The Frequency of the Wood
“Had a lovely trip over to Jura and took a boat out to a whirlpool of the end of the island. Believe it is the third largest in the world and whilst the waters were choppy and lots of undercurrents we did not go round and round in a whirl – which I was slightly disappointed about. Last year we had a lovely relaxing holiday in Tenerife with friends. Lay in the sun for a bit, swam, visited some lovely old villages, drank wine and played cards oh and we went paragliding – was up at 4000 ft! Amazing and I was clinging on tight!” (letter from Gwen)
Sometimes you have to take up the imagination of the dead and let it back into your life. Gwen was like her Orkney gloaming, a clarity of light energetically still, a blackbird lilting up the strath and down the glen, before dark, a glaze of sight, crépuscule. She was “tuned into the frequency of the wood”: Gwen, a woodwind in the forest orchestra.
She didn’t hide in an Orkney chair but donned a red wig, nobody knowing whether to laugh or cry. If she had paid too much attention to the hair, she would have skipped a beat when she got the cancer diagnosis. She skipped no beat and became a redhead. She was too alive to really look at herself.
Nothing endures, particularly a good hair day, especially when you’ve lost it all. Gwen laughed and looked north, filling her lungs with the wind and the rain, despite the pain she was in. She put on her red wig and still went to work. When she needed to top up her coffers for a new adventure, she would happily pick up a job (ushering at the theatre, working in real estate). She often said she couldn’t wait to be a pensioner when she would ride a bus anywhere for free. She was frugal, not to a fault but with a vision.
Gwen did bag her Munros and saw most of the world, happy to stay in youth hostels while in her late sixties! She loved to travel as much as she loved to play golf and dance the Highland fling. She seemed fearless except for the occasional shadow in the night. Neil, her husband told me of a shade that often took her breath away at one of the three gates she had to unlatch, getting out of the car with the wind up and only the darkness leading back to the farm.
One day Gwen took me up the moor to check on the sheep. We found one ewe with the lamb stuck, its head sticking out, the ewe just standing there, also stuck. With her shepherd’s crook, Gwen pinned the ewe on the ground for me to hold while she pulled the baby lamb from its mother. Gwen then rubbed the newborn lamb against the mother’s nose so she would know her, suckle her and all would be well.
Gwen was tuned into every bit of life around her. With her, I now look more closely.