino (me) and water (he), sharing traditional pastries from the local bakery. Aggeliki lived up to her angelic moniker and administered her magical massage to the troublesome spot of Kostas neck that feels the tightest, and we lamented the consequences of age combined with the youthful behaviour of his crazy parties. Kosta surrendered to his struggling body and retired to bed, Aggeliki resumed her responsibilities at the bar, and I sat outside figuring there are worse places to contemplate ones indulgence in temptation, as the cheerful sunshine drenched the peaceful port, illuminating it’s beauty as boats gently traversed the glassy water.

After a while I left my seat on the balcony in search of the preciously acute and hilariously dry observations of Minas. He customarily spends the majority of the day at his favourite table, surveying his restaurant. Surrounded by his team of waiters, he called out across the square at my approach, heralding my arrival for anyone within 100m, and nursing his coke zero assured me that his diabetes is behaving lately. We discussed local politics and recounted stories of our shared histories, noting the changes and lamenting absent friends. We watched the life of the square and Minas’ grumbled for my entertainment, enjoying the audience for acknowledgement of his unique and frequently extreme viewpoints. I left Minas with a cheerful smile with a kiss for the orange juice, and walked around the corner to find Angelos in his office.

Angelos is a serious young man with the weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders, and a photo of his father smiling from beyond the grave on his desk. Our comprehension of the passage of time and our confusion over the specific years in which events occurred, served to remind us of the accelerated speed of time that age bestows upon us. Although at least a year younger than I (and a quarter of a century than Minas), he always makes me feel juvenile with my independent adventures in contrast to his empire building vocation. We put the world to rights, and he tells me to keep travelling and bringing home my stories for his enjoyment. I left him with promises to visit his mother soon and sent some love to his wife and children before sauntering back along the quay with an undeniable hunger for my darling, the sea.

As luck would have it, Makis had a similar craving, so when I popped into the shop on my way back to the apartment, he offered me a lift to his favourite beach; allowing me a quick change of clothes as he sat impatiently with the engine running. The car curled expertly into the curves of the road, just a short distance before our descent amongst the fragrant pines towards the turquoise water sitting, waiting, assuredly faithful, for our adoration. Makis changed in the car, and it was my turn to be impatient as I rushed towards the deliciousness. I paused momentarily to drop my bag on the beach and swap my ray bans for Cressi goggles, before hastily stepping into the water, saving my entering breath to exhale below the surface.

The crystal clear water engulfed me, and it felt as if anything other than bliss was cleansed from my soul, instantly revealing the clarity of this privilege. I swam towards the shelf, clearly marked by the line where aquamarine meets turquoise, inhabited by numerous fish that swim unafraid of the human company that dips into their world. I took a moment to float like a starfish in gratitude, to feel the surface tickle my sun kissed skin, feeling supported by the powerful entity in its reassuring calmness. Having spent the summer in California, enchanted by the ocean, my heart has still pined for my true ‘agapi’, the Ionian sea, with it’s gentle caress and beautiful hues of the heavenly blue spectrum. I submerged completely; lost in that peace that resides within and felt my physiology sigh thankfully, as does the heart in the embrace of a previously estranged lover. I noted my slowed pulse and that internal tranquility one finds when gratitude obliterates any other emotion, before breaking the surface to breathe in deeply the joy of living. I swam across the bay, much to the amusements of Greeks who tend to swim straight out into the darker deeper waters, beyond the rocks and around to neighbouring bays, whilst I cause disruption to the traffic system since I wasn’t born by the water and lack their confidence. I soon found my rhythm, breathing deeply for the long strokes my lengthy limbs prefer, and smiled at the un-phased fish, which loitered nonchalantly in my pathway, showing off their magnificent iridescence in the piercing sun beams. I finished my dip, resuming the star-fish floating position for my finale, before joining Makis and his sister on the beach to top up my tan as the sun sat high above the shady olive trees.

Makis returned to the shop, leaving his towel and flippers for his girlfriend Nancy, who appeared for her swim, bravely venturing beyond the visible rocks, before settling on the beach and into the conversation amongst the locals whose children played at the shoreline. I let the language waft over me as I lay under my panama, feeling the heat on my skin and remembering vocabulary and other trips. My thoughts wandered away from the beach and retraced some recent adventures, exploring new territory and chambers of my heart, slipping through the layers of awareness and comprehension, desire and vulnerability. The afternoon drifted by, as the shade inched towards the shoreline, soon eclipsing the beach, cooling my salt dried skin. Yaya, a French friend that runs the diving school, kindly gave me a lift back to the port, and I wandered down the steps smiling as I noticed my shoulders have dropped several inches after my sea-bathing. I encountered Nikos & Themis passing the bar, and admitted that I’d cheated on the Greek sea with the Pacific Ocean, but that my heart was ‘home’ again, laughing as they teased me good naturedly, but promising to join them for the last buffet at The Thai restaurant. It’s the end of the season here, and as tourism cools, businesses close for the winter. For me it’s the best time to visit; the port is returned to the locals, and as they untie themselves from their shops, bars and restaurants, they have time to relax and enjoy it again.

I’m writing in the port, replete after my Thai dinner and catching up with Anna & Pete (who tend to collectively know all the news in the village). I found a sweet spot at Le Passage, beautiful Eleni’s new business venture, which reflects her chic style and sweet nature, as well as her family’s famous restaurant for locals in the village up the hill. As I sip my tea (Jasmine) looking out over the still dark water, it reflects the pretty lights of the port in a perfectly mirrored image. The yachts are lined up and sit obediently waiting for adventures tomorrow, and the impressive private cruisers jostle for pole position for admiration along the quay. Passing friends greet me with hugs of welcome, and acquaintances nod in recognition; they know that this is my favourite slice of heaven on earth, and that I wherever I travel, I will always find a way ‘home’ again. I have had a gorgeous day, and I have more of the same to look forward to again tomorrow : )) Evlogimeni eimai (I’m blessed) !!

I hope that wherever you are, that you have an opportunity to appreciate your environment and spend time with people that enhance your being too. Blessings & filakia (kisses) ❤ Hxx

{Photo of my slice of Paradise 🙂 Words ~Hayley Darby ©2013}