You might fairly imagine, after my talk of Thomas's death and all the many ways we have said goodbye to him, that I am miserable. Not so. Barely at all, in fact. The sadness is too sharp for such fudgery as misery; the grief larger than would fit in a lifetime's worth of moping, and this acuteness allows spaces to open up and fill with gratitude. I still live in a beautiful corner of the world, with the best daughter ever (please don't write in, you won't convince me otherwise) and a carnival of the curious, the wonderful and the loving on my doorstep. So today I am offering you a catch-up on all the many joys and splendours which have come our way over the last long while as we found our only-four feet.
I have thought about the way I include Pickle here. Previously she has always been shaded, turned away, distant. It felt necessary to protect her from this big web which can bind the unwary. But I have a failsafe question and the answer always, always guides me in the right direction. The difficulty is in daring to ask the question - as ever. My question is this: am I acting from fear or from love? See? Hiding my girl from you is acting from fear of you, and recently you people who may never see us in the flesh have sent us so much love. So, here she is in all her tender beauty. Look gently upon her please.
Cuddling is even more in fashion than it ever was and friends even more of a blessing, whether they be large or small.
Pickle had a great time on her birthday. She may have been the only one who wasn't faking it, but she was the only one who needed to be, so we all played our part in witnessing the rip-fest.
Checking herself out in her new favourite spider pajamas and getting a kiss from her Granny
and in the predictable best present.
Our neighbours came round to support and entertain us all
and a late gift brought much excitement to a sunny day.
Friends gave us a season ticket to the fantastic Miniature Pony Centre where Pickle has stroked and held small creatures with exquisite gentleness (demonstrating the obligatory 'one finger' stroke for days afterwards).
She's fed orphan lambs from the surrounding farms
and, best of all, driven a real digger. This has featured in dreams and stories ever since.
The moor ponies came to live in the field next to us for a while so we could watch their skittery foals grow. (Notice the abandoned, gutted Mini for that authentic rural touch. It stores hay.)
I've taken to making these name signs of an evening and had some very pleasing feedback from gifts and commissions.
We've had lots of building work done on the outside of the house (that boundary was getting a bit too blurred for safety), giving Pickle the opportunity to dig up lots of liquid mud and disperse it about the garden and herself.
When all these lovely things are outweighed by sorrow or stress, time with our good friends Tom, Rima and Macha in their cosy home is most restorative. We walked together through the Deer Park (Rima scampering about ahead and behind taking these photos), inhaling blossom
and admiring fields ringing with blue.
Pickle wisely hitched a ride up the steeper bits
and we all stopped at the top for cake and tea and chat, some of us just focusing on the cake.
We found small things to peer at very closely (we find lots of those)
and huge things almost bigger than we can think.
Then we followed the river back to the fireside for more tea and a nap for those of us who needed to sleep off cake.
If I am mindful of when I need to ask for help, I can step through each thorny day until one morning I leave my house (unusually childless) and, without expecting it in the least, start to run. This sunny day I ran, skirts and earrings flying about me, backpack with notebook, camera and purse bumping behind, blood pounding, muscles incredulous and huge lungfuls of air pouring in and out of me, pulling dark out of a deep place and flinging it to the sky, dragonwise. I ran until I was arrested by such ludicrous beauty I had to record it. In my trusty notebook I wrote:
The poppy, tranniest of flowers, busts its bristly bollocks, sated by sun,
into long-skirted sunsets of satins and silks,
crinolines in crimson to celebrate this coming out of colour.
And coming out too are the apples Thomas gathered so eagerly last year.
On the way home from telling the bees our news and greeting the apples on our allotment, we were rather cross with one another, but fortuitously we were hailed into a field party where I salved my nerves with crisps and cider and Pickle made a new friend from across much water.
My mum's ill - cancer and incurable, though not untreatable - so we've waited for a 'good' week in her chemo cycle and visited her and my dad in Somerset. Granny showed Pickle secret places and knitted her Goldilocks and the three bears, which Pickle loves.
Mum's hair came out while we were there and in the admirable way of small children, Pickle barely seemed to notice. She had been primed, though, by the book Mum wrote last time she had cancer: When Granny Lost Her Hair. Recommended reading for anyone trying to explain the effects of cancer and chemo in a gentle and comprehensible way to children
When they needed time off from grandparental duties for an appointment, we went to watch the sea. Pickle, being a moor girl, declared it 'too watery' and refused to go in. Wise, as it was very cold.
We explored the unique gritty roughness of sand and left a message for the sea to absorb and spread to distant shores.
So, reeling from an extra heavy week of grief for my Thomas and seeing my mum suffering, we staggered straight off to the South Downs to see another little friend of Pickle's for the weekend. They had a wonderful time, but the days were long and tearful for me. In a break in the weather we walked to the river through ancient woodland and, passing an old orchard, my very good friend the world sent me a message of hope.
No matter how tired, no matter how twisted, no matter how bent and broken; keep going. You are life.