There’s a blackbird singing high in the China doll tree. The pure tones rise above the coo-cooing of the Asian doves and the amorous humming of the pigeons over the back fence. Earlier, the same blackbird was furiously rummaging in the pea-straw between the basil plants. Rummage, then stop, and stare. Then another quick rummage. Then stopping to stare. It’s wise to be cautious, but the cats are asleep after their night-time adventures, perhaps dreaming of blackbirds who fail to keep watch. Eventually, he emerged with a beak-full of worms writhing uselessly and he flew off to feed them to a chick or two.
It’s spring and I’ve found some late afternoon sunshine to warm myself in. At my feet weeds grow splendid between the flagstones that lead to the washing line. I pull them out of the soft ground and the smell rises—a fresh, green smell of earth and plant matter. Everything it seems is growing, whether we want it or not. I’m constantly plucking the small plants out of the garden bed as they emerge of the compost, winter’s pumpkin soups returning to us. I feel regret as I pull each viable plant up. Sorry, I think to myself, but there’s no room at the inn.
Most of the time autumn is my favourite season. I love the days getting shorter, the trees dropping their leaves, the air fresh and chill again and the hot stale heat of summer finally gone. I love heavy coats, lace-up shoes, woollen scarves and the rain. But this year we weren’t going into a normal winter but into lock-down. The dark days matched with bad news, limited options, closures. One of the great pleasures of winter is to return at the end of the day to a warm cozy house, but when you cannot leave that house becomes oppressive.
Spring brought the promise of freedom. Down at the wetlands, the swans hatched five cygnets and miraculously four survived. Most of the trees the council planted in the hope of a wet spring are also surviving. Back home, the camellias are haloed with new growth and the roses are showing their colours. The wisteria is sending out exploratory green shoots in all directions. The cats slumber in the garden, moving sluggishly from sun patch to sun patch.
I have new freedom also, but I’m not sure what to do with it. I’ve been working on my PhD for almost four years. I, too, have been digging in the ground, rummaging through history and my genealogy, finding sustenance. It was painful but also joyous to finish. In moments of darkness I wonder about my usefulness and what to do now.
More useful is to think of the seasons. One comes after the other, different to what it preceded and different every time. Something will happen. Something will push its way to the surface because it always does. Meanwhile, the sun is moving towards the horizon. Soon the blackbird will return to his task. Soon it will be time to feed the cats and they will gather in the kitchen and start to complain.