Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone. Paul Tillich
I’ve just had what are probably the oddest three weeks of my life; odd, because I have spent them completely alone. With several pressing business matters to be dealt with in France and the UK, an extended trip away was unavoidable but after much discussion, we decided it was more sensible for me to stay at home and look after the garden. I know to some people that might seem a little sad but we are definitely not of the ‘we can’t possibly leave our beautiful garden in case we miss something’ ilk. The reason is far more practical than that: in a nutshell – food.
Being self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables for most of the year is central to our lifestyle, not so much a hobby as a way of life. We are working so hard here to create and maintain a healthy and productive patch that the idea of leaving it to the mercy of weather, weeds, beasties and boar was pretty unthinkable: how devastating it would be to come back and find the last twelve months of toil and the next twelve months of food down the pan. So, I’ve been home alone.
I chose the quotation at the top of the page because it underlines an important distinction between loneliness and solitude. It goes without saying that I have missed Roger terribly and I was soooooooo excited to have him back again yesterday (and he brought a new camera with him!). I haven’t been lonely though, just alone, and there is a significant difference. After all, you can feel lonely in a crowded room; solitude, on the other hand, is time spent alone and although many people dread a lack of company, it can be a very enriching experience.
So, what have I been up to? Well, in the most part I have been gardening as that’s the main reason I stayed put. Within two days it became clear that it was without doubt the right decision. Rain, sunshine, heat and high humidity: wow, did everything revel in that lot! I have never seen plants grow so fast in my life, and that -needless to say- includes the weeds. Hoeing and handweeding have been daily chores, especially on the newer patches of cultivated ground; keeping the oxalis and docks down around the young leeks has been particularly tricky and time-consuming.
I’ve also been planting: all the squashes have gone in along with some leafing celery, more courgettes, more aubergines, more beans (these the prized Asturian fabas, muchas gracias to Jairo for the plants), basil, hyssop and lettuce. Some flowers, too, including lavender, asters, dahlias and cleome, all grown from seed.
Tying in and cutting back have also kept me pretty busy. The sweet peas started to flower then just rocketed upwards and outwards and I have had to use miles of twine to keep them under some sort of control. Having worried about a possible shortage of tomato plants, when I counted them I found we actually have 25! They are all going strong, the ‘Sungold’ are flowering and there has been plenty of pinching out and tying in to be done.
No hope of controlling the kiwi, though: my oh my, what a thug that plant is. It is flowering and full of bees, no doubt there will be another bumper crop of fruit but . . . it is no exaggeration to measure its daily growth in metres. It has been threatening to engulf two pear trees, a fig tree, the washing line and the barn and I have been taking the loppers to it daily, like some desperate medieval knight tackling a persistent dragon.
There’s been an ever-increasing amount of harvesting to be done, too. I love this time of year: hungry gap well and truly over and suddenly much of dinner can be picked from the garden. Peas, broad beans, onion, rainbow chard and fresh herbs in an omelette of village eggs with homemade bread and a leafy salad – perfect!
In truth, I’ve had a very happy time of it pottering about outside in all weathers, literally watching the garden grow. It has been said that solitude sharpens your senses of observation and I can believe that; I am prone to losing myself in nature at the best of times but somehow my awareness seems to have been greater over the last weeks. I have revelled in the sweet scent of roses at the door, spicy eucalyptus after rain and earthy tomato leaves; grazed on alpine strawberries and pods of peas, sun-warmed and delicious; smiled at the sound of blue tit chicks in the nestbox, bumble bees in the comfrey and swifts screaming high above the valley. I’ve watched ladybirds on the broad beans, blackbirds feasting on the raspberries, pied wagtail fledglings – all beak and grey fluff- taking their first flight, butterflies on the marigolds and lizards zipping about the new stone walls.
It hasn’t all been gardening, of course. My days have seemed very long but I have managed to fill the non-gardening moments without any problems: reading, writing, studying Spanish, running and walking, knitting, crocheting, cooking and listening to music (a new and different playlist every night – that has been fun!). I’ve picked up my guitar and practised some new skills for the first time in years and caught up on some long overdue correspondence. I’ve worked hard and relaxed well, eaten like a horse and slept like a log. The most amazing thing is this: I haven’t been anywhere, because I haven’t needed to. I’ve walked and run from home, chatting to neighbours on the way, but the car hasn’t moved since Roger left and I’ve been no further than my legs can carry me. Everything I have needed has been here. What a wonderful thing that is.
So back to the quotation. I’m not sure that I would go as far as describing solitude as ‘glorious’ but it is certainly an enriching and life-enhancing experience. I’ve learned many things about myself and life in general but I have been left with one overwhelming certainty: the simple life we lead in this incredibly beautiful spot is more than special. It is precious, to be treasured and cherished in every moment . . . and I’m very, very happy to have someone back to share it with! 🙂