Rolling

It is the last day of March, but it might just as easily be April Fool’s Day.  We leave the house in weather that is sunny and dry.  A five minute Metro ride later and the sky has darkened, gushing hail and snow.  It’s a short dash to the beach, where we take refuge under the canopy of the old watch house at the top of the cliffs.  Built in the 1800s for the life brigade to watch out for vessels in distress, it is an eccentric stone building with a clocktower and a tiled roof that curves downwards like a heavy brow.  We sit on an old bench, gazing out over a wild seascape as the life brigade volunteers would once have done.

A heavy black cloud above the horizon compresses the land.  The RNLI flag snaps and flutters in the wind.  A veil of sleet billows across the sand.  The sea is a dark grey doily edged in boiling white.  Waves spill onto the sand between the piers as the tide advances.  The beach is glassy wet and pimpled with worm casts.  Gulls gather at the edge of the tide.

A pair of women in wetsuits and bright swimming caps brave the water.  They whoop and yell.  The beach isn’t passable now, the tide has come in as far as the caves, cutting the sand in two.  Waves wash over the piers leaving foamy puddles.  Beyond, at Tynemouth, the waves leap the defences and form white clouds above the water.

We walk the steep bank down to the bay.  Sometimes the hail and sleet return, sometimes the wind whips the sand into a frenzy.  But I throw the ball for Winston and he retrieves it, oblivious to the storm.  We’re alone on the sand.  There is just us and those hollering women in the water, shouting with abandon.  We are in a cold, windswept and exhilarating bubble.

As we walk back up the bank, the women return to land.  They wrap themselves in towels and drink from flasks.  We share a smile as I walk past.  I had come to the sea expecting comfort and contemplation, but instead I got motion and energy, something I probably needed much more.

A month later I return to the sea.  The sky is pale blue and jostling with fluffy cloud.  An indigo stripe marks the horizon.  Large, slow waves roll in like a lullaby.  Sunlight catches the offshore turbines and the lighthouse.  The lifeboat chugs towards the river, funnelling water behind it.  A long dredger is moored down the coast. 

Today we are with a friend on her first break since the pandemic began.  We treat her to fish and chips and play two pence games in the amusements.  Before and after, we walk along the promenade, mesmerised by the incoming tide, listening to its song as it washes away any vestige of pandemic fear.  Today I had expected nothing from the sea but beauty, but instead it restores us, bringing renewal just in time for spring.

Broken

The first delicate greenery has appeared. Hawthorn leaves unfurl on slender branches. Fresh nettles and cow parsley push through the soil. Winston enjoys eating the surfeit of young cleavers. The ivy looks ragged and the majority of branches are still bare, but change is afoot.

We haven’t been to the dene since before the last few storms and we walk into a broken landscape. The fallen tree at the edge of the bowling green is still there, taped and coned off. But this is only the beginning. The already-damaged rowan near the entrance is a blasted trunk. A sycamore lies prone behind it, broken off at the base. A smaller tree lies to one side.

I notice that my favourite tree is in full blossom, but it doesn’t look quite right. When we get closer, I see that it too is broken. I’m devastated by the loss. It is the first tree to flower in the spring, with long tumbling blossoms trailing the ground. Another mature tree lies fallen near by, its limbs crusted in lichen. The wind has torn through the upper dene and left devastation behind it.

We walk under the bridge. Beyond, the dene is calm. The burn slowly trickles. I see occasional movement as small fish dart below the surface. A wood pigeon sits in a blackthorn tree, feeding on the buds. Daffodil shoots have appeared as usual beneath the two birches on the edge of the stream. A swathe of purple crocuses bloom in their spot at the end of the linden avenue. There are violets in the hedgerows and the daffodils by the pond are already in flower. Blackthorns are in blossom.

The pond is quiet. Two male mallards swim lethargically. A gull keeps pace with a mallard. A pair of crows forage at the edge. I can hear tits and a robin high up in the trees. But one of the weeping willows that fringe the pond is weeping a little too much. A break high up makes it lean closer to the water.

The trees aren’t the only things going into this spring a little more broken than they were two years ago. I struggle with a persistent low mood that I can’t shake off. Motivating myself to walk further than the park at the end of the road is hard. I tire of a routine that is little more than work and home and back again. And yet bad news stories of war, soaring prices and poverty remind me how lucky I am.

Spring equinox is tricky. We’re propelled forward, from darkness into light, from lack into plenty, trying to find our balance while losing an hour on the way. I always forget how unsettling this turning can be. The equinox brings bees and celandine. It brings gentle mists and grass shimmering with diamonds of melted frost. Seagulls canoodling on chimneys and great tits fluting their call in the canopy. A mini-forest of saplings planted in the park. It brings light, tickling my eyes as I lie in bed, calling me to get up and enjoy the day. I follow its call.

The end of winter

Starlings seep and hiss from the chimneys. The sun is blinding, low in a blue sky, clouds just a white tinge at the horizon. We haven’t had rain for a while so the fallen leaves crisp as we walk. They are mostly a uniform dark brown now, clumping together in a soggy pulp in damp weather. Tree skeletons and holly leaves catch the sun. Cow parsley leaves push through the mulch. In the short cut that leads to the dene, a tree has been doctored, a cut branch now in logs beneath it. Rubbish has been cleared from around its base and the umbrella that has been there for years, filling up with leaves or snow through the seasons, is gone.

It is almost Candlemas. Another turn in the year, when the first fragile signs of spring appear. Usually I’m ready for the change, but this year winter has barely graced us with her presence. The old crone of the season has wrapped her furs around herself and decided to stay underground, occasionally sending out a few fingers of frost just to remind us she exists. I have hardly worn the warm coat I bought for the season. The frosts have been few and far between. Bulbs began sprouting in December and the birds have been calling loudly. Experts say we may have to say goodbye to winter as the climate warms, and the changing winter is already affecting wildlife.

A robin sings a delicate song. Blue tits chitter and flit between the trees. Two magpies clash over an old nest. A tree has fallen at the side of the bowling green. It is balanced on the fence, roots in the air and branches reaching for the green. The disarray of winter remains: shrivelled berries, ragged leaves, a handful of stinking Iris seeds in their pods. Somehow I had expected more signs of spring, given the lack of winter, but the spring flowers remain firmly beneath the soil and the trees are still naked.

The reeds are spun gold. Skinny fingers of willow drape the pond. It is full of activity. A flock of black-headed gulls roams between water and grass. Mobs of mallard drakes gather around the hens. A moorhen chases another, channelling water across the pond. The air is full of the gentle quacking of the ducks and the low cries of the gulls. People and dogs wander the paths and feed the birds. This is not a winter’s day as we know it.

A few days after Candlemas, winter pays a visit. The old crone whips up a storm of freezing wind, rain and sleet. But it all seems too little too late. In just a few days, signs of spring have appeared. A single pink cyclamen flower brightens the rubble of a wall collapsed by Storm Arwen. Crocuses sprout like small cups of honey and I see my first daffodil. I can’t be sad that spring has arrived, but I am sad for the season lost.

By late February there have been five named storms. Some unlucky areas suffer flooding and power cuts, a few have snow, but there is no retreat from spring. We walk through the cemetery at the tail end of Storm Franklin, the wind a soft roar through the trees. The grounds are full of windfallen trees, large and small. Chaffinches hop among grounded branches. Magpies squabble high up in those still standing. But mostly the birds offer a muted soundscape, as though cowed by the wind.

The light swings between sunshine and gloom. Rain is in the air; later it will rain all night. I hunt for hibernating ladybirds. Since Bug Woman wrote that they like to huddle on grave stones I have looked for them. I’m delighted to find some harlequins huddled in a crease of stone and orange ladybirds tucked into weathered letters.

But here, spring means snowdrops. Enclosed by graves, blanketing the ground under the trees, sprouting in small clumps and shimmering rivers. There are a few purple and yellow crocuses, but they can’t compete with the sheer volume of snowdrops. Luminous and almost transparent when the sun catches them, they are like pools of light. A stone angel boasts a bouquet, but snowdrops quietly adorn the home-made cross left for ‘Joe’. There is no doubt here that spring has arrived. There will be more storms to come. And more uncertainty. We wake the next morning to war in Europe and wonder, yet again, what the future will bring. All we can be certain of is that winter has ended and spring will always come.

Disrupting

As twilight comes, the street lamp across the street begins to sway back and forth. The trees begin to dance. A storm of leaves and dust are swept up into the air, swirling past my first floor office window, occasionally slapping the glass. Biting sleet accompanies me on the walk home. Storm Arwen has brought a rare ‘red’ weather warning, advising of potential loss of life due to flying debris. We are told to stay away from the coast and not to travel if we can avoid it. All night the wind roars. There are occasional bangs and crashes. But we are lucky, with no more than a few overturned things in the yard. A buddleia has swept out of a neighbour’s yard into the lane. A yard wall has collapsed across the road. In the park, a tree sized bough of the poplar has sheared off and now balances in the canopy. Pavements are heaped with golden leaves, twigs and red berries, like seasonal offerings. That afternoon, wind is replaced by snow – the first of the winter – a light dusting that soon turns to ice.

In these dark days of winter, routine lies heavily on my shoulders. I struggle out of bed in darkness to the daily routines of washing, dressing, breakfast. It is just getting light when I take Winston for his walk and on our return I go to the library, where the daily routines of work begin. The storm is a welcome distraction for me, after the third warmest autumn on record and settled weather, but not for those deprived of power for weeks to come. Now the landscape is damp. Soggy leaves. Twigs and branches vivid with lichen. The damp accentuates the colours: vibrant greens of ivies and ferns, rich browns of leaves and bark. The trees are suddenly leafless, but a party of wood pigeons has found something to feed on, on an evergreen across the railway tracks. Hidden sparrows chirp in the privet, starlings call from the trees above.

Mid month there is another break to routine. l have a meeting at headquarters which means a sunrise visit to the country park across the road. By the time I arrive, the sky has already blushed orange and subsided to a subtle blue. The sun is a molten semi-circle, just peeping over the horizon. The landscape is dull and water-logged. Clumps of drooping brown grass, mud stippled with paw prints, spongy patches of moss. A few stubborn leaves cling to bare stems. I hear a plaintive seep now and again, but the birds are well hidden, until a trio of goldfinches flutter overhead.

Gorse leads me up to the sundial, spiky green stems that give no hint of their luminosity in other seasons. I have to shield my eyes when I reach the top of the hill. The sun is almost a complete circle now, breathing fire. There is a hint of orange to the gnomon, the shadow of a bench crossing it. The sundial has been painted and cleaned. It will be part of a new memorial to those lost to the pandemic, linking art works at the four compass points along what were once waggon ways crossing the borough.

I hear robins singing. To north and west, the distant hills are layered with mist. The sun begins to catch the landscape, turning sea and clouds to pastels. The ferry is on its way into port from Amsterdam and the sun lights it pale orange. A metro crossing the fields reflects copper. There is now a dividing line in the park. Below it, the trees remain a dull brown, but above it, they glow bronze.

I walk down to the pond, past wild carrot nests and alders studded with cones. Guelder rose berries and rosehips gleam at the edge of the water. Mallards, moorhens and a tufted duck float on a pond that reflects the sunrise reflected from the surrounding buildings.

Later that day, there is unanticipated news. My story ‘The Muse’ has been published by Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine. Inspired by stories of foundlings, it is a story about identity, that you can read HERE. I also get some more great feedback from an assessment of my novel. In these last days of December, my routine is being disrupted in the best of ways. There will be many more dark, dispiriting days before spring but I hope for a touch of the unexpected to spur me through them.

Preparing

The first day of November bears gifts for those who watch the skies. A line of four swans flies in silence among huge flocks of squawking geese arrowing south. A thick, vivid rainbow embraces the library as I get to work.

November brings golden sunrises and swirling pastel sunsets, but when we visit the dene the sun is just a blur of light struggling through gloom. The floodlights have been lit on the football pitches nearby and they seem to be hazed with mist. I remind myself that it is only lunch time, since it feels like the prelude to twilight already. The weekend’s gales have faded into a gentle breeze. I am warm because I am moving, but if I stopped I would feel the bite of cold air. Meteorologists have forecast snow for the coming week and the sensationalist papers are making a fuss about it, but the chances are that we won’t see it much below the north of Scotland.

The dene is slumbering, or so it seems. A few soft twitters from a tit, a brief alarm from a blackbird, but otherwise the trees are silent. The burn is a chain of still puddles. Tawny leaves are interlaced with ivy, raspberry and bramble leaves. A handful of sow thistle and a lone herb robert are the only blooms left. The rushes have yellowed. The avenue of lindens has dropped many of its leaves and they lie in heaps along the path and around the tree roots. One birch among a row of others has been lost to fungi, huge brackets climbing the trunk that have killed it from within.

The pond is peaceful. Trailing willows and floating birds. An older couple circuit the water slowly, holding hands. But then the black headed gulls rise in a frenzy, their screeches filling the air. A man and his son are feeding them. The mallards and moorhens move quietly and determinedly to take their fill among the flurry of white wings.

I know this season isn’t as quiet as it seems. Some creatures are still preparing for winter, hoarding what food they can. Some are busy munching their way through the leaf litter, breaking it down to feed themselves and whatever is nurtured by the remaining mulch. Spiders have been encasing their eggs safely in silk for the winter. They won’t see their children born but have given them the best chance they can. Fungi burst into fruit so that they can send out their spores. Trees pull nutrients back within, renewing themselves for the year to come.

And I’m preparing too. I’m no longer sending stories out, I’m holding them in. At Halloween I festooned my altar with photos of women writers. Not only to honour them, but to honour the thread of creativity that has been passed down through the generations. To remind me that there are others who have come before, women who can inspire and hold space for me when doubt comes. I am no longer languishing, but venturing out in search of stories. And then venturing in to find the words with which to tell them.

The air is full of drizzle on the day after Remembrance Sunday. Knitted poppies adorn the entrance to the cemetery. Rain patters softly on the remaining canopy. Leaves crackle as they fall. These gentle tickings are the only sounds. A discarded pumpkin lantern leers from the base of a tree. Here too, the landscape seems to slumber. But crows dig deep beneath heaps of leaves to find food. A squirrel weaves among the trees. On a nearby gravestone, a gull perches, watching us with interest. And these are only the preparations that we can see.

We walk past the crematorium and overhear part of the eulogy as a funeral takes place. The celebrant talks of a man who enjoyed photography. I smile at that creative thread that links me unexpectedly on this day to a stranger. We prepare, but we never know if our preparations will be enough or when they will no longer matter. Still, we do it, because we hope for a future in which they are enough. I am lucky to have shelter and food for the coming winter. The larder I fill is a creative one. Stories and images are the things I gather to see me through.

Languishing

After the first chill of autumn, comes an interlude of sun and warmth. The tiny creatures respond. On the warm metal of roadside barriers, ladybirds gather. Every foot or so there is another, all with varying colours and arrangements of spots. There are a few ladybird larvae, with their black bodies and orange stripe. Tiny aphids, sunbathing bluebottles, a cranefly and a tiny insect that looks like a stag beetle all share the unexpected warmth.

There is little left in bloom now. A few bindweed trumpets and a single violet among the brambles. A clump of mayweed beside the road. The occasional dandelion shining among fallen leaves and a cluster of wild roses. And yet the violas I planted for summer colour are still in flower and next year’s bulbs have started to shoot. Seeds have been swept up and blown on their way to take their chances. The hogweeds are no more than skeleton spokes and there are only rags of down on the willowherbs.

Summer kept me close to home. I worked from home until September and the heat was too much for adventures. Our walks were short, timed to coincide with cooler parts of the day. I found myself less attentive to the world outside than usual. But I wasn’t idle. The yard has been tidied, weeded and adorned with new plants. I returned to the novel I sent for assessment before lockdown, to complete the suggested revisions. Some of my spring submissions bore fruit. With each rejection I made another submission to keep the work out there. And not everything passed me by. I watched a leaf cutter bee harvest leaves from my rose bush for her nest. I saw a mole building a tunnel on a piece of waste grass, surfacing with a small somersault and retreating underground once more. I watched goldfinches gather on the telegraph wires and sparrows flit through the yard.

In early August, I caught Covid. It seemed ironic after nearly a year and a half of working to keep people safe, a double vaccination and staying close to home, that I caught it at this stage. It was like a bad flu: cough, stuffy nose, congestion, aches and pains, fever, weariness, no appetite. I had bad nights, in which panic attacks returned and I started to worry about the coming winter. I slept and I watched daytime TV. I didn’t have the energy for much more than that. My wife caught it too. As I started to recover, she got the worst of it. But that was nothing. In the same month, a friend of ours in America, also double-jabbed, passed away from the disease.

As summer passed to autumn and the air got cooler, we reclaimed the beach from the crowds. Sanderlings fluted into the silence. A old-fashioned tall ship sailed in front of wind turbines towards the lighthouse. Time has often felt strange during the pandemic, and watching this ship was like seeing another age breaking through. Later, we came upon a group of stones, trailing bladderwrack, planted in a circle, as though the sea gods had placed them there to hold a meeting.

Berries have replaced blooms in the hedgerows. Blackberries are mostly picked or shrivelled on the vine, but there are shiny, plump rosehips, snow berries , haws and elderberries. The ground rustles with leaves and paths are edged with fallen gold, yet looking up, the trees seem as if they are only just on the turn.

I have been languishing in the space between now and normal. But now, everything has changed. If not truly normal, it feels as normal as it will get. I am back in the office for my full working week and have returned to some of my old wandering grounds. I am thinking less about what I have harvested this year and more about what I can do to reap a good harvest in the next. It would be easy to languish here forever, but the season has changed and the winds are calling…

My favourite fairy tale was always Beauty and the Beast, but I was never satisfied when, in the end, the Beast turned into a boring prince. You can read my alternative version, called ‘The Beauty of the Beast’ in the current Firewords magazine, issue 14 on the theme of ‘wild’. You can buy a copy here.

Rising

It is 5am on May Day morning and we leave the house to a blackbird chorus. First light has lightened the landscape but the sun hasn’t yet risen. We drive through empty streets, stopping at traffic lights for non-existent cars. Gulls and pigeons flock on the roads, slow to move as we approach. This is their time and we are invaders in it.

The sky is a blank canvas, tinged pale blue and yellow. A three-quarter moon wanes in the west. The clouds huddle on the horizon in peculiar shapes, like deformed giants coloured in angry blue and pink. Over by the priory, a massive mushroom cloud hints at distant rain. Opposite that, above cliffs and wind turbines, a blurred hulk that looks like a brush swirled in water. And in the centre, a wide bow contains the sun.

I’ve avoided the coast as others flocked towards it, but now I surrender. On this magical day, I come pursuing the watery dream of peace I had on the eve of the equinox. The first thing is the roar of the sea. It is the bass note for the haunted cries of gulls and the bicker of starlings. It is a writhing mass of metallic blue, with molten waves surging to the shore. The lighthouses flash and waves break over the piers. It will be high tide in an hour or so and the sea is in motion.

Soon, a vivid smudge of orange appears beneath the cloud-mountain. It brightens, becomes bigger, seeps outwards until the horizon is an orange stripe. The sky around it becomes pinker, lilac. We walk down the ramp to the beach, crossing the sand towards the sea. There are a few other people here to witness the sunrise. We wait, watching as the sun makes its way imperceptibly up through the clouds. Shortly, the tops of the clouds are gilded, until finally the sun breaks free, a molten mass of gold, spilling slanted rays and creating a golden path from sea to shore. Watching the sunrise teaches patience. The sun doesn’t hurry; it does what it is supposed to do and takes its time doing it.

May Day is traditionally a time to celebrate fertility. The land flourishes with the signs of new life and we celebrate sensuality, passion and creativity. Lately, I’ve been filling my head with women: strong women, talented women, creative women. Writers. Artists. Singers. Activists. Women whose lives as well as their art have inspired me. If I peer hard, I can see them, dancing around the Beltane fire, some long gone, some still very much with us. I thank them for the richness of their language, the strength of their dreams, their many examples of creativity. I thank them for what they leave behind – not only their creations, but their company.

It wouldn’t be May Day without blossom and though the hawthorn is yet to show, our path is festooned with trees in full bloom. We are followed from the sea by golden light. Frost on the grass sparkles in its illumination. We stood at the edge of the shore and watched this sun be born. Now the day is ours and who knows what we might create?

Rolling

It has been more than a year since I climbed to the sundial. I would often walk here near dawn, when I had to visit work’s HQ, just across the road, but I haven’t been here since before the first lockdown. We come at midday on a Sunday, the sun unrelenting. The song of a robin accompanies us as we step into the reserve. We pass the butterburr patch, where the flowers are blooming, purple heads tilting towards the sun. Hazel and hawthorn branches clickle and clackle in the wind as we walk a path between them. Then through an embrace of bushy scots pines, until we reach the water.

The ponds are opaque and mucky green. Drowned alders droop towards water that looks thick and lifeless. The water birds are in hiding. We turn to the hill path. Cowslips scatter the grassland and a few primroses have yet to open. Predominant are gorse and blackthorn. The lemon of the gorse and the white of the blackthorn vivid in the landscape. At times they are threshold trees, pointing the way to a meandering path.

A wild wind whips around the top of the sundial. They say we’ll have snow tomorrow, but that seems difficult to believe. The horizon is clear. I see a ship passing behind the distant lighthouse, watch the turbines turning out at sea. It is just past noon and the sundial’s shadow is unequivocal. It’s looking a little neglected: graffiti on the gnomon, broken glass on the ground. A couple exercise by running up and down the steps. Two women and a spaniel join us at the peak. We see a couple of bees. A pair of great tits. A magpie.

In the lonely hours of the night, winter steals back in. Snow flirts in the shadows leaving just a sheen of ice on the morning grass. For the next week it comes and goes, small whirling flakes that appear without warning, while the sun also shines. I watch from the window as I work. One night it stays, gracing the rooftops and the ground with a light covering. The sun shines and it looks like spring, but the cold is bitter.

Time has been on my mind. In these last two years it has stretched and bent, lingered and vanished. Memories pile up, often making me cringe and shrink. But I remember things too, things I liked, things that influenced me – things of another age. Watching Prince Philip’s funeral, I find myself thinking about endings. I wonder if everyone gets to an age where each death, each pause, seems to signal the end of an era we think of as ours. If life is a general knowledge quiz, then I’m getting to the point where I no longer know the answers.

Still, spring rolls on. The hedges are fresh with hawthorn leaves and blackthorn blossom. The cherry blossom buds are about to unfurl. The grass has had its first cut. There are some bluebells in the park and the dandelions are blindingly bright. And I move on too. My wintry paintings move towards summer colour. I send out stories, Some are rejected. I send them out again. I don’t know all the answers, but I know how to keep moving.

Firsts

Spring is a season of firsts. The first crocuses. The first snowdrops. The first daffodils. A piece of tangled waste ground offers the season’s first coltsfoot flowers, lemon discs among frazzled grass. I see my first bee on the edge of the park, frantically seeking nectar, a day after the spring equinox. The hawthorn leaves are unfurling. Daisies and dandelions scatter the grass and crocuses have given way to lesser celandine. There are other firsts throughout the year – the first snow, the first leaves turning – but no season offers as many firsts as spring.

On the eve of the equinox I have my first Covid vaccination. My wife and I visit the local sports centre and have our jabs together. It is quick, friendly and efficient. We walk home light-footed, stickers on our jackets proclaiming we’ve been vaccinated. That night I dream vividly. I am standing at the edge of a canal in a perfect, purple dawn. The landscape is luminous, as it often is beside water at sunrise. Water and land seem to seep into each other so I can’t be sure which I am walking on. I am filled with peace. Later, some tiny birds have been caught in a spiders’ web and I have to gently brush strands of spider silk away from their feathers to set them free – I wake not knowing if I succeeded.

The cemetery is shades of green and yellow. The crocuses are all but gone now, but the daffodils are in full bloom: clumps and trails and sunbursts in and around the graves. I see my first primroses: less abundant and less showy than the daffodils, they form delicate clusters close to the ground. I find a handful of wood anemones and a single spray of snake’s head fritillary. A few early bluebells stipple the ground and pink blossom droops from a group of gracefully spreading trees.

There is a soundscape of birdsong. The great tit is the star of the bird choir, in volume if not tunefulness, with others as a quieter accompaniment. Magpies chirrup high up in the trees. I see a crow in the long grass, a pair of collared doves silent in a tree above, a trio of woodpigeons resting on a grave. Most of the birds are busy in the canopy, staking claim to territory and perhaps building the first nests of the season.

Spring’s firsts never lose their charms. I have seen fifty springs but I still thrill at the first flowers shooting through the soil, the sound of a renewed dawn chorus and signs of new life. Every spring is the same and every spring is different. We can rely on the return of those same firsts, but we will never experience them in quite the same way. The lengthening days give us hope and energy, but I think it is also the profusion of firsts that stir our vitality at this time of year.

The first of our lockdown restrictions are lifted today. We are following a timetable that suggests we will be back to some kind of normality by the summer solstice. Nothing feels much different at the moment. I find it impossible to believe that in a few short months this will be over. I imagine us like children emerging from the pandemic, eyes squinting in the sunlight. I hope we approach it with childlike wonder, rather than teenage rebellion. Those first hugs. Those first outings. Those first holidays. They will be the foundation of a what might be a better future. I hope we savour them.

Trembling

Nature trembles on the edge of spring. The sun reaches for the earth with renewed strength and the wind whips through the land with a renewed spirit. In places, spring breaks through. The lilac crocus shoots in the park that survived the snow have become delicate starbursts with hot orange centres. A single snowdrop and a single daffodil plant are pioneers from elsewhere, not normally seen here. Delicate nettle leaves and the shoots of bluebells have appeared. Five new trees have been planted. Everything is small, tender and pretty. Only the strident call of the great tit and the drumming of the woodpecker have any urgency. It is a gentle start to spring that belies the activity beneath the surface. We are about to experience the most excitable season of the year.

When I am about to create something, there is a flutter in my chest. Excitement at the idea that is just there, waiting to be born. This is the liminal moment – the moment before creation begins, when I tremble at the edge of possibility. There is excitement that it will work out exactly as I envision it, flavoured by a hint of fear that it won’t. I wonder if this is how nature feels on the brink of spring, knowing that her most creative time is about to begin. A twitch in the roots of the trees, a throbbing in the soil, a note in the song of the birds: the world, trembling with anticipation at what is to come.

Tiny cleavers and a single white deadnettle with pendulous flowers fringe the path to the dene. Hollies dominate the still-naked trees, gleaming in the sunlight. In the dene, spring waits. The burn is a trickle. Alder catkins sway at its edges. Silver birches dazzle. It feels like spring should be further along than it is. I walk down the avenue of linden trees and glance up. A kestrel hovers. I watch it through the branches until it gives up and flies off. A single clump of snowdrops lies on the edge of a pathway of purple crocuses. Dozens of shoots are waiting to bloom into daffodils, and a few already have. A great tit flies across my path. A small bird that might be a young greenfinch follows it. The two-note call of the great tit strikes the air. On the pond, the ducks are snoozing, hidden among the reeds. Two moorhens preen on a shared rock.

The river trembles on the point of a turning tide. A light mist hangs over the landscape. Out on the flats, fishermen dig for worms and crabs. Gulls cluster on the rocks and forage at the edge of the tide. Great hulks of driftwood are like giants’ bodies lounging on the sand. Someone has left flowers beside a driftwood memorial. Slightly upriver, an enormous cruise ship looms over the marina. It would usually be sailing the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, but it is waiting for the moment it can cruise again. In the meantime, 3,000 passenger cabins stand empty. One of the crew jogs back and forth along a deck below the many balconies.

It is my fiftieth birthday. I tremble on the edge of another decade. There’s a kind of excitement at reaching this age and wondering what the future might bring. I know that I have most likely lived longer than the years I have left but I don’t regret that. My concern is only how best to use it. Memories flash through my head unbidden, often from the earliest of years, and remind me that I wouldn’t wish to be young again – not for a minute. I look forward to seeing how I will grow into elderhood. My mind is full of dreams and plans, including all the creations yet to come. Life has a habit of surprising us, and as I stand on another threshold, I feel that tremble of excitement about what is to come.