Last week, I was looking on Google for a picture of Kingscote Woods and when I clicked on this image, it took me straight to Chris’s website, where I discovered that she had uploaded it! She walked there year-round for the two decades she lived in the nearby village. Ted and I go there most days to stretch our legs and take in the sights and scents of this modest patch of Cotswold woodland.
He loves to run free, chase the pheasants, and snuffle in the undergrowth while I tramp along the footpath, remembering Chris and our shared delight in knowing the seasonal cycles of the wood so intimately.
Snowdrops, celandine, primrose, bluebells, wild garlic, dog-violet, and honeysuckle take it in turns to blossom among the ferns and mosses that carpet the ground on either side of the paths. Song birds call in the trees, squirrels play hide and seek, and badgers burrow beneath our feet.
In a quiet, understated way, the transience of life is very apparent here: flowers bloom and fade; new saplings reach for the light while old trees fall and rot; blackbirds and thrushes nest and fledge; a scattering of bones and fur marks the demise of some small creature. Life and death are intertwined, two sides of a single coin.
Novelist David Malouf writes beautifully about our inherent mortality in Ransom, in which he re-imagines the meeting between King Priam of Troy and Achilles, the Greek warrior who killed his son Hector. As in The Iliad, Priam enters the camp of his enemy to plead with Achilles for the return of Hector’s body. The old man is wise in his understanding of the world and eloquent in his grief:
We are mortals, not gods. We die. Death is in our nature. Without that fee paid in advance, the world does not come to us. That is the hard bargain that life makes with us – with all of us, every one – and the condition we share. And for that reason, if for no other, we should have pity for one another’s losses. For the sorrows that must come sooner or later to each one of us, in a world we enter only on mortal terms.
For every living creature, life demands a ransom.
Chris has paid hers. Mine is to come.
I think of her and smile.