Tag Archives: Nature

Two time-stoppers

Photo 08-01-2016, 3 37 24 pm (800x800)

(i)

I am walking to school. Pushing the pushchair with two hefty toddlers in it, wellies mud-streaked, balancing H’s scooter over the top with a spare finger, sweaty enough to make me feel like this is exercise. It’s one of my favourite things to do. The light is grey as steel, but the woods look good in anything.

I look up, and there’s a kite balancing on the topmost branch of the nearest tree. A kite, or a hawk? I never know. I wish I did. We see them quite often, wheeling far overhead, but I’ve never seen one perched before. This one sways gently on its spindly seat. So much bigger than I expected. A muscled, burly chest, layered with feathers. I’m overwhelmed by how solid it is, how heavy and powerful it looks, how its stillness communicates itself as terrifying, ferocious observation. I wouldn’t like to be a sparrow in the field below and feel that glare on my back.

I stop the pushchair and point up. ‘Look, can you see the bird?’ I want them to see it too, and I don’t want to move before it does. Then I don’t have to: it lets out a pure, cold, bird-of-prey cry, the kind I’ve heard on documentaries but never in front of me, never slicing through the air on top of my head, and peels off. Wings open smoothly as it falls and then it’s not falling anymore, but flying. It must have seen a sparrow.

I let out my breath, and push on.

 

Photo 24-11-2015, 12 14 39 pm (800x639)

(ii)

I have heaved all three of our shopping bags in from the car, and closed all the doors. It’s our doing-things day, the one where I wheedle T around two supermarkets and clean up the house after the weekend. I love restocking our empty fridge and cupboards, cramming the shelves with a week of fresh food. Planning and making our meals answers one of my deepest, most basic needs as a mother: I can feed them good things, I can keep them well, I can keep them loved. I think about this every Monday, stuffing onions into the fridge drawer.

‘Put music on?’ T asks.

‘Of course’, I say. ‘What would you like?’

I don’t really expect him to answer, but he screws up tiny nose and does: ‘Um…Starman’.

We’ve been hitting the Bowie back catalogue hard since he passed away. I suppose you pore over someone’s genius more when you know there’s no more to come. The boys are old enough to recognise them this time around. They love them, though they’re not as fierce about Life on Mars as I am.

I crank up the volume and the slightly discordant guitar riff jangles through the kitchen, then Bowie comes in for the first verse, that hard, spare voice lingering over the repeated ‘oh-oh-ohs’. T starts to dance, all shoulders and lunges. I join in, swirling my coat around us like a cloak. He grabs my hand and I spin us both round in lazy circles on the kitchen floor, waiting for the moment where the chorus kicks in with a rush and an octave leap.

I know this is something I’ll remember years later: this minute, this chubby hand and leaping toddler and soft late-morning light and Bowie loud in the air. I can feel it solidifying into memory in front of me, like our edges are turning sepia before we’re quite done with them. Possibly I’ll never listen to Starman again without being transported right back here. Swishing coat. Hand in the air. T’s laughter. And here comes the chorus: Star-maaaaaan, waiting in the sky.

He laughs. I laugh. I get out bread, grapes, cheese, and make us some lunch.

and it’s Spring and…

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and

the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

e.e.cummings

It has been a long, long, dark winter. Cold, to make your skin crawl. Wet, to keep us fenced indoors. Our flat never feels smaller than when we don’t want to leave it. It has more of an effect on my mood than I’d like to admit.

For this reason, and given that Tim is away for five days (at w-w-w-work, Henry tells me; the w’s seem to take a lot of effort), it’s been especially wonderful to have a week like this. We have had the loveliest time.

It might not last for long – well, almost certainly not, as we’re in England – but it came just when I needed it. (Having said that, Amsterdam, any time you feel like giving us a Timothy back, go right ahead.)

Earth days

Today is Earth Day.

And I could wax lyrical about the walk we took by the canal on Saturday evening: the setting sun turned everything green and gold, and I was so grateful for any sunshine, any at all, that I could’ve cried with the loveliness of it.

I could tell you about how we took a wrong turning (we always take a wrong turning) and there was a moment where I used an old tree stump to swing out over a swampy stream, ankle-deep in stinging nettles eff-why-eye, and thought this isn’t quite as picturesque as it was ten minutes ago, and also um, I think that sheep might be dead, and also dude, is this a badass third-trimester thing to be doing or WHAT.

Timothy said, with Henry on his back, ‘hey, do you want me to carry you?’, and I said ‘what, all three of us? You’re not He-man’ and the laughs came hard and fast after that I can tell you, though that might’ve been because we were getting stung on the ankle rather a lot.

Instead I’ve had this in my head all day, from Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata:

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

…With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

I have a quotation kind of memory, and over the years I’ve learned to pay attention to the lines that come from nowhere. I’ve been thinking about this one, because some of the search terms used to find my blog lately have made me want to reach out and hug you, whoever you are. ‘Jaundice baby’, and ‘underweight four-month-old’; ‘paintings that make you feel life’ and ‘message for a friend who will go abroad’. They’re all so human it hurts.

I would like to tell you, worried search-engine mother, that I have spent many hours panic-Googling myself. Oh, I feel so much sympathy for you. I wish we could tell each other how grindingly hard it is sometimes, this baby-raising endeavour, and how we’re just doing our best. I want to talk about Picasso with the painting searcher. And to the person searching for ‘do all pregnant women get outies’, I’m afraid the answer is probably ‘yes’ and also ‘if you have a toddler, he will use it as a car horn whether you like it or not’.

Let’s just stop for a minute, on Earth Day, and say that we are all made of stuff that formed in the stars, and we all have a right to be here. It is a beautiful world. I would like my tiny corner of the internet to be somewhere we can recognise it, and be kind.

And to Mr ‘toad in the hole for twenty-four people’: RESPECT, my good man. Hope you’ve got a flipping massive oven.

The Desiderata is worth reading in its entirety, by the way, and you can find it here. I was given a copy at a crucial, painful point years ago, and have never forgotten it.

UPDATED to say the copy of the Desiderata I found was heinously full of errors, so I’ve replaced the link with another, hopefully more accurate. If there’s an official link somewhere, point me to it!

That’s what I’d do on a farm

Hey, you: it’s sunny. Let’s go outside.

IMG_5734

I cannot tell you how giddy I get when it’s warm enough to let go of winter coats. It hasn’t been for months. I saw the sun streaming through the window this morning as I listened to Alan Bennett’s The Lady in the Van – a joyous, funny, bittersweet thing, by the way, and worth reading if you can’t get hold of the radio version – and still took us outside wrapped up in scarves and jackets. Then I realised we didn’t need them. And did a little dance, I think. It’s a bit hazy.

We picked up our fabulous playdate friends and drove to Bucklebury Farm for the afternoon. Hollie is one of Henry’s favourite people – she’s the only person he’ll willingly hold hands with, at any rate – and Meg is definitely one of mine. Incidentally, Bucklebury Farm is just down the road from the Duchess of Cambridge’s parents, royal fans, though Kate and William didn’t grace us with a visit. Must’ve had a previous engagement.

We fed deer, Shetland ponies, donkeys and tiny lambs (me from a pregnancy-appropriate distance), and then somehow ended up trapped in a pen with three hungry goats, a few guinea pigs and a giant rabbit. Henry was insistent that the littlest goat wanted to give him a piggy-back, despite all evidence to the contrary. When that didn’t work, he wandered over to let the huge goats chew his hair, and enjoyed it so much he headbutted them twice more before I managed to pull him away. After that, thankfully, the nice farm worker let him ride in the tractor for a bit. Thus making his entire year and beyond, and saving the little goat from some serious chiropractor appointments. 

The playground and bouncy castle went down equally well. I had to promise Daddy and dinner and five yoghurts before he was happy to come back to the car and take his wellies off. And he spent dinnertime reenacting his bouncing technique for us, which made it harder than usual to get shepherd’s pie into his mouth.

It is the loveliest thing to spend time with people who are easy to talk to. Conversation is not one of my skills, so it’s a huge relief when you just click and it’s effortless. Especially when not even one of you is wearing a winter coat.

IMG_5745

IMG_5673

IMG_5679

IMG_5692

IMG_5688

IMG_5742

IMG_5750

(I think I’ve just found some goat spit in my hair, FYI.)

On blooming

SAM_8537

I’ve been watching these flowers for a week, and I think I prefer them like this. Big and heavy-headed, tender hearts open to the sky. They look so much redder and more alive than the prim little closed-up things they were. Lived-in. Like they’ve bloomed as far as they can go, and revelled in it.

I will try to remember this the next time I find a new stretch-mark.

Outside, the world

IMG_0500

The beginning is always today.

Mary Shelley

Dear universe, I would like 2013 to open our eyes.

Because one of the things I learned in 2012 was that I need more in my life than doing the dishes. It felt like Henry and I spent a lot of time indoors or buying groceries at Tesco. We played it safe, and often didn’t plan very much outside our comfort zone. It felt like a day’s work, every day, to keep the house clean and us all decently clothed and fed. Well, I can’t do that anymore. I want to reconnect with my passions. My kids will need passions of their own, which means they need experiences to be passionate about. And none of them – heaven forbid – should only have a passion for doing the dishes.

And so I want to widen the horizons of all of us. I want Tim and I to be better at getting out by ourselves so our babies know, in years to come, that we put each other first. I want to do better at organising our week, so Henry and I go further than the park around the corner. I want to watch him catch his daddy’s enthusiasm at the Science Museum. I want to go on nature walks all together. I want us to engage in service projects and help others. I want to travel, with and without offspring (Rome in the Spring? Maybe?).

For myself, I want to find a proper writing gig. I want to read things that stimulate thought and conversation. I want to play the piano. I want – oh please, please please – to go to the Hay Festival again this year.

I will be a better mother if I can use all of me to mother with, and a better wife if I can talk about something other than the laundry. And I will feel like a more unified version of myself. This year, we’re taking our domestic blinkers off.

And sometimes, I will also do the vacuuming (probably).

Camera, action

I tend to insist on too many photos. I want to capture what I can see in case I can’t remember it in perfect technicolour afterwards. I tried so hard in New York not to be an irritating tourist, and spoiled it all with the big black camera banging on my chest. There does come a point at which I’m more concerned with recording the moment than being present in it.

But look.

Whenever I see this, yesterday afternoon will come back to me all at once: the breathtaking vibrancy of the flowers, the deliciousness of Timothy’s striped t-shirt, the heat, the buzzing, the paddle steamer, the happiness.

Alabama in the spring is well worth it, if you’re around. Those azaleas really know how to show you a good time.

Why Wordsworth Might’ve Been Right, After All

Here is a confession: I am a little in love with William Wordsworth.

I know he’s been dead for a century and a half, yes. And that he was probably more than a little bit infatuated with his sister. The lovely nutter might’ve written three poems about daisies (!) but, oh, he knew something about the way beautiful things make you feel.

‘Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey’ has come to mind a lot this month.

‘I have felt’, says our daisy-loving poet,

‘A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains; and of all that we behold

From this green earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,

And what perceive; well pleased to recognise

In nature and the language of the sense,

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my moral being’.

He knew, you see, that the mind of man and the grandeur of setting suns are made of the same stuff. We share the spirit of the God who made us both. And so it follows – and he knew this too – that spending time outdoors, feeding the ‘language of the sense’, helps us reconnect with our elevated thoughts, our moral beings. It’s one of the places – and only one, because there are plenty more – where we find our better selves.

Every now and again I get mired in my worst self. She thinks things like ‘My goodness, you’re annoying’, and ‘I hate it when you do that’, and ‘Look at me, look at me’. I can’t spend much time with this self without getting a nasty taste in my mouth, so soon enough the irritation turns inward and I’m prowling restlessly around my own failings – like a dog returning to his vomit, if I may, because who can pass up an opportunity to use that particular Bible classic?

We spent a lot of our long Easter weekend outside, enjoying the unseasonal good weather: floating down rivers, lazing beside them, ambling along towpaths and tramping through ankle-deep leaf mould in bluebell woods. Thanks to TJ’s fondness for the crampiest spaces in my abdomen (am I growing a little Houdini?), I’ve been marching down sunny country lanes with unusual frequency, looking at beautiful things. And I have felt, to borrow a phrase, a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts: all my pettiness and small-mindedness is exhaled and voila, there, underneath all the time: my expansive, peaceful, content-with-life better self.

It’s not a miraculous transformation – it never lasts long. But that’s the good thing about the outdoors: it’s always hanging around out there, waiting to be noticed.

Elevated thoughts.

%d bloggers like this: