The change that had been brewing in my life gathered momentum here on this little farm, in the corner of the valley.
Five years ago we came here to house-sit while its owners, our dear friends, returned to the UK for a couple of weeks.
We thought we’d found paradise. We gorged ourselves on figs and peaches from the laden tree. Basked in the Portuguese sun. Ate meals of local bread and homegrown tomatoes and local olive oil. Everything seemed simple and good and bathed in sunshine.
I look back and know how real it was. The joy in our faces, in my home-cut hair and suntanned skin, radiates from the photos of that summer.
Slowing down, I set my compass to the direction in which I wanted to be moving
I learned to meditate here, sitting under a big pine in the dusty heat, while crickets sprang through the long grass all around me. The heavy, laden air of midsummer. I can almost smell it. I’d take my little mat out and go and sit under the tree. And years later, in freezing Cambridgeshire, I’d continue the practice. Imagine my breath joining in the currents of air that stretched from the freezing fens all the way around to the gorgeous, glorious hills that were starting, strangely, to feel like home.
Seven years on and we’re staying here as guests, in our newly nomadic state. It’s winter-going-on-Spring and when I got up yesterday morning the grass was crunchy with frost. The baby’s little socks frozen hard to the washing line where I’d left them, solid as rocks. I’m a mother now, and a resident of this country, and if I’m honest, the person who meditated under a pine tree and never wore much more than a bikini all those years ago seems far away to me now.
There’s a part of me that feels kind of jaded by that.
The Garden of Eden is so present to me in this metaphor.
I feel like I’ve fallen fro the state of grace I was once in. Because now my time is more complicated. My real life’s come into this paradise holiday. Nowadays, my head is full of things like the gas bottle that needs to be changed, the maintenance tasks around the farm. Forest fires. Sleepless nights. Deadlines and internet bills and Big Picture Plans.
But I also see in this cycle, a beautiful circling around the themes which weave our lives.
What we enjoyed back in that summer was harvest. The fruits of labour, which we played no part in. It’s the life they sell us in commercials: bathed in sun, enjoying the fruit. And if you’ve never experienced that intense level of joy, find a way to make it happen. It will change everything.
But I’m learning that to be a good gardener, very little time is spent doing picturesque things like planting seedlings and picking fruit.
Most of it is spent tending
Pruning. Weeding. Keeping beds clear, layering on mulch, hefting compost heaps about. It’s heavy, sweaty work and it leaves you mucky and tired and very often there isn’t much to show for that. Not in the “more tomatoes than I know what to do with” kind of way. A lot of the seeds you plant will die. A lot of the ones that live, you won’t know why.
And it’s the same in life. Those long glorious summers are possible because of the quiet times. The inner work. On this same hill I’ve had some of my rawest, darkest moments.
Because it turns out, following your heart and stepping out of the ordinary world turns up the dial on everything
Sad, bad and scared – emotions amplified by the path I’m walking.
And I tend this fiercely, because those liberated summer weeks of not-wearing-much and picking fruit straight off the tree, they still exist. Only in a richer, more layered way. There’s a tang to the sweetness because of what I know now of the whole cycle, and it’s one I wouldn’t change for the world. Isn’t that why those of us who know love salted caramel so much? Bitter chocolate? Dark coffee? It’s the grit in the oyster, the cloud in the blue sky.
The dirt and the dark, the winter that sets the stage for Spring to rise once more. And through it all, community, connection, the flickering sparks of recognition from those fellow travellers on the path. You, in other words.