There is a birch tree on the heather moor not far from the escarpment edge and by the side of one of my regular walks. It is shaped a bit like a lollipop, a round crown above a slender trunk. A single tree on the moor and a familiar waymark. Earlier this year, walking in the January blizzards when the path was covered in drifting snow. I knew where I was when I saw the lone birch tree.
A couple of years ago, for a few short months, I was close to a Russian poet. They came to visit me, and we walked together. When they saw the lone birch tree, they said: “That tree, that is me, standing alone in all weathers”. This was a very Russian sort of thing to say as there are a lot of birch trees in Russia. Imagine the Russian accent if you can.
They told me about their childhood and how they had suffered and fled from Russia. How they returned in the chaos of perestroika, married, and then came back to England when it all became too much. Stories told in the brilliance of a Russian storyteller, far into the night, fuelled by wine.
Then, as we got to know each other over time, it became clear that alcohol meant more to them than a way of lubricating our evenings. I went to visit their home and found my poet friend at the end of a session of drinking vodka that had lasted for days. Bottles were everywhere. Under the bed, in the laundry basket, in the kitchen cupboards. They were in the realm of hungry ghosts, consumed by intergenerational trauma.
I have my own ghosts, my own traumas, I could not help. I know that if I drink alcohol, even if it is the finest wine, I can become anxious and depressed the next day. But there are days when this happens even when I am careful with what I eat and drink. The hungry ghosts are always there.
Perhaps I should just ‘snap out of it’ and ‘think positive thoughts’. There are things I know can do, a walk on the moor, see friends, chat to family on WhatsApp. These all help – if I can do them. But sometimes it’s just easier to isolate, wait until my mood changes, and then take steps.
Perhaps some people can take life how it comes, whereas others are predisposed to alcohol, anxiety and depression. How much of this is in our own hands, our responsibility? Am I just not being a normal person by taking the ghosts by the scruff on the neck and saying – out with you, I can be here in all weathers, standing lonely and proud!
Rowan on the Moor
A Moodscope member.