I have a picture in our bedroom: Roses by Peder Kroyer, painted in 1893. It’s of a woman wearing a long white dress and she is reading – sitting in a garden chair in the sunshine with a large floriferous white rose in the foreground. So evocative; this has long been one of my favourite paintings and when I found the print – ready-framed – in the antiques centre where I used to work, I was ecstatic. I had to have it, even though there was nowhere in our then home where I could hang it – and at that time we had no plans to move at all. The precious purchase made – it was very cheap, I might add – it reposed unseen behind the sofa for quite some while and I forgot about it.
When we moved here I knew immediately where I wanted to hang it. I expected B to object – it’s flowery and romantic – but no, he liked it too, and it now hangs on the wall at the foot of our bed where I can gaze at it and feel somehow nourished every evening before I turn out the light.
One of the reasons I love it so is because it personifies a long-cherished ambition: to sit and read under a tree on a summer’s day. Such a simple wish, yet one I can’t recall ever having achieved properly. Until today.
Today I awoke feeling blah. Pretty much this entire week has been a struggle. All the promise and expectation I carried with me when I fell asleep last night had melted away. I felt rotten. So a slow, non-productive day stretched ahead; energy levels were simply too low for much to be accomplished. Instead, this gentle, sunny Sunday became an afternoon of quiet pleasure, thankfulness and appreciation.
The tree in the middle of the lawn was grown for sitting under: that was my first thought when we saw it on a dull, colourless day in January. It’s size and shape is perfect for a chair or two to be placed under its branches, and the sun, travelling through the afternoon, offers dappled shade for hours. A chair, a table, a pot of white tea and a book … I was ready. I settled in for what became the most exquisite hour or two, although really, there was no sense of time passing, just an intense connection with the present.
Can it really be that reading was even more of a pleasure than usual, sitting as I was in this beautiful spot, surrounded by the softest of breezes and a symphony of birdsong? Perhaps I had just happened upon what was certainly the best chapter by far in the book I was reading. But no: everything in this experience was timeless and intensified. The minutes slowed. Time there was to notice every sensation, every sight, sound, smell, taste.
Delicate white tea, when brewed, is translucent, and in the dancing dapples it sparkled and shimmered and twinkled like gilded gossamer. And it tasted like liquid gossamer too: light and fragrant; frolicking on my tongue. I had a bowl of thick creamy Greek yogurt, topped with nuts and seeds and luscious, juicy raspberries: huge and carmine-red. They were bursting with flavour; everything in that bowl tasted bright and clean and vivid. Tastes and textures were clear and distinct. I’m sure I have never before savoured a bowl of granola and raspberries so intensely.
The bark on the tree, the lichen adding richness and texture to trunk and branches; the palmate, vivid, sage green leaves still fresh and hydrated, playing with each other in the breeze and creating crazy three-dimensional patterns as they stretched skyward: the tree became a study in itself. The grass – cool under my feet; the chair at my back; the feel of the pages; the smell of the book…
The birds, all singing to their own tunes yet blending into a harmonious backdrop of trills and flutes and arpeggios, none over-shadowing or competing with the other. The crows – unusually audible earlier in the day – fell silent; and the pheasant – always evident, always audible – chose this moment to take a silent siesta. Bees hummed past drowsily. An idyllic, soporific scene, yet for me every sense was effortlessly acute.
Across the valley, on a level with me and for that reason seemingly surprisingly close, the cattle sat in the sunshine. Placid and patient. And on the horizon, Windy was perfectly positioned behind the small stand of trees: his torso hidden from view but his stiff, silver arms turning rhythmically around and around above the treetops, reaching for the sky. For a while a single buzzard owned the space between the earth below and the heavens above, framed by the branches over my head which arched so I felt like I was watching this scene from a silent, vaulted cathedral. The buzzard circled lazily above the cattle and turned in synchrony with the turbine arms: turning, turning, turning…
The turbine turned; the buzzard turned, but the hands on the clocks stood still: this was a single, perfect moment in time, religious in its intensity. It leaves me replete and deeply connected with the lady in the painting and with my own – and our universal – souls. The view from here is suffused with timeless peace.