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The back step and beyond

The back step. Welcomed by a robin singing his heart out in the trees beyond the fence. This is the first morning that I’ve taken my morning pages practice out here. I gear up for it with blanket and winter shirt, but within minutes I’m bare-armed and contemplating swapping the leggings for shorts, soaking up the vitamin D, the soul-enhancing light of Spring.

The plastic guttering creaks gently as it warms.

I’m startled by the flutter of pigeon wings, which thwook away to settle in the trees over by the road. Coos coast in my direction on the still air.

Morning Mr Magpie. Good day to your wife and family.” It must have been Clive who taught me that you must salute a solitary magpie. In the sterile environment that was New Town home fifty-odd years ago, we wouldn’t see such exotic plumage. These beautiful, myth-laden, creatures were farmland animals and had yet to move into my old hometown. No doubt they will now have done so, but not back then. Back then we had sparrows by the flock, dropping down to discarded breadcrusts. Now they are the rarity. How times have changed.

In the here & now, I have hung the seed-feeder higher, but it’s still being ignored. Perhaps it is just too easy to drop to the nearby table instead. Blue-tits are checking out the old nest in the wisteria and I wonder if I have left it too late to repaint the arbour woodwork.

Looking around, I see how much work there is to do out here, and figure some of it will get done sooner, some of it later, some of maybe never. I will learn to watch and wait, especially that wilder part of the plot. A week or so ago, when we were still allowed visitors, a kind-of cousin stood sizing it up, planning what she would do with it were it hers. I will let it do pretty much what it wants, my only intervention being by way of cutting back what is getting out of hand and crowding out its neighbours. I want a bath for the birds and more feeding stations, but even as it stands, life is moving in. I catch sight of my second tortoiseshell butterfly of the year, and my first red-tailed bumblebee.

Once again, I am grateful simply to be here. To be here at all, but especially in these times. I count it as a blessing that I was permitted to deal with the aftermath of my personal loss, before the current crisis struck. There are worse places to be told to stay home. Where I used to live is one of them.

I drink-in the sky and the garden and the morning air.

It occurs to me that isolation changes character when you take it outside into nature, even the bounded half-tamed nature of a suburban back yard. When you step outside, isolation transforms into solitude. Oppressive silence becomes tranquillity.

In the tranquil solitude I know that I can let go of wondering when normality will return. I can let go of wondering what that new normality will look like when this is all over. It is too far away and too uncertain for such thoughts to be helpful. This is the new normal. This is where we are for the next few months, and if I am honest…if I look deeply enough…it is not too far from the new normal I was trying to find.

I miss being able to walk out and go anywhere. I miss being able to get on a bus or a train. I miss being free. I am not complaining here: I do understand and support that this where we are and what needs to be done. I know that I am luckier than most. But at the same time, my sanity demands that I own up to who I am and what it is that I feel.

I miss the rare meetings with friends, lunches and gossip and serious conversation that is never quite the same with the intermediary of tech, no matter how good, no matter how grateful I am for it.

At the same time, I’m taking the pleasures I can while we are still allowed out to walk, to cycle, to step into the nature beyond our gardens and breathe in deeper greens and blues and browns of fields and rivers and woods and wildflower.

I walk the parkland, the woods, the river-bank, the Broad shore.

Strangers smile across the legally enforceable ‘personal space’ that is now twisted into ‘social distance’. Subtle unspoken consensus, as we veer off into less trodden paths, not wanting to breath each other’s air, but equally desperate for tree-air, or lake-air, or sky. Glad to be out and not wanting the slightest transgression of the rules that might cost us our privilege.

I’m taken by the shapes of fallen trees, and their regeneration. I’m drinking in structures and flow and songs and whispers and smoothness, newness and crackled knarled age…images, sounds, ideas. Tiny one-bit memories that may merge into something else, or spark connections, create pathways, word-ways. I’m filling up my store, bringing a spring harvest home, just in case the curtailed freedoms we still have need be eroded further.

In my journal I write that a gilded cage is still a cage. Then I look around and realise that in that precise moment, I am content, and so add: Or is it? Could we not simply flick the switch and decide instead that it is a retreat, a sanctuary?

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