Sometimes it is worthwhile getting down to grass level. It has been a hot day; the light is burning, but down in the grass it is cool. There is clover and moss, a little yellow-flowered plant which grows close to the ground whose name I do not know and do not want to. The clover flowers are just forming, tomorrow they will be in full bloom, attracting bees and flies and other crawly insects. I love the smell of clover. It is not there yet, but tomorrow it will be so I know I will be down in the grass then again. The cut grass spikes my neck and tickles my back; it is sharper than I remember though I think that’s because my memories were of lying down in uncut fields, fields which never saw a mower and in which the grass grew in long, silky fronds which I would clasp between my thumbs and blow on. It made a strange buzzing sound, kind of like a kazoo but less structured. But there are no long fronds here, just sharp little shards and the occasional longer strand ripened with seeds. I look through the leaves, the vista strange from this angle and I feel like I’m in one of those movies where people shrink down to ant size, though I am full grown and my body rests heavily on the ground. I breath in the smell and all the summers I have ever lived are captured in its soft greenness.
Walking home, listening to Laura Marling’s Wild Once and really feeling it, thinking about a childhood spent damming streams, climbing hills and trees, swinging on self-made rope swings, making dens. Thinking about slipping down scree slopes and scraping knees, shredding skin from my hands, going home with blood dripping from wounds that would later scab that I would later pick and let bleed again. Remembering the delicious, pleasure-pain of scab picking. I see the skeletal frames of roofs under construction and remember the years spent playing in the shells of houses under construction on the old green belt, when there still was a green belt, clattering around in the upstairs, leaping from beam to beam. And I know I am older, and I am weighed down by my responsibilities and the need to set a good example, but I wonder why it would be so terrifying to go home with skinned knees, why I have allowed the fear of injury to outweigh the obvious pleasure of being at home, in glorious possession in my own body.
At midday I went out for a walk. It was warm out, but not oppressive like it has been, and the sun shone and it felt good to be moving. I headed for the small wood; it is tiny, no more than two or three minutes walk from one end to the other, but it has all the characteristics of a larger wood: the dense canopy, the tunnels formed from interlocking branches, the dappled light that splatters the path; the cool, woody smell, a green smell. It’s impossible to describe, but it is somehow simultaneously earthy and mossy, it is damp and vaguely clingy and I breathed it deeply in as I passed along the pathway. A blackbird walked the path ahead of me, jumping in spates and keeping just ahead making its alarm call. Through the trees I could see the valley below, the lush grass, silver-tipped and flowing in the breeze like water. A dog almost ran into me, but I didn’t mind. My attention was captured by the green scents, by the thrilling song of birds and the symphony of the wind as it rattled through branches and leaves and grassy fields, buzzing the fences and disturbing the sheep.
The weather has changed, but when doesn’t it? It is warm and close, the air outside is thick with suspended water and whilst the sky may be grey, making it seem like it should be cool, it is hotter than ever. It’s the kind of heat a body can’t stand, when sweat doesn’t go anywhere but spills in thick rivulets down face and back making clothes sticky and uncomfortable. Outside everything is abundance; fields are ripe with flowers, the grass has grown tall, and the bees buzz lazily from one flower to another, drunk on plenty. I see clover and buttercup, the vivid splash of poppies here and there and masses of tiny yellow flowers I can’t name. I watch house martens swoop in the dense air, unfettered by the heat that oppresses us land-bound humans and I wish that I was lighter, that I could fly, that I could swing and swoop and feel weightless in a way I can only experience, otherwise, in my dreams. I wonder to what extent my attention to these things is primed, influenced, as I bury the thought of a desperate woman tossing her baby from a window to save it, bodies pressed against sweated glass and the crackle of a building caught in the grip of a fire that never should have happened.
When everyone goes out I sit on the living room floor, close my eyes and let the silence embrace me.
I’m sitting outside on the bench and the sun is bright and it is warm, but the wind is the dominant force today. It is strong and swift and it bends the trees and lifts the cover from the barbecue and every time it does it makes the cat, who is lying on the bench next to me, jump up in alert tension. Something is creaking; I’m not sure what it is but I suspect it’s the eucalyptus tree and suddenly the height of the tree, which I’ve been so proud of, seems a hazard though the branches seem sturdy enough and they flex without any suggestion of weakness. The tree is young, it is flexible. The cat turns onto her back and begins to attack the arm of the bench, she licks it playfully and then turns again, jumps off the bench and goes to sniff at a fallen leaf on the grass. Then she comes back, launching herself onto the high back of the bench and clambering over then sitting on the arm, and I realise she is showing off for me, showing her flexibility and skill at climbing and I am proud of my little cat. She looks at me and meows and I scratch her behind the ears and she closes her eyes in pleasure and then we sit there for a while, just next to each other, neither talking nor touching but sitting in companionable silence. But all the time the wind is whipping and her repose lasts as long as it takes for the barbecue cover to rattle again and she tenses and claws at the bench. It is time to go back inside. I get up first, open the back door and wait, holding it open, until she follows me in.
I have been having lots of dreams recently, memorable dreams, the kind that linger in the mind for days afterwards in scrappy little fragments, which appear like old memories at unexpected times. All of my dreams have involved death in some form, death must be on my mind. In one dream, my cat was killed. I don’t know how it happened and neither could I do anything about it, though in the dream I ran and ran searching for someone to help me. In another I was lying on a beach and there were people lying either side of me. We were sleeping, or had been sleeping. Some other people appeared: two men whose faces were obscured and whose bodies were encased in plastic, like the plastic they wrap bodies in on TV crime dramas. One of the men leant down over the person lying to my left and reached into their abdomen and started to pull things out, softly. I turned to my right as the other man leant over the woman lying there. As he reached into her abdomen, she woke. Her hair was curled and dark and her face was slender with pronounced cheekbones and a sharp, slender nose and she was beautiful in a 1930s kind of way. The man removed his hand from her abdomen and reached instead into her chest cavity; I knew, somehow, he was going to take her heart but his every movement was gentle, tender and loving, and as he reached deep inside her she opened her mouth, gasped, but quietly and in a way which was more erotic than pained. The man leaned over, his hand deep in her chest, and whispered into her questioning face, “don’t worry, you are learning how to die,” and there was something reassuring about the way he spoke as though it was true, he was merely a teacher and she was learning something which we all must all learn and what he was doing was not something violent or irrevocable, not motivated by anger or a desire to destroy, but a loving act performed with care. I woke then, but the dream, the vision of the woman in all her beauty, and the man’s words lingered in my mind. It is true, I thought, we are all learning how to die though those who could teach us, with the generous loving care displayed in my dream, are in terribly short supply and in made me sad in a way that death itself never could.
Today I have been thinking about all the reasons I have to be thankful, reasons which are varied and abundant, a matter for which I am additionally thankful.
I am thankful for my family, for their unfailing goodness and their support and their honesty. I love that they accept me for who I am, whilst challenging me to be the very best version of that. I value their insight and their decency, their kindness and their love which is limitless and freely given, without condition or demand.
I am thankful for my health, for the health that I have had and continue to enjoy. It is not perfect, nothing in my life is, but it is good enough. It could be better if I cared for it more, listened to it more.
I am thankful for my mind which is busy and inquisitive. I love that the world offers so much to be interested in, that every little thing is a bundle of boundless complexity and infinite curiosity.
I am thankful for the people, so many people, who share their insight and their curiosity, who seek to uncover the mysteries of the universe and share their findings with others.
I am thankful for all those people who work tirelessly to make the lives of others better, for their kindness and the comfort they bring. For the hope they offer and the hope they believe in.
I am thankful for my freedom, such as it is, in the knowledge I could have much less of it.
I am thankful that, in the main, I am able to express myself without restriction.
I am thankful for my life.
It has been a day of changeability, of sudden bursts of rain followed by bright sunshine and clouds that promise more rain later. The back garden is littered with shredded leaves from the beech trees in next door’s garden, victims of the high winds over the past few days. I watch as a tortoiseshell cat, barely out of kittenhood, wanders into the garden and proceeds to pounce on one wriggling leaf after another. The plants are cowed by the rain, fat with it, sagging, but they will recover. For now it is nice to sit inside and watch everything change from one moment to the next, none of it controllable or manageable, just the world doing what the world does whether people want it to or not.
Today has been one of those days when I haven’t had opportunity to stop, to reflect and pay attention. Correction: I have not created the opportunity to stop, to reflect, to pay attention. I am not sure why it is so easy to allow the days to slip past, to skim the surface of life.
I stop what I am doing. I switch off the television. I lie back on the bed and concentrate for a moment on the grains in the wood panelling by the bedside. Yet even this is fake, a veneer rather than true wood, made to mock the appearance of reality. It is all veneer: everything we rely on is a lie, a fiction, a story we spin until we can spin no more. Here, in this moment, I see everything for what it is: the bedding made to feel like cotton; the pillow stuffed with artificial fibres; the fake woodchip on the wall; the plastic television set; the air conditioning unit blowing fake air. I see its falsehood, the illusion of something real.
Or is it just me? Alone and away from home, feeling vulnerable and tired and emotional. Perhaps I am the one who fails to see the reality, the truth of what things are and not what I expect them to be?