Gone, Leaves

Overnight they left, flown
like a flock of bright birds
leaving bare twigs
dark trunks
against the autumn sky.

Now pavements strewn
with drifts of leaves
copper, yellow and brown
and every colour inbetween
bring memories as crisp
as every step;
snowdrifts are fun, but
oh! I remember
falling
into piles of leaves,
laughing.

First Abigail, Now Barney

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We’ve had storms that have names. We’ve been lashed and battered first by Abigail who left a trail of broken branches and flooded fields, and now by Barney who will continue to fill rivers that have already burst their banks and flooded cities like York.

I’d stayed in for days, but this afternoon I defied all common sense and went out to walk in the wet streets, hoping the break in the clouds that looked so inviting would mean the rain would hold off for an hour. I dressed up in my most waterproof clothing, headed for the park and got half way up the dark avenue of lime trees when the wind whipped up and sheets of grey rain came down the field fast, in waves. I tied my hood down more firmly and walked more quickly but I only got halfway up the path to the playground when the rain turned to hail and came down so hard that I was afraid to go on, so I looked around for shelter. I was under trees (which is not always a good idea in a storm) but Abigail had ripped the last of the leaves from the horse chestnuts, and it was no drier there than out in the open. I huddled in the lee of a big lime tree but had no protection from the hailstones, so I scrambled a few feet off the path and crept inside the canopy of a holly tree. Holly is wonderfully waterproof. The branches of this one come right down to the ground and make a dark tented space around the trunk, and crouching in there amongst dry leaves I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be ten years old, playing in the woods and making secret dens under the rhododendrons.

The tarmac path was now a torrent of water that cascaded downhill, cutting furious and dramatic channels through piles of fallen leaves as it went hurtling downwards, piling up branches and twigs and then leaping over them as it powered through rearranging everything in its path.

The hail turned back to rain and eased a little, and I left my holly tree and headed home. My storm-proof jacket is not, it seems, designed for storms like this one. I made my way slowly and cautiously along paths that were now streams, and across a road under inches of water. I was soaked through in places and damp in others, but the rain had stopped, the wind was blowing hard and wasn’t cold. It felt good.

Back home I stripped off wet clothing and in my trouser pocket found my phone damp and its case soaking wet, which was alarming but fortunately not fatal for the phone (which taught me a lesson). I’d wrapped my sketchbook in a plastic bag, which on reflection must show my sense of priorities.

This kind of weather is fun, when you’re only a few hundred yards from the warmth and comfort of home.
Not everyone is so lucky.

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Reward

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We’re not there yet, not quite. But for me this is the reward for waiting through the long bare winter. Already there are signs; tiny buds that haven’t opened yet. When each one of these breaks open and shows the tiniest amount of green leaf, the whole landscape will change. A shading, a mist of green, the subtlest glaze that will deepen and strengthen every day.

Here, this year, it will come early. We haven’t long to wait.

Weekly photo challenge: Reward

A Calendar Of Trees

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All this year I have walked under trees; oak and ash and willow, sycamore, chestnut and lime. I’ve watched them slowly clothe themselves in greenery and then turn russet and gold before losing their leaves again and revealing the delicate tracery of twigs and branches silhouetted against winter sunsets. There have been mornings when they have been shrouded in mist, and afternoons when the sun has filtered through the canopy and splashed the trunks with dappled shadows. I can trace the passing of the seasons in a calendar of trees.

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There have been times when walking beneath them has been a kind of salvation, when standing under their spreading branches and doing nothing more than just being there, and being aware of it, has restored my soul.

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Among The Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Mary Oliver

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This post is my response to the Daily Post challenge for multi-media storytelling. It’s been fun!

Layers

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The weather has turned colder, and the leaves are falling faster now, on pavements and streets, on lawns and pathways. They pile up, leaf on leaf, layering into carpets and swept by the wind into piles that are sometimes mysteriously neat and oddly placed. My neighbour has a perfectly arranged doormat of brown and golden leaves positioned precisely outside her back gate, the edges as cleanly defined as if a sweeper had cleared the pavement and carefully neatened and flattened the pile.

In the garage a peacock butterfly is hibernating, wings tightly folded, clinging motionless to the ceiling. In the garden the snails that I watched all summer and into the autumn have finally disappeared, and the hedgehog who trundled past every evening on his nightly expedition, appearing at almost exactly the same time like a regular commuter on his way to work, has also turned in for the winter. I have left piles of leaves and sticks wherever I can for the many small creatures that I know will be taking shelter over the coming months, and now whenever I go outside I pile on layers of clothing, some days more, some days less.

In our different ways, we are all preparing for winter.

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The Colours Of Grey

We have been living under grey skies. Now and then there has been a break in the clouds, and we’ve had one or two whole glorious days of sunshine where the world seemed suddenly to come alive and feel filled with promise, but all too soon it seems the clouds return.

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I am not well. It happens. But like the weather, when the unwellness of Chronic Fatigue goes on for days and days and then the days turn in to weeks and then eventually to months, there are times when frustration and fear settle in me and darken the way I see, the way I think. It’s hard if I’m not able to go out for a walk when the sun does shine, and hard if, when I do have more strength, the sky is a solid white, or a solid grey, and the light is as flat and unchanging as my mood.

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But one day not long ago I had energy enough to go for a walk, and it wasn’t raining, so I took my camera and thought that since greyness prevailed I would go and celebrate things that are grey, enjoy the soft subtlety of quiet colours that tell a story of soft rain, of mist and fog and twilight.

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It’s good to walk slowly on a grey day, to stop and gaze at things you might not bother with at other times. The sun brings out beauty everywhere but on an afternoon like this you can find the hidden glory in a moss-covered wall, because in its quiet, undemonstrative way it’s just the loveliest thing around, beautiful in itself without the spotlight of sunshine.

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I started to enjoy myself, a lot. Moving slowly, I walked and looked and found things I felt a connection with. When I am bone-weary and dejected I don’t want excitement, or entertainment, or conversation or anything that requires much energy. I want to seek out things that are singing a quieter song that is closer to my own heart, and I found it in corrugated iron, in peeling plywood, in rusting metal and in crumbling stone.

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I’m finding that it’s so much better to start from where I am and from how I’m feeling, not longing and looking for a way to be different. I’m understanding how to listen to myself, something I find I’ve never really learned to do, and to be kinder and more compassionate.

Discovering that right now things are, actually, OK, somehow suddenly and strangely makes it so; the way ahead no longer seems important. And mysteriously, and without effort, things start to get better.

The Rain it Raineth Every Day….

Or so it seems. We have all got rather tired of hearing that this season or that has broken all records for rainfall, or drought, or cold temperatures or whatever – but as we English are renowned for talking about the weather we would be going on about it even if records weren’t being broken. Nevertheless, the amount of rain we have had in the last week alone would be cause for conversation even if we were not given to remarking on it all the time. As I look out of the window low cloud covers the hills, mists of rain sweep up the valley, rivulets of water run in the street and the plants in our small garden are bent and bowed by the weight of the raindrops.

From time to time I make a quick dash outside to rescue drooping foxgloves with bits of wire and garden canes. I am no gardener – our little back yard is planted without much planning and I tend to it on a kind of emergency response basis whenever a plant that’s doing its best is being assailed by the weather or is under attack in some way – as now, by heavy rain and by an army of slugs and snails.

We have always had snails in the garden and I refuse to tackle them with pellets and poison; searching the internet for a way to deal with them gave me lots of ideas but none sound particularly humane. I did think of collecting a bagful of them and taking them up to the duck-pond where I think they would be welcomed as a tasty snack – but I have to confess to being one of those dreadful people who throw snails over the fence into the neighbour’s garden, my defence being that his plot is completely untended and wild, with nothing that he values in the way of flowers. My worry is that the snails won’t value it either and head straight back to the juicier stuff that we’re providing.

When it does stop raining for a few minutes, insects of all kinds fling themselves into action and head for the flowers.

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre starts with the famous opening sentence, ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’. On days like this I don’t try to leave the house, or at least only to spend a few moments in the garden which, small as it is, is a little world of its own and full of delights.

In Sunshine and in Snow

A few days ago we had a snowstorm. This winter was mild with very little ice and not much snow, and recently we’ve had sunny days as warm as summer, so the howling wind and freezing rain that came lashing at the windows and then turned into a blizzard of snow came as a reminder of just how quickly things can change, and how unpredictable things can be.

The next morning the skies were clear, the sun shone, and by the afternoon it was so warm again that I went out without even a coat and took pictures of spring flowers in the sunshine, while the tops of the hills were still dusted with snow like icing sugar.

At this time of year, just one day can bring astonishing changes. Only a week ago this cherry tree was all bare twigs, and now it’s a little snowstorm of petals, casting new dappled shadows on the grass. I stopped short and gasped in surprise and wonder when I saw it.

Sunshine On The Ground

When I saw these it was a grey, overcast afternoon so even though they were almost hidden at the foot of a bank and partly covered by the overhanging branches of a fir tree they stood out in the gloom like a puddle of sunlight. They’re in one of the oldest parts of the cemetery, where trees that were planted many years ago have grown over and around the graves and the roots have toppled gravestones. I clambered over one that had fallen nearby, apologising to Ethel Watson as I did so – I always try not to walk on graves, though here it’s often hard to avoid it. The inscription at the head of her stone reads ‘Perfect Rest and Peace’, and for the few moments that I sat there gazing and taking photographs, that’s how I felt as well.

A little later and the sun did break through, so there really was sunshine on the ground – and in the branches of the trees behind. The sun stayed out as I walked home.