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

Morning treasure

P beach bye

I woke early to the sound of Platonas ‘talking’, somewhere between a growl and a bark, a funny un-imposing noise he makes to get my attention; insistent but less demanding than barking. He sometimes employs this noise when he’s impatient (for a tidbit whilst I’m eating), or when I am talking (and he’d rather be playing), and sometimes (and in this instance), because he wants/ needs me to help him, (if a ball is out of reach under the sofa, or this morning, to open the bedroom door, so he can ring the bell on the main door), because he needs the toilet. I rolled over and gave him the ‘are you serious?’ look; which he returned with the ‘do I look like I’m joking?’ stare. So I grabbed a cardigan to fling over my baby-doll nightdress, shuffled into my Birkenstocks, and ruffled his ears, before opening the door to oblige him; looking like a huge fashion fail, admittedly. 6am is a mercifully, delicious cool time of day here; frequented by anyone with manual labour/ exercise chores to avoid the heat once the sun has fully risen. Luckily we didn’t bump into anyone as we descended the stairs into the garden, and I admired the fragile light of the sun rising over the brow of Ithaca’s mountains across the channel of peaceful sea, suddenly grateful rather than grumpy for the sleep interruption. Platon however, wasn’t bothered with hanging around to see the sunlight spill onto the water, turning it into molten gold before us; instead turning tail as soon as he was ready, scampering up the stairs to resume his position in slumberland. I followed suit, watching the green of the forest intensify in the increasing light, beyond the bedroom balcony, as the sun steadily rose, and I fell asleep again.

When I woke later, Platon was by my side, sniffing my face, and dropping into a deep play bow invitation to engage as soon as I opened my eyes. We have missed the beach for a few days (due to a necessary trip to the main town, and waiting for the Greek telecom engineer to finally install an internet connection -yayyy!), so we were both keen to get up and embrace the opportunity; but after coffee, naturally! Platon lay on the sofa patiently watching, his chin propped up on the cushions, as I prepared the coffee pot and fluffed the milk. Mornings have always been my favourite time of day (well since school days anyway!), but even more so now that they involve snuggling with my beloved, as we share biscotti. As soon as the last drop of coffee was finished, I quickly changed into a bikini and beach dress, grabbing water and snacks for Platon, and we raced to the car for our morning concert.

The concert starts every day as we leave the drive, Platon barks non-stop for the whole journey from home to the beach, mercifully only 12 minutes as we carefully navigate 3 miles of winding road, down the hillside. The barking goes up a gear when we get to the crossroads at the next village, as I take the road straight ahead, confirming our destination; from there it seems Platon is calling all the other dogs in the area, and they reply in a cacophony of canine greeting. I have apologised many times to everyone I know that lives en route, for the early morning bark-alarm; thankfully everyone I know is very understanding! As we approach a t-junction, we often see Gerasimos, an elderly man with one hand and poor sight, sitting in the shade, who doubtless hears us coming! I always pause the car to say ‘kalimera’ and make polite conversation about the weather, usually in Greek, but he sometimes amuses me by replying in French. I always imagined this was just to change things up on our daily greeting, until recently he noticed the driving wheel was on the right ‘like an English car’. When I explained this was indeed what it is, as I have driven from England, he exclaimed ‘but I thought you were French!!?!?’, which made me laugh, but I took it as a compliment, as there is a very glamorous French lady who owns a villa nearby, so the confusion is flattering. We always chuckle about ‘the concert’, before bidding each other well, and me continuing on the road to save the poor man’s ears from bleeding.

Meanwhile Platon’s impatient barks escalate, and continue to rapidly climb the gears it seems, as we traverse each hair-pin bend to the beach. It is pointless trying to prevent the pure excitement that erupts from his soul, getting faster and shriller in direct correlation with our descent. He is simply bursting with enthusiasm, and cannot help himself, as he bounces around the boot, eventually emitting a high pitched squeaking as the sea glimmers enticingly into view. Often Platon’s friend ‘Blue’, (whose human owns the beach bar), is waiting in the road to greet us, but today we are early, the bar isn’t open, and a lone moped is parked in the shade.

Platon exerts excellent discipline when I open the door, waiting for my release command before leaping gracefully, and careering off down the steps to the beach. I am very strict about this, making him wait in the car if he breaks the ‘wait’ command, as in London the traffic is too dangerous to risk such behaviour. He cries, and kisses my face, trying to charm me to appease his impatience, until I release him and he disappears as if I don’t exist, for a second or two at least. Today we met Coralia at the beach, a beautiful 5-year-old Greek Goddess, and her Grandfather. They are swimming and splashing each other, the little mermaid totally confident in the sparkling waves of aquamarine and sapphire. Coralia, emerged from the water to throw the ball in for Platon to retrieve, and helped him dig in the sand, looking for Australia. Meanwhile her grandfather told me approvingly that a canine companion was less trouble and often more loving than a spouse or children. We laughed, as he is blessed with a happy marriage and a loving family, as well as his loyal golden retriever. He told me his dog’s name is ‘Ricco’ meaning rich, before quickly assuring me he isn’t wealthy, but that the dog fills his heart; which is after all the most important type of treasure to behold. And I am struck by this man, whose country is struggling in dire financial crisis, who plays with his giggling granddaughter, on a fine sunny morning, on beautiful beach surrounded by dramatically proud rock formations, as the sun dances like diamonds on the clearest sea; and I know that the riches of Greece are not in the bank, they are in the hearts of the people who love her, and they will always be, whatever happens to the economy.

Wishing you a beautiful day wherever you are, and an attitude of abundance, whatever your situation! Hxx

Photo: ‘Platon at the beach’, and words ~ Me! Hayley Darby © 2015