The oak tree stands
noble on the hill even in
cherry blossom time
The cultivated cherries finished blossoming a week or two ago now. Nevertheless, the countryside is decked in white: the geans or wild cherry are in full bloom at last. Oak and ash have come into leaf together, signifying who knows what for the weather this summer.
You might also enjoy What colour is your May? which is about cherry blossom but also about a medieval chapel, bagpiping, and the family’s other castle.
I know, I know, I promised you I’d write more about the castle and its history, and almost all I’ve given you is burblings about the great outdoors. It’s not that I spend all my days frolicking in the trees – happy thought – but that what I want to do most it to share the beauty of it all with you, now that spring is bursting through the woodland. (Plus I am still trying to sneak in some Tuesday Trees without drawing too much attention to the fact. This was set to be a Tuesday post, until I was sabotaged by technical glitches.) Remember how I was looking forward to the ‘verdant light‘ of spring? Here it is.
Ahh, that greenness! This might perhaps not look like much of a wood. I mean, it’s beautiful, but there are not that many trees. It was never a very big wood and, since the winter storms of 2011-12, there is much more open ground than there used to be. I still love it, though. You can see the silvery disc of the lochan where the wild swans nest, beyond the edge of the trees. And it is where my beloved dog is buried, with the bulbs I planted last autumn flowering on her grave.
We are blessed in having Tarka, nearly nine months old now, as our new companion on walks (and on sofas, ahem). She is very patient with me and my previous attachment, happily investigating rabbit holes as I pause at this spot.
Anyway, the woods. And that green! The lushness under the trees is mostly not grass but the leaves of bluebells, which are just beginning to flower this week as the daffodils die off. More profuse at the moment are the wild forget-me-nots, pushing up through the bluebell leaves,
the sweet-faced wild violets,
and wood sorrel, with its fragile bell-like flowers and refreshingly sour leaves, which grow busily on beech mast,
on mossy, magical tree stumps,
and along the paths under Douglas firs in the deeper part of the wood.
There are kingcups growing in the burn that trickles along the edge of the woods,
and ferns unfurling like ammonites wherever they can gain a foothold.
All this beauty underfoot. And overhead, the drenching, cool green of the year’s new beech leaves, the most delicious colour of the year.
(Spring was much earlier in 2011 and 2012: you might enjoy Beech woods in springtime.)
Once upon a time I thought I had something Important to Say to the world. I didn’t know what it was. I just knew that I needed my voice to be heard. Pretty much like every other humanities graduate who ever lived, in other words.
Recently I have noticed that this need has been fading. Creeping into its place is the urge, not to be heard, but to listen. Listen to the world, as a favourite mug of mine reminds me. Listening is the way to contentment and understanding; to happiness, indeed.
Sometimes happiness can whisper so quietly, though, that you don’t register its voice until afterwards. Today was a day like that. Between the bookends of the school runs, I saw no-one all day. A planned morning coffee with a friend fell through, so instead I busied myself with household chores. At lunchtime, I took the puppy for a brisk walk: the weather was cold, wet and windy, not conducive to lingering and an unpleasant change from yesterday’s one day of glorious warmth and sunshine. Yesterday was the antithesis of today, in fact: twenty degrees (68F) and sunny but also very busy and full of meetings, journeys and faces.
By contrast, the occasional whine of the dog was the only other voice I heard for most of this afternoon. I even turned off the radio, the better to hear the silence.
It’s a delicate balance, finding the point where the silence is peaceful rather than tipping into melancholy. Perhaps I might have been at risk of that slide, if it hadn’t been for having to fetch my younger son from school in the mid-afternoon rain. Once he was home, the atmosphere of the day changed completely, the momentum picking up and carrying us through with chatter and homework, cooking and hugs until bath, story and bedtime and Daddy’s return from work.
Eight o’clock. Child is tucked up in bed. Before stepping into a hot bath, I pause at the window, looking out at the end of this wet day. The fields, woods, hills recede in subtle shades of green and grey, their outlines softened by drizzle. The two swans on the lochan are the only bright smudges. But look, there is a swallow diving over the dank field – and there is another, higher up, white breast flashing past the window. Soon more than a dozen swallows are flittering like bats in the grey air, higher than I’d have expected, lifting my heart with them. Hidden in the hedge far below, a blackbird burbles its evening song.
An hour later, and the grey-greens outside the window are darkening to cobalt and aquamarine. The swallows have vanished and the swans, barely visible in the dusk, are tucked up on their nest.
The blackbird is still singing. Listening, I find myself smiling. And I realise that today has been a happy day.
We have at last reached the brief moment in the year when Spring bursts over the countryside. This year, more than most, everything seems to be coming at once: daffodils, horse chestnut leaves, starry wood anemones, modest wild violets, catkins and buds and leaflets all together, as if Botticelli’s Primavera is dancing over the grass or Persephone has returned from the underworld and is blowing her warm breath over the land.
The horse chestnut in the Wild Garden, my favourite wood, is always the first tree that comes into leaf near the castle. This is the one I watch and long for through the long, bleak, scoured days of pre-Spring. Here it is at last, a column of green light in the shadowed wood, translucent leaflets streaming in the breeze. All the other trees are racing to catch up now, buds swelling with life: soon the wood will be filled with verdant light.
After an exceptionally warm and sunny March, last year’s May Day was already green: see May greenness.
There is a beautiful illustration of a medieval May morning in The merrie month of May.
And to give you an idea of how late our Spring is this year, compare this post with First green of the year from April 2011.
The last weekend of the holidays. Easter seems an age ago, the eggs long eaten, the last scraps of coloured foil from trouser pockets scraped out of the bottom of the washing machine. One boy is back at his state school already and we are into the routine of gym bag, piano lessons, homework. The other has mooched about the house while I try to think up things he can do which don’t involve staring at a screen all day.
This Saturday morning the boys are outside, constructing what they call an assault course from the swings and slide. This mostly seems to involve one of them scrambling from one side of the climbing frame to the other without touching the ground, by means of ropes, while the other tries to unbalance him by fair means or foul. It’s blustery today, but just warm enough at last for them to be out there without their mother fretting about their lack of coats.
While they are happily occupied away from computer games, I am caught up in end-of-holiday jobs. I have scoured town for acceptable boys’ slippers. I have dithered about where on earth to sew name-tapes onto said slippers, and finally scrawled initials on their soles with black marker pen. (Will the matron tut-tut at my slovenly ways? Do I care?)
I have got the huge pile of laundry washed, if not yet ironed. I have taken delivery of a pile of new uniform to replace outgrown versions, and have reminded myself again that tonight I really must unpick the name-tapes from the old items and sew them onto the new, before it’s too late and I have to send elder son back to boarding school half-naked. I have remembered and forgotten, remembered and forgotten to take him for a haircut. Oh well, at this rate his sideburns will soon be long enough to cover his state of undress.
Meanwhile we have invited friends for tea today, so I have spent some of the morning baking a lemon drizzle cake. A delicious smell of warm cake fills the kitchen. I love the smell of something cooking in the oven: it signals that I have Achieved Something with the day; plus I get to enjoy it later! That’s pretty much having my cake and eating it, isn’t it?
Saturday evening. I have just finished the pile of name-tape sewing – yess! – while watching a sappy film on the box, so my child will return to school decently covered after all. Like almost all mothers, I spend half the holidays longing for school to begin again so that I can have please God just five minutes’ peace: like almost all mothers, my heart sinks at the start of term. It should get easier, sending your child back to boarding school each term, but it doesn’t. If anything, it gets harder. I want to kidnap him from school, hide him under the duvet, imprison him with hugs and kisses. I can hardly bear to think what it will be like when I have to send both the boys off to boarding school. If we didn’t honestly believe that this option offered them the best and happiest opportunities for their education, we couldn’t stand it for a moment.
According to the psychologist I’ve been seeing, I am a bit too ‘stiff upper lip’. I need to let it all hang out more, or something. Funny, because here on Dancing Beastie I feel like it all hangs out quite a lot.
Talking of which, there is some cake left over for tea tomorrow. That’ll help fuel the afternoon’s ironing. And I might even let the boys have some.
At last, at last, we have a change in the weather, bringing a change in the season. Last week began as usual with snow showers and snowdrops in full bloom, as if it were mid-February rather than mid-April. Over the weekend, a couple of days of heavy rain – the first in weeks and weeks – and warm southerly winds have brought Spring in almost overnight. I swear the grass grew two inches in two days: suddenly the fields look green rather than drab, and the snowdrops’ leaves have grown over the heads of the still-blooming flowers. (We have moved on to mid-March, in fact!) So this week’s Tuesday trees (yes, they do still appear here from time to time) are optimistic trees.
The horse chestnut leaves will be unfurling from their buds at any moment; perhaps as I write.
Best of all, the first cherry blossoms are out. This little cherry tree blossomed on New Year’s Day last year, in an oddly mild winter. This year, it is as late in blooming as it has ever been, I think. How glad we are to welcome it!
At this date two years ago, we were well ahead in the season: compare An April that feels like May.
I have been celebrating. Yesterday was the third anniversary of my head injury, so my husband and I cracked open a wee bottle of bubbly and drank a toast. Perhaps I should explain…
I haven’t written about my brain injury for a while now, which is in itself a positive sign. As the months have passed, my recovery has continued to creep onward and other life events, both good and bad, have taken the foreground.
All being well, I probably won’t write about it again. I am so lucky: I am basically absolutely fine. You would not know on meeting me that I had ever suffered a brain injury. Nonetheless, the ‘new normal’ of my life today is subtly different from normal life before my accident.
When you hear the words ‘traumatic brain injury’, you probably picture the worst. Someone in a coma in hospital. Someone in a wheelchair, head lolling. Dreadful cases like these are the extreme ones, requiring intensive medical attention and long-term care. Of the estimated one million people in Britain who suffer a traumatic head injury each year, however, around 85% will be classified as minor cases. (Source: https://www.headway.org.uk/key-facts-and-statistics.aspx ) That means there are an awful lot of people out there who look fine but who are living with their own ‘new normal’.
For me, there are certain symptoms of head injury which have not yet disappeared. I may be stuck with them – this may be my normality from now on – but their gradual diminution gives me hope that they will one day dwindle into insignificance. By now, I have learned to understand them, to work around them or just to ignore them, as required.
Because minor head injury is not immediately apparent – you can’t walk around with your brain in a sling – it can be hard for others to understand. Sometimes, even (especially?) people who have suffered their own head injury find it difficult to comprehend why the experience of others should be any different. For example, a relative of mine was in a nasty accident a few years ago and suffered a head injury which gave her months of problems. She feels fully recovered now, thank goodness. When she heard that I still have symptoms three years after my own accident, she made it pretty clear that she thinks I am making it up. And this is one of the most demoralising aspects of a mild head injury: the added insult of insinuations that it is, literally, all in your head. To be honest I have wondered this myself. Could I be making up the stutter, the headaches, the bouts of mental and physical fatigue, the nausea and disorientation caused by flash photography and strobe lighting? If other people have recovered so much more quickly, could I just be exaggerating it all, playing the victim?
I asked my neurologist for his opinion on all this last time I saw him. He told me very firmly that every case is different. Sometimes an apparently quite serious head injury can have no lasting consequences, whereas an accident that seems relatively trivial can result in years of difficulties. There is, evidently, no set pattern of recovery from brain injury.
Similarly, it used to be thought unlikely for there to be further recovery from a brain injury after a year. We now know that the brain’s powers of recovery are greater and less predictable than that. Whether modest, like small improvements in memory, or phenomenal, like a coma patient waking up after twenty years, the repairs that a brain can make on itself are truly wonderful. In my own case, I used to write down every tiny improvement, inching my way impatiently towards competence. Now I need hardly think of them as I go about our normal family life. My husband says that he has ‘got me back’.
The constant pain in my head that once drove me almost to distraction is now, usually, little more than an occasional throb, managed by medication. It’s there on a daily basis, but it really troubles me only when I have overdone things. My neurologist explained that these headaches are neuropathic in origin. Contrary to some assumptions I have encountered, that doesn’t mean that they are made up! It means that they are caused by nerve damage. In very simplified terms (and bear in mind I’m only the patient, not the brain surgeon) the brain has a couple of options when it encounters damage. It can repair the damage, which may take months or years, or if this proves impossible it can work out a way to ‘re-route’ around the damage. The third possibility is that it can’t manage to do either; but I am hopeful that my brain will carry on working on itself, and that the pain will eventually disappear and I will be able to stop taking daily pills.
While neuropathic pain is very real – as sadly some of my readers understand from their own experience – it would be foolish to deny that psychology also plays a part in recovery from injury. Last time I wrote about my head injury, I was hopeful that post traumatic stress counselling was going to ‘cure’ my difficulties with light and noise. In brief, yes, I have been helped enormously by the meetings I’ve had with a clinical psychologist specialising in trauma. She was able to unravel the panic and stress I felt, and to dissipate my extreme reactions to stimuli. Once the panic was dealt with, however, I was still left with physical reactions to flashing light and loud noise: nausea, dizziness, disorientation. These are caused by damage to the brain, not by psychological reactions to injury, meaning I am stuck with them unless/ until my brain can repair this damage. So I may not be watching any more action movies for a while after all (sorry, Arnie!) and I have to avoid flash photography and dance floors with disco lights bouncing off the walls; but funnily enough that’s fine. Now that the stress has been diffused, it’s much easier to be practical and philosophical about such symptoms. From what I read on the Headway community forum I know that there are others with similar problems, and I’d urge anyone who is suffering from panic and anxiety following an injury to ask their doctor about the possibility of post-traumatic stress. It’s not something which can vanish by just trying to ‘pull yourself together’, but it can be helped enormously by the right specialist.
There are some regrets I have about the past three years: chiefly the effect of my injury on my family. My younger son was at kindergarten when the accident happened, and now he is half way through primary school. He can scarcely remember a mummy who wasn’t irritable about noise, who didn’t stutter when she was stressed, who wasn’t taciturn with exhaustion at afternoon school pick-up time. Somehow he has remained sunny throughout, thank heavens, and I have managed to build strong bonds with him and his brother, but I would not have wished any of this on them or their father.
There are some fears I have for the future, like the long term effect of traumatic injury on my brain power as I grow older. Some scientific studies have made a link between brain injury and the development of dementia. But as the saying goes, sufficient unto the day (are the troubles thereof). There are more important things to concentrate on, like my children and my wider family and community. Having been a recipient of so much care and kindness throughout my recovery, it feels good to have the energy now to give a little back, for example through fundraising and voluntary work, and just through trying to be a better wife, mother and friend.
Last year was a leap year. Walking in the woods on the 29th of February, the ‘leap-day’, I thought that – against all logic – it did feel as if one had been granted an extra day of life. Then I thought that, since my accident, every day has been an extra day of life, a free gift.
All in all, then, there is plenty of reason for my husband and I to have drunk a toast last night. We drank one for ourselves, and I raise a glass to wish the same to you. Ladies and gentlemen: your very good health.