Why is it that I love birds so much I sometimes wonder? It seems their presence has permeated my every living moment in recent months. From the playful chirps of swallows in Marbella, delighting no doubt in their safe journey over from Africa, to the Serins of central Spain who I watched and listened to whilst sheltered from the already warm afternoon sun under a gnarled olive tree, to the array of birds: Willow Tits, Gold Finches, Bull Finches and tame Blackbirds, here in the tucked away lanes and wheat fields of North Norfolk.
Yes, our most recent family road travel adventure has begun in the most beautiful countryside… every tree and hedgerow of these hidden-away roads is alive with the magical sound of birds of every size, shape and colour. I feel welcomed into their land and as I lie in bed with my camper window permanently open to the outside air, I feel an unwavering peace to find myself in their constant presence.
Out here on the road I can feel at one with the world around me; I can soak up the golden light that nourishes crops, walk the fields and lanes in bare feet and spend hours watching and learning from the wildlife outside of my window. I think of how sad I was to leave my watery friends and realise I need not have worried, for out here there are new friends waiting to teach me.
So far our journey has seen us unwind and empty our cluttered minds – heavy from weeks of sorting, offloading, downsizing and sad farewells – into the breeze of the brisk North sea. We have run in the sand, cycled along the promenade, gazed in appreciation at the colourful beach huts; such a quirky element of the traditional British beach holiday. Whole evenings have been passed just watching the fishermen head out to sea, or delighting in local youngsters doing their lifeguard training so bravely, and we have smiled and tipped our hats as we pass those who have come to enjoy these glowing sunsets, bringing with them tables, chairs, wine and friends.
And still there have been birds.
I see them at every turn, I feel their presence in the breeze even with my eyes closed; I hear them in every moment.
I read somewhere that it is important to do something every single day that fills us with joy. Watching birds fills me with joy, making me calm, happy and ready to brave the world, and as I shall be meeting many new faces during this journey, I am thankful for this. Although today as we stayed inland of the coast and ventured to a meeting with some of the Home Educating parents of Norfolk, I need not have wished for greater courage. Such warm faces, such friendly smiles. My daughter has played, crafted, shared snacks and lunch with the most delightful children and we parents have talked with those who inspire us with their tales of growing food, autonomous learning and even journeys similar to our own about to be embarked on. We have swapped ideas and thoughts of what to do and where to go, we have even swapped numbers and emails.
Just knowing that if we humans reach outside of our comfort zone it is possible to find such warmth, is heartening and I am thankful to have been embraced and only hope that this is a sign of things to come in future stopping places.
Tonight as we sat down for supper the drawn-out ‘tsweee’ of a Greenfinch captured me. I ventured out and sat on the step to look up to the top of the tree for a good five minutes as it called, as if for a mate. I realise that I love birds because they are able to fly freely, breathe the air fully, feel the wind in their wings and even venture successfully into new territory.
As I set out on this new journey, I realise that we are not so very different…
The city... I need to take a deep breath simply after saying those words.
Let me try again.
The city… all at once a mad, crazy, merry-go-round, sucking me into its heart where I spin in a daze, under its spell, for several days before being released from its grip in the least compassionate of ways. It is exhilarating, exciting, beautiful, but when it finally spits me back out I feel grimy, I ache, my mind feels messy and my soul has been wrung dry.
On my first evening there I step out for supplies. The breeze is unusually warm for early March and I find myself stopping in the middle of a busy street to soak it all up. I pull out my notebook and pen, lean on a green bin and begin to scribble…
The clunking of the rubbish truck, the buzz of a siren. It is dark but the endless lights and noise keep everything alive. I watch life whiz by. Parisians cycle home from work with baguettes sticking out of their jackets, their baskets, their hands. A Parisian does not walk a bounding Labrador across fields, no! They guide the tiny pitter-patters of Chihuahuas along endless concrete streets. I wonder what it would be like to have never seen green grass.
As I write I realise that it is as if I have stopped and everything else is going at ten times the speed around me.
Does anyone else notice, I wonder?
I look around for likeminded souls, but I see no-one. No, it is definitely only me stood still, leaning on a bin. Others, they are cycling, walking, driving: everything is so fast.
So fast that no-one has the time to notice anyone else; anything else.
It’s peaceful up here in the mountains. I didn’t realise how it would actually feel to be up here, but it’s just that... Silent. Quiet. So all-consuming that I haven’t even been able to muster the energy to write because I am able only to be.
Of course, settling into the new routines of a wwoofer also takes time and my energies have been focused on finding my feet, establishing my place, and ensuring that my daughter is happy and fulfilled by this experience of farm life.
I have stood looking out at the view raking cut grass and clearing terraces, and with them, my mind. I have been mesmerised by the sheep as they pass by my window each morning and I have marvelled at the new birds and flowers I have seen and found.
And yet, all the time, I am wordless.
Stunned into silence.
Sentences come to me: about the beauty, the magic, the feeling. But nothing knits together as it should. I guess I am still settling myself into a new rhythm.
I know only that I am glad for the opportunity to escape the noise of life, that I love to be near sheep and horses because they make me feel everything that is good, that I don’t care if my arms are scratched and embedded with thorns, or that my limbs ache from throwing hay bales into the loft until the sky has turned inky and the moon is so close I can almost touch it… because in the mountains I feel alive.
My daughter runs ahead, her face glows damp from the fine mist of rain that falls softly from a silent grey sky. She delights in the trees ~ usually plump with cascading green leaves ~ now standing stark against an empty world, stripped bare but for a smattering of brown leaves clinging helplessly at the top; their fate already written.
We are alone, others still tucked up snugly in their beds. The morning is, perhaps, dreary: grey, damp, devoid of the chatterings and clatterings of summer picnics that normally spread themselves gleefully across this parkland. But to us, wrapped up in our waterproofs, our feet protected with bright wellies, we are warmed in the glow of a world turned burnt orange, deep red, radiant yellow, rusty brown.
Looking around I realise that I have been so sorrowful with anticipation of this turn of season that I came dangerously close to failing to breathe her in fully: this autumn, so full of warmth, radiance and grace. Suddenly I understand the potential of this new chapter, the opportunity to strip my own soul back a little, allow myself to be cocooned peacefully in her embrace.
To regenerate, rejuvenate.
But mostly I look at my daughter running gleefully in the breezy rain, oblivious to the supposed drabness the end of summer brings and I remember, again, to ensure the child in me is kept alive so that this woman can enjoy fully all this magnificent earth offers her.
Setting off early the fog is light and feathery on waters turned matte grey by mist. There is a slight frost laying thinly on the ground, I reach down to touch it with my shivering fingers to see if it is real, before I pick up the rope and jump aboard.
We are wrapped up in coats, hats and boots; sturdy boots that won’t slip as we jump on and off the boat, untying ropes and easing her bow slowly round with a pole so as not to wake our still-sleeping neighbours. We are captains of our ship, captains of the waterways, which are undoubtedly at their best when the rush of summer traffic has subsided, when early mornings are our own, interrupted only by the pretty chirpings of a blackbird as she perches on the ridge of a stone barn.
I work the lock gates silently, a passing jogger helping me to push. I wave my frozen hands – cold from the metal of my windlass – at my daughter and her friend through the window as they lounge in bed munching toast and chocolate muffins, overdosing on Winnie the Witch books. By the time I am waiting at the gate for our boat to pass through I am several metres above them; their pretty faces are now stuck to the window pane beaming their smiles up at me. I laugh before closing up the gate and running down the towpath to jump on the front.
The sun comes up, her warmth welcome, and the girls are finally coaxed out onto the deck where they feed passing ducks. By the time we moor up for the day at a peaceful spot across from open fields, the sun is so warm we change into flip-flops. I sit on the bow of the boat while my daughter plays with sand on the towpath and bids hello to other boaters as they drift in and out. Mooring for lunch, mooring for afternoon tea, mooring just because.
I needed this.
To be reminded, once again, why we have chosen this way of life: for the freedom, the beauty, the nature at every turn.
I hang my handmade wares in the window with bright signs saying “For Sale!” and feel like a wandering water gypsy from times-gone-by.
There is no better life for me, for us, I think.
Hello, I'm Alice
and I love... my husband, my daughter, my two dogs, meaningful friendships, day-dreaming, seeking out new experiences, cooking on fires, walking on wild beaches, reading under the shade of a tree, sleeping out under the stars, dancing, wild swimming, saying yes, walking barefoot, trying to live the best life I can, learning from my failings, crunching leaves underfoot, running downhill in the wind, being kind, being loved back.