This week, as part of our “Where I Sit” series, Karen Richards takes us with her on her ‘Respite Day”, which she sees as a gift.
It is respite day. Not a whole day, but my son and daughter-in-law come and look after my husband for a few hours so that I can get a break.
I head off in the car, free to choose where the tyres tread, unsure of my destination. In my rucksack is my laptop and a notebook and pen, a gift from a friend. Its virgin pages have been calling for some time. I have the need to write and walk. I will do both.
Still unsure of where I will end up, I have a thought, and pull up in a lay-by to check my purse. It’s there. My National Trust card. Half an hour later, I arrive at Attingham Park.; several acres of sprawling fields and woodland, with the River Severn running through them.
It is still only 9.30 am and already the carpark is filling up with vehicles, from which emerge couples and families and, from almost all it seems, a dog. It is buzzing. Is this really where I want to be? I think so.
I head for the coffee shop; the walking will come later, but for now, I will write. I buy a large mug of coffee – the price of a seat at a table, and a welcome pick-me-up. A sip and then I flip up the screen of my laptop and open up a document that I have been working on for some time.
It doesn’t take long to slip into the zone. All around me, people drink and eat and talk but I am cocooned in a cave of creativity, and an hour and a half passes, almost imperceptibly; just the thread of thought that flows through my mind, my fingers, the tapping of the keyboard and other people’s conversations, like swarms of half-muted bees about my being. They are reassuring. I am alone in my industry and yet not alone. It is a good place to be.
Time for a walk.
I head off, through fields of deer, along the side of the river, and then another choice: the shorter but busier route or the longer one, through a wooded wilderness. I opt for the latter. As I walk, all thoughts of what I was writing slowly diminish. Other thoughts push their way in and then exit just as quickly. I become aware of my feet, how they move, how they connect to the earth. It is warm but every so often, a shower of rain. A breeze picks up, rustling branches and the grasses along the path. Occasionally, people pass by me and we exchange a word or a nod of acknowledgment and then walk on.
An expanding awareness of my surroundings draws me into a thicket, where I am alone, except for the birds and the breeze and that sublime odour of wetted leaves and decomposing wood. I press my back against a tree trunk and let my body relax. A joy springs up and I am grateful for this time, this place.
And then a prompting to move on. Don’t stay, keep moving. Soon, I meet the river again, and three carefully honed and placed logs, invite me to sit. I meditate.
The gifted notebook calls from my rucksack and I reach in and take it from its little bag. It is quite beautiful, with its cover of purple and pattern of sea creatures in turquoise, orange and yellow. As I open it, a previously unseen card falls from between the pages. The beautiful head of a Kanzeon* on one side and a message from the giver, on the other. I am moved to tears.
I look up. People, children and dogs cross over the river, via a bridge. Someone asks me the way to the deer park and I point, with some scant instructions and a nod. Time to move on. It is idyllic here but an inner prompting calls time.
As I walk, I realise that I have joined the main path and it becomes quite crowded. A children’s playground is to my right and to my left, small clearings where benches have been placed. I begin to take photographs of these sitting places – lots of them! All are thoughtfully positioned to give rest to weary walkers. I sit on some but not for long. I need to eat.
Returning to the coffee shop, I order lunch and take a long slow drink of water. I chat to the waiters and smile at the children of a family, across the way, all restless to be somewhere else other than sitting at a table.
Out in the courtyard, a choir begins to sing contemporary songs. People stop to listen. For a short time, so do I but it feels like it is time to head home, where I am greeted by cheerful voices and a hot drink. Stepping out for a while makes it easier to step back in. This is my life. It is good. It is the place where I sit. It is a gift.
* Kanzeon (Japanese), also known as Avalokitesvara (Sanskrit) or Kuan Yin (Chinese), is the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in Buddhism.