This wasn’t how we had left it. The fireplace was still hot, our stool stumps were charred, a huge mound of ash filled the whole of the fire circle and beyond. Rocks I could barely lift had been haphazardly thrown into the fire, taken from that first stone cupboard we had built three years ago when we had started to visit the wood. Above, in the canopy, the new hazel leaves were shrivelled and brown. This had not been a fire, it had been an inferno.
Half the two metre logs we had cut and stacked ready for firewood had been burned on the massive bonfire along with our bag rack, cool bag stand, the washing up shelf of our newly built kitchen bench. Someone had even tried to take the washing up bowl stand, but Mark had screwed it in place when I had complained it wobbled. The flames were out but the embers still glowed; the remains of a Good Friday knees-up on the day of the holidays, ironically, we had chosen not to make the short drive to the wood for exercise. Later, it transpired, we had caught three of the people leaving the wood on our wildlife camera. Two were on bikes and none were social distancing. They’d put up and used the children’s trampoline, left their rubbish… it took a long time to physically clear the mess, but it feels like an emotional invasion on top of everything else.
This is hardly a problem in the horrendous situations facing people daily at the moment, and yet it grates. We have waited two years for a week of unbroken dry weather in the school holidays so we could camp, eighteen months for reliable weather to sand down and repaint the Cosy Shed. We hoped to have friends over to the wood, have an Easter egg hunt, throw a walling party, hold a chainsaw day. All these things we give up because it’s the right thing to do, then someone else comes and trespasses to do what, out of social responsibility, we cannot. I have wished for spring when what I should have wished for was the spring and the freedom to enjoy it; I took my freedom for granted.
It feels unpatriotic, ungrateful to admit I am finding this lockdown hard. I am not part of the NHS, nor living with a special needs child at the top of a sky-rise; I am not trapped in an abusive relationship or living in in a damp, unhealthy home watching the wallpaper curl off the walls. My only tasks are making sure everyone is fed, keeping four children (one autistic, each at a different key stage from infant to GCSE) focused on the work set by their schools, making sure Mark has the physical and mental space to work and that my parents keep socially distanced in one side of the house while we fit into the other, and every now and again, checking on the neighbours to see that they are okay. A breeze compared to what many face. But I am finding it hard. I miss calm, I miss being alone in nature, I miss my wood. It’s even harder to find privacy, to snatch three stolen minutes of peace in a quiet corner; I want to stop feeling afraid and anxious, frustrated and helpless.
But I have to find bright sides to this lockdown. I realise, more than ever, how much being outdoors in a place of beauty means. I feel the justification of trying to prioritise the natural world in my normal life because when the chips are down, that is what is keeping me, and many others, sane in this unsettling world unthinkable even weeks ago. So, it is a day at a time. I try to focus on the positives; the wood itself was not set alight at the weekend – we were lucky, it was a close run thing in its present dry condition. Nature is thriving, even benefitting from our difficulties; it is here for our now and will be there when this is all over. Despite everything, I can still dream of the bluebells.