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year of the brave

January 6, 2014

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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

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison permalink
    January 6, 2014 11:57 am

    It’s never too late to sprout wings and fly. What a wonderful adventure you will have. And of course when you’re up high you can see things very clearly. 🙂
    As for me I guess if I have to sum up in a word my 2014 it would have to be “DO”. Not just think about, talk about, imagine, plan or dream but DO. And I’m not even talking about anything big or extravagant. I just mean day to day things that I constantly put off. For instance getting my passport picture done. Usually the paper will sit on the kitchen table for months but this past Saturday I went out and got it done (it looks pretty good by the way) and now I just don’t have to think about it anymore. Yea I guess that’s it. My head is always full of things I think about having to do and if I’d just do them right away I could stop thinking about them and rest the little grey cells a bit or use them for something much funner. So far, even though we’re just Jan 6th I must say my word is working out quite well. HAPPY – PRODUCTIVE – RICH – HEALTHY – GIGGLY NEW YEAR 2014!!!

  2. January 6, 2014 4:35 pm

    This is so excellent. So true about taking on someone else when you marry. I see evidence all the time of this, and I hope there is evidence in my spouse of this as well. I am so excited to see where you fly this year! Happy New Year!

  3. Naomi Hattaway permalink
    January 9, 2014 1:22 am

    I’m still struggling with mine, although at the core of what I come back to, it’s FIERCE. I am a bad-ass at heart and I want to get back to the ‘me’ that lives fiercely .. with every core fiber of being.

    Having said that, I need more finite direction in my life, so I’m giving each quarter/season a word as well so that I can focus a bit more.

  4. January 23, 2014 8:25 pm

    I wish there was such as thing as a courage pill to boost your reserves when they were depleted! I feel like I need courage/bravery/moxy/cajones or whatever you’d like to call it to break myself out of a prolonged, stagnant rut. Your writing makes me want to go do everything instead of staying where I am going in circles. I’m about to turn 34 so your posts about that epoch are really resonating. I’ve been trawling your archive for inspiration and telling myself that the risks are worth it. The unknown terrifies me but the known bores me rigid so I think it’s time to summon whatever little amount of this fuel that I have & do something. I can’t wait to see/read about our coming year, I am excited for both of us! Thank you & here’s something I think you might like:

    THE POPPY by Michael Murphy

    Because there is no point to anything anyway,
    It is necessary to be defiant and protesting,
    Like a single red poppy in a field of yellowing corn.
    And because I care so desperately that there is no point,
    I keenly feel the deadly sadness underlying it all.
    I know there is no voice that is like unto mine:
    There never was, nor will there ever be again,
    For my time under the warmth of the sun, which will set.
    And so there is no reason never to be
    Outrageous or resplendent as a poppy,
    Bright-red, erect, and generously
    Giving difference to the sameness of that field of corn,
    Shouting out that I was born, for better or for worse,
    Waving my flag, and making my colourful noise,
    And frightening away the darkness for as long as possible.
    To become the best poppy that ever there was
    Is no mean ambition, because it means
    To take on the responsibility of caring for myself,
    And not to lean on, or to take from, other’s kindnesses.
    And for today’s eternity, how glorious a thing it is
    To be alive, and laughing in the wind,
    Extravagantly scattering my seeds of happiness and hope,
    And being wild, and flagrant, and dancing,
    Like a single red poppy, in a whole field of yellowing corn.

  5. January 23, 2014 8:36 pm

    I wish there was a pill you could take to top up your courage levels when they were depleted. I feel like I too need to summon my reserves of courage/bravery/moxy/cajones & step forward into the unknown. I’ve been reading your words for years and they have resonated on so many levels.I keep some on my desktop for those days where I need a good talking to. I’ve been trawling your archive & next week turn 34 so have been paying attention to your guidance on the matter. At the moment I know I’m at a juncture where I have to make changes for my own’s sanity’s sake, my boredom levels are at an all time high so it’s times to shake things up & even though I’m scared the fear is more tempting than things remaining as they are. So I wish you well in your quest for bravery I have no doubt it will yield beautiful images & riveting words! Thanks for letting the world in,I for one really enjoy/appreciate it! Here is something that I try to remember when I get anxious:

    THE POPPY by Michael Murphy

    Because there is no point to anything anyway,
    It is necessary to be defiant and protesting,
    Like a single red poppy in a field of yellowing corn.

    And because I care so desperately that there is no point,
    I keenly feel the deadly sadness underlying it all.
    I know there is no voice that is like unto mine:
    There never was, nor will there ever be again,
    For my time under the warmth of the sun, which will set.

    And so there is no reason never to be
    Outrageous or resplendent as a poppy,
    Bright-red, erect, and generously
    Giving difference to the sameness of that field of corn,
    Shouting out that I was born, for better or for worse,
    Waving my flag, and making my colourful noise,
    And frightening away the darkness for as long as possible.

    To become the best poppy that ever there was
    Is no mean ambition, because it means
    To take on the responsibility of caring for myself,
    And not to lean on, or to take from, other’s kindnesses.

    And for today’s eternity, how glorious a thing it is
    To be alive, and laughing in the wind,
    Extravagantly scattering my seeds of happiness and hope,
    And being wild, and flagrant, and dancing,
    Like a single red poppy, in a whole field of yellowing corn.

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