A perfect spring morning; the sky a clear and sunny blue above the vibrant green of the fields. Catkins dance on the hazel trees and snowdrops blaze purity at their roots. The south of England basks in sunlight as I drive its winding roads. I could have taken the quicker route up the motorway, but I have time and I prefer these gentler ways. The aggression of time-constrained travel does not apply here. Time, for once, is my own to spend as I choose… and I choose to meander.
A distant tree seems in early leaf… until the leaves rise as a huge plume of feathered smoke. Hawks greet me, perched overhead or swooping down as if to peer into the car to gaze at the lunatic within who is leaving this pleasant morning behind and heading for the north, where reports of snow, rain and ice remind me that it is, after all, only January.
The counties go by beneath the wheels; Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire… each with their own distinctive character, it seems. Buzzards replace the kites in the air; Osiris looks down; a hawk perched on a wire looking exactly like the Egyptian painting on the card I had been sent. I am skirting borders… dipping my toes in Warwickshire, Staffordshire… then finally the one that welcomes me to a place that feels like home; Derbyshire.
I was asked, “Where does south become north?” There is no true answer to that of course, as all is relative to where you are in space. In time too, perhaps, where memory and the heart’s longing shapes the world according to the yearning. For me, on this road, the north begins in the market town of Ashbourne which marks the beginning of the hills of home; the first slopes that soon become the moorlands I love. It is here I see the first trace of snow, clinging to the shadows of a cliff face. The only trace of snow I will see too, although the grass wears that dark, watered green that tells of its recent presence.
With every mile the shoulders and forehead relax. I can feel it, as if the miles turn back the clock towards a younger day. It is strange how accustomed we become to everyday stress. We don’t even notice it is there until it is not. I seldom ‘get stressed’ in any visible way… or so I fondly like to tell myself… but as I drive north I am leaving the daily cares behind. They do not go away; they do, however, recede.
Here, I cannot change a thing, whatever happens will happen without me. I let them go. Their insistent voice is silenced, the power that they have is diminished by a distance counted in more than miles… a power that I know, after all, I alone give to these things when I let them close in around me. I recall the words attributed to Shantideva, “Why worry if you can do something about it; and why worry if you cannot do anything about it.”
I don’t think I worry a great deal any more. The acceptance that ‘this too shall pass’ sank in a long time ago and trust in the rightness of the journey took the place of anxiety. What cannot be changed can be lived through and learned from, and for that the responsibility and choice lies squarely within ourselves. Even so, I can feel my muscles soften and relax, proving just how physical stress can be, even when we cease to be aware of its habitual presence.
The silence of the car, a moving shell around me casting a window on a changing world, lends itself to musing and my thoughts continue to chase through the dark, cobwebby corners of realisation. Undiscovered gems hide in the darkness along with those sticky globs of things unidentifiable upon which the probing fingers of the mind alight. Driving is good for the soul.
I turn into a lane signed for ‘Biggin’. There is a church there, I recall, that may be worth a visit if it is open. Parking beneath a tree I throw a shawl around my shoulders… which proves totally inadequate for the icy blast that greets me. Yet at my feet the first daffodils raise their spears defiantly to the winter chill. On the horizon an oddly shaped hill catches my eye and I smile as I raise the camera. The bricks and mortar are a hundred miles and more behind me. It doesn’t matter. I am where I will be for the next ten days… beneath a northern sky… I am home.