As I type I am sitting on my boat willing the weather to begin it’s turn towards warmth so that we may untie our ropes from the safety of their mooring and go in search of solace on the fringes of a city that seems too big for me. I’m currently moored in my hometown and struggling with the highs and lows of a love/hate relationship: the dichotomy of belonging, and yet not.
I moved here when I was 8 and work opportunities ejected my family from a country village in the North of England to a bustling new city in the South, and I have battled ever since with the overwhelming sense that this is my home-ground – the thread that has always tied me on and off – and yet, not my home.
There are memories woven into the neatly gridded pattern of this space and over the years I have managed to find comfort in the carefully crafted green areas and occasional natural patches of land that have been saved from the bulldozer. When I was a child my mother walked me daily around the ancient woodland that still stands - as if in defiance - amidst city estates; this, her own piece of tranquillity in a world where she too felt out of place. I wandered there again just the other day to gather my own thoughts and to stand rooted at the sight of a Nuthatch: the glorious sound and colour bringing to life a stark winter branch against a grey lifeless sky, momentarily pulling my attention away from outside noise.
My heart felt heavy as I left the woods because I realise that as time goes on and I grow, memories and friendships appear not always enough to make my months here manageable and instead I feel a sense of sinking; of a growing departure, and with each stay an increased difficulty to maintain a sense of calm. Every moment, every walk, every sleep, is permeated by a growing drone of traffic noise and each drive out to activities accompanied by so many people and cars that I am exhausted before I even arrive at my destination, simply from the din. I realise that with each trip I take away from my hometown; by boat, car or camper, there is within me a deep and necessary longing for silence and with each journey I return ever more rested and at peace, and thus ever more struck by the busyness of life here.
As we drove along a road just the other day I told my daughter how I used to cycle home along the adjacent path from my job 20 years ago. I pointed out the weeping willow tree on the banks of a lake and reminisced about how I would lean my bicycle up against its trunk to sit down and write.
“What did you write about?” she asked.
My husband and I both looked at each other and laughed, before he replied for me:
“Oh, you know, escaping here and finding peace!”
And it’s true. I have never felt at home here, but I have made it my home, because that is what you do when you belong somewhere because of circumstance. But my parents have long since retreated back to the country in retirement, my siblings were never young enough to maintain a link and so my connection has decreased to the friends and community with whom I have shared life experiences. In some quiet moments I think that this must be enough. But in those quiet moments also, I feel bereft and empty. I long with a deep and heavy mournfulness for windswept beaches, wild cliffs, moors, forests and mountains and the sense that I need to belong also through my connection to the landscape.
In an effort to reconnect I take my daughter on a pre-activity walk down memory lane. I photograph her in front of the first flat I lived in, wander the pathways and underpasses that take me back to a distant time, a time when I was a different person, and yet exactly the same. We stop for a moment to ponder sculptures that I too pondered beneath all those years ago and for a few fleeting moments I feel buoyed that even in cityscapes I can find some clarity… but just a few hours later I find myself staring out of windows toward more and more windows - a mirrored land of all that is manufactured - and I feel suddenly overwhelmed again with loss and longing for the places I have been.
But loss and longing do not breed happiness and so as I type I think only of the warming air, the untying of stiffened ropes and effortless floating, the friendly faces of the cut and smell of bookshops that I love, and the sound of metal on metal as we moor our home elsewhere; still in this city, but with a greater connection to home.
Here is where I explore and muse about life... share news of writing projects & wanderings and weave the words that crowd my mind, into little stories. Occasionally I also share some of the nature-inspired jewellery & gifts I make and sell at craft fairs or on the road.