Our World Renews
by Melinda Tetley
‘A serene waterside sanctuary for young cancer patients —
where they can play and unwind during the most challenging times,
escape the traumas of illness in soothing Scottish wilderness
sheltered in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.
Winds weave around this retreat — healing starts.’
That is the promise and we’re on our way,
trying to keep emotions at bay;
provoking ballads turned off.
And the dark road is twisting and I’m driving too quick,
off-balance and fretting, wondering what to expect.
And the narrow road is squeezed by a thick tree screen
and sheer stone and signposts half-covered by leaves.
And the summer sky is a tussle between high white and low grey;
blue pools appear, disappear, shrouded by
clouds, unable to forget;
green flashes on hills, smothered in an instant.
And then we arrive and the gate is open;
my eyes glance
across the shadow-stained garden,
my eyes peer
across swollen, swirling Loch Venachar
to a beacon
to Ben Ledi, a mass of ancient pine, scrub, rock,
topped this morning with a shining halo, Bel’s golden crown,
inspiring flares from dark heavens as he dances his festival of fire, heralding the end of winter.
Its majesty, a spark.
Out of a zinc-roofed ripple comes a lady,
open-handed, gracious smile,
warm hug, welcome discretion. She shows
us around a most incredible
setting: rolling hills, sweeping skies, undulating
waters, glistening light. White
butterflies flutter through the thistledown
and dock, table tennis, musical
steps, a flying fox. I can’t quite believe —
is this really for us? Taking the
tour, we explore the house: colourful
paintings, comfy sofas, glass.
Pause for a moment, eye the mesmerising
view; ‘press this button,
lower blinds, if you need to.’ And they’ve
carved a heart on every pane.
I can’t quite believe — and start to cry.
Sunglasses back on, inside.
When we arrived
the little one wandered, surveying toys —
a flying saucer garden swing,
nets to catch minnows,
a giant rainbow xylophone,
tick-tack-toe, three-in-a-row —
wondering who would play with her.
Our big girl sat at the dining table getting organised
reading the information guide,
planning university work half-
checking her phone
rereading Tom’s last text,
worrying about his silence.
My husband unpacked the car, then walked straight to the shore —
trying to fathom the imposing hills, the wide purling loch,
and find solace —
a solitary figure,
gazing into murky waters.
I roamed the garden assessing risks —
midges, burning sun, pollen, ticks;
running my hand over the sharp-skinned volcanic rocks
dotting the water’s edge, not a place to sit,
fissure-scarred, moss growing in cracks.
We left a hot, stifling Edinburgh behind —
carefully-controlled, be cautious, keep him safe;
alone-together — it was our new way.
And where was he?
Desperate not to let opportunity pass him by,
he strode from the other side of the house
into a rumour of sunlight,
carrying a bucket, a huge smile, fishing gear,
heading to the soft-swirl pier,
in this wild place with
no beeping machines
no needles to endure
just a peaceful loch and a pole.
‘Scottish Baking’, ‘Eating In’ — tomes to help
prepare the feast; then settle down and play
monopoly, mahjong, risk.
Take a cruise up Loch Katrine, then stroll along a thistle-path,
chuckling all the way to Inversnaid,
ignoring the pests, feeling blessed.
A first long walk, a first bike ride, a first tennis stretch,
and then a sit,
a quiet oak bench,
to think and rest,
under the ‘embracing hills’.
Instead of ‘be strong’ or ‘it will get better’,
they quietly comfort, show they care
by creating a natural breathing space where,
you can relax in the midst
of tumult, reclaim childhood, family fun,
feel looked after, every detail thought of —
I take a deep breath and know
this is open-hearted understanding —
we are not alone.
A lush place —
wispy high-rise golden grasses spreading seeds,
fragile-seeming, bending in the blustery breeze
but they’re not breaking.
A beastie place —
hot sweaty days, clammy nights,
cleggs clutching at your clothes,
flies, tiny moths — spray the smidge, flinch, itch,
swat them away
but they’re not balking.
A wild place —
finches in flying-chaos cheep to berry-laden branches
then skitter-scatter, red squirrels scamper,
masses of honeybees buzz in a clover-frenzy,
pied wagtails dash down full of envy
but they’re still singing.
A tumultuous place —
emotions swelling without a stop,
waves crashing —
‘Is mum weeping again?’ Don’t hide it.
Dad turns pale, takes a deep breath, bruised
but we keep talking.
In this forest full of light —
we’re surfacing, coming back to life.
6:30am, a morning ritual, emerging
to pay homage to quiet, to coffee, to a mercurial landscape
wondering — what will today bring?
Yesterday, it stormed:
raindrops drumming, windows streaming,
mist swirling above the black boiling loch.
But today? I slowly round the corner,
look left through the pane —
Ah! a blushing bright dawn:
soft rays illuminate the grass,
Loch Venachar serene, smooth, like glass
reflecting Ben Ledi, the pine trees, the pink celestial clouds
a perfect mirror, a paradise.
If I could freeze a moment, it would be this —
my children sleeping peacefully,
warmth, beauty, bliss.
We are part of this enchanting natural world but you forget
when living in that man-made hospital-hell —
bags of poison, night wails, incessant jabs, invasive questions…
taking it one day at a time,
or one hour,
or one minute;
‘how did we get here?’
In this space, in this place, every morning you lift your eyes up and look out —
like the cream-petalled meadowsweet standing proud,
like Ripples, the winged fairy in the flowers, in graceful arabesque, opening herself up to the sky —
Loch Venachar —
a chaotic scene, ever-changing.
A place for reconciling — with splendour comes sorrow.
I will keep rising in the morning, looking out at the shifting spectacle.
The sun is climbing, luminous beams from the east,
brightening somber hills, glimmering across
leaden water, and, although I can’t quite see beyond the bend
in the loch, behind
the clutch of trees,
the water is flowing gently in that direction and for now
I choose to hope, to believe
while still knowing that change is the only thing we can count on
The water meets the hills and the hills meet the sky,
a sea plane glides in gracefully, a sailboat rights.
A grove of alders hug the shore, seedlings sprouting —
give us strength, courage, peace; cast out the doubting.
Today we amble gaily down the Invertrossachs Road
cherishing each other, taking it easy, and slow.
You’re out in front belting ‘Sunshine on Leith’ like grand opera
having forgotten your thin legs, fuzzy head, pallor.
‘My tears are drying. My tears are drying. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ Our world renews.
Little sis bounds from behind and leaps on Dad’s back,
her peat-brown eyes full of giggles, mischief, sass.
Your big sister, arm-in-arm, asks me lots of questions:
‘When you told granny your travel plans, what was her expression?’
A fresh rain’s given way to puddle-splash in the verge,
sodden socks and song: ‘While I’m worth my room on this earth,
I will be with you —’ held for one second, two seconds, three.
We all harmonise the tender melody.
We welcome passing folk, waving cheery hellos,
sharing joy in this nourishing natural tableau —
three beaming lady backpackers, two intrepid
wet-suited swimmers, a bright-eyed wrinkled man lead-
ing a laden donkey, a rush of cyclists —
relishing clean air, dappled sun-streams, cheerful rapport,
while Loch Venachar caresses the jagged shore.
Later, uttering silliness in Grinch-gutteral tones,
our pockets full of warm rosy pebbles, we wander home.
You lead the way down the rocky drive grinning,
open the heavy gate, point out a white shimmering:
hanging from a rowan sapling, a white shining marvel —
you brave a first run to read ‘laugh often, love much, live well’.
Cancer is a fearful Kelpie
lurking under the black loch
waiting to drown our child.
This past year since diagnosis is a terrifying blind stumble
through Coillebhroine, the Wood of
under a waning moon,
by gnarled pine giants,
on distended cracked roots,
Our stay at the retreat is an open iron gate glinting
under a valiant sun,
carved with a rose, a sparrow with wings uplifting,
butterflies, bees, crowned with an audacious flaming thistle
and a magical shooting star. We’ve let ourselves in
by the love-heart latch,
been stirred and strengthened.
It is time to journey on.
The wood-slatted pier is a golden birlinn
carrying the Sun god
as he rouses the weary, stokes the fire within, promises a new day.
Climb on, he says.
The swirling bow will protect you against billowing surge.
Together we will battle the deadly water-horse swimming
under the vessel
who has caused your world to toss and pitch.
You must believe.
It is time to journey on with hope.
Dawson, Karen ‘Love shared, moves not with a stone dropped splash’, a poem seen on a poetry bench in the Ripple Retreat garden, July 2018.
The Proclaimers (1993) ‘Sunshine on Leith’, EMI.
https://www.rippleretreat.com, ‘Relax and Reflect’, accessed 25 August 2018