Falling away

Poised as you seem to be on the edge of a sharp knife, there is a moment when it no longer cuts both ways, when the mourning stops and the longing begins. That moment is now, as you pack your bag and your husband’s bag and the dogs’ bags in anticipation of your journey on Friday to ‘a house with no upstairs/ But heaven enough/ To be going on with’ (Seamus Heaney, ‘To Mick Joyce in Heaven’). In that moment you realise that in truth, you left this place some months ago, that the creature who has been clinging to these so-familiar watery edges is little more a ghost, haunting the shadows of what formerly was. Which is no bad thing at all, in this long, strange chapter of the story of your life. Some things need to die so that others can be born, and the fact is that you have little patience with ghosts. You want that small green country that sang to you first at four years old. The land of your great-grandfather, the only place you have ever belonged. And you want it now.

This is no final leave-taking: a month by the river and then a last return, to pack up the house and run one more writers’ retreat in the big wooden house at the edge of the village. But it’s now that you begin to say your goodbyes.

What you will carry with you, to the river? Lapwing and sea-eagle, otter and seal. Rock and stone, seaweed and seashell. Bog-water, saltwater, burn and stream. Seaswell and landswell, strainer and post. Bones and bog cotton, beachcombings and other foundlings. Mealasbhal, Mealista, Mangurstadh. Scarp, the Flannans, Hiort and Boreray. Celandine, milkwort and sundew. A small, close-knit tribe of black, horned Hebridean sheep: Wonky, Little Horn, Mrs King. Small, Mrs King’s last lamb. All their relations. Norma, a gentle Jacob ewe who ate out of your hand. A fine and lusty Light Sussex cockerel called The Lewis Man; a much-loved dead old dog, buried at the foot of the croft. The shadow of a cow called Brighid and the memory of a pig called Doris. Two lost hives of bees. The too-bright maddening nights of summer, and the long, hard winter dark.

What you will find there?

A story for another day.

Sheep

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