Sunday afternoon was glorious; a gathering of good friends; cool water to swim in on a hot afternoon; delicious food and inspiring conversations. This is perfect, I told myself, lying on the rug and looking up at blue sky through the dappled oak leaves.
We arrived home, dusk-ish, and I went to close up the chicken coop. Usually our six birds are crammed in to the coop that was officially built for three of them, preferring solidarity over space, but something was different. This time there was no cramming. Just little Nigella, the bantam, hidden in the nesting box at the back.
My heart flipped. It wasn’t quite dark yet, and so I felt a surge of hope, or perhaps it was disbelief. This isn’t happening.
They’re just taking their time to come in, I told myself. I set out through the farm, wandering up and down the terraces, clucking. Nothing. Back at the coop, one more bird had emerged; white Delia, one of two remaining from our original three birds.
Tall rooster Ainsley, curious Monica, bustling Martha and Delia’s white companion, Fanny – all gone.
Reality seeped in slowly. Gone. The sadness, the anger, the self-recrimination, the pain.
It’s all my fault.
Freedom and risk
I love having free-range chickens. In the heat of the summer their pen quickly becomes a dustbowl as they scratch and forage; I let them loose to roam around, explore the garden and dig up worms and grubs. They like to find shelter beneath the trees, to scratch in the mint that grows wild round our leaking water mines.
And yet I know there are predators around. I blamed this latest loss on the fox but the following day, heard a commotion in the chicken run and ran down to find a big buzzard in there, grappling for one of the remaining two.
Perhaps it was a bird of prey, not a canine, who’d scooped up the other four. It might explain the lack of feathers. Swept up and carried away, and I cursed them even though I love the buzzards, love to hear their mewing call and watch them circle high up in the sky.
Loss is painful; loss is life
It’s hard to lose things. The big things and the small. But seeing the year turn helps me understand that however big the loss, I will heal.
When the fire came through two years ago the land was blackened and charred. Softly, slowly, with winter rains and Autumn storms, with the gentle push of new growth, the land has healed its scars.
When the river flooded last year great trees were spun and caught around. They’ve dried out in the summer, become homes for new insects.
Fires are quenched by autumn rains. The great cork oaks grow back the bark that’s stripped from them.
And deep in the guilt of loss, the retreading of what I have or haven’t done, the outward blame and the inward guilt – is the knowledge that I will heal from this.
The seasons will turn and one day this will be a memory.
Paying attention and living slowly means knoticing what has changed day by day. The bracken is a little more golden today, a little less green. Hard quinces are beginning to dot the ground under the trees; the sunset falls a little earlier.
Because I know what is around me I know that it is changing. And change is what saves us. Just as change is what moves us on from those purely joyful moments, it carries us on from the sadness too, like a river, inevitable and strong as well as gentle and slow.
Next week I’ll be officially opening registration for The Seasoned Year. To be the first to hear when it opens, and for a very special price that no one else will get access to, make sure you sign up here. You’ll also get a free copy of my ebook, Savour Summer, a guide to reituals, practices and reflections to help you soak up the last few weeks of summer.