Faith in the Family

Faith in the Family A house in Heckingham Holes

I feel a yearning for the wild. I don’t mean I plan to run off and behave badly, I just mean I have a deep desire to go and sit and be in a wild place, listening, noticing and not ‘doing’ anything else.

Life has been rather hectic recently. We have just completed our fourth and final Leaving Cert. Of course, it was our son who was doing the exams not us but nevertheless we have felt the pressure of it all. At work I have come towards the end of a major training project involving pulling together a large network of people and services over many months – plus ridiculous amounts of paperwork. At the weekend I travelled to England to my God daughter’s First Holy Communion having very nearly missed my flight and proving unexpectedly to myself that I can run at speed for substantial distances when the need arises!

During those days away I also spent time in the wild – on a marsh in Norfolk to be precise – and that is where my heart yearns to be. My friends Cindy, Simon, Joseph and Eddie (who is also my Godson) live in a wonderfully named place called Heckingham Holes, a place of marshland and waterways. Simon (Barnes) is a wildlife writer and his new book On the March – a year surrounded by wildness and wet was published the day I arrived at their house. In celebration not only did we raise a glass of champagne, kindly provided by the publishers, but also took a stroll out onto the marsh.

Simon has seen more than one hundred types of bird on the marsh. Eddie – who has Down’s Syndrome – is skilful at identifying birds by their song. As we walked on paths created sometimes by the Chinese Water deer which have made the marsh their home, Simon helped me to recognise the rattling music of the sedge warbler amongst a myriad of bird songs. Knowing that we were in a place of herons and otters, stoat and fox, grass snake and kingfisher – even though we did not see them – gave me a sense of being in a sacred place.

In the book Simon describes how himself and Eddie regularly head out onto the marsh – with a beer for Simon and apple juice for Eddie – to listen and notice and be. Eddie has a great capacity for contemplation. He is deeply at home in this wild place. Simon can recognise a bird by its call, its flight, its silhouette, noting that when we have that store of wisdom and experience even a flash of ‘something’ in our peripheral vision can be identified. For a young man who faces the challenges of Down’s Syndrome Eddie has a remarkable knowledge and understanding of the wild world.

And I found myself wanting to be there. It spoke to me of creation and blessing, a place to put aside the hassles and pressures of work and nearly missed flights and to reconnect with my own spirit. I promised myself I would take a cup of tea out on to the marsh the next morning and sit a while but of course I didn’t. So when I wake in the night and have a list of ‘things to be done’ running through my head I imagine myself walking out onto the marsh and sleep returns.

I have realised my need to connect. I’ve tried sitting out in the back garden with my cup of tea in the morning but with our weather at the moment it is a chilly experience. I think this summer I need to make time to walk in wild places, to listen to what is happening around me, to notice the flowers and plants – even take pictures and try to learn a little more about them. Simon insists he is not ‘religious’ and yet his marsh and the way he writes about the wild world nurture my soul.