Yesterday I took in some more tomatoes from the dying plants in the back garden. No longer bushy and almost tropical in their growth, they are browning, and drooping, no matter the feed or the water. The tomatoes they make are smallish and seem grudging. They take ages to redden, but taste incredibly full of sweetness and an edge of salt. The rosemary, parsley, dill and lemon balm flourish still, in a huge container out on the grass – I can see it from here – the little herby fir tree appearance of the rosemary, happy in the rain, standing even taller than before. Last years Xmas tree, that I feared lost, has come back, this late summer, to a state of green and robust height. It’s almost three feet tall now. It stands in the pot next to the rosemary, another rain lover. The hypericum has 3 flowers left, yellow and like lazy daffodils, petals flopped out on all sides. The bush is starting to turn orange. I can see 2 birds’ nests in the tall trees in next door’s garden. Surely the birds get wet??
I’m thinking about autumn, but I have the strongest feeling of summer. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been far at all this year, and hardly anywhere on my own. I don’t even walk down the streets here without Fluffhead, he’s always with me, a little twin with amazing perpetual bedhead. There’s never just me, or me as I was; there’s always us, and it’s always now. Time doesn’t seem to move on anymore, no matter what development is taking place (he may talk soon, he makes the most interesting sounds at me). So it’s easy to journey backwards and remember when I was…not exactly free (though I was in a sense, definitely)…When I could walk hither and thither, and about the place, lots of places, and it was warm, and I could bask…
Things were different to now. On bad days I judge this change and make sad thoughts from it. On ok days, as now, I just know it for what IS. For now. Little smiles, little hugs, the way small arms hold me; the way when he cries, sometimes only I can make him feel better, and with a simple carrying, rocking hug, and kisses to the hair. The fact he trusts me. And tries to feed me from his beaker, and share his toast with me, sometimes. Of course, that’s wonderful, and priceless. The price of my eternal and exhaustion-themed now, the sense of having almost whispered to a halt, is measured in his growing freedom and confidence to explore. How strange.
(How almost sacrificial. How needful of a mammoth and constant sense of the Big Picture and long term perspective, to survive such an…ordeal, imprisonment, bittersweet, exhausting experience. Which is hardly an original thought, but there you are. If a lot of women came off the Holy Soapbox of Motherhood, they would reveal very ambivalent and conflicting feelings about the whole thing. It’s scary to do so, even a little. If some of us confess the fact it’s not an unalloyed pleasure and a privilege to bring up small people…we can be eaten alive by the shrill strictures and judgements of our very own sisters…Let alone the wider world. Its why a lot of women don’t confess to post-natal depression even when they surely have it strongly – because yourself is so linked to your child, and to other people’s perceptions of how you can care for that child…for fear of having it taken away, you can remain silent. One day I will make a separate post about this.)
But just in case I feel too cold, or in case I forget that I will experience a summer more mine sometime, at some point, here is a memory I like.
Echoes of Summer, from 2006
I’m out with my mother, walking the Bluebell Trail near Alfriston. The day is suddenly really warm after a cold start. I take off my sweater, and put my sunglasses on, as we enter the trail.
There’s that beautiful lowering of sound levels you get as you enter a wooded area, as we go in. The trees must absorb sound. They form a canopy over us, screening out some of the sun. The rest dapples the ground, in bright striations that move, and leaves swish in the light breeze.
Ahead of us, I can hear a baby crying; people are walking this trail with babies in push chairs; an old woman far ahead is visible as she is still wearing a bright coral red anorak, bending over her wheeled zimmer frame. We will take over her very soon, she’s crunching along very slowly; the wheels must be catching on twigs embedded in the earth, trodden in by previous walkers.
Birds are calling to each other from all directions overhead. Beautiful. There’s a sudden mass of sunlight breaking through, as a mass of birds detach from a tall tree to the left and squawk piercingly as they take off into the distance, not one left behind. A black feather floats down right in front of my face and lands softly on my t-shirt. I pick it off, and my mother calls to me from ahead, snapping a photo of me. She’s using flash, and it blinds me for a second and I drop the feather, feeling its silkiness run through my fingers and be gone. When I look for it I can’t see it, but I find some dropped bluebells and pick them up. They are cool and sullen against my fingers, already losing their remarkable blue, paling quickly as they start to dry out.
I look ahead of me to where my mother is. She’s come to halt about a pond, and is struck by the reflections of the tall trees in the water, which is blink inducingly bright; striped with jagged tree reflections. I walk over to her, skidding wetly on a patch of mud and having to steady myself on a hazel tree. Gripping its bark, I have a strong though momentary sensation of intense earthiness. It feels, though it’s clearly a young tree, that it has been breathing evenly here, for a thousand years or more. It is the most strongly rooted and locked into its sense of place thing I have ever touched. Its total solidity stuns me. I feel more me, for having touched it. I release grip and move on, feeling les solid almost immediately. I was earth, and now stride off into air; I am light, I am ethereal. This sensation is heightened by being hit in the face by sunlight, as I come upon the pond. Light from a break in the trees, and from the reflections off the pond, sparkling almost loud enough to hear (it would crackle, I know it would) make me put my sunglasses back on.
Mum shows me the photo, her warm arm brushing against mine. She’s so thin, I feel her bones; and when she speaks, I imagine I hear her voice as softer and flakier than usual. She seems smaller beside me; and when she shows me the picture of me, I look alarmingly curvy, almost pregnant, and far more present than she, with her soft and flyaway hair, bobbed short and fading to honey brown. I can see her scalp. Her lips look thinner and lacking in colour.
But when she grasps my hand and pulls me on, imperiously saying: ‘We have to bear to the left now’, I can see she is as strong as ever.
A child crashes onwards into us, chased by a tiny and very yappy dog, all bristly red fur; the child all teeth and smiles and little jammy red fingers, vivid green sweater. They bump us and flash past, laughing and barking. Their tired mother apologizes to us as she passes, all soft and plump in an off white velour tracksuit and muddy walking boots. She winks, almost the Empress from the Tarot, so comfortable does she seem with herself. My mother feeds me a bourbon biscuit, which reminds me of Alice in The Looking Glass – so thirsty and yet fed biscuits by the Red Queen, as they run. I stop and fish about in my rucksack for the apple juice I bought on the way in. I plop into crosslegged sitting and glug it all down, closing my eyes and feeling it wash through me like a whole apple tree of crispness, leaves and all. I look out over the mass of bluebells, drifting in and out of focus as sun breaks over them and is obscured by the movement of the leaves overhead.
It feels amazingly peaceful, even though there is a bit of bracken, or a twig, that has worked its way somehow into my boot, and is itching my ankle something chronic.
It may feel that the 2 parts of this post don’t mesh. Autumn, the rain, the tomatoes, the garden…then suddenly, motherhood and lovely Fluffhead – but also the tyranny of what having a Fluffhead can do to your life (that to be honest, you were more or less accustomed to thinking of as yours, despite any issues of wage slavery)…and then, BAM: summer, walking, my mother, immediacy, bluebells!
But it does though. This is how chaotic and transitory and changeable the brain is. Mine anyway. A mood can give way to another mood in an instant. A sad thought can, surprisingly, make a happy one (though much more likely to go the other way). Summer is followed by autumn (so far at least). Some things will stand tall, even in the rain. Even as I might feel I am not flourishing as I should, or could; another little person is standing very tall and strong; and partially it would seem, this is down to me. It’s all a web, all a continuum. The quest for the Big Picture of any life, seen at any time, from any angle, is a vital part of getting through any day.
And now the sun has come out again, and though I am shivering and surely its time for a third sweater (this bleeding room is really too cold!), the sky has gone blue. Summer will return. Its echoes are here, always here.