On my fortieth birthday I found myself in the chalk pit, surrounded by family friends, feasting on South African food with djembes singing. The ground had been cleared, through slash and burn and a scorched earth technique more familiar to the Australian outback than rolling Kentish downland.
This pit was dug, we think, in order to supply the chalk for the mortar to build the house. It has a road that spirals down into it around the northern edge, and I fancy I can picture the one man and his donkey diligently chipping and pulling the rocks up and out along it. My great grandparents planted the cliff tops with indigenous tree species and a special snowdrop collection, which overtime evolved a unique cultivar, named the 'Florence Baker'. It is one of few memorials to the feisty but camera-shy widow of my much feted great-grandpa.
As a child I first encountered this landscape at a time when I read Stig of the Dump. I am a bit shamefaced to remember I found our wild space a bit disappointing because we didn't have an actual cave man living in the undergrowth. I played here alone mostly, not very brave or adventurous but more observant and with a vivid imagination.
As an adult, during shamanic training in Australia, we would be asked to journey into our landscape. Each time I climbed up onto the eagle's back, I would look down immediately onto this space. It wasn't the house of Owletts that called me home, but the energy of the land. Especially the wild, the unknown, of this slightly off bounds crater.
I sat, now 40, and three months pregnant, soaking up the moment. Kids played by the fire, or slid on the slide, or read books in the shade. Adults talked or parented or drummed or gossiped or cooked or tidied. The wood pigeon cooed its three beat song: 'ron-daaaaa-vel'. This melody evokes my mum, as it is a sound you hear all over the world, but especially on the family farm in the dry Free State where my mother grew up, and where her ashes now rest. A trio of magpies stood by (one for sorrow, two for joy, three's a girl .....we'll see!) a totemic animal spirit representing, to me, the need to hold the shadow with the light. To stand comfortable in duality.
My mother's family began to tidy up and leave. They save their extra special hugs and meaningful messages for their farewell, and as night follows day, my tears begin to flow. 'Do you have hay fever?', my niece asked. 'No', I replied frankly, 'this is liquid happiness'.
As the pit filled with people and sun and hanging vines, so had my old sadnesses and old hurts and sense of loss been filled with an in-pouring of joy. Two days of dancing and festivity and laughter and rekindled friendships and future well wishing had been working it's way into my system. Happiness had been percolating as if through layers of rock, seeping into gaps and washing out old vestiges of grief.
To build the house, the ancestors dug a pit. The negative space as equal and opposite to the positive construction that is more public than was also manmade effort. However this hole is not a scar, but a creation of potential. It is a vessel in which energy, people, wildlife can collect. I feel my own loss, of parent, friendships, homes, relationships, dreams unrealised, all these are in fact an equal creation of the potential for love to flow in.
So I cried with joy for a happy future. Then I took my self, and my baby, for a much needed nap. Thank you all for the music, the merriment, the memories.