Behind the hedge I hear the bat of the man in the practice cage at the Ickenham Cricket Club urging the bowler on, his bat drumming the ground in eager anticipation.
Give it to me! Give it to me!
“Whack!” A solid hit. Instinctively I look to the sky above to see if the ball has somehow cleared the batting cage, and the hedge, and is heading my direction. Not likely, and no, but one can’t be too careful. Or maybe that’s just me.
I come to the edge of the cricket ground and enter a small wood, greeted by the Oh-My-God Oak standing at a fork in the path, a majestic creature so christened by my grand-daughter Emily when she visited on a glorious crisp autumn day last year, the visage of such a massive tree in its golden plumage overwhelming her 5 year-old senses. She stood stock still, gathered in the sight, and said simply enough: “Oh. My. God.” Worship in its purest form.
Together with her younger sister Julia we chased falling leaves, trying to catch them before they came to rest on the ground. A memory came of doing the same with their mother some 25 years before, in Black Creek, British Columbia.
Ahead of me now, a man is swearing at his dogs as they take turns rolling in a small mound of dust-dry dirt, laughing at each other, either for the dirt or for their shared insolence of ignoring the Master. Finally they bolt after him, their thirsty tongues waving in the wind.
“Maybe I should get a dog. Surprise Renata when she gets back from her Camino walk!”
And then the practicalities of dog ownership hit home again. No dog, just yet. When life slows down a bit.
Beyond the field by the Soldier’s Return I reach out to tap the top of the post which marks the end of my route, doing an about-face to retrace my steps toward home. Religious observance is simpler for me nowadays, but perhaps not less important.
Back in the wood I consider the habit of an evening walk. “The Daily Constitutional”, an old-fashioned English clergyman once explained it to me.
To me, yes, but. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, yet only came to identify it as such after my first real crisis, my awakening. Growing up in the cultural and theological milieu in which I did, such things were unheard of. It was only later I came to appreciate that anxiety attacks in the middle of the night, forcing one into a hot shower or bath until the physical pain was dulled, is not normal. Moving house every eighteen months – and wanting to move house every eighteen months – is not normal. My overwhelming sense of homelessness, my rootlessness, my fear of committing to a single place and job, that’s not normal. It has taken therapists in multiple countries to help me accept this and to find a way forward that doesn’t lean all too heavily on my fickle faith.
A daily walk is a solace, a metaphor for my journey and an antidote to my wanderlust.
Facing the golden rays of the dying sun now and up ahead a black cat is sitting in the tall grass beside the path. Will she cross in front of me? I hope not.
I draw alongside and stop, my pause an invitation for her to make acquaintances. She obliges, sidling up with a pleasant purr, pushing her head against my leg and pressing it into my extended hand. She’s not black at all, really; a mottled grey.
Suddenly she swipes at me with a half-opened claw, and hisses, drawing back to the side of the path. I hiss back, and she jumps, disappearing into the border.
Damn cats. Who needs them? How in the world did they find a place as household pets?
And why are they always she in my mind?
I turn into the street, passing middle-class English homes baking in the evening sun, front gardens paved over to make room for multiple Jaguar, Lexus, and BMW vehicles.
I stop at a fence covered in dark creosote and press my nose right up against it, closing my eyes and allowing myself to be drawn back to the boathouse on Quadra Island on that first visit to Canada in 1982, to the sweet kisses of my girlfriend and eventual bride-to-be. I sure hope she’s safe on the Camino now; what would my life be without her?
I feel something in my hand and turn it up to look at it. A short river of bright red blood is pooling in my palm, streaming slowly from its source just below my wrist.
“DAMN CAT!” I mutter, reaching into my pocket for that tissue I didn’t think I would need, but now glad I brought.
Later, I switch on the string of festival lights around the back garden and sit at the little cast-iron patio table. The neighbours think it’s funny that I wear Dutch wooden shoes when I’m out in the garden; to me it’s perfectly normal.
My holiday is still a week away, but I’m ready for a foretaste. Islay malt and a hand-made No.5 Montecristo, both for an almost reasonable price. There are at least some advantages for Americans not living in the USA.
The sun is gone now. Tomorrow will bring thunderstorms and, perhaps, a shift in the wind.