Happy birthday Lucy

Lucy

We had a friend, an acquaintance really. I can’t remember her name or her nationality, how I knew her, or if I even knew her at all. But Emily used to say she was built like an Amazonian Princess and she tilled the soil in the allotment next ours.

She had a majestic coach build Silver Cross pram and two small boys. In all weathers her baby sat, propped up in the pram wearing a hand knitted hat and a grubby vest, her toddler filled his bucket with stones, whilst she hoed and planted and tended her lettuces and raspberry canes. It is true to say I wished I was more like her and I wished my children were more like hers: propped in the pram watching, occupied with pebbles in a pail. I told Anna and Emily how much I loved that pram. How I had never had a Silver Cross pram though I remember the one my mother had used for me and my sister. Bottle-green (I think) with a sun canopy and long fringe. In those day the baby was put out to sleep in the pram in the garden every day, whatever the weather; or that is how I remember it now.

We had everything we needed and we were ready for our fourth baby to be born.

One afternoon, early in June I was sitting in my sunny garden watching the world go by and enjoying the soporific tiredness that comes late pregnancy when I notice a figure walking up the orchard path pushing a pram.

We had bought an exceedingly plain house with a beautiful view. At the bottom of our garden we laid the hedge in the tradition way and made a gate onto the community orchard that had been planted there: plums, apple and pears. A whole brood of long-tailed tits roosted in the hawthorn and we listen to the curlew cry and watched the fox return from his daylight hunt each day.

The figure with the pram moved purposely along the path and I saw that it was Anna and she was pushing the majestic coach built Silver Cross, through the gate in the hedge and up the garden path. The acquaintance of ours was going abroad and was apparently glad to be rid of the pram. Anna had acquired it, just for me. I parked it in my garage and marvelled at its size and the kindness of a friend who remembered how much I liked a carriage built pram and brought it to me as a gift

Lucy was born on a Friday evening at home. My waters broke early, a whole day before, but the midwives had done everything they could to keep me at home. I spent the day in and out of the bath, watching my goldfish swimming in their bowl, listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The midwife called in every few hours to see how I was getting on. We talked together about the plants in my garden: the miniature hostas with white striped leaves and the blue geranium called Thomas Hogg.

Just before Lucy was born the midwife had to run out to the car for more gas and air. The milkman called for his money just after she had been delivered and promised to tell my friends the good news as he finished his rounds.

On the Sunday evening the sun was shining and I wrapped Lucy up in a cardigan and a bonnet, tying the satin ribbon under her chin. I tucked her into that pram with a blanket and a quilt and marched down the orchard to visit a friend. My tiny new baby was quite lost in the great chassis of that immense vehicle and bounced around like a pea, as the beautifully engineered springs of the Silver Cross suspension negotiated the pot holes and high curbs along the way. Several times I had to stop to tuck her in tightly and stop her from bouncing out. I visited Emily who had bought me a raspberry pink Fat Face satchel and it was the first time in all those baby years that someone bought a present just for me.

I remember clearly parking the pram in the front yard, taking the baby, walking up the steps and ringing the bell. A surprise visit, cries of how I shouldn’t have come and Iris and Rose wanting a hold.

For the rest of the weekend I lay on the red sofa with my new baby watching Glastonbury: Cold Play, White Stripe, Isaac Hayes and Ash.

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Happy Birthday Lucy. And to my friends – I miss those days, thank you xxx

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At Martin Mere

Along these paths and boardwalks I marched out many a black-dog day: many a foul, lost, black dog day, four small children in tow. You may have seen me there. 2004. I was the one with the double buggy, spilling sippy cups and baby wipes from an over stuffed nappy bag, pleading with my ten year old to stop chasing the ducks and come out of the mud.

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During these days I mostly wanted to stay in the house, except that the house was too full of mess I needed to clear up and tinies who needed my attention. I was feeling so bad about how things had become that I didn’t really want to go out where people could see. I hadn’t yet learnt that it’s OK to say you’re not coping or that you feel sad or that being a mum had turned out very different from what you expected.

The penned in wildfowl and insulated hides all situated on the edge of a perfectly managed stretch of flood ground were just enough wide open space for me and I was enjoying wind and sky and trees and grass in a new and liberating way. Mildly agoraphobic and inclined to tiny panic attacks I felt safe in this space. I never named these symptoms as I name them now: I call them now for what they are and know they are mainly behind me.

2004. I let them out of the buggy and they all scrambled off onto the stepping stones in the shallow muddy water just far enough apart to ensure someone will fall in again today. I learnt to let them step their toddler size strides in shiny wellies and well worn pumps. I let them jostle and fight for space on the barely wide enough slabs. In this pool, carved out for coots and moorhens, Hawaiian geese and marbled teal my children practiced finding their way across tricky terrain. And only I knew that the worst that can happen is a washing machine full of muddy clothes and a few scrapes and bruises. Nothing that a bubble bath and bedtime story won’t cure.

Some parts of my life caved in on themselves and I found myself in a very small space on the inside of my own head. I could only cope with the great big world broken into small pieces. I could only cope with the brokeness of my own world one shattered fragment at a time. We walked together along the path and through each gate where whole continents unfolded before us: Europe, Asia, Oceania, South America, North America, The Arctic, Antartica and Africa, their tundra and dessert, mudflats and swamps, salt-marsh, fresh-marsh, rivers and streams, contained and curated in 400 acres of beautiful wetland surrounded by a high fence. A very small window on a very big world.

Out on the edges of the well tended reserve I spent Saturday mornings quietly alone. With binoculars, a note book and a flask of coffee. Eaves-dropping on conversations from seasoned twitchers and consulting my Collins guide I learnt the names of the birds and the places they had been. Armchair journeys, I travelled outside of my own mind’s eye. I had spent too long inside my head and it had not been a good place for me. The picture windows looked out on 2000 whooper swans each autumn. By day and night they flew above my house to feed on the salt marsh by the sea. I flung open the windows of my house to listen to them call. I dreamed of the lonely places they had seen, said the names aloud like a rhyme: Hudson Bay, Alaska, Greenland, Baffin Island, Svalbard, Siberia, The Laptev Sea. Each of their stories written in the fabric of creation and the flap of a wing where a bird is born and already knows the land and oceans it must traverse each spring to reach its breeding ground, the place to which it must winter away from the arctic cold.

Before we leave we must visit the snow geese. A most romantic bird. Six hundred thousands greater snow geese breed on Canada’s north eastern islands and migrate south each autumn to their wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast. Six million lesser snow geese breed across the arctic and when summer ends they travel south to spend their winter in Delaware, California and Mexico. They fly at heights of 30,000 feet, a 3000 miles journey along known and narrow flyways never stopping to rest.

2004. Little hands reach out and let a beak peck a grain or two before they snatch it away in fright. I’m not sure who is more afraid the toddler or the goose. These particular birds fly nowhere in particular, they let us bring them corn. Their clipped wings taking them in small circles of flight barely above the head of my oldest child. They keep their feathers clean, they know that all year they will be fed. In spring if they lay their brood will be watched, monitored, recorded, protected from predators and delighted over by visitors.

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Today. No more clipped wings. I’m looking over wild open place without fear. The small place within my own head long ago abandoned I gaze out on the still horizon, the great panorama of reed beds and newly ploughed fields. In a short twelve weeks the birds will return filling the skies with a call that sounds like freedom and joy. And once again I’ll fling open my bedroom window and listen to the sound of swans.

Read more about Martin Mere and the work of the Wetlands Trust

Love will follow me

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Surely your goodness and love will follow me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.  Psalm 23.6

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“And God’s blessings don’t pursue temporarily — but relentlessly. It’s right there in His Word: His goodness and mercy pursue me not just some days — but all the days of my life. When I’m in a wilderness, His mercy and goodness run after me. When I’m hurting, His grace hunts for me. When I’m plagued by problems, His goodness pursues me.

No matter where I go, He has his two blessing men right there in hot pursuit: goodness and mercy, and no shadow of death can overshadow the goodness and mercy that shadows the child of God.”

Ann Voskamp

Read the whole article at, A Holy Experience. Ann Voskamp is amongst my very favourite writers just now. Read, 7 Things You Need When You’re Overwhelmed and Can’t Keep Up, here.

Photographs taken at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire.

 

Calm my heart

Tonight I need a word to calm my heart.

I go to my room, close the door and open a window to let the bird song in.

All summer the bird song penetrating the quietness makes me think of John baptising Jesus and all of heaven opening up for them there as they stand with their feet in the murky Jordan water.  Every day we use our phones and google bird song to listen to recordings so we can know the names of the birds we hear sing. And we learn to match the bird species to the recording of its song. But opening the window on that sound tonight is something else altogether.  All that bird song busting open the big skies above whilst I stand here with my feet in the sand.

So, I light a candle and watch the flame.  I kneel and pray.

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Once again I come like Jacob who wrestled with God and I will not let go until God blesses me. Because I know there is more and this is not all.

I’ve read and prayed and discussed and worried. I’ve marched it all out and passed on to myself a few times now the good advice I might give to someone else.

I sing a hymn quietly. I rest a little in its words and then before me are some new words that I need to hear.

The only place for big worries is in the hands of God.

The only place for great anger and grief is at the foot of the cross.

The only path through hardships is thankfulness.

The only rest for the soul is in the unrelenting goodness of God.