Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Memory mapping

Last week we resurrected our weekly walk to kindergarten. With great breaths of gladness we strode out into a familiar but too long neglected habit. As we walked we were full of wonder at the great battle that is being waged out of doors. The sun is up before six in the morning and not sinking again until after dinner - the birds are singing of spring but nature is still very much in the grip of winter. Along the river the cold had made ice sculptures of roots, and chandeliers from hanging branches; water captured and petrified. The rocks and boulders of the river were coated in glittering frozen gems and the steep river banks were hung with shimmering icicles. We had seen ice forming around the river before but never quite like this.

I have many pictures of this walk in the annals; pictures with two tiny boys knee deep in swaying grass, of explorations of woodland and river edge. The longer I live in these valleys the more I value the familiarity of a well walked route. These well-known walks particularly seem to give children the chance to really know a place, and it seems to me that knowing then slowly becomes loving as the seasons unfold year on year. Each time we walk this way we are laying the pathways of memory, memories of carefree childhood for them - sweet and fleeting moments of motherhood for me.

We will remember the seasons by the horse chestnut that litters the ground in shiny conkers in the Autumn; the patch of Himalayan balsam where, in late summer we pop the ripe seed heads and nibble a few; the field, fuzzy with summer wildflowers, where the sky opens out; passing the house where alpine strawberries sprout from the paving stones, waiting painfully for them to ripen. And the watched elder where we measure the year in leaves, flowers and berries.

We will feel this place in our bones by the small repeated acts that become our habit over time. The boys will continue to walk the low wall that tests their balance and my nerve, we'll stop at the same place to drop ploppy stones into the gurgling river, we'll keep measuring rainfall by the ferocity of the waterfall, I will always feel uneasy when there are cows in the field and they will always reassure me that we're fine. The high path beneath the cathedral of beech trees will always slow us, while I naturally look up and they look down to build fairy houses in the roots of those towering trees.

After this walk, each winter we'll look for the place where the pipe comes out of the hill to see if we can discover the thick column of ice standing between it and the ground and we'll know where to look for the biggest and shiniest icicle swords. We may feel sadness when things change, like discovering that the trees had been cleared around the old tennis courts and that they're 'modernising' the facilities but there will be new things to notice and find each time we walk this was. And the newness of each season, delayed though it may be, will always stir in us a love for this place - our home.


Ian Hill said...

Hi Selina

Oh, the joys of a childhood outdoors! I love the ways in which children comprehend and interpret their local area, and I've written a bit on this subject myself (see my older posts on 'Shamans' (June 2011) and 'Odysseus' oar' (July 2011)) - like you, I'm fascinated by the the mental maps which children develop, and the ways in which their understanding of the land is different to ours, unladen by meaning and fact. Thanks so much for reminding me of the importance of such viewpoints


Miriam Darlington said...

Gorgeous writing Selina, it has a magical, luminous and also childlike quality.


Miriam Darlington said...

And, I wanted to add, I love the line 'knowing becomes loving' .. it seems to me that this is the meaning and heart of much of your writing. The pace of it seems to follow the footfall, and at the same time has some austere and reverential qualities, a deep wisdom, and the images too are a delight. The one of your boy with his icicle sword is my favourite, it is particularly fairy-like and laden with poetic energy.

(Miriam author of 'Otter Country').

Selina Gough said...

Miriam, thanks so much for your very generous words - I feel touched and a little undeserving to be honest...

Ian - i'll check those posts out, thanks

Jill M Hodgson said...

That sense of rootedness, familiarity and belonging, is indeed what childhood used to be about and still can be. It just seems to require more deliberate intention nowadays, which you obviously care deeply about.
I agree with Miriam,.... particularly love that icicle sword picture!