The Sunlight on the Garden

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Last night, the wind roared down the chimney. It sounded like a playful giant blowing over the rim of an enormous milk bottle. And in the morning, the plane trees on the High Road had been stripped of all but the most recalcitrant leaves. I sometimes wonder if the leaves enjoy their first and last moments of freedom, released from the shackles of branch and twig to dance in the air and skitter down the pavement.

I was away all weekend in Somerset, for a series of events to celebrate Aunt Hilary’s 90th birthday. Everyone that I spoke to told me how Hilary had been the first person to welcome them to the village when they arrived, the first person to help them find their feet in the community. At the afternoon tea party, there were little bunches of fuchsias and hebe and rosemary on the tables, and half a dozen ladies from the village had made scones and brownies, fruit cake and sandwiches. There was such warmth in the room, and in this it reminded me of Mum and Dad’s party.

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Aunt Hilary and Bugwoman discussing life.

Without wanting to be (particularly) morbid, it seems to me that moments of happiness and celebration are more and more important as I, and the people that I love, grow older. To anyone contemplating arranging an event, a holiday, a special evening with someone that they care about, I’d say ‘do it,’ however stressful the organisational process is. It’s the memories that count, not material things. My writer friend Dianne Crumbaker has been thinking along similar lines, as you can see here.

How can we evaluate a life, judge it as well-lived?  I’m not sure why we were put on this earth, but I’m very sure that part of it must be to be of service, to use our skills and talents for the greater betterment of other people and the earth as a whole.  It makes me wonder how I can give back to my local community, how I can make a difference. I have such a fear of committing to things that I can’t carry through because I might have to do something to help Mum and Dad. It’s a conundrum, to be sure.

This morning I stood in my kitchen, and marvelled at how a finger of sunlight was touching  the beech leaves in the hedge until they glowed copper and gold. The sun burns along the narrow alleyway by the side of the house like a laser. I took a photo, and then took some of the starlings. At the top of the hawthorn and whitebeam the sun shines more gently over the house, and the birds reflect the light. They chortle and chat away, raising their crests and whistling continuously while eyeing the contents of the bird table and checking for cats. And then they descend like thunderbolts, tossing suet pellets and mealworms in all directions.

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I look back at the hedge, and already the sun has moved on. Except, of course, that it hasn’t. We have. The world is turning under my feet, even though I can’t feel it, and the angle of the alleyway to the sun has changed in just a few moments. I have rarely been brought up so sharply by the realities of time and space. We are moving on, inexorably, getting older, travelling at thousands of miles per hour even while we’re doing nothing more exciting than taking pictures of birds through our cobwebby windows on a Thursday morning.

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How quickly a lifetime goes, each slice of time followed by another, and then another. By the time I’ve taken some pictures of the goldfinches, the earth has turned further, and the sun is no longer on the hedge at all. A wren runs across the steps to the pond as quickly as a mouse. A neighbour’s cat rushes across to the pond and tries to extract a late frog, who dives just in time. The cat licks his paw and gazes around as if slightly embarrassed.

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All night I was worrying about Mum, who has a terrible cough. The doctor is hoping that antibiotics and steroids will be enough to keep a potential infection under control, but I fear another hospital stay is on the cards, and there’s the question of looking after Dad in her absence. The parents  can pretty much manage when there are two of them (with the help of their carers), but things break down quickly if there’s only one at home. And then, as I watch that slot of golden sunlight travel across the garden, it occurs to me that trying to control fate, trying to negotiate with the gods, is as pointless as trying to keep a leaf on a tree, or attempting to stop the world from turning. I feel myself rooting down into acceptance. What will be, will be, and all I can do is ride the season, the squalls and the bitter cold and the sudden, blessed gifts of sunshine.

Update: it seems that I was too pessimistic about Mum’s chest infection – she seems to be improving, and so far is still at home, taking her steroids and antibiotics and drinking lots of tea. Fingers crossed!

20 thoughts on “The Sunlight on the Garden

  1. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Congratulations to Aunt Hilary. That’s a good number of days travelling on this earth – I’m surprised she’s not dizzy at the speed we go! I’m also pleased to read that your mum is on the mend. My dad has had another short spell in hospital and is coming out today. They made them tough in those days! 🙂

    Reply
  2. Adrienne Rowe

    Please be careful with the antibiotics. Sometimes they are necessary but my mum did so well with lots of Green Tea and tincture from a herbalist.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Adrienne, thanks for the advice, and I too loathe over-use of antibiotics. However, Mum and Dad both have COPD, diabetes, heart failure and a range of other long-term health problems that mean that any infection has to be blasted as soon as it becomes apparent. Mum nearly died in hospital two years ago from a similar infection, so you can see why they don’t hang around….

      Reply
  3. Fran and Bobby Freelove

    We really feel for you as far as your parents are concerned, we too had our father on his own for eight years after our mother died. We were fortunate enough to have them live just round the corner from us so it was easy to get to in an emergency, it must be so much more of a worry living a fair way away. We’re glad to hear she didn’t have to go into hospital this time, our father was a very strong willed man and utterly refused to go in hospital towards the end, you can only do your best for them. At least you notice all the lovely things about nature, the Starlings have to be one of our most favourite birds, they gather in our gardens several times a day, up to 50 at a time,for their suet treats, and we love the excitable sounds they make.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Fran and Bobby, thank you for the reminder that you can only do your best, somedays nothing feels good enough.Dad now has a chest infection too so I’m off to Dorset later today to look after them. I’m just glad that i still have them to look after, I know that it won’t be forever…

      Reply
  4. Toffeeapple

    Stunning pictures again, those leave really stand out. I love the Starling, I love them all really.
    Pleased to hear that your Mum is on the road to recovery and that Aunt Hilary enjoyed her celebrations.

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  5. Rachael

    I wish you and your parents well. I am familiar with caring for elderly parents from a distance. It can get so complicated. Hope your mother is on the mend now.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Rachael, Mum is not too bad but dad’s got a chest infection now so I’m off to Dorset later today. Still, I’m lucky to have them both so the disrupyion is a small price to pay. And I’m also lucky to be freelance, and to have a fair bit of flexibility with work…

      Reply
  6. gertloveday

    You’re right about the cat being “slightly embarrassed”. I once saw my cat run straight into a bucket of water when he was trying to sneak up on a bird, and he immediately looked round furtively as if to see if anyone had noticed, and tried to look as if he didn’t care at all.

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  7. Andrea Stephenson

    Absolutely beautiful Vivienne. I love that first image of the giant blowing on the milk bottle, the gorgeous slant of light on the hedge and that dapper starling. And your thoughts on life. I’ve been in a situation in the past where my parents were ill and nothing could be planned because of it – and if it was, it had to be changed, the vagaries of life as we get older….

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Andrea – yeshaving elderly parents certainly encourages one to get comfortable with uncertainty. Dad now has the chest infection as well so I’ve dropped everything and an off to Dorset this afternoon. Still, I’m lucky to still have them both so it’s a small price to pay…

      Reply
  8. Array

    Beautiful, thank you so much! Exquisite pictures & I love your gentle & sensitive philosophising. .I was lucky enough to meet Eben Alexander last week, the Harvard Teacher & Neurosurgeon who had 7 days in deep coma & wrote ‘Proof of Heaven’ after his recovery. Your thoughts on being of service & making a difference echo his; we are here to love each other, put simply! .

    Reply
  9. Katya

    I love the elegiac tone of this perfectly woven piece; waning Autumn brings that on brilliantly. Still, as usual, you haven’t forgotten those humorous asides.

    Reply
  10. classof 65

    In the market for a tuxedo cat. I’ve decided that I ‘m not going for an exotic cat, just a tuxedo. I’d prefer a female simply because they seem to be more calm — I’m missing a cat so bad. I ‘d even take two if available. You can tell that I’m getting desperate. I think that two is better than one, especially if they are related. I want them to feel comfortable with each other.

    Reply
    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Hi Classof65 – in my experience of cat fostering, cats are often happier on their own – young cats seem to be good friends but at about 18 months the dominance games kick in and one cat is permanently miserable. Not always the case, I know, but a freqent occurrence. My cat is much much happier now her boisterous brother has found a lovely home elsewhere. But do get a cat. There are so many needing a loving home….

      Reply

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