We’re up on Spring field, at the very far top corner, beside the cross-country fence. It’s early still, the light rich and soft. It deepens the green of the ash trees, makes more yellow the stubble from the wheat. Or barley? Was it barley? How galling that I can’t think, when I walk this field almost daily. I press my boot into the soft, red-brown earth, push aside some of those golden stalks.
My eldest daughter leaves today, for college. She’s sixteen. When I hug her, the curve of her head still fits perfectly in my hand, like it always has.
I whistle the dogs. One of the Labs has got an old, bleached shoulder blade from a deer. She carries it in her mouth blade-out, a macabre smile. I march on, downwards, towards the Sor brook. Part way, something makes me turn, and I stop. The solitary ash in its spindly hedge on the hill has been damaged in the wind. It’s lost a limb, its shape has changed to wonky, as if it might fall. I want to go back up, look at it more closely, commiserate and cheer it on, but I can’t, there’s still so much to do at home. So much to remember, and pack.
At the bottom of the valley, the dogs splash noisily in the brook, and I bend, pick up a spray of alder cones. They’re so tiny, fragile and perfect. If you roll them too hard in your fingers, they crumble. E might like them. They could sit on her new bedside and remind her of home. Of how much she’s loved. I carry them carefully, too precious to put in a pocket.
On the short grassy ride back to the lane, the dogs hare off after one of last year’s pheasants. It barrels away, loudly. Mattress protector, I think. Did I put it in, and her riding gloves and non-holey hat silk and plasters, in case her fancy new boots give her blisters. I keep picturing that moment where I have to let her go, walk away and leave her to be her new grown-up self. Toothpaste. Hot chocolate for the journey. My nose is running.
I grip the fat oak gatepost, unable to see the latch for the gate. I press at my stinging eyes, give myself a lecture. Then I whistle in the dogs, straighten my shoulders.
I place the spray of cones on the top of the fence post. And walk away.