It’s windy, the tide is high and the sky is overcast. It is not yet cold. This feels like home. September has been especially welcome this year. A long time away leaves me finding my house anew. The start to another school year and a change in the weather drives most people away, back from the edge, away from the sea. It becomes wild, more wild. An unleashing of energy, it is no longer docile and lapping at the stones. Ocean splashes up with force, wind skips across the surface and surge stirs up the wrack. It feels like change, as if new things are possible.
It is a year since I became ill, more than a year. There are no fixed dates, no clear signs, it just slides in and out of focus: wellness, illness. It is a year since I began to think I needed to take it seriously again. Not that it wasn’t ever serious, it just sharpens and softens in and over time. I am beginning to do new things again. It is not an interesting illness, there are no particularly unusual signs or symptoms – I just stop, I am slow and I am exhausted, my body gradually but certainly shuts down.
I am excited by Autumn’s arrival. New air is blasting through. I throw open windows and doors to let it in, driving out what was. A shedding of skin, sloughing off what is now dead, making room to reveal the new and fragile beneath. The shift in seasons shows the vivacity of change, the colour of transformation. It can be turbulent and brutal. Loss and bereavement for the long warm days of summer give way to a freshness in the air and red and golden trees. New views open up and perspectives change.
A few years ago I left the UK to travel. One of the most striking things I noticed, travelling mostly overland for many months, was the stillness of the seasons. Aside from a couple of weeks of Winter in Siberia and Spring with cherry blossom in British Colombia, the weather was either hot and dry or hot and wet. For all the things I experienced, it was the seasons I was struck by most. I missed the change – noticing how different the world can look when you stand still for long enough. I don’t think I had ever been so aware until I moved to live by the sea. In the past I’d noticed trees changing colour and the loss of their canopies, tights and jumpers dragged out of musty drawers – but I hadn’t really connected with the change. This year it feels like it mirrors me, what happens on the inside, a bit more. It is a farewell to many things, and I need to trust that this loss is also making way for the new, the as yet unknown.
During the time I was away recently I followed the movement from Summer to Autumn across the South Downs. My illness allowed me to see things more slowly. Moving more slowly, and with a smaller world to navigate, each thing became more significant. Each small thing became much larger. Like looking through a telescope, distance becomes closer – what might seem insignificant far away becomes significant up close. And, just as when turning the telescope around the wrong way, what might be close up can seem far away. How difficult it can be to judge which way round you are looking.
The sea is never the same. The tide changes, the light, the weather, all shift and swirl even as you stand and stare. This lack of control, lack of predictability, just is. The seasons give a framework, an idea of what to expect, but there is only clarity in hindsight. Being able to adjust and adapt, to tolerate and thrive, seems integral to survival, integral to being able to cope with an uncertain future and an unpredictable body.