Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Memory mapping

Last week we resurrected our weekly walk to kindergarten. With great breaths of gladness we strode out into a familiar but too long neglected habit. As we walked we were full of wonder at the great battle that is being waged out of doors. The sun is up before six in the morning and not sinking again until after dinner - the birds are singing of spring but nature is still very much in the grip of winter. Along the river the cold had made ice sculptures of roots, and chandeliers from hanging branches; water captured and petrified. The rocks and boulders of the river were coated in glittering frozen gems and the steep river banks were hung with shimmering icicles. We had seen ice forming around the river before but never quite like this.

I have many pictures of this walk in the annals; pictures with two tiny boys knee deep in swaying grass, of explorations of woodland and river edge. The longer I live in these valleys the more I value the familiarity of a well walked route. These well-known walks particularly seem to give children the chance to really know a place, and it seems to me that knowing then slowly becomes loving as the seasons unfold year on year. Each time we walk this way we are laying the pathways of memory, memories of carefree childhood for them - sweet and fleeting moments of motherhood for me.

We will remember the seasons by the horse chestnut that litters the ground in shiny conkers in the Autumn; the patch of Himalayan balsam where, in late summer we pop the ripe seed heads and nibble a few; the field, fuzzy with summer wildflowers, where the sky opens out; passing the house where alpine strawberries sprout from the paving stones, waiting painfully for them to ripen. And the watched elder where we measure the year in leaves, flowers and berries.

We will feel this place in our bones by the small repeated acts that become our habit over time. The boys will continue to walk the low wall that tests their balance and my nerve, we'll stop at the same place to drop ploppy stones into the gurgling river, we'll keep measuring rainfall by the ferocity of the waterfall, I will always feel uneasy when there are cows in the field and they will always reassure me that we're fine. The high path beneath the cathedral of beech trees will always slow us, while I naturally look up and they look down to build fairy houses in the roots of those towering trees.

After this walk, each winter we'll look for the place where the pipe comes out of the hill to see if we can discover the thick column of ice standing between it and the ground and we'll know where to look for the biggest and shiniest icicle swords. We may feel sadness when things change, like discovering that the trees had been cleared around the old tennis courts and that they're 'modernising' the facilities but there will be new things to notice and find each time we walk this was. And the newness of each season, delayed though it may be, will always stir in us a love for this place - our home.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Staying put

The world of the house and home is occupying much of my thought at the moment. For a couple of years now the drama of trying to sell our house has rolled on and on. First we dreamed of a old servant's quarters that had caught our eye further up the valley, but our little cottage languished on the market for a year with no takers. The house we'd been coveting was eventually bought by another family and we took ours off the market. Then out of the blue someone asked if they could buy our home; we looked about but couldn't find another that suited us better. We vowed to stay put and invest in our old weaver's cottage with her rattly windows and woodland at the door but, towards the the end of last year, someone whispered in our ear about a house that might be right for us. Modest and modern, lacking the romance of weather-whipped stone and old floorboards but with a garden brimming with flowers and fruit and some extra room for a growing family. It sits a few doors away, on either side, from beloved friends and would provide gangs of wild and roving children for our boys to join. It is not the little small-holding I hoped that we would one day have but a chance to tend a garden again would certainly have been a gift.

Unfortunately this little house of ours is not ready to release us from our obligations. Although there have been people willing to fall in love with it and its handsome views - problems have been discovered by a string of searching surveys. Men have come into our home with their clipboards and tape measures; she has been probed and prodded , her petticoats lifted and her secrets exposed. Our buyers have drifted away, too daunted by her many needs.

It seems we must stay where we are; the choice has been taken away from us. This feels an odd position to be in; we're told in our modern capitalist world that choice is almost a birthright so when our options are taken away it's hard not to feel frustrated and a little trapped. In working through this situation we find ourselves in, I've been trying to remind myself that choice is a privilege granted only to a small percentage of the globe, that many of the world's families live in one or two meagre rooms. Rather than regretting what cannot be I need to try and embrace what is; cultivate contentment and practice gratefulness.

Eli and Monty do this instinctively, the consumerist mentality having not yet tainted their young lives. They look at us and ask 'why would we live anywhere else? This is our home' And as with so many things, these children of ours show us the way...