I sat outside in the back garden with a hot cup of tea, coat fastened, watching the milky coming of dawn. I can do this as I don’t drink these days, my New Year’s Day vigil no longer debilitated by the night before.
All of the neighbouring houses were in darkness, the windows dark, sightless eyes. There was no sign of life at all. Human life, that is.
The morning was scored by the constant rattle of a magpie, hidden from view. They nest in a huge tree beyond one of the houses, but the tree appeared bare, empty both of leaves and birds.
The call went on. Perhaps the chatter-rattle was bird-talk for come on-it’s morning!
In the spring and summer I plant flowers for the birds and bees, then switch my allegiance to the birds in autumn and winter, putting out food at dawn and dusk. I hadn’t yet filled their tray with muesli. Maybe this was my reminder.
All of a sudden, besides the sound of the invisible magpie, I could hear the voices of young people returning home from what must have been an all-nighter, no doubt weary but still on a high.
I thought of one of the poems in my book, the aptly titled: New Year, Morning. It begins:
Half the world is hurting,
turning its face to shadow.
I was referring to people being hungover from the night before, but a reader took it as a reference to the state of the world as it exists at this time, with events in the Middle East and Paris, etc, at the forefront of her thinking.
But that fits too. I’m cool with that.
A flock of crows, a murder of crows, wheeled overhead, calling, cawing, as they followed each other around and around. The hidden magpie suddenly came into view, alighting on a television aerial, agitated, its rattle now of a higher and more urgent pitch.
The morning was lightening; the world was awakening. The year had begun.
There was opportunity and optimism. My poem ends with the line:
‘Everything is redeemable.’
I do believe that.
In the afternoon I went for a walk in the local woods. After the Christmas festivities I felt the need to get out, to connect, to blow away the cobwebs. I walked along the river, the path turned muddy by the week’s incessant rain. There was not a lot of people about-and no children at all. No doubt they were all indoors, absorbed still by their new toys and such.
I came across a couple of dog walkers who nodded a greeting as they passed with their eager companions. I began to think of my dog, lost the year before, and my mood became, if not morose, a little wistful.
I left the path, seeking the more hidden and wilder tracks through the naked trees. Life slumbered, the afternoon still and grey.
In the distance something caught my eye, it looked like a plastic bag, wrapped around a stump at the base of a tall tree. It reminded me of the tap in my garden after I had lagged it against the winter freeze with an ad hoc combination of tea towels, carrier bags and string.
I made my way towards it, drawn by the defined shape among the wet-mulch collage of leaves, and soon the identity of the object became clear. It was the ditched remnant of a Chinese lantern, no doubt sent up to the skies at midnight last night. It couldn’t have made it too far as most of it was still intact. There was a message scrawled on the side in black ink. As only a little of the paper material had been burned away, I was able to decipher it:
To Tim, Nanna, Baby Andrew,
always in our thoughts, never forgotten,
always by us,
step by step,
arm in arm.
Lots of love, John
I hunched low on the foilage-littered ground, saddened, reading it again. My eyes lingered upon ‘Baby Andrew.’
This is a new year; a new start. But we never fully come into it with a blank slate. We bring with us all of our experiences, our hurts and our joys. The past is ever present in the entirety of the life lessons that make us who we are.
I let go of the rim of the lantern, it gently resting again against the stump of the tree. I stood and moved on through a gathering of birch trees, spying a nuthatch, (I think the very first nuthatch I had ever seen), before it darted from view.
I don’t know why, but, before I descended a slight decline in the landscape, I turned for one last look at the husk of the lantern. From that distance it seemed that a light breeze was reinflating it where it rested, as though offering a final promise of flight.