On Why You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks But Why A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots.

 

On Why You CAN Teach an Old Dog New Tricks But Why A Leopard Can’t Change Her Spots.

My most recent trip for work took me to Austria and beyond my comfort zone in a number of ways. I made a decision some years ago to try new things even if they scared me or I thought I couldn’t do them and by and large, I have succeeded in doing things I never imagined I could ever do. I have learned a lot of new skills in the last five years but my most recent attempt to master(or at least try) a new skill was probably my most monumental fail to date.

You’re going to laugh when I tell you what I decided I was going to have a shot at.

Ready?

I decided that since I was out as a ski rep, I’d have a try at skiing.

Yes, aged a few weeks short of forty five, never having so much as glanced at a dry slope, I decided I’d try a day of skiing. I’m fairly fit, have a reasonable sense of balance and a sense of humour. What could go wrong?

Well thankfully for everyone, nothing went wrong that a week or two of hot baths and arnica won’t fix. I probably should mention that I was the oldest in the beginner’s group, which was made up largely of 16 and 17 year olds, all of whom had dry slope experience. The two adults were younger than I and to put it bluntly were both smaller than me. I’m not especially tall or heavy but when someone described me once as being built like a pit bull terrier, I was forced to admit the truth of it. The only person I crashed into was the instructor, who was six foot five. But even he winced. I fell over. I fell over A LOT. I was just about getting the hang of staying upright on the slightest of inclines when I fell over and landed rather like a human pretzel.

You see, the one thing I never factored in was the fact that I have double joints. I’m basically endowed with the ligaments and tendons of someone six feet one, on my five feet seven body. I bend in improbable ways. I can partially dislocate various joints virtually without pain or effort, until later. When I did the impression of a pretzel, I fell backwards, sitting down between my own legs, splayed outwards and then flat on my back. I felt my hip joints strain and almost pop out.

Still, I got up again and had another go. This time, I fell sideways and I felt my left knee twist hard.

That was the moment when common sense and self preservation slapped me round the head and tried to talk some sense into me, and I limped off, carrying my skis. I explained to the instructor and he agreed: I was going to really hurt myself badly if I didn’t admit defeat. So after lunch, I trudged dejectedly off to the ski lift and faced something else that took me beyond my comfort zone.

I really don’t like heights. It’s not that I am phobic, as such, but I get vertigo. But there was no choice, so I scrambled into the wretched thing and made the descent alone. I felt tears burning my eyes, tears of self loathing that I’d failed and in all honesty, that descent was less terrifying because I had the chance to think about what had gone wrong.

I’d made a very basic mistake. Not only had I failed to take into consideration my own physical limitations but I’d also failed to understand that the whole purpose of skiing is to hurtle down a mountain side at speed. There’s no less than two things there that are incompatible with my core self. I hate speed. And I hate heights and find that I get dizzy and a little sick at heights. So given that the main objectives of learning to ski are completely counter to what makes me tick, it seems indescribably stupid to even try.

So you may ask, why on earth did I decide I would try? Well, I guess it’s one of those times where even though you know that the odds are it’s not for you, you feel you need to give it at least a single go before being able to say with confidence, it’s not for me. I think I am also keen to push myself beyond what I am comfortable with; often it has proved less scary than I thought. But this was one of those lessons where I discovered that I knew myself better than I would admit and proceeded anyway.

Thank God and my poor grey haired guardian angel that the worst that came of it is a lot of bruises and a few strained joints.

The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

 

The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud

I took the train yesterday across the frozen land between my small coastal port town and our nearest big city, Norwich. Traces of snow still showed here and there like dirty cream at the sides of roads, and the trees were all coated with a fine fur of hoar frost. Standing water was grey with sheet ice, and water birds huddled in stoical groups waiting for the thaw; slow-running water was sealed with a layer of rotten ice, broken and untrustworthy for anything larger than a mouse. Rivers were flowing under filmy remains of ice, but the landscape held little comfort for humans. The immense skies for which this area is famous were layered with clouds and colours ranging from palest apricot to brilliant turquoise, but I preferred to enjoy the scenery from the warmth of the train. Stepping out into the city, I wished I had brought gloves and headed first for a hot coffee before beginning my shopping.

As I walked around the city, I reflected on how the unusually cold weather my land was enduring might seem mild to those who live through the fierce winters of Canada and parts of Europe where once winter has begun, it holds the earth hard in its grip until the spring thaw. In Britain winter bites and releases many times until spring, but the milder times are a time of terrible mess. Once the land thaws, the water imprisoned in snow and ice flows freely, often causing localised flooding, and when the floods recede, mud and filth coat everything.

Snow was once referred to as poor man’s manure, because it brings with it minerals that feed the land, and mud, however foul it smells, feeds the often impoverished farmlands. Egypt relied on its annual floods to keep the farmland fertile.

Water as an element is often equated to emotions and feelings and the state of being frozen emotionally is often one that can become a state of normality for some people. To feel nothing is sometimes a blessing but it can’t carry on for long. Like winter, it won’t last forever, and that’s when the mess comes.

Mud and tears.

After the snow: the rain.

After the rain: the flood.

After the flood: the mud.

Snow imprisons me

And I dread the thaw:

Tears, anger and the mud.

What a mess!

But the black Nile silt

Laid thick across the plain

Made Egypt once

An Empire’s breadbasket.

Let then the ice melt:

Welcome the dancing torrents

And await the healing mud.

Of course, the state of transition between emotional states is deeply disturbing. It feels as though chaos and ruin reign. Nothing feels as it ought. There is mess everywhere; we cannot control our feelings, our reactions. We become coated in mud.

But mud, whether literal or metaphorical, contains nutrients that feed the land, or the ground of our being. And a garden that is well nourished brings forth flowers and fruit in their season.

Watching your garden emerge from the dark dank seasons of mud and muck and ice is a beautiful thing. Seeds from who knows where have been washed in, too. Some may germinate and surprise you by the beauty of what they bring; some may be no more than weeds. But mud brings growth and change.

Don’t be too hasty to wash it all off. You never know what strange and wonderful things it may have brought to you.

Snapshot in Ice

I had a return of the severe pain on Saturday, much to my surprise. I didn’t pass out this time, and didn’t go to hospital but instead managed the pain at home. I’m feeling very tired and weak. I’m sure you probably know that the UK is unusually cold and snowy at the moment and I hope to write something about it soon. But the medication and the tiredness are not helpful for inspiration so I shall share a poem I have posted before. I hope to have something fresh for later in the week.

Snapshot in ice

 

The world is frozen,

Every web edged in ice,

Occupant huddled under leaf

Awaiting a thaw.

Seedheads, candied in frost,

Return to brief flowering,

Coated in fragile crystal

So dense it seems furry.

Ferns are turned to fossils,

Chrysanthemums to pom-poms.

Even the air is frozen,

Full of microscopic ice.

Foghorns call across the miles,

Invisible as owls in the night,

And the sea, oblivious,

Crashes softly on the shore.

Retreat

I noticed yesterday on my walk that though the daytime temperatures have not risen much above five degrees yet, the bird song is all spring songs and the quality of the light has changed quite distinctly.

I wrote the following poem a few years back after a rather haunting dream of being stalked by a polar bear….

Retreat

 

The fields of endless white

Spread further than the eye can see,

Grim mountains of jagged grey,

Still clad in silken swathes of snow,

The air so crisp it tastes of glass

And fills my mouth with blood.

A scent of stones fills the air,

Old and cold as passing time.

The crunch of paws though ice,

Breath like steaming clouds,

A stench of passing death,

The brush of icy whiskers

As Winter’s bear retreats.

I stand alone on the snowfield,

The trickle of the starting thaw

A quiet chuckle at the passing

Of the season’s snow bear

And the merriment of the new.

 

Mud and Tears

Mud and tears.

 

After the snow: the rain.

After the rain: the flood.

After the flood: the mud.

Snow imprisons me

And I dread the thaw:

Tears, anger and the mud.

What a mess!

But the black Nile silt

Laid thick across the plain

Made Egypt once

An Empire’s breadbasket.

Let then the ice melt:

Welcome the dancing torrents

And await the healing mud.