Wednesday

Hoping for Harriers


Walking Diary - Norfolk 1.


Sea Thrift  - image Kruse 2019
It’s Wednesday 1st May 2019, May Day, the day my daughter and I used to celebrate as the ‘Great Mother’s Birthday,’ when we would go on a mini adventure, picking flowers and greenery to decorate our house and celebrating the beauty of nature.

On this May Day though it is dusk and I am sitting beside a vast salt marsh on the Norfolk coast, 4 days in to a planned three month adventure of walking and exploring natural Britain. In front of me a snowy white Little Egret stalks the marsh with fastidious, delicate steps. Skeins of geese ripple overhead and the first moths flit ghostly through the gloom. After 4 days of blue skies and sunshine, dawn rain is predicted and white clouds are drifting up from the horizon. The brilliant day has softened into a grey evening, a palette of mushroom, sage and palest yellow, silvered where the last light catches the water. I am alone and brimful of happiness.


4 days earlier I stepped off the bus at Sheringham, a typical English seaside town 30 miles from Norwich and started my walk along the Norfolk coast. Sheringham was cheerfully busy and I had that excited nervousness new adventures always start with. I wandered down to the coast path, which I would be following to Weybourne, 4.5 miles north along the shingle. The tide was in, so for the first half mile out of town I walked along a deserted promenade, past painted beach huts and concrete shelters. I stopped at a tiny two-table cafe to get an ice cream and got involved in the rescue of a toddler who had escaped his ditzy father and was climbing purposefully down a flight of concrete steps to the shingle bashing sea.


Coast path between Sheringham and Weybourne  -  image Kruse 2019
When baby was safely back with dad, heart pounding I climbed steep switchback paths to the dunes and onto a snaking, narrow path through marram grass and pink-flowered sea thrift. On the brow of the highest dune a vintage wooden coastguard hut loomed like a destination in Myst III. Ahead sand dunes and shingle beach stretched as far as I could see, my home for the next week. On my left Skylarks rose, singing hallelujahs into the blue, on my right Sand Martins whipped figure eights up and over the cliff face and as I walked on I saw with disbelief and joy an Avocet wing overhead.
The Pied Avocet is the emblem of the RSPB and an iconic Norfolk bird. The species became extinct in Britain in the 19th century, returning during the Second World War when East Anglian salt marshes were re-flooded as defences against enemy invasion. Since then, the bird has become a symbol of positive conservation action, although it is still a Schedule 1 protected bird in the UK, with only about 1,500 breeding pairs here (to put this number into context, there are around 5,100,000 breeding pairs of Blackbirds in the UK). Avocet can be seen all year round at selected sites on the East coast and on the Lancashire coast, with winter visitors also seen along the coast in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. I grew up knowing this bird as a rare and beautiful creature but one I was unlikely to ever see, living in the very centre of England. Yet here I was, just beginning my walk along the Norfolk coast and an Avocet flies low over my head; an auspicious blessing on the trip?


I was lucky the bird flew over so low as I had to come on this trip without binoculars. My own battered, much loved pair of Zeiss 8x30’s are heavy. Because of my physical limitations I’d tried to make my pack as light as possible, choosing an ultralight tarp over a tent and taking the minimum items of clothing. But that decision to leave my binoculars at home would come to haunt me repeatedly over the next few weeks as I peered myopically at numerous avian wonders.


One avian wonder I hoped to see was a Marsh Harrier, an even rarer bird than the Avocet, with only 400 breeding pairs in the UK. I love raptors but I’m not sure exactly why I do, being a pacifist vegetarian, song-bird-loving human.  But raptors are beautiful, in their colouring and in their form. While all birds possess a superpower in their ability to fly, the raptors have the most superpowers, from the peregrine’s astonishing, dive-bombing, world’s-fastest speed, to the goshawk’s incredible forest flying prowess or the kestrel’s gravity defying hover. Thrilled by the Avocet sighting my birding/wildlife excitement was cranked up to ten, so when I saw a large raptor hanging in the wind over the edge of the dunes I was convinced it was a Marsh Harrier. Bigger than the ruddy backed Kestrel and seeming to hover in a similar way, this was a greyish hawk. I enthusiastically texted my daughter who lives in Norfolk and has seen Marsh Harriers with details of the sighting. She was not convinced, explaining that Marsh Harriers are big, nearly as big as Red Kite. I realised later that what I had seen was most likely a female Kestrel, which is larger and greyer than the male. It hanging against the wind whipping up from the cliff edge had slightly confused the issue too, but generally, if you see a bird almost stationary in the sky, it’s a Kestrel.

Still, it was a beautiful sighting and honestly every bird is a pleasure and a thrill to see, with the possible exception of Wood Pigeons, who are masters of disguise and often pretend to be cuckoos or sparrowhawks or even owls (at least to this very amateur birdwatcher).

Alexanders - image Kruse 2019
Eventually my path turned from the coast down a narrow lane bordered with the yellow-green flowers of Alexanders, past a beautiful restored windmill and almost straight into Weybourne Village Stores and Cafe, where I had my mandatory post-walk pot of tea. 


I spent a chilly night in the tarp. It’s a very ingenious thing but only single walled and with no groundsheet or bug net. I couldn’t quite afford the proprietary groundsheet and net inner, so fashioned my own for a tenth of the price with mosquito netting and some ripstop nylon. You’ll not be amazed to learn that this didn’t really work and was abandoned after the first night. (The whole tarp was abandoned after the first week and I bought a much heavier but more sensible two person tent. I love the notion of the tarp but it’s best used in warm weather conditions, not rainy, windy English seaside ones. 
Sheringham - image Kruse 2019
The next day I caught the bus back to Sheringham and took a walk up to Sheringham Hall and gardens. The grand house is not open to the public, but the gardens and woods are, which is a treat as they are filled with the most spectacular trees and a national collection of gaudy, glamourous rhododendrons. It was a beautiful walk, through the village of Upper Sheringham with it’s gorgeous flint cottages and impressive village well, then up through a hanging wood to a temple/folly on top of the hill. I brewed up a coffee and sat in the sunshine looking across the valley to the distant sea. This was a lovely day, with walks through a beautiful garden, woods and field-side footpaths and no-vehicle tracks to the sea. I watched jackdaws and magpies, a green woodpecker and a jay. Overhead flew a buzzard and the woods were cacophonous with song birds. 

Sheringham - image Kruse 2019
The purpose of this trip is to record as much data as possible, so I spent a lot of time this day recording birdsong and other ambient sounds. I’m not sure what I will do with these recordings just yet, but I know they will be important to my practice in some way. I’d really like to do a sound recording course and get some better equipment if I can. I am sure there are tricks I can learn to block out or reduce certain sounds; I record sound on almost all my walks and I’m always battling with background airplane noise, even in remotest Northumberland I had problems with overhead aircraft, but the worst place is the Cotswolds where light aircraft and helicopters zip across the sky, sound plagueing the countryside.


At the end of this lovely day I sit in a patch of sunlight outside my tent and write up my diary. Bats begin to fly overhead and I’m hoping for owls. Norfolk has so far been spectacularly beautiful. After just two days I am already slightly overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the natural world around me but if all goes to plan I will be walking and camping like this for the next three months. I sit and sip my tea hardly believing I’m really here.

Monday

Pain and perfection.


This spring I have been undertaking a number of walks across various British landscapes to gather data and develop the AuT Crone project. My initial plan was to walk for 3 months, wild camping where possible and recording data about the weather, landscape, flora and fauna of the world around me. It was a great plan, exciting and challenging. I came back with good data, lots of ideas and a clearer sense of how I might take the project forward.

I knew, kind of, that there was going to be some degree of physical difficulty for me doing the walk. I'm 55 years old, overweight and I have inflammatory and osteoarthritis. But, sheesh, if you want something you just have to go out there and get it, right? I walk between 3 to 5 miles every day anyway, so I hoped that the extra daily distances I'd be undertaking for the project would just make me fitter.

We live in a culture that tells us that we are ultimately responsible for our own physical health. We are bombarded with information that tells us that if we eat well, get enough exercise and sleep we will be healthy. There are websites and Instagram feeds galore devoted to 'clean' eating, to yoga, outdoor adventure and fitness inspiration. I fall for that shit all the time.

I've been vegetarian for a few years, but I've always been fat so I've also done every diet - keto, raw, low carb, calorie counting, Slimming World, 5:2 and 800 calories a day. I've done body building, running, swimming, pilates, yoga. I love water and have tried body boarding and surfing. I had this dream of myself as a fit, tanned, strong woman. I wanted muscles! I wanted to be that awesome, adventurous, outdoor gal that I see in my feed. But none of the exercises I did really ever made me feel much fitter. I rarely seemed to reap any visible benefits from the activities that I was doing. Usually, I'd start a new fitness regime and keep it up for a few months before an 'injury' stopped me. I often seemed to be struggling with some pain somewhere or other, a pain that seemed to move about my body so much I thought I was just a really intense hypochondriac. And I was lazy! Many days I just felt 'lazy' and couldn't find the energy/be bothered to keep up the new regime.

I believed that my failure to be that fit, tanned, strong adventuress was my own fault. Growing up in a family that values 'toughing it out,' probably contributed to that feeling too.  I totally bought into a dialogue that said you had to be strong and tough and that physical pain or illness was a symptom of your own weakness as a human being. Are you ill? Eat better! Are you fat? Eat less! Are you sad? Get a grip! Are you a less than perfect person? Well you should just try harder!

Last year I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. It is likely that I've had psoriatic arthritis for most of my adult life, although my symptoms had been misdiagnosed at different times as ME, being overweight, stress, and more recently, ageing. And to be fair to my gp, I don't really have visible psoriasis, just small patches on my elbows and scalp that had also been misdiagnosed as eczema.

Psoriatic arthritis causes pain, stiffness and chronic fatigue. It is incurable but also expresses itself in the body in waves, so that people with the condition have periods of remission when they don't feel unwell, followed by flare ups when joints and/or tendons can become inflamed and painful.  Different areas of the body can be affected at different times although the most likely areas of pain will be in the hands, feet and spine. Why people get PsA is not clearly understood, but there may be a genetic and environmental component and it may be triggered by an injury or viral illness.

Getting a firm diagnosis was good in that it made me understand why I hurt most of the time and why I am so stiff. Of course I decided to ignore it as much as possible and generally just carried on as usual, guilty that I probably wasn't eating the 'perfect' anti inflammatory diet, with that quiet little inner voice nagging me that if I did yoga or a regime of daily exercise I'd get better. But basically I thought I should tough it out, not make a fuss, not give in to it, keep going, research a better diet, take control, make myself better, start a new fitness regime and finally, go for a three month walk, wild camping and carrying all my food and water.

Yeah, that went well.

The walk was amazing, beautiful, inspiring. The landscapes and wildlife I saw were so, so beautiful. I'm still travelling and walking at the moment and loving it. But I also realised that I can't do 15 mile days like the people I follow on Instagram, I never walk without pain, I'm not going to get better.

While I was out on this adventure I slowly came to realise just how disabled I really am. I guess in my daily life at home I have found a way of living that enables me to function pretty well and I'm very lucky that I have a heightened tolerance of pain. At home, even though I know I'm in pain I can mostly ignore it. But out on the walk it was very different. For example, my body is very stiff in the mornings, which at home just means I stagger down the stairs like a million year old woman, but in the tent I had to negotiate my body out of a sleeping bag and out of the tent, then onto my knees, up onto my feet and stagger off to the loos. I had to use my hands to pull my legs and feet out of the sleeping bag. It took ages and was exhausting. My feet were too swollen and stiff to put on walking boots first thing so I bought some cheap crocs to meet the day in. Sitting down to take a break was painful and difficult if I had to sit on the ground, I became an expert at scouting out suitable rocks, walls and grassy banks to sit on instead. The first couple of minutes walking again after a break were always painfully stiff, my feet blazed with a pain like fire sometimes. At first I put most of this down to age and unfitness, refusing to see that the arthritis had such a grip on my body.

At the end of the second week I hurt my rib trying to get into my sleeping bag. The week after that injury I put my back out. I spent a cold, frightened night in my tent, unable to move for hours because of the pain. The next morning was one of the lowest points of my life. This great adventure I was on was promising to collapse around me. That morning I finally had to face up to my physical disability and accept myself where I was, as I was, facing the reality of myself rather that the fantasy of what I felt I ought to be. It was one of the most painful experiences I've ever had. My back was in agony but my heart hurt more.

I staggered around Alnwick garden that morning wondering what to do. I'd got myself a bunk for the night at the hostel in Alnwick as my back was too painful to sleep on the ground again soon. I couldn't bear the thought of stopping the trip. Despite the physical difficulties I was having, I loved the walking and seeing so much wonderful wildlife and I loved the project I was doing the walking for. I didn't want to give up.

In the end I made the decision to stay with the walk, but I also came to an acceptance that I have a disability. At first a painful realisation, it has since become a positive one. I have a disability, I'm not going to get better, but I can still do awesome things, especially if I think sensibly and make adjustments for my needs. I have a feeling that if I stay with what I really am, instead of dreaming of what I'd like to be, more things, not less, are possible. Firstly, I recognised that my dream of wild camping had to die. If I hung onto that I'd end up in trouble. Instead I decided to stay in hostels, which actually turned out really well and I met some great people too. Secondly, I realised that I couldn't do the mileage that I dreamed of. So I learned to accept what my body can do. Some days five miles is epic for me, other days twelve miles is possible. Some days I can't do more than one or two.

Thirdly, I really came to understand that pain, while horrible, is really not something to fear always. One of the things I dreaded going into this trip was how I would feel if things went wrong. I hate having emotions, especially miserable ones. On that day in Alnwick I felt all the miserable ones and it turned out not to be so bad. That is, the emotional pain was bad, but I was able to think through it. It's a cliche but that pain got me to a place where I could accept myself as I actually was. So in the end I am grateful to the pain, of the body and the heart, that I felt that day.

I wonder if emotional pain is what we are trying to avoid in our culture that values so highly physical perfection and health? Of course, it is wonderful to be healthy and to be free of physical pain and if there is something we can do to help ourselves be as healthy as possible, then it's also great to have access to that information. For me the idea of working towards some ideal of physical strength and health was about hope. I might not be perfect now, but I could be perfect in some imagined futuretime. Facing up to the full reality of my condition took away that hope. I'm not going to get better, (although I am likely to have times when it's in remission). Facing up to the reality of ourselves is painful if that self is not what we'd like to be, or not likely to change.

It's also made me think about this whole question of our cultural attitudes to health and the dangers inherent in believing that we are totally, personally responsible for our health and fitness. This idea that we are almost to blame if we are not perfectly healthy and fit is horribly damaging. What message does it give about disabled people, the sick and the elderly? Do we believe that it's their fault for being less than perfect? Do we believe that the elderly just need to take more exercise? Do we think that they should have taken better care of their bodies when they were younger? What do we think about bodies that are damaged through pregnancy, work stress, accidents, genetic diseases, mental illness, environmental factors, pollution, poverty?

What does it really mean to eat clean and lead that adventurous, outdoor lifestyle? Who really has access to that? Is it everyone? What does it cost? How far is health and fitness about privilege?

I'm happier since I allowed myself to recognise myself as I am. Of course I don't want this pain, of course I'd love to have a fit, healthy body and I will do what I feel able to do to be healthy. That 'what I feel able to do' is important. It is kindly.
(Let me also say, that I definitely get down still. Pain is pain y'all. There are days when it's just a bastard and that's that).

Resources for your pain:
There are some great resources out there to enable us to see other bodies being wonderful. People who are fat, disabled, or just different to us, living their lives. This isn't about that 'overcoming adversity' narrative either. Of course it can be uplifting and exciting when we see people doing awesome things, but at the same time we should not forget the millions of people who are everyday heroes, those people who overcome Everests just by getting out of bed, or making it through their front door, or getting through a day at work. Big round of applause to you all really.

Awesome/funny/inspiring people who don't look 'perfect' but are out there doing their stuff anyway:

Second Chance Hiker: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVzpMDMwgVE&t=9s

Zach Anner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBL7UiX3DLI

Fat Girl Running: http://fatgirlrunning-fatrunner.blogspot.com/

The Fat Squirrell: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEyQZ6OfsDU (superb episode about body acceptance)

About Psoriatic Arthritis:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RDJarFvEqw

https://www.versusarthritis.org/about-arthritis/conditions/psoriatic-arthritis/

Thursday

Observations recorded on a walk in Northumberland.

As I walked along the Northumberland Coast path from Bamburgh Castle, the trail turned inland for a while.



Walking across fields and down a farm track I made an audio recording of the things I could see and hear as I walked along. The following is the transcript of this recording.

"House Martin. Crow. Chaffinch song.
Lots of St Mark's flies.

An impression in the grass where a Fox has rested.

Cow Parsley just starting to flower.
Two Skylarks singing.
Dandelions. Plantain. Nettles and Docks.
Hedge of Hawthorn.
Elder tree.
Bramble.

Another field of Wheat.

Listening to Skylarks is like having gold and jewels in your ears.

A grassy field with ewes and lambs.
Some Buttercups.
Flashing by of an unidentified brown butterfly.

A Wall butterfly.
Forget-me-nots.

A Pied Wagtail flies overhead.
Swallow.
Chaffinch.
Wall butterfly.
Sparrow.

On a tarmacked path between fields of wheat and pasture.

A Swallow.
Unidentified white butterfly.
Hedgerow of Hawthorn and Elder.
Same border plants; Dock, Dandelion, Cow Parsley, various grasses, Vetch, Nettle, Bramble.

10 minute rest stop beside the tarmacked path between two farms, one arable, the other livestock.
Skylarks
Sheep grazing.
No Human sounds.

Wall butterfly.

Unidentified white butterfly.

Food that I could eat along this path in season:
Wheat, Elderflower, Elderberries, Nettle, White Dead Nettle, Blackberries, Plantain, Sorrel.

Along a hedgerow of trees: Rowan, Beech, Sycamore, White Poplar, Silver Birch, Rowan in flower, stunted Beech, Sycamore, Maple, Gun placement, Concrete,White Poplar, Oak, Beech, Ash, Maple, Hawthorn.

2 Woodpigeons.

Lots of St Mark's flies.
Unidentified white butterfly.
Large White butterfly.
3 Skylarks.
2 Large white butterflies.
Chaffinch.

Growing against a stone wall along the path;
Cow Parsley,
Bracken,
Bramble,
White Dead Nettle,
Cleavers,
Rape,
Various grasses,
Plantain,
Various lichens,
Small ferns,
Ground Elder,
Sow Thistle.

2 Wall butterflies.
A Chaffinch.
A Blackbird.

Red Clover.
Spanish Bluebell.

A Sparrow."





Tuesday

The tiny, unconsidered things.


So here I am, sitting in a field somewhere in Northumberland, my back has gone out, I’ve had a mild yet very painful injury to one of my ribs, I’ve spent a wakeful, freezing night in my tent and I’m having the time of my life.

In the last two weeks I’ve seen a Marsh Harrier hunting over reed beds, listened to the insectile call of a Grasshopper Warbler, hunted anemones in rock pools and fossils under cliffs, I’ve walked over a hundred miles, stood in awe under the stars, listened to owls calling, skylarks singing, seen starfish and Brown Hares, Oystercatchers and Arctic Terns. This little island we live on is so beautiful it catches my breath.

I’m here making work for the AuT Crone project. I’m gathering as much data as I can about the environment I am walking through, noting plants, birds, animals, insects and weather conditions. It’s been an incredible, overwhelming two weeks, with at least another 6 weeks (hopefully 10 weeks) to go. I’m keeping a diary every day, but one of the things I have found hardest is finding the words to write about the project, there is so much going on in my head and in my body.

The journey has become two things; Most importantly I’m gathering data for the AuT Crone, but also I find I'm spending a lot of time thinking about the emotional/spiritual impact of being in nature every day. I defy anyone to come out here, especially at this time of teetering environmental breakdown and devastating change on Earth and not experience something of the numinous.

I’ve come here from Birmingham, a huge, dirty, noisy, frenetic city. To go from that to this peace and calmness is almost shocking and I was brought up in the countryside, so spending day after day surrounded by trees and greenness is like coming home for me.
Inevitably I suppose, during these days I have spent walking through some very beautiful landscapes I have found myself thinking about how I live and how I want to live. Even though I have only been out in nature for two weeks I can see the impact that humans are having on it. I remember a countryside teeming with insects, beetles, butterflies, hoverflies etc. On this trip I see insects mostly in singles, occasionally there might be groups of them, but rarely. I am seeing quite a lot of wildflowers, but not the diversity I would expect and regarding birdlife of course on the coasts they still seem to be here in good numbers, but in farmland, particularly arable farmland, there are very few. Many arable farms I have walked through are actually silent, there are no birds there.

So I don't want to go back to the city because I believe that the time to experience this beautiful landscape is limited. I really believe we have very few years left now. I want to be here, in this beauty for as long as I can. I'd give much to live in a tiny house somewhere, growing food, planting trees and living a very simple, frugal life. I've been wandering along thinking about secular monasticism, about a life lived in simplicity, a life lived in a way that supports rather than destroys the natural world. I dread the thought of going back to the city, to that grey, ugly place.

But this time is a call to arms for anyone who gives a damn about how we are going to live in the future and to every one who loves the natural world. So maybe I have to go back to Birmingham? Maybe I need to do more to fight for the nature that is on my grey, tarmacked doorstep? Maybe this time is a time of personal sacrifice, that I can't have the life I want, that maybe NONE of us should have the life we want, but accept a life that is best for nature and our planet?If I can't do it, how can I expect that anyone else should do it?

How can I make my voice heard way out here in the boondocks? I joined the protests when I was in Birmingham, but out here there is no one to see. This is really what the AuT Crone project is attempting to highlight, the silent voice of nature, the disconnect between this teeming world of networked beings and the louder self-important human world; that the natural world has no voice where human decision making is concerned. It's only at the place where nature affects human that the majority of us pay attention.

That's not to say that no one cares. Look at the work that has been done recently to highlight the problems affecting the bee population, this has been marketed to the rest of us as a huge problem because of how it could affect our food production. At the same time the world's amphibians are also facing devastating losses, but is that talked about with the same urgency as the bees? It doesn't seem to have the same impact on us as crop failures caused by bee decline, but if course it does. All these distant, tiny, unseen, ignored beings are really giants, they are so important to our biosphere.

If frogs and beetles and bees and microbes matter so much to the health of our planet, and believe me, each and every one of those things does matter, how much do your actions matter too? How much do mine?  Don't listen to the people who say this problem isn't up to ordinary people to fix. It is. Your choices matter, your politics matter, your garden matters, the food you eat matters. The tiny, quiet, unconsidered beings of this world matter and so do your tiny, individual actions.

Being out here, all I can do right now is bear witness to what is out here, gather as much data as I can and try to make my actions out here matter in a good way. It feels challenging though, it feels a bit of a stupid and hopeless thing to do some days. Then I have to remind myself that this is what the work is about; that AuT Crone is a being in solidarity with other beings who feel they cannot speak, or who have no voice; the tiny, unconsidered beings whose lives can seem to pass in inconsequence, but who matter as much as anything ever has.

Thursday

The Pilgrimage

Ambit walk to Oxford day 5 - Charlbury to Oxford

~trigger warning - grief~

It's been a funny old walk.
The original reason for doing the work and making Ambit I talked about here. In that post I wrote about isolation* and using walking as a metaphor for that in my art practice. But as I got into this walk I realised that for me the isolation I experience when walking is a very different thing from the isolation one can experience in society. Walking in isolation is generally a lovely thing, not a sad thing at all. But it is a good metaphor for the distances that can separate people and that element of it still stands for me.

I also wrote about walking as pilgrimage, mainly because I have for a few years been inspired by Will and Ed who started A Walk Around Britain and British Pilgrimage which was founded by Will. However, I hadn't really expected for this walk to become a pilgrimage, it was after all a serious art walk, not some weirdy-beardy spiritual quest! But nevertheless, a pilgrimage it turned out to be.

The walk was to connect my studio/home near Solihull with the exhibition space in Oxford. I toyed for a long time with the notion of walking to Oxford along the canal via Banbury; the canal passes less than a mile from my front door and it would be a very easy route. I'd already walked the canal from Solihull to Stratford-on-Avon, some of which was really beautiful (I saw an otter!). But generally, canals are too full of people and I prefer to walk on my own, so I took the trackways across country instead.
This route happened to pass through two villages where I lived as a child (Lower Quinton and Charlbury) and by places that had all sorts of familial significance for me, places of childhood picnics, adventures, pony and bike rides and many, many memories. As each day came and went I found myself thinking many times about my eldest sister, who died when I was in my late thirties. I have never stopped missing her in all the years that have passed, in some ways I think I miss her more as the years go by.

Sharon and I did not get on that greatly when we were children, I inadvertently gave her paroxysms of agony with my 'weirdness,' and was on strict orders not to speak when we were in the company of her friends. But, she taught me, as probably all older siblings do, so much. Sharon was the wilderness lover when we were children, whereas I was the sit indoors, bookish type. She was an adventurer, a 'tomboy,' where I was a girly girl, afraid of almost everything. But she must have inspired my great love of the outdoors and nature, for every time I saw some wildlife on the walk I thought of her. So many of the places I walked through reminded me of things she had told me about (Lark Stoke) or introduced me too (skylarks) or shared a passion for (old churches and history). It felt like she was walking with me along so much of that route. I am astounded how deeply she sits in me, how much she taught me.

And then came Back Lane.
I caught the bus to Charlbury from Chipping Norton really early in the morning. Everything was swathed in mist, trees and cottages came looming up out of the whiteness and glowed with the gold of early sun.

The bus dropped me off at Five Ways in Charlbury and I thought about Sharon and when she took me to see red squirrels in the trees near the crossing point.
I walked along to road to the lane that went up past our old house and thought about Sharon and I walking to school together.
I started walking down Back Lane, a place she and I visited and played in for years. I thought about a sponsored walk she had done down it to the village of Stonesfield, a walk I was following again today.
I walked along the lane and saw a cobweb shimmering with morning dew and thought about how she taught me to capture frosted cobwebs on curved twigs and how we would compete to keep them intact the longest as we walked to school.
I walked along the lane and remembered the time she showed me a Long-tailed tit's nest, a perfectly spherical miracle of twigs and moss and feathers.
I stopped in the lane to listen to skylarks and the tears came.
I howled.
I yelled and groaned and cried, a great, unexpected up-welling of grief I didn't know I had. It seemed like all these years I had kept this bowl of tears tucked under my rib-cage somewhere; this unacknowledged agony of missing her. At last , when I began to come back to myself, I bent forward and let my tears fall down into the dark brown mud of the path. Holy water on holy ground.



After that I walked on to Woodstock along an actual Roman road, my eyes scanning the ground, hopelessly really, for some long forgotten coin or bit of pot. (Sharon once found a Roman lamp in the field behind our house. And a flint arrowhead). The walk to Woodstock was beautiful, with blazing sun and a dance of raptors and then there was a mad dash into Oxford and stress and craziness and that is all for another post on another day.

*I write more about isolation and the NUNO project here.