photo by Tim Mossholder
By the time you read this, the country will be back to school- at least that’s what I thought before last week brought the sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II, public mourning for whom is altering everyone’s schedules. I may respond to that in a future post. Both the new monarch and the new prime minister will be on a steep learning curve! It’s a stage of year preceded with much marketing of all the impedimenta required (possibly) by school children. When I grew up, it was more ‘make do and mend’ and stepping into a bigger sister’s outgrown school uniform – my sons will remember this process too! This time of year always recalls the smell of wood shavings as I sharpened my literal pencils. However you are preparing –or if it is not something on your radar, especially with recent sad events – I wish you a happy new season.
I have a few weeks before my new students’ details drop into my digital inbox, and I’ve taken the opportunity to visit another of my very favourite places – a tiny stone cottage, perched like a crows’ nest above the cliffs of Strumble Head, below a fortress used since the Iron Age (and appropriated as a World War II look out). People and places evolve, adapt, metamorphose in response to changing events – be they season, global or personal circumstances. It’s the subject of one of my poetry books which focuses on this part of the Pembrokeshire Coastline (Swn y Morloi, Maytree Publishing, 2019).
Living with Long Covid I have had to adapt –quite rapidly, and unexpectedly. Usually when I stay here I plan LONG walks on the delightfully undulating, rocky coastal path, relishing the pleasantly stretched feeling of vigorous walking for many hours at a time. These days, it’s rather different. I can’t do so much. I have to have more rests. I need to break walks into sections, maybe drive to a starting point. On the morning I wrote this piece, I sat on a rock part way up the hill behind ‘my’ cottage and watched two white sails, like upended gulls, very, very slowly moving down the coastline, barely disturbing the silky smoothness of the sea. It’s hard to imagine a more peaceful scene. One of my favourite books as a child was What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge. The eponymous heroine suffers an accident (the moral is she did something she’d be warned not to) and suffers a serious injury which forces the active, tomboyish lively girl to be confined to bed for many months. Her wise cousin Helen, a long term invalid, describes this as a ‘hard school.’ Katy learns her lesson, and recovers.
Section 28 of the Quaker Advices and Queries reads:
‘Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.’
Here’s a poem about the lessons I am learning on my holiday.
Back to School
I am learning to be still – not wedged in a chair,
knees tucked under a desk, eyes fixed
on the blackboard – I am learning to be still
in my busy brain.
‘Here is a to-do list,’ says my mind.
‘Here is all you need to know,’ say the waves,
who have learned all their lessons about when to swell,
to swoop, to crash and curl,
to slide round the implacable determination
of an island too small for even one gull.
‘Here is a lesson about changing direction,’ says the wind,
blowing soot down the chimney, chasing the clouds,
dancing with the crows like kite strings.
‘Sit, and listen to my story.’
‘Here is some homework about bathing in beauty,’
says the sunset, unfurling silver streaks on the surface of the sea,
rolling back the curtains of sky to share
its ribbons of pink and grey.
‘Sit, and rejoice that I make a new one of these,
every evening, for you to enjoy.’