in praise of standing still

In a storm we look out at the sea for the crash of the waves, the wild foaming froth and surge of the tide. Gauging intensity by how the trees sway and shake with each mighty gust.  We have had some almighty strong northern winds on the island, bringing cooler temperatures, blowing up dust and ripping clothes from washing lines. And it’s meant to be getting worse in the next few days. Thanks weather, sent to test the sea-legs!

I thought about stability while watching the waves crash on Loto beach early in the morning; things that we take for granted in a storm are those things that stay still. Against the big calamitous waves, churning up the sand and seaweed we lose sight of the rocks and the landscape. By focusing in on the changes around us, fixating on the crush and weight of it all, obsessing over the tiniest and often irrelevant details, this is the great blundering commotion of living isn’t it? Like the waves in a storm, it is change from which the human spirit grows. The sand patterns get redrawn every day by the currents, nothing stays the same.

It is an incredibly human attribute to react and adapt. There is so much that I thought impossible 10 years ago; the ability to do your job from any desk, the confidence to strike out a path that veered away from some conventions.  I am so lucky and thankful that this works for us for now. None of this comes without challenge. I want to say that some of life’s joys are in living passively, slowing down and just accepting, perhaps being in motion stands in the way of stability. But what is stability other than the safety of things that do not shift? 

The natural world offers up stability enough to withstand change. Getting out there and hiking helps to remind me why life should be taken at face value. Stand still and look around you. It is just wild hills, centuries old paths and dry stone walls, secrets in caves and big wide horizons.  We did a hike the other week starting in the tiny hamlet of Syrigas (one church, a well and 3 houses) and then down to Cave Leonidas. It was a bit of a rough track downwards but easy to stick to the trail. It passed the Skizomenes (σχιζομενες) which are a huge natural chasm in the rocks. I’m not sure if I even know the right words to describe it as a geological phenomena – an earthquake must have caused the rocks to split open and create a crevasse about 30m wide and 200m high. It’s an amazing place, perfectly still and quiet. Pausing there you can hear a pin drop in its echoey silence. It also has capers growing all the way up.  A wonderful reminder of nature’s ability to adapt to even the wildest of climates. A perfect place to stand still. 

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Little things never cease to amaze,  like seeing that some random seeds that fell from the first cosmos flowers in May have actually grown into real flowers. They opened this week, pale dusky pink flowers in the soft light of mid September. We have been walking back through the village at night serenaded by the heady perfume of night flowering jasmine.

I’m really thankful that it’s been a genuinely interesting spring and summer for my horticultural skills; helping with the potato harvest, picking bucket loads of capers till my thumb turned green and helping with the grape collection for winemaking taught me a lot  (not just about how my fave drink is made!). On the homegrown front, the tomatoes have been a success. They were much better out in the field on the veg patch than in containers. Same for the cucumbers where we had a few weeks of being reliable and crunchy, before it got too hot in July. Courgettes were rather good and we had a regular supply…maybe a bit too many! Aubergines were big and showy, I made a decent moussaka and pondered a hundred recipes to use them up…G has sworn off aubergines for life…or until next summer at least.

Sadly, despite my soothing words and constant watering, the melon was a dud. Herbs and the fiery chillies have been a great addition to more adventurous cooking, trying out curries and spicy dishes. Growing, eating things up and preserving have been an obsession for me – “NO WASTING FOOD!” I cry! Jams, picked, frozen, sun-dried – I’ve tried them all.  The fig season came early this year in the hot July, the village was awash with figs, figs. And more figs. They were traded and given as gifts, I made fig cakes, baked figs, figs in balsamic, dried figs, fig and red onion chutney. That one is being saved for Christmas…

I’m might not have been blogging so much (this is my 65th post – is that time well spent?) but I have been delving into things, piecing together little bits of information like a patchwork of ideas.  Syros above all things is  an island with a complicated history.  I’ve been visiting the archives in the old Ladoupolis Mansion in Maoulis Square. During World War 2 it housed the Assistance Civilia ran by the Italian occupying forces. A tragic time for the islanders as the great famine took the lives of thousands – it wasn’t unheard of for the well off to sell furniture and even houses for a bag of bread.  So you can imagine the devastation it had on working class families. The achieve ended up being left with all the records intact after the Italian forces left in a hurry when the Germans took over – so was preserved as a records office and now houses the archives. Trying to work out if some things I am learning about can make sense or go further. Playing around with words. It’s kind of like being a detective or an archaeologist, but without any tools to rely on.

20180920_134451Maybe there is happiness in just standing still wherever I find myself. Keeping a watchful eye out. Soaking up the stories. See where they lead.

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