Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Family landscapes

On our return to Normandy after an English few days to celebrate my mother’s seventieth birthday, we quickly recognised the pattern of half-timbered thatched cottages in shallow valleys against their wooded hills. This was the landscape just as we had left it a week before.

We held Mum’s party high in the Malvern Hills overlooking the Vale of Evesham and the wide spaces of the Cotswolds. The clear skies we enjoyed on Saturday, when we sat round the dining table of The Cottage in the Woods; and on Sunday when we walked on the ridge and picnicked on a sunny bank, set us picking out landmarks from our childhoods and those of our parents, elaborating the memories that we’d begun to rediscover the day before, over the photo book Cathy had created.

The thought occurred that although we are walking far to see new landscapes, the most important ones are the memories of family and friends. Seeing them, catching up with the news, hearing the concerns of some, the ambitions of others, I glimpsed wide panoramas, steep ravines and sudden clouds, sudden clearings. These are the intricate patterns we have spent years learning, though they constantly change. They are so deeply ingrained in us that we can tell when someone’s tree has been cut down, or another’s is flowering. I felt like clinging ivy being torn down when we said goodbye to them all in the car park.

Perhaps this is the real lesson of the walk, that the landscapes we should pay attention to are the branching and reconnecting paths of those close to us. And, going home, perhaps I’ve learned it already.

30 January 2008

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