As the autumn leaves are falling, the end of our gardening season is near. After weeks of looking after the beautiful calabash, who has almost completely conquered our little plot of land, it’s time to harvest it’s fruit. The incessant rain hasn’t done it much good and only three large calabashes remain. We bring them home to dry, but it soon turns out that one of them won’t make it, turning brown so quickly it takes us by surprise. The two that remain are hanging from the ceiling until they are ready to be carved into shape and made into a cabaça. Meanwhile, some plants are thriving at this time of year. The chrysanths is in full bloom and so are the winter cherry’s. The lavender is looking lush and abundant too. So I gather all of the pots we own and get them ready to be shipped off to our balcony. How will they adjust to this new, contained life? I ask myself the same question as the days are getting shorter and I fall into slumber. Six more weeks until the solstice… and the return of the light.
One of my favourite places in The Hague, besides the sea and the magical Voorhout, is Oud Eik en Duinen cemetery. Among its treasures are the grave of Louis Couperus and the beautiful remains of the chapel built in 1247 by Count William II for his father, Floris IV. But that’s not why I come here. My ancestors are buried here, so I come to pay them a visit and honour them – even the ones who died before I was born. It gives me solace to sit down under the tall tree that stands next to their grave, underneath its long overhanging branches that create a green-leaved shelter. I light the small rose-coloured candle and burn some incense, as I listen to the magpies flying past. For me it’s a sanctuary, a place of serenity and peace in the city, where I go to be quiet and listen to my inner voice. As I walk along the lanes, glancing at the names on the gravestones, I am reminded that it is a privilege to be alive. And that no matter how dark things get, there is always a place where you can find a lighted lantern.
Seek and you shall not find. I always think I got this one, but somehow I never quite learn. For a while now I’ve been on a quest to find a unicorn. I know there lives one deep in the forest somewhere, so I went down there everyday and did everything I could possibly think of. I sat down on the grass and quietly read my book, making sure not to make any sudden movements. I looked behind every tree. Chased every butterfly and rainbow. Tried to squint my eyes hard enough so that a white deer looked like it might(?) have an almost invisible horn. None of these things worked, of course, but I was having the most wonderful time wandering around this beautiful place and meeting the most amazing creatures. Until one day, having forgotten all about my quest and just dancing around joyfully with my woodland friends… a unicorn magically appeared. I couldn’t tell you where he had come from, he was just there in front of me, moving his little feet and inviting me to dance with him.
For me living at the beach is paradise. I’ve always had a magical connection with the sea, but it took me a while to get to this place. When I was a child we went Scheveningen once a year and I would play in the water for hours, until my mum would drag me out at the end of the day – blue lipped and shivering – and I would scream my lungs out because I didn’t want to go. In my twenties I moved to The Hague and found a small flat about ten minutes from the beach. How I loved it there! I spend every free moment at the sea side, going for long walks to Kijkduin – come rain or shine. Somehow I still thought it’d be a good idea to move to London. It would take me more than 4 years to find my dream again. Each day I wake up early and go to beach, still wearing my pajama shorts, hair tousled in the wind. I love it when the sea is calm, just a single line to the horizon. Absolute quiet. And then there’s the moment you dive in, into the cool glistening water. You float on your back and take in the blue surrounding you. When you dry yourself, letting the sun warm your skin, feeling rejuvenated, you realise that you are truly fortunate.
Autumn used to be my least favourite season. I would hide under a blanket, depressed, longing for the winter solstice and the longer days that it promises. But this year I have felt mesmerised by the changing colours of the trees, playing with the red and golden leaves with a happiness that I remember only from childhood. For the first time I am embracing the dark evenings that invite me to slow down, reflect on and let go of the exuberance of summer, to read my favourite books in the light of cinnamon scented candles and quietly do my meditation practices before bed. At first I didn’t notice this change in my spirit. But as this new energy takes me to the beach each morning to witness the rising of the sun and breathe in the crisp air, I was walking through the dunes at dawn when out of nowhere a murmuration rose up from behind the hills and flew right over me, almost knocking me down. With the beauty of the world all up in my face like that I couldn’t help but see that, to be free of the things that are holding you down is the most liberating feeling in the world. And to fill your life with things that lift you up, the greatest treasure.