October storms have been bringing rain and wind. Too much in many places with roads and trainlines flooded. Here on the moor where I live there’s been a fair bit of rain, but not as much as further west in the Dales, so most of the roads have stayed open.
The hay was gathered in before the wet weather and is now wrapped in big black plastic cylinders stacked up next to the barns. I can smell the scent of sweet hay from the bales when I walk past on my way up to the moor. It’s been warm for the time of year and the fields where the hay was mown are bright green again with new grown grass.
The lane is bordered by red berries: rowan, hawthorne, holly, guelder rose, rosehips. Bunches of brown keys hang in the ash trees, ready to blow across the fields to make legions of young seedlings in the hedgerows.
The holly bushes are full of movement as branches are blown around in the blustery wind. The red berries bring back memories of my mother. She died in October a few years ago and I had to rush from the moor to the south of England where she lived and was in hospital.
Christmas was an important family time for her and at the time of her illness the ripe holly berries along the lane brought with them the realisation that she would not see another Christmas again. I remembered how it used to be such a fuss and nuisance to travel with the children to see her at a time of year when the days were short, the weather was bad, and the roads often icy.
Grief is a strange emotion; it takes a long time to stabilise and absorb. When someone dies there are a lot of practical things to do and it wasn’t until I eventually returned north that I could let go and experience what I was feeling instead of filling in paperwork, providing lunches and dinners for relatives, organising the funeral, and looking after other people.
When I got back, I sat by the fire alone in my little cottage and wrote a long poem. It was the first poem I’d written since those dramatic angst-filled poems of teenage. Here are a couple of lines:
When they called me
I left behind the holly berries ripening red, heralding Christmas.
Drove south to sit by your bed and hold your hand.
Over the months and years since the funeral I’ve edited and reworked the poem. Each time I revisit it to shuffle the lines and add in or take out words, my feeling of grief quietens, and the hard, sharp edges soften. It’s poetry as therapy. I could have easily entered a cycle of depression, but writing the poem kept me buoyed up on the surface. At this time of year the holly reminds me of the continuing cycle of seasons and life itself.
Do you have trees, places or things that have become symbols of memory that help to provide bridges to the past and ease the loneliness of loss?