On some winter mornings, the sun glints off every frosted blade of grass, turning the whole property into a glittering jewel box. On some mornings, the mist gets trapped here by the river, and I can’t even see the beautiful ancient cedars at the end of the driveway. Some nights Aria and I walk around by the light of the moon so bright I could read by it; some nights I can’t even see her next to my feet.
We have lived here for three months this week, three months of rain and frost and sun and mud. Three months of watching the leaves fall and the bare branches bud. We moved from the centre of London, where we had spent our covid time pacing the grey concrete, my eyes so hungry for green. Each time we were released, we would flee to the countryside and I could feel little sponges in my eyes drinking drinking the magical greenness around me, and I could feel myself coming back to health as if I required a glimpse of chlorophyll for my own growth.
And now, it is green everywhere, and my eyes are happier than they’ve been in years. When we first moved to New Zealand more than fifteen years ago, I wondered how a move from a city (in that case, Washington DC) to a seaside village on the other side of the world would change me. Now, after nearly four years in London, I wondered what this move to the French countryside would do. Here’s what I’m learning.
The natural rhythms are coming into my life again. Funny how I soak up the rhythms around me. Covid altered the sound of London, emptying our busy street and quieting the roar of jets from the sky. My life began to rotate around the zoom schedule of the day, around the days my favourite coffee shop was open for sipping my flat white on their front stoop.
Now the rhythms are natural, but they aren’t the seaside rhythms of life in Paekakariki. Now instead of the daily question of tides, I have the gradual seasons to call to me. The slow emptying of the leaves from the trees and the slower pushing of the baby buds. The trees, like the ocean, are always moving, but here the movements are profoundly subtle. I am slowing down enough to notice. I am remembering that each of these days is precious in a quotidian way, that each day is for growing, but perhaps not noticeably. I wonder what will burst into bloom first. And, as the natural rhythms come, some of the human rhythms go.
I’m remarkably uninterested in buying stuff. The city was filled with temptation. Even when the stores were closed in London, the shop windows glittered, and beautiful jackets or scarves or baking gear called to me. When stores were open, I would wander through them, convincing myself (with some difficulty) not to buy anything else to cram into our London flat.
Here, I’m un-tempted. I walk through the shops in lovely Toulouse and can barely bring myself to buy the things we need to be able to make our household run—the lights to see, the carpets to be soft underfoot. It’s as if the light of the sun and the carpet of grass are too hard to match in any shop, and so I’m more drawn to just make do with what I have. I wish I had discovered this switch in myself years ago, wish that those of us in the rabidly consuming parts of the world could find our way to this level of disinterest. I’ve always said that willpower is the worst way to try and control or change something. It’s too hard, too exhausting. But the ease of not-wanting is delicious and effortless. I would like to bottle it and give it away.
Perhaps all of this disinterest makes way for resting in some new way, because wow, am I resting. In the city, I would wake at the sound of the early jets (which, in London was around 5) or the sound of the waking of the day on the street (closer to 6). Even in the quietest days of Covid, there was something happening in the city, something making noise, some human interaction underway. I would wake with my mind racing and as I tried to get back to sleep, I would feel the adrenaline course through my veins, making sleep impossible.
Here, there are no noises in the morning. The windows and the thick shutters (shutters! What a great idea!) keep the few cars from bothering me, and what I thought was my own biorhythm of being a morning creature turns out to be just more absorption of the world around me. Maybe in the spring when the clocks change and the birds are up early, I will find myself back to old patterns. But for now, I am relishing the deep quiet of darkness and how that helps my body find real rest. I feel the winter deep inside me and sense how generative it is to be still, to be quiet, to roll over and sleep just one more time.
It is not just me. All of us here in this community are finding something of these patterns in them. We have stepped off of the busy streets of our lives and into a world that moves at the pace of seeds growing, and each of us is finding our new rhythm. We have not lost the modern world; we still zoom, write, coach, teach from our laptops, the wifi the fastest part of our lives here, thank goodness. But the portal to the modern world is mostly only through this screen. When I close it, I look out into fields greening with the first thought of spring, a river that has returned to its banks after a flood, and trees that were old when my great grandparents were babies. This is my new, ancient world, my new, ancient teacher.