Yesterday, my cold won a major battle in the war for my health, but it was just as well. As this cold caught up to my body, the rain caught up to the sun. The day was grey, chilled and dreary and so we sat inside chatting and reading, with one brave foray next door for tea and cake. Without a country tromp, a manor stroll, or a long hike in the woods to experience and document, I had some space in which to reflect on the more personal side of this trip.
Each morning, I watch the goldfinches, greenfinches, chaffinches, blue tits, robins, blackbirds, and sparrows flapping and flitting between the bird feeders in my mother-in-law’s garden. The sound of their chittering and warbling mixes with the snap of small seed casings in tiny beaks. I watch crows, magpies, jackdaws, and wood pigeons try to do the same thing, hanging upside down from tiny perches before moving to the lawn to wrestle with fat, juicy earthworms. Each afternoon, we go for a walk or out on some adventure. Each night, we sit down for a meal, usually fish, potatoes, vegetables and wine. We talk about our lives, and we share our stories, both the large and profound and the minuscule and mundane. We laugh frequently. We have dessert, a crumble or fruit with ice cream and milk cream, and we finish with a cheese and biscuit course accompanied sometimes by port.
We retire to the sitting room and at some point the classical music begins. We read our books and our Kindles, occasionally interrupting the lack of conversation with some reaction to a particular piece or movement or nuance, or share some random thought which we follow until the nearest natural pause.
This routine is comforting to me. It’s the stuff of family. I have sorely missed it. Since my father died in 2002 and my mother just two years ago, I’ve at times felt adrift in my life. I have a close-knit chosen family, for which I am thankful, but I occasionally feel a lack of and longing for parental figures. As we near the end of this trip, I find myself struggling with sadness.
Sometimes I feel guilt for taking my wife away from it, from the in-person moments with her mother that show me the strength of their bond and their friendship. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to live here instead of our chosen home. But we have our lives back in Seattle, our jobs, our friends and a land that we love.
So it was one more afternoon today. My wife and her mother played a violin concerto together in the music room and shared in the joy of that common passion and their deep connection. It was one more walk in the park. The wind was fierce against the lines of yellow-green birch and the ground was soggy with fresh rain. And soon, one more dinner.
Tonight, the symphony, tomorrow one last stop for a full family gathering before we begin our long journey home. I came here last in 2008, nervous, younger, wide-eyed. This time I sense both the amazing family I’ve gained through marriage and the strong friendships I’ve grown on this side of the world. It’s a poignant mix of emotions I feel tonight. But mainly, I feel very lucky.