Lammas: Replenishing the Life-Well
Since the pandemic lock-down began here in the UK, I’ve not spent a night away from home. The furthest I have travelled was a two hour drive to my mother’s funeral, back in April. As restrictions eased, we’ve been to the coast a few times and into Norwich. But we’re not going to be going away for a holiday and I have no idea when I will have my next work trip. I was supposed to have had a couple of Paris or Northern France assignments in later June/early July but obviously they didn’t happen.
At the same time as all this, I’ve had a massive, and utterly horrible increase in the amount of pain I am in, and an equally massive loss of energy. When you can’t sleep because of pain, anxiety, grief, the body has no chance to mend itself, to rest and recuperate and the spirit/soul has no chance to recover from the blows life has aimed at it. I would have loved to have been able to visit various locations and sites that nourish me, but until quite recently that sort of travel was out of the question for normal mortals who cannot flout the law like certain government advisors (and others). Even though many places are now open, at least partially, the limitations and the extra hoops to jump through put me off even trying. I don’t want to, say, go round Norwich Cathedral, following a set path that takes a truncated tour. I want to sit in empty corners and quiet chapels, or stand in the labyrinth and gaze at the sky.
We had a wonderful trip with my brother to a woodland near where he lives; we took a picnic and since he’s a butterfly expert, we got to experience certain examples of lepidoptera we’d not have spotted or recognised. He can identify a butterfly often just by its flight patterns, so this meant we got to see silver-washed fritillaries we’d otherwise not have realised were there; a purple hair-streak butterfly came down from the oak canopy and we were able to get a decent look at it. I’d never seen one before.
Then a few days ago, we went to Dunwich Forest, and had a deeply restorative walk there. We used to take our dog there, and since she died almost ten years ago, we’ve hardly been back. The fluttering leaves of birch, the high fronds of bracken, the deep dark green of planted conifers, and the solid green of oak leaves gave us shade from the intense summer sun; the scent of ferns and moss and the hint of fallen leaves and fungus reminded me of the ephemeral nature of the season. We saw many gatekeeper butterflies, coppers, large skippers, peacocks, red admirals, silver-washed fritillaries (which I’d never have identified if I’d not had my brother show me the week before), and a couple of white admirals too. Dragonflies of many hues and species flitted around like jewelled brooches that have come to life. The sun on gorse seed pods made them crackle and pop and fling the seeds a surprising distance; the few brilliant yellow flowers gave out their toasted coconut macaroon fragrance. Then, because an hour and a half’s walk had worn me out, we drove to the beach and got chips from the beach cafe, and ate them sitting on the shingle while the sea caressed the rolling pebbles at the shoreline.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden; I bought a couple of zero gravity reclining chairs which have proved perfect for lying back in to gaze at the night sky and try to see the comet. Later this month, we’ll watch for meteor showers. We’ve left the lawns uncut this year; closer to the house, they’re kept short by the assiduous efforts of our little squad of guinea pigs but further away, the grass has gone to seed, as have the various hawk-bits, cat’s ears, hawkweeds, and others. That’s brought in squadrons of seed-eating birds like goldfinches. The longer grass has encouraged grasshoppers and crickets, and I’ve spotted wall butterflies (whose larval stage eats grasses) and also clouded yellows (whose caterpillars eat clovers) flitting around and mating. The vegetable plants we’ve cultivated are all producing delicious food for us and the guinea pigs; the self-sown evening primroses draw both butterflies and moths. The flowers are like faery ballgowns of the softest, most vibrant yellow silk, and at night they give off both a gentle aroma and a strange, almost luminescent glow as the colour reflects moonlight and starlight. Bats fly in profusion over our heads as we lie star gazing, intercepting the June bugs and cockchafers that have launched from the lawn most nights during June and some of July, and hedgehogs perform their mating rituals (noisy) a few yards or even feet away from us, before adjourning to the feeding station to crunch up cat biscuits and slurp up the odd over-ripe banana.
Our apple trees are laden with fruit that’s ripening and drawing both wasps and blackbirds to the windfalls. The bees get on with their work and a steady hum of insect life underpins the sounds of bird life and the harsher hum of traffic. New dragonflies emerge from the pond, eye us up and decide we’re too big to eat (apparently they’ll intercept fragments of crisp or peanut flipped into the air, or so my brother has told me) and head off to find something more manageable.
I’ve had very few human encounters face to face in the last months; the few that I have had have been usually very welcome, with people I like and admire. The facility for video chats (many platforms available) has been a sanity saver for me and for many.
All of these things have been replenishing my life-well. It’s a term I have used (I might have coined it) for that deep pool of experiences and thoughts and memories and dreams that feed me at the deepest, most essential level. It’s where the ideas for stories are drawn from, where they sink down into the bedrock and sometimes emerge years or even decades later as part of something complex, and wonderful. Two years ago, we went back to Taize, and though the week(with two days of travel either side) left me so physically drained it took months to recover, the contribution to my life-well was so profound that it will stay with me forever. There was an attempt to get such a trip going from this diocese, and I was part of the meeting discussing it; it didn’t happen, and even had it been planned for this year it would have been scuppered. One of the things I needed to get across was how important that trip had been to me, but also how difficult it had been. The sad thing is how abled people react to information about difficulties in access to these kinds of pilgrimages. The general feeling is, “If it was that hard, why on earth would you put yourself through that to go again?” This completely fails to understand what life is like for the disabled. The idea that if they were in your shoes, they’d just not do anything difficult or painful is absurd; life is already constricted for those with disabilities, and the opportunities to replenish your life-well are also restricted. It’s the life-well we draw on in dark days, in days where getting out of bed let alone the house, is a major challenge and can be nigh-on impossible.
Having a life-well is important, vital even, to living a full, well-lived life rather than just enduring an existence. This extraordinary year I have heard friends talk about watching for hours as a spider spun her web, of books read they’ve long intended to read but never found the time for, of local walks where some kind soul has chalked the names of plants on the pavements, of meeting life-minded souls via Zoom, of taking virtual pilgrimages, of being still enough that wild creatures draw closer. I’ve heard nothing of holidays on exotic beaches, of sightseeing in distant lands, of the long-awaited family wedding, because the experiences that fill our life-wells this year are different. Some have been bitter, dark and filled with sadness and horrors. Some have been laden with home-made bread, bird-watching in back yards and reconnecting with much-loved old friends.
This is my Lammas wish for you: that your life-well this year be filled with unexpected riches that will carry you into the colder, darker months and give you joy and wisdom to draw upon as the year turns.
Blessings to you all.