I started writing this piece on the first day of autumn and it couldn’t have been more enticing. I drove up to New Bridge, upstream on the Dart and enjoyed a blissfully solitary walk, enjoying the gently changing colours on the trees and ferns, and letting some of that lovely autumn sunshine warm my skin. I love this time of year – a feeling of quietening down, internally aswell as externally – I have a sense of being able to “breathe again” after the busyness of summer both at Retreat by the Dart and in the surrounding landscape of the South Hams. Now a week later, autumn has set in with a wet and windy familiarity, and I’m trying my best to complete and post this blog as I hear the rain pelt down outside.
I last wrote in May, it’s hard to say just why that is. Health wise I was struggling, in one of those recovery moments when I felt there was more backward movement than forward. A friend pointed me to a Chinese medicine practitioner. And I pointed myself towards some time off up in Scotland at my favourite place on the Moray Firth. I went for r&r, immersing myself in the rhythm of the place – morning and evening meditation, walks to scope out wildlife, enjoying the views from a comfy chair, reading, and some gentle reflection. The tears I shed at the end of my stay reflected just how unbelievably supported and cared for I felt.
A whisper of a thought early on in that time away turned into a stronger urge to take a longer break. But that’s easier said than done being like Alice’s Oswald’s birch trees in her Radio 4 commissioned poem about autumn, Almost as Transparent, “into its last fluttering of its branches indecisions”. I can’t count how many times I’ve changed my mind, with conflicting inner pressures clamouring “You can’t close, it’s not good for business”, “if you do, no-one will come in 2018”, and on the other side “I need a break” plain and simple. It started out as a need for more recovery time, chronic Lyme Disease syndrome still holding me in its bacterio-virussy grip. But thanks be, I believe the Chinese medicine has helped (acupuncture and herbs), along with a renewed determination to prioritise nutrition that will support my recovery.
Decision made, then another wobble with a later thought, “Recovery is going well, why do I need to take a break?” You’d think someone who runs a retreat space would know better, but it appears not. As a friend reminded me, “It’s not just about your recovery, it’s also about having time to explore what else is cooking for you”. Because as much as I love the work I do, I’ve had very little energy left for anything else.
Writing about the birch trees Alice says they “could not have been more tree-like, no human could grow the more upright the less certain”. But indeed it’s that uncertainty that has propelled me into this break. So here we are at the end of September and tomorrow as the last guests depart I will start a period of retreat and reflection immersed in the “clarity and ambiguity of autumn” to explore as Alice says of the trees “all those half finished, half beginnings of forms” and attend to that “inward occupation” that I wrote about in May.
So whilst the “light is slanted”, with later sunrises and earlier sunsets and as the leaves fall and prepare a space for hibernation, Retreat by the Dart will be closed til March 1st 2018 (enquiries from February 1st). At least that’s the decision for now…..
*The title of this blog and all words in italics are taken from Alice Oswald’s poem “Almost as Transparent”, which you can hear on Radio 4 Iplayer under Four Seasons (Autumn Poems)