I’ve been in England for a family wedding for the last two weeks and although the British countryside is in my blood, and I’m shaped like a missing piece of its jigsaw, it was moving to return to the mountains, to our densely overgrown, untended property. It had a party in our absence.
We arrived yesterday, early evening, to find that the short path from the car to the house was a thick carpet of clover sprinkled with aging chanterelle. Half of the field that was mowed around our small farm is now festooned with yarrow, bee balm, milkweed, thistle, mushrooms, mullein and wild strawberries.
Last night’s weather was its own production deserving of an Oscar, with thick, white mist stubbornly hugging these vast mountains. Rings of fog capped the peaks like fluffy crowns that dissolved into the sunset to reveal a surly, grey armada of larger clouds above.
My new sister-in-law, who I call my bonus sister, said, before I left for England: “you’ll notice how remarkably flat Norfolk is”.
Ask me if I cared about ticks as I dared to wander with bare legs through the long grass outside the orchard. As if noticing my admiration, the sun shot a beam of waning light through the trees that focused on my husband like a floodlight in the dusk as he inspected the spectacular new growth in the lower field. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. Everything is so much taller! Did it rain the whole time I was gone? (Answers in the comments section please.) The horseradish is waist-high; blackberries and asparagus must be ten or twelve feet tall; the garlic stands in formation like sentry guards; fat berry bushes look like they’re staging a garden coup; a mouse has jumped in a bucket of water and drowned, and there is a section of crushed fence caused by a large creature in pursuit of the dead mouse. There are an abundance of apples in the orchard and on our wild apple tree, which is a relief because we had a last frost this year that wilted the blossoms. Hazelnut bushes are heavily laden with nuts that look like furry, green fingers. Slugs are in full effect.
On my door, there was a note from a neighbor who has found some bolete mushrooms and wants to go foraging.
There are some notable differences between English and Upstate New York countryside: the infamous Catskills soil has been declared to be “two stones for every dirt”, but the English soil is thick, dense and peaty. Lavender thrives in huge bushes in England because of the soil, elevation and the consistently mild weather, but not around my house where it sits forlornly like a skeleton of its former self. These withering shrubs are emblematic of something, but I don’t know what. It never gets very, very cold in England. It gets bitter like our brew, but not in a forbiddingly face-cracking, twenty-below kind of way. The fluid in your eyeballs won’t freeze in England.
I have other British neighbors and some of them are still back in England for the summer, but one is clearly disappointed, disorientated and quoting the cutting poet Philip Larkin, (“Home is so sad. It stays as it was left / Shaped to the comfort of the last to go”), which is a co-incidence because our new family members are Larkin experts. I miss England deeply, especially the sense of humor (“this van holds no cake overnight”) and yes, I have found home in “Cow Lane”. England has changed, is expensive and scarred, but I can’t be that cynical.
So where’s home? Every morning, I woke up in England to ask myself, how do you find home? Home is in the human connections you make and is the place where you flourish. Home is a note on the door from a neighbor.
I may be an heritage English seed, but I have bloomed in New York, probably because of all the rain. English seeds need a great deal of rain.