The world around the pine tree is quiet on this midwinter morning. A clear sky after endless days of heavy rain. Slowly I set out down the hill, breathing in the fresh air. It’s only a few steps before I notice the Traveller´s-Joy climbing over the hedgerow, it’s long feathers swaying gently in the wind. The forest path leads me further down the hill to the the cemetery, where my mum lies buried underneath the grand Magnolia tree. The dark-brown leaves have gathered on one big heap, blanketing her trunk. New buds appear on the bear branches, covered in a coat of fuzzy silver hairs, protecting them from the cold that might still come. Nearer to the river, I listen to the sparrows calling out to each other. Add some wild lavender and I find myself thinking – isn’t this bliss? I learned that walking is one of the best things to do to find your way back to health. Sometimes I chant, sometimes I just listen to the rhythmn of my footsteps… thump, thump, thump. Every step makes me feel a little bit stronger.
I will never forget the day my mum died. Arriving at her hillside home after a tear-filled journey, I passed underneath her beautiful roses and walked into her silent house. As I went up the stairs, the first thing I noticed was all of my silly drawings hanging next to each other on the wall. It struck me in that moment how much my mum adored them. So that day I made her a solemn promise in my heart: to take my art seriously. That promise has been in the back of my mind these past three years. Instead of creating art, I’ve been busy with creating life. After her funeral followed the arrival of a tiny unicorn, our midsummer wedding, and making a new home. How blessed we have been with all of these rainbows! But beside these life events, I have also felt really lost without my mum. She was my ideal reader and without her… whom am I writing for? The answer remained hidden until our little one fell in love with reading books and drawing together, and all of a sudden I´m back in business.
As with all rites of passage, it took me a while before I felt accustomed to my new role. There was no maternal instinct that kicked in on day one. As Lisa Marciana describes in Motherhood, the road was full of delays and wrong turnings. In the beginning I was overwhelmed with all the different parenting advice out there. I followed government regulations on sleeping, whilst reading books like Safe Infant Sleep that made more sense. So many people recommended sleep training, whilst a cousin referred us to the sweetest sleep coach. Over the course of the first year, I have figured a couple of things out for myself. I would sum up my approach as: What would the raccoon do? Would she lay her baby down in a crib, or do they sleep huddled up together, warm and safe, in a hollow oak? Would she let her baby cry so that she’ll learn to sleep through the night, or does she respond do their needs? Would she leave her baby with a stranger somewhere, or does she take them with her wherever she goes?
It’s two years since my mum died on midsummer’s night. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. I try to find her sometimes in familiar places, but she is never where I expect her to be. But then on a random Wednesday morning as I make myself a cup of coffee, I suddenly remember how we’d always enjoy a fika together – sitting out on the veranda or cosying up on the sofa. She’s there when I look down at my hands and it feels I’m looking at hers. When the tiny unicorn and I can’t stop laughing together, just like my mum and I used to. She’s there when a moth lands on top of my glasses or when I spot a bright green spider on a blossoming buddleia. She’s there when I come across a field of poppies. It’s moments like these that I lose my breath for a second and tears roll down my cheeks. Whenever grief pierces my heart like that, I think of the poem by Ellen Brenneman: “Think of me as living in the hearts of those I touched, for nothing loved is ever lost and I know I was loved so much.”
The town is still asleep and the dark sits quietly around us. It’s cosy up here by the candlelight, a small body pressed against me snoring softly. Looking out the window I can see the Huguenot tower lighting up the dark forest. It is the same view that you see from the beautiful oakside, just from a different hill. It’s our first visit to this little dependance by the mystical pine tree. Out there in the garden is an old abandoned hut, enveloped in the dawn. I haven’t been inside yet, let alone to write. I’m not even writing in my art journal, I’m just scribbling on the back of a piece of paper that I found in a drawer. Life with a newborn is funny that way. Some part of me thinks back longingly to the creative dreams I had for this place. But then I remember what Stephen King said in his memoir On Writing: ““(…) put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”