This happened a little while back, at the end of Felix’s week of autumn holidays, but I thought these pictures needed to be here!
This afternoon the three kids and I walked down to our little beach. Michael had just returned from America and needed to crash for a while, and I was feeling quite chirpy and proud of myself for surviving my first six days alone with them. Antonia wore her new pink gumboots and carried a bucket and spade, Julius fussed a little in the carrier, and Felix loped along beside us, singing a song that was mostly harmless but occasionally a little cheeky towards Antonia. Nevertheless, high spirits prevailed. It’s autumn. We looked at the mushrooms. They are innumerable. Brown, white, orange, red; tiny, shiny, crumbling, smooth, wrinkled, huge. That’s the kind that fairies hide under, Felix said. Antonia slipped now and then on the wet rocks.
At the beach Felix hurled stones into the water. Antonia, however, immediately stripped off in order to have a swim. It was much too cold for the rest of us, but she paddled about bravely, pleased as punch. Felix wrote his name in the sand. Everything was grey. The sky, the water, the forest beyond. And then, very gently, it started to rain. The little drops circled out in the water, all over the water, as far as I could see, and it was the prettiest thing. Felix threw sticks out into the water and Antonia paddled out to fetch them. Then the rain grew heavier and I decided we should go back. Antonia’s clothes had gotten wet and they were difficult to put on again – Julius cried in protest as I bent over to help her. For the first part of the climb back through the forest A and J were both in tears, but we persisted. I promised Antonia a warm bath and Felix a hot chocolate when we got home. As we reached the top of the forest path, Antonia said proudly – we did it! And we did, oh yes we did.
Late Saturday afternoon we all walked down to our little beach. Antonia needed some coaxing, but once we got there she was in her element. Straight away she sourced herself a long stick to go ‘fishing’ with, and sat poking the water for a long time, in between finding stones to throw in, and stones for me too. This was a welcome change from every other time we’ve been there, when I have been responsible for sourcing the stones. She even let me have a turn of her fishing rod. Felix, who had raced ahead, and sat pensively on a bench looking out over the water by the time we arrived, was disappointed that all the ice had melted. But he quickly decided that climbing up all the rocks would be worthwhile anyway, and scrambled around the place on his own for a while before convincing Michael to join the rock scaling adventure. We watched the yellow light on the water as the sun dipped behind the hills on the other side of the fjord.
Today we had a picnic in the little patch of forest right next to our house. Michael strung up two hammocks he had brought back from America, and lit a little twig stove to toast marshmallows. It was just. so. good. Like camping, or being on holiday, but only one minute from our garden. Antonia got a little stroppy around nap time (I don’t bother trying to get her down anymore, but sometimes you can see she needs it), but she redeemed herself later, finding a ‘salad’ for me of twigs and leaves. She insisted on going out again just before bed – she dresses herself in her snowsuit, boots and hat, and heads out the door. She instructed me on when to walk and when to follow, where to put the pinecones she found for me, and then sat down with a stick on her lap, pretended it was some kind of musical instrument, and sang ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. Then I had to do it too.
It’s light till half past six now. It feels like a different world.
Apart from this I cleaned and did laundry, which felt overwhelming and annoying at the beginning, but now I feel so much better. Felix helped by spontaneously tidying up the family room so I could vacuum. The house was in chaos from Michael being away for eight days, back for two, then away again for two (he got back on Friday night), and we were both exhausted and near the end of our tether. But it is better now. It was so good to be outside in the forest all together. There is some kind of grace in this place. It is good to be here.
- Hiking in Ystehede.
- Drawing robots.
- Preparing a lentil shepherd’s pie.
- Eating it, with a glass of wine.
We went for a walk today on the other side of our little fjord (which is really an inlet from the main fjord). We had a picnic there last week with Michael’s parents, and Felix and Michael had managed to explore the hiking track a bit, but today was the first time Antonia and I went there. It is just so lovely there. We climbed up the hill through the forest and were able to look over the water to our house, and had a little picnic a bit further on. Antonia acquiesced to sitting in the ergo backpack if I galloped along like a horse now and then to cheer her up. We let her walk some of the way but she kept stopping to sample blueberries and the weather was rather threatening so we didn’t want to take hours. She was bitterly disappointed that I wouldn’t let her scramble over all the rocky beaches on the way back (it was raining lightly, and they were slippery). She managed to negotiate for an icecream once we got home to make up for it.
Once we got home the kids and I practiced drawing robots. It was a good thing to do with Felix as robots are quite doable and rather fun. ‘Too scary robots’ are a thing in our house now. We saw a man dressed up as a robot outside the science museum in London a few weeks ago, and Felix loved him but Antonia did not. She was in tears a day later when we accidentally sat next to a life size toy robot in the Victoria and Albert museum of childhood. Felix of course is delighted and has decided he loves robots. But Antonia is warming to them, and it was her idea to draw them today.
Then I made my pie in response to the slight hint of autumn in the air, and it was good. It was very good.
I made a list because various other parts of the day were scrappy and challenging, but these bits were so nice. I do that a lot, I think – collate the best bits to remember. Life is gradually returning to routine after the summer holidays – classes start in two weeks. I often think of writing here in the evening but end up tidying or sorting laundry instead.
Also Felix today asked me if rocks could be big enough to reach another galaxy. Well, I said, lots of rocks float around. No, he said, from here. No, I said, they can’t. What if you stacked them up? They’d fall over. But what if they were really flat ones?
Okay it’s not really a secret path, it was only a secret from me, not being a particularly avid map reader. I am in fact a terrible map reader, to the great and recurring frustration of a certain nearest and dearest. But Michael got a book of family friendly walks for his birthday, and I am determined to use it. The first one starts a mere five minute walk from our door, and follows a hidden valley down into town, so we can end up in our favourite cafe. I had never noticed noticed the beginning of the footpath sneaking past a garden, although I have walked past it so many times. After initially being nervous that it would ‘take too long’, Felix thought ‘oh, come one’ (his words) and decided to join the adventure. We first walked it yesterday and got drenched by a sudden downpour half way down (part of the adventure, I assured Felix). We spotted the waterfall but couldn’t walk past it, as the path there was steep, narrow and muddy, and I had the stroller with me. Luckily there was a way out back to the main road at that point. Today we walked it again, taking Antonia in the ergo carrier instead. Felix was impressed the stream criss-crossed the path via a series of pipes. I couldn’t believe this was all just here, so close to the road we drive up and down daily. It felt a little bit like I’d stumbled through a fairy door to a magical forest. Which is romanticising things considerably, but, well, that’s me. We nearly didn’t take the steep muddy path after all (I had visions of one or other of us tumbling down the slope, and how was I to rescue Felix with Antonia strapped to my chest), but after Felix’s howl of disappointment I thought why not give it a go. It wasn’t as bad as it looked and the scary bit didn’t last for long. We were very proud of ourselves to come out the other side. I can’t wait to explore some more!
At ten months, Felix, you are a pretty awesome little chap. You seem to have learnt about a hundred things since arriving in Australia two weeks ago (in addition to growing four new teeth, bringing your total to six!). After understandably bursting into tears upon meeting my family in the airport, you’ve grown quite fond of them. You are very happy to hang out with your grandparents, and you save some very sweet smiles for your great-grandparents.
Towers of blocks appear to offend you and must be destroyed and scattered instantly. You spend a lot of time putting things into other things. You’ve started throwing your blocks around with gusto.You adore your mega-blocks truck. You play with it for hours every day, spinning the wheels, and opening and closing the lid and putting the blocks and the little man in and out of it.
You chatter just about all the time. Your favourite sound is now ‘dawdle awdle’, but you also experiment with many others – you can quack like a duck and cough like your granddad, and you love to imitate whatever sounds we make.
You have very clear ideas about the way you want things done, and you let us know immediately if we get it wrong. You love strawberries. You reach your arms out to people you want to go to. The swing on your grandparents’ deck is a big hit.
You had a few (more than usual) wakeful nights while you were pushing out those four teeth. After about an hour of wakefulness early one morning, Michael was singing lullabies to you and we thought you were about to drift off, when we suddenly heard a sweet, cheeky, high-pitched ‘dawdle awdle!’ Any other time of the day it would have been cute.
You are impressed with my new ergo sling (thanks Mum!) and the stroller is becoming less and less popular as a result. You are not crawling yet but you are becoming increasingly mobile – rolling around your crib and pulling yourself up onto your knees. It’s getting tough to strap you into your car seat as you can just about wriggle out of it. All in all you are relishing all the attention and the new sights and sounds, though your favourite spot to view the world is from my arms.
We’ve taken you to the beach a few times now and you love it. Yesterday we sat you in the water and you thought that was pretty fabulous. The first time we put you down on the sand you were amazed. After several minutes of silence and intense concentration as you dug and scattered and curled your fingers around the stuff, you delivered your verdict: ‘heh!’
Michael is surpassing himself with photos at the moment. And how much mileage are we getting out of our Christmas tree lights? This might evoke a slightly more festive atmosphere than was actually felt around here as we watched re-runs of The Lord of the Rings in order to stay awake.
We fell into bed before midnight but luckily all the crashes and bangs ensured we got up again to watch a 360 degree fireworks display from our windows. Very handy to have windows facing all directions. And there is something so satisfying about bursts of noise and colourful explosions.
New years day was a perfect day for the beginning of a year. I watched the crescent moon dissolve in a clear sky and the sun rise (at a very respectable hour, I might add) from my desk. In the afternoon we went for a long walk in the forest. The temperature had crept above zero, the sun shone and shone, and honestly it felt like spring.
We had a beautiful beautiful trip to York and Leeds last weekend. I saw many old friends. The places themselves are like old friends, and it was so refreshing to see them. It was lovely to see my old supervisors, although everyone in UK universities is extremely depressed and worried at the moment, because the government is cutting state support of universities by up to 75%, which will have a devastating impact… My supervisor reckons it will be the biggest change in the university system in the UK since the 1960s when they made many of the old polytechnics into universities. He guesses that now many of them will have to go back, or close down… Student fees are set to at least double. It’s also a pretty impossible situation for many of my friends who, like me, just finished PhDs, but now can’t find any casual teaching work (which you need to build your CV), because when people go on leave or retire at the moment they aren’t replaced – the remaining staff just have to work harder. Which in turn effects their own ability to research and publish, which will impact on their university’s standing and ranking, etc etc. Anyway, my supervisor reckons it’s a brilliant time to take time off and have a baby!
Depressing economic situation aside, it was lovely to be there. The towns and countryside of Northern England feel so much more settled, established and cultivated than Norway does. The houses are brick and stone, the fields have hedgerows, ancient abbeys crumble slowly next to the rivers. It feels loved and lived in.
I also did lots of shopping. I love maternity wear. Finally I can buy t-shirts and jumpers that are really long enough for me! We were lucky enough to get two days of brilliant sunshine, and on Sunday we took our old friend Vic to Bolton Abbey, and did the first section of one of our favourite hikes ever.
Not much more to say really, except that if you’re ever in the area, you really should go there. You can do a short walk of an hour or so along the river, or you can keep going on up through the ‘valley of desolation’, climbing up to arthur’s seat for the most incredible views of the North Yorkshire Moors. (Wasn’t up for that this time but have done it several times.)
When we got home the kittens had survived being fed by the neighbour for five days, and were very pleased to see us, curling up tightly on our laps and refusing to leave for hours.
1. Kittens being cute
2. The best house guests ever
Some very old family friends came to visit me in Halden. They pretty much feel like family, actually. I lived with them for a year and a half when I started University. It was so fun to see them! They turned up with Australian wine, Belgium chocolate, timtams and the most amazing flowers. They helped me empty out the basement for some work we need done there, and Loris even donated her mobile phone charger to me because my kittens wrecked my old one!
3. Sunshine, skies and holidays (ongoing).
After a week of quite wonderful flying, we escaped down to south east Utah for the weekend to avoid a storm. It was the right move, as now all the mountains are capped with snow.
One of the best things about flying this time has been a growing sense of proficiency. We’ve been awarded our P3 licences – which means we are intermediate pilots, rather than novices. I’m not scared of the glider now – even in strong winds, I’m in control (if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can drag you all over the place as you try to launch). We also had a truly spectacular flight on the north side of the ‘point of the mountain’ (the south side is pictured above). The north side has a lower ridge and an upper ridge. You launch at the lower ridge and if you get high enough you can fly back towards the upper ridge and end up soaring far, far above launch, with views beyond the mountains. There’s nothing quite like soaring along the top of a ridge and seeing the contours of the mountain beneath you – the dusty rock, the autumn colours of the low shrubs. There was a hawk flying alongside us – hovering just in front of Michael’s feet. It was incredible.
The national parks in south east Utah reminded me a bit of some places I’ve seen in Australia – the red rock, the dust, the desert plants – but in other ways they were like nothing else I’ve ever seen. We went to the iconic ‘Arches’ park, which is filled with stone arches, but my favourite was the section of the Canyonlands national park called ‘Island in the Sky’. We kept looking out at the mesas – crumbling rock formations that do look a bit like islands if you think about it, wondering – is that the island in the sky? Is it that one? Is it around the next corner? And then we came to the end of the road and saw this:
As we peered out over the cliff to the mottled, spiky, canyoned lanscape below, we realised – we were on the island in the sky. We had been all along.
Now we’re back in Salt Lake City, and hoping for some more soaring before we head back to Europe and work and thesis and all the rest of it. I want just a little more time on my very own island in the sky, bobbing upwards in the air currents and singing my favourite flying song: up up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful balloon…
Here is a swan we met today. I had grand plans of actually taking photos in London, but when it came to the point I was too busy trying to find my way whilst not getting run over by buses or swept away by torrential downpours. The conference was brilliant – there were some really interesting discussions of time and history and indigeneity. Well, those were the discussions I took note of, for obvious reasons. My paper went well despite a small audience due to clashing sessions. I also met some very lovely people, and some of the buildings at Royal Holloway are just amazing. Watching the big names get affectionately drunk is always entertaining.
I almost missed my train back to Leeds because I misremembered the departure time, and then some Spanish tourists pulled the alarm button on the tube so it didn’t go anywhere for ages… I made it in the end with three minutes to spare. Resolution: be more organized. Write things down.
This weekend I’ve been staying in beatiful Bingley with my gorgeous friend Vic. We walked along the canal today and up into the hills. Ah, Yorkshire. I must admit I had a lump in my throat as the train from Leeds sped past the stone walls, the green fields, the huge trees and the soft grey sky.
Welcome to Bolton Abbey, one of the best places in the world. Every man and his dog were there on Sunday (hmmm, is that meant to be ‘were’ or ‘was’?). And wives, and children, and young adventurers.
Watching them cross the stepping-stones was hilarious.
I’ve crossed several times, in the good old days when there was a stone missing in the middle, which made everything a lot more interesting.
Once you surmount this obstacle, you can go for a stroll in the woods by the river. You can trudge through the Valley of Desolation, onwards and upwards until you hit the dales. And then, you might see this:
(Don’t know this man, apart from that he helped us with directions on the way and was sitting in a cool spot.) Or this:
It’s one of the best walks in the book (round trip around nine miles), and we loved it, even if our bones ached afterwards. And even if, despite my joy at being the one in charge of the map for a change, I took us back the long way round…
Back in beautiful Yorkshire. Leaving wasn’t such a wrench this time, because M came with me for three days. He had some work to do here (as did I), but we had time for a drive in the countryside, a seriously good pub lunch in Grassington, and an afternoon in dear old York. Felt a bit of nostalgia, as we so loved living there, but . . . onwards and upwards, I suppose.
I bought an embroidery kit of a section of the Bayeux tapestry, just in case I ever finish Henry. Should get me through the next long Norwegian winter! We also made a good start on decluttering my room, and took a carload of stuff to the tip/recycling. I don’t like throwing away stuff, it all seems haloed in memories.
I taught on Tuesday, and it was great. We were looking at medieval lyric poetry, which they said they didn’t like as much as Chaucer and the other stuff we’ve done. I asked them to come prepared to talk about one of the poems in their selection. They all did brilliantly, and their introductions sparked animated discussion, and we all (me included) came away with a much deeper understanding of the poems. Classes like that make it all worth it.
The countryside is spotted with tiny gorgeous ungainly lambs, jumping and wobbling about. I didn’t get a picture of them, but just remembering them makes me smile. The daffodils are starting to die off, but there’s still enough of them crowding roadsides and river banks to brighten the landscape.
M left this morning, early. So now, time to concentrate…
Went walking in the Lake District today. It’s only two hours from Leeds. Every time I arrive there I feel this pang of excitement – the slate-walled cottages, the lakes, the hills. I grew up with my Dad telling me about the Lake District as though it were the promised land. The first time I went it was raining and I couldn’t see a thing. But there’s something special about the Lake District. Now when I go I remember the times I’ve been there with those close to me – the lovie, his parents, my parents, and last year, my grandparents (not all at the same time!). But special times, each of them.
It was cold and windy today and the photos I took didn’t really turn out. We went up Red Screes from Ambleside, then across to Dove Crag, then back along the ridge to the town. We did spot a pretty cool stone wall.
At the end of the walk I couldn’t help thinking how different it will look in a couple of months time when the trees will be shiny and green. A bit more like this, perhaps…
We dashed off to the dales again yesterday, and oh my goodness it was lovely! Warm sun on our faces and hardly any wind. All the snow had melted, save for a few pockets in the shadows of the stone walls. We climbed Pen-y-Ghent, another of the three peaks, and did a loop walk of about 20k. The photos don’t capture it at all. The first year I was in England I badly missed the sea, but being out in open spaces like this turned out to be just as good. The burnished hills and plains are like the sea in some ways, with the tufts of grass and heather. Oh and did I mention mud? Managed to put my foot through an invisible hole filled with water. I love seeing the dales in all moods – the clouds and snow and grey-greens are lovely too. I think my favourite are the clear, cold winter days when the whole landscape sparkles with frost. Yesterday the land was a great platter for the sun, and we stayed out until the sky dimmed and the cool slither of moon rose above the fields.
Here’s the viaduct near Ribbleshead, part of the Settle-Carlisle railway (we caught the train across from Leeds). It was built in 1870. I think it’s great. It was threatened with closure in the 1980s, but after much campaigning it was restored in 1991. At the Ribbleshead train station, there was a little museum about the railway line, into which we retreated yesterday to escape the cold. The Spanish students who were with us were quite dismissive of the whole thing, and incredulous that anyone had made such a fuss. But I think it is a thing of beauty.
From the viaduct, you can see the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire dales. Above is the view of Ingleborough, with slightly better visibility than when I climbed it last year. If you’re a bit mad you can climb all three peaks in a day (in summer), including walking between them. We did it once in ten and a half hours, and could barely move afterwards.
Yesterday, we got to the top of the ridge of Whernside, but turned back due to the slippery ice and the extreme wind. It was quite difficult to stand upright. It doesn’t matter. I love this place.
Yesterday I climbed Ingleborough with the Leeds uni hiking club. Ingleborough is one of my favourite places, and one of the three highest peaks in the Yorkshire Dales. This status (its height, not my fondness) has led to the construction of the ‘three peaks challenge’, where you climb Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent, all in one go. This is 37.5 km, and a couple of years ago I did it in 10.5 hours, though I could barely move afterwards. Yesterday it was just Ingleborough, but unfortunately we didn’t get much of a view! We also got soaked to the bone (well, to the socks and the undies, which is worse), and spent far too much time standing around in the wind and the cold, waiting for stragglers or looking at rocks. The walk leader was a geology student – fair enough if the sun is shining. But it was nice to get out of Leeds. It’s such an amazing mountain, speckled with white limestone. Hopefully one day I’ll see it again in fairer weather.