The land holds memories. Not just that I remember being there, but that it reminds me of me and the people I have shared it with.
I’ve just come back from a place in Dorset where my kids and I have been meeting up with friends for the last 3 years or so. There is a path through woods, onto heath-land down the hill, along the reed beds, across the pebbles down to the sea and I love this place. It is not only beautiful, wide, open and free, it is also a place which has held me.
Although I go to Dorset with my kids, the path and the sea hold memories for me of my two close women friends. We have walked that path singularly, in pairs and our three. The path has seen relationships start and end, children break and mend, careers ebb and flow, pets come and go. We have walked the path in wellies, in flip-flops and with bare feet, in layers of coats against the wild winter wind and stripped back to flesh in the summer sun.
The land has held us as our children have had their ages and phases, their fallings in and out, our parenting triumphs and disasters. It has held as we our hormones have changed, our bodies adapting to this mid-life phase. There has been such intimacy, walking side by side and sharing what is in our hearts, together on this land which has allowed us the privacy and space to explore who we are and who we want to be.
And I have walked that path alone, early in the morning when all are asleep, sometimes with my yoga map and sometimes to swim. I have written poems on the path, found words to say what was within, the land offering metaphors, the season reminding me of the permanency of change.
The tread of so many footsteps, so many walks to the sea and back, seems to imbue the path with me and them, a scent of us passing through, holding our memories for us each time we return.
There are not so many places that can hold me so well.
I have a river at the bottom of our garden, and whilst, of course, it still remains, the children and I have been shut off from their childhood play. Two previous neighbours had welcomed us across their garden and down the bank to the river side where we would fish for tiddlers and walk out to the washed up land we would call Swan Islands, paddling around them with the dog to skim stones and sit, gazing out in the summer under the bridge, watching the swallows swoop and dive. It held my children’s toddling steps, the long-dead, much loved dog who would chase our sticks into the gentle summer current and sprinkle us with spray as he shook. It was out Enid Blyton paradise at our own back door.
But then the neighbours moved away and new ones built a wall, blocking our way to the gentle slope and the memories it held. It felt like a bereavement, I cried and pleaded but to no avail, they wanted a separation between theirs and mine where the previous neighbours had wanted to share. And so the kids can no longer paddle or row or splash for our bank is to steep and the water by us too deep and so although the land holds those memories of sitting on Swan Islands with kids and friends, I can no longer go there. It makes me sad for the land holds those people that we were then in those summers, after school, when the sun was shining and the kids were young.
And so it is and will be, as land borders change and the climate raises seas, as people leave their dried out homes in search of rain and green. And yet I’m not sure we ever leave, for that path in Dorset and Swan Islands will always hold a bit of me and who I have been.
Even the simple block I have walked around, and will once again having written this holds years of me:
I have walked this block,
Through the bitter winter dawns.
I have seen my old dog’s legs buckle and fail in these potholes,
His hips giving out but his eyes never losing their shine.
I have been dragged and tangled by the puppies
I said I would never have again.
I waddled heavy footed, pregnant around these lanes,
With dreams of whale song and lavender births.
Here is where I tipped my eldest into a ditch of nettles,
Head first, tied unsafely into his buggy
As I tried to escape the too fast, lane filling van.
Here is the field where the buzzards gather,
Sitting, waiting, watching, impervious to my passing.
I have watched the February sun waking into the star lit sky,
And the October gold settling into the horizon.
I have seen stars fall and blaze, moons wax and wane.
I Walked this block through flood and mist,
Stood and marvelled at the head-high snow drifts.
Seasons of lambs have grown and gone,
And the sweet-pea house now has four cars where Tonka toys once stood.
I walked this block when my body couldn’t bear the grief of my mother’s death,
When the tears leaked and my legs twitched to run back in time to meet her.
I have watched wobbling boys make their first cycling circuit,
My heart pounding as I watch their small hands
Grapple to steer away from the oncoming cars,
Knowing they need to take that risk,
To learn their own paths.
I have walking holding hands, holding hearts,
With friends or phone held close.
My kids have grown and moaned and hated each footfall,
Until they have forgotten their resentment,
The movement and skyline
Inviting them into
A play-world of their own.
But mostly I walk alone,
Passing my former selves as I go,
Nodding to them in recognition,
Of all that we have been through.
Hoping that many older selves,
Will meet me walking too.