The Return

We stand on the old stone bridge looking down at the river flowing from the mountains to the sea. The water is brilliantly clear, gushing and bubbling over the rocks and pebbles and silt with effortless onward movement. We stare patiently at the darker water that pools by either riverbank under the shade of the overhanging trees, hoping that we might see a lingering trout. The sun hits our backs with a surprising kick of warmth, forcing us to unzip jackets and remove hats. Dark clouds and spits of rain had furrowed our brows as we had set out, the chill in the air dictating a brisk pace, but now we marvel at the respite and enjoy our good fortune. A man with neither helmet nor hair cycles past on a reliable bike and we exchange a civil greeting. I wait to see if he will mount the pedals to take on the approaching ascent, but he doesn’t appear to as he disappears around the corner.

Home.

The young shop proprietor tells me he is waiting for flour. He opened seventeen days ago so it is a bit early to tell how things will go, but so far they aren’t too bad. He got bread in this morning and only has two pans left. He doesn’t think your man in the Clash (not the band) still sells groceries in his place. Waiting for flour. When we were in a few days before, he was waiting for tissues. My daughter tasted her first Loop the Loop that day, and no different to all the indulged children of her generation, it was pleasant, but a non-event. The shop is small, a single low-ceilinged room, not bright, an entrance off the road, another door behind the sweets counter that leads to the private quarters of the owner and his family. A large, round-faced boy – a son, a brother? – comes out of that door and makes jokes with the other man. I see Rolos, but don’t buy them. The shop wasn’t always a shop. I remembered it well in an older incarnation when it was a very small but popular pub. And then there were bad stories about the two old men who ran it and the things they did to people who shouldn’t have had things done to them. And then it wasn’t a pub anymore.

Home.

“Is that a nettle?” my daughter asks of almost every green thing she spies at ground level. “No love, they’re just brambles.” “What about this? It looks spiky.” “That’s a fern, love. It’s not spiky at all.” Having stoically borne a little crop of nettle stings the last time we were back and having feared for getting in trouble over not heeding the warnings, she carries a visceral memory of their evil. Her eyes fall out of her head when she is told by my childhood friend that they make a fine soup. Her deepening knowledge of the local flora and fauna accelerates with each passing day. “I just saw a bumblebee – it was huge!” “I just saw a pheasant up close!” “Dada! Don’t kick the dandelions – the bees need them!” “I don’t like sheep – they stink, and they poo everywhere.”

Home.

Christmas trees that were planted as scrawny saplings a lifetime ago, and weeded by a much younger version of myself, have outgrown their usefulness as festive centrepieces and lie felled at the feet of their surviving brethren. Cleanly sawn into chunky rounds, I take to them with an axe, hewing them into burnable wedges and stacking them into an unintentionally lopsided wall to give them the best chance of drying out. Techniques shown to me by my father as a teenager combine in fluid dynamics of rising and falling, chopping and splitting. The work is healthy and satisfying, the air thick and my hands sticky with pungent sap. My daughter compliments my success when the wood gives way.

Home.

The nearby hills and the busy permutations of sky and cloud are endlessly familiar. The cool air enters me like fresh blood. Birds and trees spark little vignettes of memory and I see myself so much younger, strolling along the winding country roads of my boyhood squashing snowberries and crushing rosehips, breaking the thin ice of shallow puddles and exhaling hot breath on frosty leaves to thaw them. A different time of year now, I am enthused by the pale-yellow primroses and the curlicued staffs of individual ferns. An unexpected bank of white bells – or wild garlic? – on the side of the road offers relief from the briars and untended grass and wild weeds of the hedgerows. The daffodils are mostly past their best, but we delightedly spot holdouts still in prime bloom. Gorse appears to be thriving everywhere, its brutal prickles offset by the generosity of its yellow flowers. Most beguiling is a pretty array of forget-me-nots cheerfully sprouting out of an old stone entrance to a neighbouring house.

Home.

After ten years in a busyish suburb of a major-ish city, the quality of sound where we are is utterly seductive. The vast spaces in the soundscape are meditative. There is an all-embracing peacefulness that nourishes internal stillness and introspection. Birdsong seems to ring out throughout the day. From pre-dawn to nightfall you can hear chatty finches and tuneful blackbirds sounding among the free-growing woods. The wind steals across open spaces and greets you around corners, sometimes rustling the leaves, sometimes changing the particular green of the grass as it pushes it in a different direction. Even the loudest noises feel organic and integral to the ecosystem into which we have been dropped. Bleating ewes and crying lambs can shatter the early morning silence when the mist still hangs like a shroud over their sleepy field. The early afternoon lull can be shredded by the urgency of a swiftly wielded chainsaw, but the mechanical intrusion is short-lived and understood to be necessary.

Home.

A bumblebee recharging itself on a sun-struck leaf. A pair of swallows – mates – scooping and swooping in pretty arabesques in the warm air of a late spring sky. Multitudes of tadpoles vibrating the surface of murky pondwater as if coming to the boil. A host of flying insects catching the dusk light as they hover in the otherwise shady theatre of towering fir trees. A robin bouncing from branch to fencepost and back. A shy, white-socked Tabby cat tiptoeing to safety beneath low-hanging branches. Chilled country dogs of no particular stripe perfunctorily growling and grumbling just to maintain appearances. Feral yard dogs praying to be unleashed. Coffee-coloured donkeys lining up demurely for their John Hinde moment.

Home.

The bend of the lane. The deep ditches dying to catch you. The unexpected pools of clear water that can run under them. The casual nod, head lift, or raised hand of a passing driver. The sound of rain on a tin roof. The soothing and myriad tones of green of spring’s steady eruption. A great intermingling of dark and light fronds and leaves and needles, all vying for primacy, nestling in and amongst each other, crisscrossing and stretching for the light. Red roofs of farmyard sheds. Scrappy clothes lines and hugger-mugger wood piles.

Home.

The yet-to-be-had conversation. “Where have you been?” “Away.” “And you’re back now, is it?” “We are. We’re back.”

  One thought on “The Return

  1. Martinne aka Marts
    April 29, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Absolutely beautiful Dara! I was there with you every step of the way!
    Much love and gratitude to you!! 🙏😘💖

    • April 29, 2020 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Marts! Hopefully see you here next year. 🤞😊😎

  2. Emily
    April 29, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    A lovely piece Dara, I could almost smell the Spring air

    • April 30, 2020 at 1:45 am

      Thanks Emily, glad you liked it.😊

  3. Jerry mcfak
    April 29, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    Any herons in the river?

    • April 29, 2020 at 7:31 pm

      I haven’t seen a one! I think we both know who got them…😆

  4. Angelique Matias
    April 29, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    Great to hear you are all home home and safe.
    What a fabulous piece, I pictured myself right there with you, whilst I heard the river flowing.
    Angie & Rog

    • April 30, 2020 at 4:48 am

      Thanks Angie, lovely to hear from you. Best to all of you guys. Dx

  5. Kieran McEvoy
    May 1, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Really lovely writing Dara, I love the ‘donkeys lining up for their John Hinde moment’ bit!
    I can’t believe you guys made it back…I kinda presumed that the move would have been cancelled until this was all over..don’t know how you did it but welcome home!

    • May 1, 2020 at 11:23 am

      Hey Kieran, great to hear from you and thanks for the welcome back.
      Yeah, we can’t believe we made it ourselves. What a ride!
      Hope you guys are all well – look forward to seeing you on the other side.😀

  6. Joel Wellington
    May 2, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Beautiful writing Dara, it really transported me. Winter is just starting to set in here, will be nice for you to catch another summer. Glad to hear you arrived safely, though you and your family will be sorely missed by your other, more sunburned family down under. Stay safe, good luck and be sure to keep in touch.
    Joel and Linda

    • May 2, 2020 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks Joel, good to hear from you. It was officially the first day of summer here yesterday and it was bloody cold! There was also a freak hail shower to mark the occasion. Madness.
      Great to be back all the same. I’m so grateful we had that afternoon together with R&A at the start of March before the restrictions really bit.
      You take care of yourselves.
      👊😊

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