Returning

I hadn’t meant to walk to the sundial today.  Fog hangs heavy over the reserve so I know the dial will not be giving away any of its secrets.  I walk past the misted pond, past drowned alders laden with cones and catkins.  A trio of mallards lurk among the roots as a black Labrador cuts a scythe through the water.  Drenched paths are mudded with puddles.  Deep into April and most of the trees are still bare.  A smattering of cowslips try to bloom.  I’d wanted to wait until I could watch the sun cast shadows from the sundial, but I find myself wandering towards it anyway, a dark hyphen in the mist.  Meandering up a path lined by gorse and stunted alders.  A horse has passed this way, leaving shoeprints and garish manure.  Goldfinches and great tits dart across the path.  Woodpigeons are solemn sentinels in the trees.

I reach the top of the hill without effort.  The dial is laid on the ground in iron and stone.  The gnomon towers useless in the fog, twice my height.  A single bunch of daffodils bloom at the edge of the path.  All below me is obscured, trees peep out of the mist, the pylons are hidden as though modern time has faded into the grey.  I stand near the edge and close my eyes, picking out a trill of blackbird song, the vibrato of a robin and a chorus of twittering.  When I open my eyes and turn, a large bee bumbles past.  It takes me a second to realise what it is, it seems so incongrouous here in this place made lonely by the fog.

Every time I think spring is here, another season takes its place.  April has been rain and mist, with the briefest hours of sunshine to fool us that winter is really over.  Nevertheless, there are dandelions like pinpricks in the embankment, daffodils and blackthorn have begun to blossom, lesser celandine trying to open in the grass.  The loud songs of great tit and chiff chaff grace the air and the heron has returned to the pond.  A starling visits my yard collecting dried weeds from the cracks in the wall for her nest.

It’s tempting to say this has been an unusual spring.  It has been very slow to come.  I’ve been slow to return too.  But I’ve learned through observing myself in the seasons that spring can never be predicted.  It isn’t the pretty, predictable blooming of flowers, creativity and action I would expect.  There is always something wrenching, something off about it.  It is like the moment of panic when I write a story – a moment when I know how the story will end but don’t know how I’ll get there, or how the story begins but not how it ends.  A very real stab of panic that I won’t be able to find the words to tell the tale that wants to be told.  There is always a moment when the story settles and it is written.  There is too, a moment when spring settles – or when I settle into spring – but it hasn’t happened yet.

It hasn’t been a period without creativity.  My unpublished novel The Wintering Place was longlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize.  I have a story short-listed for another competition.  I have written new stories, tales of wind and blood.  But this period of withdrawal has also been a time of seeking comfort.  Of re-reading favourite books and walking well-worn paths.

On May Day morning the grass is silvered with frost.  I return to the sundial anyway, as the rising sun is strong behind me.  But it is cold.  I’m beginning to feel as though I haven’t been warm for months.  The alders have sprung into leaf since my last visit, and the cowslips are scattered banks of yellow.  Hawthorn blossom rarely blooms here in time for its festival, but the cherry blossom is out, if a little more muted this year.  The reserve is full of birdsong including the piping call of a particularly loud great tit.

At the top of the hill, the sundial does its work, shadowing the correct hour.  Last time I was here there was no world beyond the hill; today the landscape is set out before me in a haze of sunlight.  To the east, sea and horizon; to the south the river and the huge ship waiting to carry wind turbine foundations to sea; to the west, the shadow of the Pennine hills.  Stretched out below me are all the places I have travelled as spring struggled to be born, all those well-worn paths deepened by the pad of my feet.

It might have been the moment spring settled, that morning on top of the hill.  But as Beltane fades, winter doesn’t turn to spring, but to summer.  The air thickens and the sun bakes.  And it is the dandelions that put on a show, vivid raffia splodges in the grass.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such an abundance of them.  Soon daisies and cherry blossom petals sprinkle the spaces in between so that the grass is a quilt of yellow and white.  I see my first butterflies and myriad tiny creatures cloud the air.  A crow calls from a nest at the top of the still-leafless poplar.  I don’t know what this season is anymore, or what I should expect it to be.  Perhaps there won’t be any settling this year after all, only a messy, jubilant return to light and life.

 

102 thoughts on “Returning

  1. Pleased to see your return here, Andrea. And how appropriate that you should post about a sundial in the fog. That’s a nice bit of searching imagery to goes so beautifully with you last line. Here’s to a messy spring and summer.

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  2. Welcome back. This is another lyrical, sensitive posting. We had had our share of seasonal ambiguity on this side of the pond also–with cooler than normal March and April. We got our only measurable snowfall early in March, where the sun made quick work of the heavy wet snow. Because of cooler weather we have had early and mid Spring plants in bloom at the same time. The cars are coated with the same mucus color pollen that coats the our skin, noses, and throats. Hope you have a warm, cheerful spring with lots of bird chorus and bee humming. Pat

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  3. It’s so good to take a walk with you and be close to the anomalies of an English Spring. Here it has been odd cold and wet weather but we often do then just leap into Summer heat. I long for a long Spring! Congrats on your success with your writing, you certainly do have a gift for description.

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  4. Very cool. Quite a difference between your two visits to the sundial. Is that near your home? I loved the photo looking back at the steps to the dial.

    Winter lasted right through April here. No life anywhere. Not even bird songs. Then, I went to sleep one night in May and woke up to dandelions, tulips and tanagers. Such a quick change. Colors are sprouting all around me, and I need to get some photos. Seasons changing are magical to me. When everything stayed the same in Florida, it seemed a war had taken place and magic was conquered by a tyrant named humidity.

    Good to read you again, Andrea.

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  5. I sometimes feel uncomfortable with spring too, as if I’m being forced into life when what I want is the safety of hibernation. But all that burgeoning life, when it comes, is hard to resist. And congratulations on your much-deserved writing success! I so recognise that sense of panic, I let it hobble me much too often. I love the raffia dandelions, perfect!

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  6. Well Andrea, no need for panic as far as I can see. Your words dispelled the Brume and allowed us to see through and beyond it; pulling the cocktail of sights and sounds together before letting them explode in our faces. Cracking read, thank you.

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  7. This piece is like the magical and wondrous curtain in a theatre – we wait for it to lift to bring something new and something we never expected. No matter what – we know it will be brilliant. It’s amazing, Andrea, how you capture the moment so beautifully – and we wait for… what is to come!

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  8. Congratulations Andrea on the nominations, both the long-listed novel and the short-listed story. That’s tremendous news and worthy of such an excellent writer.

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  9. Andrea, a joy to read your magical writing once again, capturing the beauty of the beguiling landscape. The sundial is incredible, awesome and unique – incongrous in its setting and not surprisingly striking.

    I’m happy you’ve had a creative period and CONGRATULATIONS on making it on the longlist of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize – wonderful news! Keep creating … happy writing and trails!

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  10. Congratulations on works long- and short-listed, Andrea – and on new stories written and description beautifully rendered and so pleasing to read.

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  11. Despite your reluctant spring you do seem to have had plenty of birdsong to cheer you. Your Chiff Chaff may have flown over us here in the (moderately) warmer south on its way north. It brings our greetings to you up in the NE !

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  12. I feel like I say the same thing every time you write–the writing is so evocative and atmospheric, the metaphors grab me and make me think. I wish I could come up with something new to say but I don’t really know how else to communicate how much I like what I read from you!

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  13. So nice to read you again, Andrea. Of course, I always enjoy your poetic descriptions of the seasons and your moods following them. And I am SO proud of your writing accomplishments. Really. Hope for more great news.

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  14. Happy to see you back, too, Andrea! The foggy photos are outstanding – between them and your words, I am lost in the mist. The seasons are crazy – today 56 degrees this coming Tuesday, it will be 80. It seemed we were barely out of winter, trees all bare, and now it’s as lush as late summer. It IS unsettling. I am happy to hear you are making progress with your writing – we always want to be at the ready when Creativity calls – such a demanding soul! 🙂

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  15. Wonderful to see you back again, Andrea 🙂 I’ve had a few disappearances of my own in the last few months. Winter seemed so long, and I know what you mean about wondering if one will every feel warm again. I hope you’re blessed with the sunshine that we’re experiencing down south this week. The wind is still a bit cool, but it’s safe to say that spring has truly arrived.

    That panic you were talking about when reaching the end of a novel — I experienced it big-time with my latest novel, and honestly thought that I wasn’t going to make it. The last quarter of the novel took me three times the amount of time to write than the first three-quarters. Am now having a short break to gather my strength for the first revision.

    Huge congratulations to you, for your two writing successes 🙂 🙂

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    • Good to see you Sarah, I noticed there weren’t many notifications from you while I was scanning my emails from a distance! I’m glad that you made it to the end – that panic is so strange, I have to remind myself that I’ll get there in the end 🙂 Enjoy your reprieve and good luck with the revisions when you do them!

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  16. Ahhh, here you are, with your heavy and light, sensual and sensible, deep and wondering voice. Yes, the New England ‘spring’ was so similar. April was dark and menacing and promised only that winter would never leave. May is jubilant and messy and makes fun of our April discontent. Please, Andrea, never stop writing!

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  17. Always a joy to read your lovely words, Andrea. You have a way of settling me, whatever you write about. Enjoyed the heavy mist and fog, the yearnings for spring, the descriptions of the flowers and the birds. When I saw the sundial I uttered, “Oh wow.” It’s so big and delightful, and was really great to see it shrouded in fog and then in later photos, the stairway and the sundial in sunlight. Thank you for your continued writing, you are so talented.

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  18. Andrea, what a delight to find you! Your writing grabbed me by the ear and dragged me in – so evocative. When you wrote about the panic you feel in the story process I thought you must have been talking behind my back to the woman who lives in my head, so reminiscent it was my creative writing experience. I was visiting your blog to say thank you for visiting mine but I have pressed the follow button intending to explore further now.

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  19. What have you been reading and when can we expect your novel to get published in some form? It is really good to see you getting recognised and being productive as well as taking time to contemplate life and nature in your inimitable way.

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    • Thanks Ste, mostly I’ve been re-reading every novel by Phil Rickman, my favourite author, it was great to get engrossed in that world again but I was in mourning a little once I’d got to the end! And then I re-read Sara Maitland’s ‘Book of Silence’, which I also love. As for my novel, well, that’s the question…I’m submitting to agents at the moment as I want to go down the traditional publishing route if I can.

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      • The name i familiar but I have never read anything by him, yet. I did read A Book of Silence a good few years ago though. Traditional publishing will mean you don’t have to do all the marketing yourself, I hear that that is one of the biggest problems that self publishing authors face. I look forward to hearing updates about your progress.

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