Our new house is within a stone’s throw of a walk that leads to the sea. Today, the first chink of sunshine after weeks and weeks of rain we walk into the dunes down narrow pathways fresh with damp underfoot. Everything is glistening, silver threads pulling us forward through the heavy sweeps of marram grass, the sand slipping from our footing as we struggle uphill and down again.
We take the side path, the one that hugs the perimeter of one of the many golf courses that dot this coastline. They link the edge of the sea like a joining of hands, home to buzzards, sparrow hawks, oyster catchers and, in the summer, swoops of swallows. In the spring, the chatter of natter jack toads fills the length of them. It looks peaceful in there, quiet, not even the pock of a golf ball or the swish as it travels through the air which is a beautiful sound in its own way. The fairways stretch like emerald runways towards the points of pine and fern-crowned hills. Silence settles; a leaf falls. The sun shines gold through the beech trees, leaves clinging by finger tips, trembling and I’m minded that Christmas is only around the corner. I imagine tiny silver and gold bells trembling in the limbs of the trees. The little leaves are bells, hanging on, behind them the trace of a moon in the blue, blue sky. It’s warm, the sun on our faces, glorious and hopeful. For a moment we forget the outside world in the tight solitude of this closed kingdom. We forget what is beyond the edges of the path, an ever advancing virus and its anger, eager to pick us off one by one.
Here we can escape, here we can be safe.
We see a path to the left, trying to avoid the many dog walkers. Up, up and up we go wading through sand into which our feet sink deeper than deep, good for the muscles and good for the soul. And at the top we’re rewarded by a line of shining sea. It’s calm today, glittering. We think we can hear it but can we? Might it only be the cars on the coast road, the traffic rumbling, the wind through the high, high pines and maybe, just maybe, the gentle roll of the sea.
We have done two house moves in the space of eight weeks. From our own house and then moving my mother from my childhood home. It took weeks and weeks of packing, of discarding things that were once so precious, reduced to little more than one less thing my mother needed to take with her. The loss is felt keenly by all of us who lived in that house, akin to grief. Another loss in a year of losses, of choices whisked from our hands like water through our fingers.
But this is the second turn in the year and I am looking for hope. We light candles and fires to bring light into the darkness. It is St Lucy’s Day, 13 December, a feast day placed near the darkest time of the year, a day which in Scandinavian countries is still kept with candlelit processions through the towns and villages. Christmas is close now, so close I can feel its breath at my ear. The winter is cold and dark but I am searching for chinks of light. Lucy’s name means ‘light’ from lucere ‘to shine’ which in turn gives us the word ‘lucid’ (clear, understandable) and the exquisite-sounding ‘pellucid’ which means ‘translucently clear’ a state where light is allowed to pass straight through it. The days are lengthening if we care to notice, the darkness makes it hard to tell but from 21 December, the winter solstice, they will lengthen by one minute each day and light will come in its insistent way. We need to stay still and notice it.
In her wonderful book, ‘’The Morville Hours’, about the rebuilding of the garden at Morville Hall in Shropshire Katherine Swift describes it like this: ‘Senses grow keener again in the cooling air. There is a return to the transparency of spring. Without the distractions of leaves and flowers, you see the garden as it really is. This time of year,’ she says, ‘the memories come thick and fast as falling leaves.’ Memories can hurt at Christmas, memories of the ones who are no longer here to share it with us can insist more than the memories we build in the present moment. But we have to try, what other choice is there?
A new start we always say at the end of Christmas and the start of a new year but this year I reject that pressure. Day by day we have to take it. Today’s start was the walk at the turn of our road, and at the end of the winding path hidden by evergreens, Christmas hollies and ivy, we found a wide pond shining for all it was worth, the high dunes reflected in its pellucid water. Clarity of a kind which will do for now.
Swift, K. (2008) ‘The Morville Hours’, London: Bloomsbury