Whispers from the past

I am breathing in these last golden days of autumn. The mornings are brisk with ice clinging to roof and shady pocket, but the days warm to a delicious wheaten character. I am relishing skies of azure blue and waving grasses, grown slender and dry from a warm, wet summer. There is something incomparably enrapturing about this season. I want to ease into its gentle warmth and feel cradled by its soft evening light. There is a quiet and a peace that no other season knows. I wait all year to enjoy these days, and while they are here, I immerse myself fully as a water nymph might immerse in a clear, still pool. 

Autumn’s gentle caresses tug at my heart and bring memories flooding back. All the versions that have ever been of myself connect in these moments. Their voices beckon me to stop and reflect. What is my path? Am I happy in myself, the life I am living? Have I let some things go that I wish to regain? I have been leaning in with a keen and glad heart, listening carefully to whatever messages my former selves have to offer. 

Already, I have begun to respond to those whispers from the past. I have welcomed letter writing back into my life and have relished the opportunity of expressing thought and sentiment with greater meaning and presence. Writing a letter to someone captures the spirit of the words that neither a text message nor the broken exchange of words over the phone could ever capture. There is space and time on the page in front of you to pour out your heart, dreams and inner wishes. And an absence of inhibition as the reception of those inner-most thoughts being as yet unknown. 

To enjoy the ritual of letter writing, I bought some new refillable pens from the newsagency and a couple of writing sets from Etsy. It is transformative how a sprig of wattle painted across the top of a page manages to bring a sense of ceremony to an otherwise everyday act. I have been writing sporadically to friends who belong to the ‘race that knows Joseph‘ and family friends that enjoy or, not hearing particularly well, prefer our conversations to be ‘drawn out’ on paper. 

I have also begun to notice that I have become a bit lax around the house. I once used to tear through the house once a week, scrubbing, washing and dusting. But in recent years, I have stretched those jobs over weeks, leaving the house presentable at first glance but not entirely clean. I do like a clean and presentable home. It makes me feel grateful and like the home and its inhabitants are worthy of the investment of time and thought. So I have been dusting, scrubbing and generally giving the house a proper clean! The yard is a different story. Our lawnmower has broken, and I have not secured another or someone to mow it regularly enough to keep it looking presentable. The grass is lovely, lush, and green, but it has begun to creep over the pathways and envelope our legs as we walk through it. I would love to build some gardens on this vacant lawn, to inject some colour and some of us into the place. But I fear the yard will always remain a blank and uninviting canvas.

As I expressed in my last post, I am experimenting with my clothing and presentation, something entirely new to me aside from what was necessary for work or occasions. I am enjoying it immensely and am frustrated by the lack of choice in my wardrobe. I don’t want to plunder the budget to satisfy my newfound interest in clothing, so I must wait patiently for both money and the opportunity to resurrect my wardrobe. It requires a resurrection from the dead, so much patience is needed!

Flowers are finding their way back into the house again, as much to christen a newly cleaned house as to enjoy what colour is left before winter puts them all to rest. We are still enjoying dahlias and cosmos and a few sweet peas. We are forecast to have another wet winter which will mean temperatures will not drop as dramatically. It may be worthwhile to sow some more sweet pea seeds while still in autumn to enjoy an early flush of colour and sweet fragrance in spring. But my timing in the garden has never been precise or necessarily successful! I have been planting some vegetable seeds and seedlings. Mostly brassicas, turnips, radishes, swedes, beetroot, parsnip (I will try my luck again!), bok choy, celery, and some hardier leafy greens like radicchio. I hope we get enough warmer days this month to give them a boost before the cold weather arrives.

Literature has always been a big part of my life. I loved nothing more than to curl up on my bed or in a sunny corner of the verandah and fall in love with the lives and landscapes contained within those pages. For a time, fictional books remained unopened as I explored cookbooks and guidance books about sustainability, gardening, health etc. Reading a novel seemed frivolous and devoid of substance and meaning. But one day, I picked up my old university copy of Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd with its worn spine and yellowed pages, and I devoured it hungrily as if I had been starving myself all these years. It awoke a desperate need for words that had nothing to do with baking, permaculture or composting and everything to do with people and feelings, human nature and the stuff of life. I am devouring novels faster than my budget for the bookstore and local library can supply. But it has brought me so much joy and insight into relationships. Relationships with trees and our surroundings and the relationships between friends and family have been fraught and blessed with the same tragedies and joys in years gone by as today. It has been an enlightening and reassuring discovery.

Despite these found-again joys, I still feel underlying unrest, a ‘waking up in the night with a feeling of emptiness as if I was missing something or left alone on the wrong path. And a hurriedness and anxiety take over my being that I never knew in my youth. I feel stretched, a little ragged around the edges. I can’t rely on my past selves to help me through these feelings. I never had the responsibilities or the constraints back then. My younger girl-self, sitting in the casuarinas writing poetry, or the single mother with the young boy taking long and slow walks up the beach – they did not know this feeling. But at every stage in life and bend in the path demands something of ourselves, an opportunity to grow. 

Responding to the thoughts and feelings that challenge me now requires a new approach. Drawing on the practices and principles that guided me so well in the past has helped me navigate these challenges. But there are times when an almost clinical approach is required. Like in business, a SWOT analysis can highlight the areas of your life that serve you well and those that aren’t. I am tired, so I know easing the pressure of doing is urgently required. But there is a deep attachment to the many parts of my life that have become interwoven and interdependent. It is difficult to see which of those parts are no longer serving me. Can I sever one so utterly that it does not disturb the whole? I long for an unhurried and sweet life with purpose and meaning and with an absence of that feeling of losing control. That tenuous grip is unsettling.

It is exciting in a way going through the process. What opportunities might arise? Will the easing of pressure improve my energy levels and motivation to take on other things that will serve me better? Whatever the outcome, drawing strength from the past has given me the courage to accept today’s challenges. It has given me back my rudder, and I feel less uncertain about the future. 

Wherever you happen to be on your journey, I hope you are happy and well, or at least on the way there! 

9 thoughts on “Whispers from the past

  1. This is another beautifully crafted post, Paula. Your friends are very lucky if you write your letters in the same way! I share your love of literature (although I do tend to read more non-fiction these days), I was thrilled to find a shelf of English modern classics in the local charity shop and treated myself to some old favourites – Wuthering Heights, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Precious Bane – all so evocative of the rural landscapes I love (and in the case of Mary Webb’s writing, the land I come from). Enjoy your ‘journey’, there are so many exciting possibilities . . . and please keep sharing when you have time! 😊

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    1. You say the kindest things Lis! I doubt very much my friends can read my scribble anyway! I have never heard of Precious Bane or Mary Webb – thankyou very much for highlighting a new author to explore. I love heading to a secondhand bookstore in Canberra called ‘Barry’s’ – chock a block full of classics and everything else. I will seek out Webb’s work next time I am there. I absolutely loved Wuthering Heights, and as a teen fresh at uni I thought Heathcliffe a most romantic and tragic figure. Upon re-reading it as a woman with 5 children, I realise he was terribly cruel. But a wonderful book. I think Anne Bronte is my favourite of the sisters, though Charlotte’s Villette is truly wonderful. I hope spring is evolving into warm days and lots of growing things!

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      1. Isn’t it funny how our attitude towards the same piece of literature can change over the years? I’m definitely with you on the not-so-loveable Heathcliff! Mary Webb didn’t write many books and I suppose I know them because she was a Shropshire lass like me and she wrote mainly about rural life there, which of course I love! I think Precious Bane and Gone to Earth are her best works. Happy book hunting, ‘Barry’s’ sounds like paradise!

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  2. It’s great to reevaluate the things we’ve set aside. Letter writing is such a wonderful experience Paula. I have several people I correspond with the old-fashioned way, and it is wonderful to get that letter in the mail, see my friend’s beautiful handwriting on the envelope, and take a few minutes to set with a cup of tea and read the words. I also send snail-mail birthday cards and other notes as well. Part of my Monday weekly planning and pondering!

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    1. How lovely, and that you start your week off with it too! I love that idea! I wish I had beautiful handwriting – mine degenerates quite badly by the end of the letter – mere chicken scrawl!

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      1. I save my best handwriting for the envelope! Mine gets a little lazy toward the end too, but that’s as good as it’s going to get! I love the ritual of it all, and the thoughts of other persons as I look at my calendar and my cards! Choosing stamps is also part of the process!

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  3. It’s such a gorgeous time of the year isn’t it! And even better with a home filled with flowers.
    Love your description of the attachment to all the parts – I relate! There are so many wonderful things to learn, and practice and master – but hard to ‘fit’ them in to a simple life

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    1. Hi Suz! Yes, absolutely! Too many wonderful things to tempt us! But we can’t do it all, and do it well and still have the energy to be nice human beings (at least I struggle with that!). I am going to set aside even more space in the garden next growing season for more flowers – they bring so much joy.

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