year of the brave
A couple of weekends ago, on the shortest day of the year, I was standing in the forest of East Dean, preparing for my very first pheasant shoot, possibly the most British thing I’ve experienced since moving here two years ago. Men in tweed, wearing plus fours ruffled where knee meets shooting sock with mustard coloured garter ties, and herringbone flat caps and Barbour coats smelling of damp and guns made in the 1800s with Damascus steel.
Everyone gathers at the house of the host and then sets off for the woods. Beaters with their beating sticks and shooters with their guns and the sweetest little retriever at her master’s heel, keenly awaiting instructions. The shooters take their place and the beaters spread out in a line and start walking through the forest, beating the ground and bushes and tree trunks and making all manners of calls (aye-aye-aye-aye-aye or grooo-grooo-grooo or woop woop in my case as I hadn’t a clue what to do). And once in a while, we’d scare song birds and wood cocks and pigeons and grouse and then, the occasional pheasant, plump and fat, would take to the skies where its fate was met by either a good shot or a bad one and I must admit that I always hoped for the latter and in my heart, I whispered “fly, little pheasant, fly”.
For hours, rain fell in sheets and wind howled and over it, the faint sound of a symphony of calls that would surely have made my uni ornithology professor’s ears bleed (his name, incidentally, was Dr. Bird). In the end, three birds were retrieved, held by the neck, blood at the mouth. And I know that if I’d seen this on television, on some nature show, or even 5 years ago for that matter, I’d curse the predator and probably cry as I’m always rooting for the prey, whether fur, feather or fin. But I suppose I was too fascinated, that this was part of my new life now; this ex vegetarian who studied zoology for the love of animals, driving pheasants out of warm leafy nests into the rain towards almost certain death.
We walked home drenched, hung our wet clothes to dry in the wet room and ate a hearty stew for lunch and the power went out and the candles came out and the wine was warm and welcoming and eventually everyone left and I still wonder how I feel about the whole thing. I suppose if one is going to eat meat, then I respect the hunter who has the guts to pull the trigger, pluck the bird and serve it up for dinner. Better that, than picking up a chicken wrapped in cellophane at Tesco’s. Still, I think I’m less bothered by the shoot itself than my acquiescence to it all when there was a time, not so long ago, I would have vehemently objected. It’s a mysterious, insidious thing that occurs, how we merge into our spouse’s life and lose little parts of ourselves along the way and take on little parts of them until one day, you catch yourself doing something and don’t quite recognise what is yours and what is his and where your own values lie. It’s natural, I suppose. But the thing is this, you see, when I’m with someone, they become my everything, I get lost in them.
I’ve been thinking about this next year a lot and I do believe it’s time for this little pheasant to come out of her warm, leafy nest and fly. I’ve been so consumed with living my husband’s life for the past two years that I haven’t taken any concrete steps to create my own life here. Truth be told, I’ve been too scared and far preferred warm cuddles to stepping out into the unknown on my own.
2009 was the year of yes (which, as we all know, is what landed me in London), 2010 was all about focus, 2011 was the year of trust, 2012 tested my patience, 2013 was meant to be about stillness (though I felt more restless this past year than I have in the entirety of my life). This year, I want to be brave, intrepid, lion-hearted, fearless… spirited. I want to come out of my shell and explore this new world, knowing that my shell will always be there when I need to curl up in comfort and recoup from my explorations. And I’m fairly certain there isn’t a man hunter in plus fours on the loose so I’ll be quite fine taking to the skies.
What is your intention for 2014?
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.” – Elizabeth Gilbert