The wind gathers and pulls at my tattered skirts as I turn my face into the December rain. I hate this weather but it’s as familiar to me as these heather-strewn hills. I am of this place. Across the lake, a gaggle of Canadian geese suddenly take flight, their rapturous cackle drowning out the soft lap of water at my feet. I wonder about them then as they slowly disappear into the white, wintery sky. Is their migration without thought or does this – all that they have left behind – somehow follow them across the ocean? I wonder about them as much as I wonder about me.
I’m not alone today. Beside me stands a younger woman, in her arms a small brown-eyed girl – not of her own body but most certainly of her heart. The icy wind has reddened their cheeks but their eyes sparkle in a watery defiance to the bitter cold… we are all struggling here, but in different ways. I hold that thought as we trace a line around the water’s edge, stopping ever so briefly to cast a gathered stick into its mirror-like surface. The conversation is peppered and broken but threads of familiarity hang like cobwebs in the wind – there is more to our presence here than words alone. Neither of us know where we are heading.
It’s the footpath that calls us on, its primrose-border having long since vanished like the first flush of a colourful youth. We are aging women, free in our wanderings but not without burden and our bodies are slow under the weight of children. With muddied feet we slip and slide over gnarled roots, the ground softening like our weary hips as brambles reach out to catch our fall. The stinging rain may have left us raw and exposed but a new beauty shines from within. In the dappled light of the ombre woodland, our laughter rings through the trees as we breathe in the earthy decay of an impromptu shelter. We have each been ravaged by this journey and now the long road home appears all the more wonderful – for what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in reassuring certainty.
As I listen to my boots crunch on the gravelled pavement, I ponder on the lessons of this place. Together we have walked full-circle but then, we also have not. We are each standing alone at different points on our journey. Perhaps my muddied footprints will be of some comfort to the women who walk behind, as those are that inevitably appear to me. Their presence at the water’s edge are a subtle reminder of the passage of time, the mud having captured stories of people long gone. I wonder how many of those stood to observe the geese take flight? How many wondered about a journey of their own? Perhaps they too saw the wisdom of walking in circles, in a place where the wind would take their fears and the cold would force them on.
‘How do the geese know when to fly to the sun?
Who tells them the seasons?
How do we, humans, know when it is time to move on?
As with the migrant birds, so surely with us,
there is a voice within,
if only we would listen to it,
that tells us so certainly when to go forth into the unknown.’