The gentle reflection of the water, and of the mind.
Exercise has become so integral to lockdown life, with countryside walks becoming a social visit to those outside of family.
We walk for hours and chat along those canal paths, takeaway coffees and dog leads in hand. Our furry companions are so happy that we work from home, their need for affection and fresh air satisfied.
Most of us have struggled under the bizarre circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, often feeling like characters of a dystopian novel. Everyone has made sacrifices, but so rare is it that we share the same reason for doing so. There is a strange comfort in unity. Each begrudgingly slow step of the past year has now led to enormous leaps in modern medicine, and a new compassion within the community.
The end appears nigh, as we hope to throw our masks up like the graduation caps and celebrate a long, carefree summer.
As autumn returns, perhaps we should hold onto the masks from the bitter wind, and a bittersweet memory which we battled through.
‘Neutral buoyancy’ is neither sinking nor floating.
Another world lies beneath the sea, its darkest waters as unknown to us as the unexplored galaxies. It is so quiet, your exhaled breath bubbles toward a yellow veil above the water’s surface. Each sound is muffled, so as not to break your focus. This balancing act, with your flippered feet in motion, leaves you with your thoughts.
Whilst remaining calm and focused on breathing, you also feel the silent dread of your own mortality creep into the vast ocean. But in this cushioned, anti-gravity sphere, you can fly slowly and capture your surroundings. You save the memory for later nostalgia.
The light above is safety, whilst the depths below are full of fear yet curiosity. As you continue to focus, those bubbles take with them your anxiety. You are a silent presence in a world far from security and comfort, but full of promise.
You allow yourself to explore, but with the scuba diving instructor still in your vision.
Often in a busy and bustling city, it is hard to find quiet.
As the Earth thaws, the public flock to the parks for a day of sunshine and socialisation. Shorter lengths and bright patterns, London is awash with summer florals and blue denim. I tend to avoid the crowds, in search of my own haven.
Along the illuminated paving stones do I find a Victorian-inspired, cast iron gate. The black metal is scorching as I tenderly allow myself into the garden patio. I see an inviting bench, almost as if the sun has two weighty hands on my shoulders. Before I reach the comfort of sitting down, I am swarmed by a small animal tribe: an unlikely trio of hens, entrusted as keepers of the garden.
I hold my breath as they circle my feet and peck at my laces. I am not sure how happy they are to have a foreign invader, but my silence quickly earns their trust. Over a shared lunch, we bond even more. All three sit with their feet tucked in, their feathered bodies as dense as bread loaves.
They rise to wish me farewell, as the heat of the iron gate subsided from the cool evening air.
This kind of weather prompts us to leave our homes and toward any nature within the vicinity. In a city filled with sparse areas of green, I am fortunate to live in the bountiful countryside where Mother Nature hides around every corner. She takes my hand on a wildlife adventure, transporting me back to my youth and endless curiosity.
Each time I visit the canals, there seems to be new colours, new life, found there. It tickles the leafy trees and runs along the lazy river. I choose today as a mission for myself to find the perfect picnic spot, my basket swinging excitedly, giving me momentum.
Travellers in their moored boats will soon join the steady stream downward, towards the local pub and café, for leisure and nourishment. Rather than following the general crowd, I cross a rickety bridge and settle down near the sunlit trees. As I lie on the patchwork rug, the warm air weighs on my eyes and sends me into a dream. I dream that I am outstretched on a cloud, with the rays of sun lighting what appears to be a racetrack; With chalked lines in the grass, there is a chicken scuffing their feet in anticipation. There is a distant but high-pitched whistle, just as a siren calls the sailors to shore. The chickens run excitedly, their plumy wings at their sides and their heads thrust forwards. They cross the finishing line in quick succession, before huddling together excitedly, feathers flying. When I awake once more, my skin is rosy and my open book has cascaded onto the floor.
I collect memories of this place to keep me warm in winter.
This is a scene that I hope to wake up to each morning. When my eyes are closed, I can transport myself to sunny days in the British countryside.
There are white beams of light through each window, not ceasing until late into the evening. The days are long and sleepily warm, as not to exert yourself; Whether that is from the sunbed with a book, or a picnic on the bright gingham tablecloth, or a dinner party where champagne flutes clink in celebration, you so often find yourself outside. As your skin browns, it seems as if your physicality absorbs your surroundings.
There is nothing better than that feeling of opening the door and the strong waft of French lavender, vibrant and quick to flower, greeting you. Its calming influence subdues the mind.
The hens of my garden are happy little souls, strolling up the gravel path, hoping to explore inside further. But I will be leaving my house to meet them, to follow their forked footprints from their morning venture.
I think of this memory all year round, appealing to my weary, wintery soul until the snow melts and the flowers flourish.
Coming home is so safe and familiar, but I am excited to go, to step out into the exquisite unknown.
White roses are traditionally associated with new beginnings, as white as a bridal gown. They may not be as loud as their coloured counterparts, but their understated beauty flaunts in their layered tones of white, playing with light and shadow.
On the first day of Spring, there is no overcast to be seen, but rather an empty sky and a scorching sun. The artist sees this from her studio and, after a long winter, is eager to capture the changing seasons. As if stealing a palette from the sky, her background is sapphire. In her ever-flourishing garden, the muted white roses provide that dramatic contrast that the artist desperately seeks. With a bed of sun-lounging roses below, only the fighting few climb upwards, their tightly closed buds unravelling, their faces exposed. She uses a thin brush to trace their intricate stems, before sculpting her white paint into oval shapes on the canvas.
When the seasons change once more, and we return to shorter days and colder nights, these white roses are a gesture of remembrance. A farewell to summer, but a promise to return, their purity expresses a quiet optimism for the future. This painting says, ‘I’m thinking of you’.
I look through the frosted window of my front door, to see a blanket of snow resting on the chickens, soft but icy. Only their red beaks peak through, contrasting to the perfect white, as bright as the blank page of a new chapter.
Once the door is opened, the warm air is sucked out of my home into my glacial surroundings. The cold air pinches my cheeks, and rises in pearl clouds from my mouth with each breath. My wellies greet me at the doorstep, offering to protect my feet from the cold and slippery ground. Like Cinderella, they perfectly fit for the occasion.
The clean slate from the snow is marked with my brown boot marks, as I gingerly walk toward my velvety-plumaged companions. The hens look up and see me, with their fluffed-up feathers shielding the cold. They gather around my feet, and I lean down to pet them with my gloved hands.
I am reminded of snow days as a child, listening eagerly for news that schools were shut and the day was ours. I scoop a handful of soft snow, pressing my palms together until I have created a solid white globe. I throw aimlessly, as if in the midst of a snowball battle, and it lands in the white abyss. It is a day of quiet bliss, with only the muffled creaking of snow underfoot.
There is nothing quite like the sheer panic of forgetting someone’s birthday, more specifically a birthday card, to truly mark the occasion.
Luckily, an artist works well under stress. As someone so often used to the pressures of meeting deadlines for clients, she quickly make haste; She grabs her art supplies and throw them down onto her work surface with an anticipatory thud.
This is no regular client, and there has been no debrief in this instance. But with her husband as the recipient, she knows him well enough to paint something of his taste.
Using a piece of paper, easily folded into a card, the artist begins to plot her canvas just in time for this important day. In her mind, she fondly envisions the summer garden.
The buzzing bees and singing birds are an orchestra in this quiet corner of the countryside. The wild flowers grow with such a vigour, they often overstep into the pathway. This is the pathway which the artist’s husband will walk after the working day. Crunching gravel underfoot, the bright bulbs are thrust forward by the wind and kiss his feet. The artist imagines his pace quicken upon his excitement of seeing balloons, or a colourful banner in the archway perhaps; His mind is animated with what surprises may be awaiting behind the front door of their home.
The artist plays out this warm and happy scene inside her head as she paints. Almost as if the mental image has been scanned onto the paper, it is complete. The artist reviews the finished birthday card, with the long, overreaching stems of the flowers and the path seemingly built around them. With dots of sapphire and rouge to imitate their swaying, she leaves the darkened doorway, as the beautiful, ambiguous end of one’s journey up the garden path.
Occasionally, I have been allowed to see a magical world, which disappears as quickly as it arrives.
I am not able to predict when the light shines through the cluster of trees outside the landing window, and it’s beautiful outcome: a dramatic silhouette across the mauve wall. For a moment, the whispering shadows are able to speak, exclaim even, over the idyllic roses. For a moment, they seek desperately to come to the forefront; They no longer wish to be the understudy, but the main spectacle of my viewing.
I am astonished to discover a new element of these roses, purely by coincidence. I was once gifted these flowers: a timeless ritual and a kindness that will always be rewarded.
The amorous rose always speaks to someone special. The sentiment is then treasured for some time, as the flowers open themselves to us and reveal mother nature in her glory. I cup one of the roses to my nose, breathing in its pale, snowy petals.
Their purity proves to me the sincerest of intentions. I feel their loving and tranquil presence just steps from my bedroom, in the hallway.
I am also eager to get my timings right, and to see the theatrical shadows cast once more.
The pleasure of fresh flowers in my home is the gift which keeps on giving.
Green is the colour of rejuvenation. Rose is the colour of gratitude. Together, much like the stream of water, these colours slowly drift downstream with a steady sunrise to guide them. Bouncing off the rosy canal boats, the combined pigment floods the pathway. In the glistening water, I see the abundance of life and energy here.
As if admiring their reflection, the trees sway merrily above the water, with the rhythm of rustling leaves as their accompanying music. They join branches with the equally arched trees on the other side of the water, forming a natural pathway to be voyaged by the inhabiting squirrels.
I walk underneath and listen for their morning chatter across the information (and physical) highway, with their speedy commute to either side as an affectatious display of agility.
As I reach the bend of the pathway, I see the boats moored. Free from civilisation, the community on the canals wrap up warm on the decks. Their gloved hands are enlaced tightly around a mug of tea in conversation with their neighbours, or a solitary fishing rod in sport, hoping to catch their next meal. The rods animate the water, as it ripples and merges various blocks of green.
Breathing in the fresh air, we each exhale small, white clouds which soar into the atmosphere.
It is almost like living inside the polychromatic dream of a painting.