Today the temperature plummeted to minus three. The air stung with the frost’s cold kiss, bringing a rising blush of blood to numb cheeks and fingers.
The river crossing drifted with ghost mists that loomed dense and then dreamed out into nothings, steps punctated by the snap of ice underfoot.
J and I went wandering over the mountain, following the patches of light that brought life blazing through the purple hazes of the bush and the bracken for a moment, before clouds greyed out again. Twisted trees raised surrender to the sky, offering up bounty in their burden of berries. There is wild beauty to be touched with icy fingers.
The hill is hard, steep and solid with histories we’re learning to remember after decades when everyone tried to forget. The land is steeped in stories, consequences, choices and it is marked, if not marred, for good.
This was once coal mining country and the pits were the dark hearts pulsing at the core of communities. Now there is silence, stillness. There is a sense of absence on the hill tops, long lines at the employment centres, the question of whether beautiful is really better than busy but broken…
On the flat packed tracks of the tram roads the earth has taken itself back, letting lichen and moss sooth secrets over, letting the dead lie still. Of course they still speak, still murmur on the wind, brew stronger like tea in good china through old ladies’ memories.
The ground is harrowed, holed and chambered through depths I never care to plumb. I will walk into the cave darknesses, but I like to keep light in my sight.
I am of here and not. I get teased gently for my English accent, the degree from a fancy university, the lives I’ve led that set my apart. When people ask, I never know quite where to say that I live. But this is no less the land of my fathers, my mothers, my memories.
It is mine and I belong to it, and yet I am always going away. I am always a little drunk on freedom, poised for a flight. But perhaps I am who I am because I was raised on stories of what was, of the famine for choices, of the price to be paid for a chance, for the change.
We all walk on paths well trodden by other feet. It is good to remember that, even when names are forgotten and graves overgrown.
In Wales we are half a country, wholly and yet not, fiercely proud, British but not English. In the language of the land (that I’m ashamed to admit I don’t know how to speak) we have a word ‘hiraeth’. Like many things, it doesn’t really translate but it is close to sadness, a longing for the home that is gone, for what has passed on. It expresses grief but also the truth, that where you are from is always within you, that it always holds you.
The hills always wait.