I want to point to the disorientation that loss of memory can have on our mental landscape. Loss of memory can create mental fog and confusion. Things may not be quite as they seem. For me, it can be as if I have forgotten a vital key in a chain of events.

Loss of memory can be a normal part of the aging process. It may be a symptom of hormonal changes, or be as a result of a variety of health conditions. It can be affected by nutritional deficiencies. Sometimes, the body needs to prioritise other more essential functions. In my case it may be a legacy that remains post having had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

I have a sense that the holes in my ability to remember are growing at an alarming rate. The spectre of dementia hangs just out of sight, but lurks. It’s disconcerting to find that something essential has been lost from my inner view. Giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I imagine my capacity to remember is like the ‘muddle drawer’ in the kitchen. It keeps on having things stuffed into it at random, until there’s no more room, and things are forced to slip down the back out of sight.

I have strategies. I keep lists, type notes, add even small things to the calendar, keep things in logical places and set timers. These adaptations work well for life admin tasks. More strategic intentions are often harder to stay on track with. It’s easy to find that something important has disappeared, submerged without trace. The undertow of persistent low-level stress may be making it more difficult to stay with previous levels of efficiency.

I stand wondering why I am in this room. I forgot the one thing I went to the shop for. I have no recall of the film we saw last night. Today I am glad that I found my keys, and I finally put that letter in the post. Now what was that urgent task I wanted to add to my to-do list? Things may fall out of my head, but I trust that if they are really important, they will return later.

During late spring and summer, the Murder of crows on Hackney Marshes has other business to attend to, and politely ignores me. But come the first hint of cooler air in autumn, they seek out my bright colours. We make each other’s re-acquaintance, and I bring offerings of seeds, peanuts and other treats. Whether with or without dog and companions, and whichever direction we approach from, one of them will call several times to alert the others. Like an out-take from ‘The Birds’ they swoop towards us. They are cordial but cautious. I am always gratified by their appearance.

This image, however, is ‘Mr’ crow. He and his family live closer to home. ‘Mrs’ crow is smaller, more timid, and ‘Junior’ is almost as big as Mr, but not quite as bold. Hopping away from me, Mr is disconcerted by my camera. He prefers to see me reach for a handful of seeds. Standing just a few feet away, I admire his shiny black feather tailcoat. He eyes me with an inquisitive look. Tooled up with an impressive black beak, he is always keen to see what food I might have.

As I approach the trees in their territory I look up, in anticipation of three large black winged creatures tacking across the sky, to land near me. If my companions and I are deep in conversation, a loud throaty call overhead, will announce their arrival. I notice that my ears have become attuned to crow voices over the beat of my footfall. Their cries punctuate woodland, street and garden, overseeing each landscape I move through.

Last night I dreamed of dressing up in preparation for a night out. I wanted to look glamorous. I dressed black, rootled around for a necklace in a box of broken pieces, and tried to apply melted lipstick. I woke instead to another morning without the prospect of cultural or social events. I put on warm stretchy layers to walk the dog in the rain.

“There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need mud in order to make the lotus.” Thich Nhat Hanh.

Reflecting on this time, I feel as though we are collectively in the mud of complexity and uncertainty. I am lucky enough to have the liberty and resources to sit in the mud, while being aware that others are drowning in it.

In the wake of difficulty change might be described as ‘post-traumatic growth’. This term was coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. This quote from Tedeschi comes from a recent article aimed at business people:
“We’ve learned that negative experiences can spur positive change, including a recognition of personal strength, the exploration of new possibilities, improved relationships, a greater appreciation for life, and spiritual growth.”

I long for this time to generate widespread positive changes, the ‘lotus flowers’. Similarly, my dream reminded me of being in chrysalis form, incubating my next evolution. At some point, if the conditions are favourable, perhaps we will shrug off our chrysalises, in an act of transformation, to unfurl resplendent new wings.

Samhain (an ancient Celtic feast of the dead to mark the end of harvest and beginning of winter on 31st October to 1stNovember) is celebrated in different traditions around the world, in different guises. Traditionally at this time of year, ‘the veil’ is a little thinner between the land of the living and those who have gone before.

This is my shrine with three generations of family on display. Gold plastic skull and plastic stage beetle are here to remind me of the cycle of death and new life. Dead bodies (in their natural state) compost back into the earth, nourish the soil and support new growth.

I am now on friendly terms with the forbears who adorn the walls of our home. I greet them in the morning, thank those who support and guide me. This has not always been the case. We have been coming to know each other gradually over the years. As a youngster, I was mystified by the dead Victorians who my father was so attached to. They were the grandparents whose lives he listened to.

Inheriting trinkets, letters and images of people I had never met, used to feel like a burden. It felt important to deal with this legacy with respect. I began to examine what I had, to fossick through papers kept and handed down. I started to piece together the facts, if not the stories of three, four, five times great grand parents through compulsive detective work on Ancestry. The more I get to know them, the more I feel able to draw on the strength of my lines, although it can mean questing back to ‘my last happy ancestor’.

I am looking below the modern landscape, to what lay here before. Inspired by the concept of ‘geosophy’, I am sensing for something beyond my current awareness. According to Wikipedia, ‘geosophy’ is J K Wright’s term for “the study of geographical knowledge from any or all points of view”. What are the qualities  of the land energies under this city’s current manifestation? Where are the spots that were significant in another time?

An easy to miss landmark, ‘The Old Well’ in Tottenham was dug into a formal street pump in 1791. Enclosed by railings, and topped with a conical tiled roof, its oval brickwork surrounds the wood and iron structure. It is an odd part of the street scene. The wheel is still visible, which once cranked the production of water through a spout. It sits at a busy junction of the A10, an ancient thoroughfare, known in Roman times as Ermine Street.

In medieval times there was a wayside cross, which is still marked by ‘Tottenham High Cross’. Holy Trinity church, a war memorial, and the town hall are part of the religious and civic landscape. The church sign-board’s invitation is to “join us for a feast of word and sacrament”.

The well is long unused. The only flow visible today is of traffic. A noisy grumble fires up at each change from amber to green. Idling engines create the delicate scent of fuel in the air. People talk in myriad languages, into phones as they walk past. The faces of dilapidated buildings wear grime and peeling paint. ‘Confidence Money Transfer’, ‘City Christian Stores’, ‘Meri Fashion’ proclaim their hopes.

I offer flowers at the well. This is my sacrament, and I offer my simple words of thanks. It feels like a gesture out of time, at a forgotten place. It is a small token to honour the water that gurgles beneath the city.

It’s late, and I’ve been crying. Tears have run down my face in waves, great sobs of joy and sadness have expelled salt water, snot, and howls. Now my face, which is swollen with features adrift, has red-ringed eyes. This is not a ‘perfect face’ selfie.

Do you know that feeling, when something just touches you, moves you with unexpected intensity? There are certain themes, which I know can evoke this response in me: equanimity in the face of injustice, false accusations of the innocent, triumph against the odds, the acceptance of animals to their fate, watching death come slowly, and coming together to make change happen.

‘My Octopus Teacher’, an extraordinary documentary about Craig Foster caught me unawares, and precipitated this flood. It’s a fascinating and brilliant exploration of the healing potential of the natural world and examines the boundaries with wild creatures.

Nina Simone’s songs can sometimes evoke this emotional reaction in me, but more often it’s a film, or story. If you’re in need of catharsis, I can also recommend ‘The March of the Penguins’ and ‘Toy Story 3’. But I don’t want to prescribe, maybe other things move you to tears.

Advertising plays on Mimetic Theory, (the impulse and consequences of envy), to tap into our desire for what someone else has. We are sold images and ideals of perfection that are unrealistic. Our role models: family members, media images, cultural leaders, TV heroes, teachers, and friends on social media in-still standards to aspire to, that we internalise.

“In the absence of adequate rites of passage, ad-men become the high priests of an initiation into the addictions of consumerism”, Marion Woodman warns in ‘The Pregnant Virgin: A Process of Psychological Transformation.’ Failing to measure up to these ideals causes shame and erodes our sense of self-worth.

Until I was 29, I sucked up magazine images, fed my fantasy life, was a ghost in the world. I developed a longing to become as wise as the Dalai Lama, while mining my creative potential like Frida Kahlo. In fact, I have had to lower my standards and to be content with being my ordinary self.

Letting go of my grandiose expectations of myself is painful, over and over again. I make mistakes, get things wrong, and despite my longing to be perfect, I never am. Like the Japanese art of ‘Kintsugi’, I am learning to celebrate my cracks, to make their scars visible, rather than hidden. My experience comes from this process of break and repair.

Embracing incompetency in creative work makes it more relatable. “The good thing about incompetency is it makes other people feel less shame”, says Tony Gammidge. Tony encourages my journey of making images that includes mistakes and the serendipity of accident. I notice that welcoming the probability of getting things wrong makes space for collaboration, and opens up possibilities. Increasingly surrounded by slick digital images, I yearn for the rustic simplicity of hand-made objects, with all their imperfections, made by real people, full of flaws.

A young woman labels Bruce a ‘ruminator’. He prefers ‘wise reflective thinker’. We discuss whether this is inevitable given the number of years already lived in relation to the proportion of possible future years. I am in favour of fruitful rumination. It strikes me as a good thing to come to terms with the past, in order to live as fully as possible in the present.

Meeting another friend, takes me back to the days when I prized the metal expandable roller skates; that enabled me to speed in a lurching zigzag around Marina Drive. I allow the play of light through oak trees to inspire rumination. In the days when my knees were always bruised, or scraped, we walked ‘Fiona’, our sandy Cairn terrier in these ancient deciduous woods.

Memories of my suburban childhood are elusive. I catch glimpses of Clarkes’ blue ‘Mary-Janes’. I can see my mother’s expression, when I return home from school with scuffed toes. I can feel the softness of a special white angora cropped cardigan. I remember the awe at witnessing the petals like spokes of Mesembryanthemums, closing at night. I can remember the repulsion of dog shit in the sand pit, but the joy of the swing.

Then, as now, I was quirky, happy to occupy myself, follow my own idiosyncratic path, sure of what I wanted to wear.

As we walk, enjoying this afternoon in 2020, Alexandra and I share our different memories of this place. We are old enough to value the sunshine, the lemon served with the food in the café, the use of our knees, the smell of the woods, and the view. A memory suddenly comes of hurtling down the broad hill of Oxleas Meadow in the snow, on a grey tin tray decorated with roses, and I can sense the excitement of that day, rising to the surface.

Oxleas Woodlands

Water is the source of life. Now that it comes when bidden through a tap conveniently in the kitchen, it’s easy to forget. I have become entranced by the secret life of the land, and its water flows. I find myself seeking out the places where water springs – the source of a river, a local spring, a well, or culvert.

We walk most days by the River Lea. It has a number of tributaries, and it divides, where long sections of canal have been cut to make the ‘River Lea Navigation’. Once narrow boats transported goods up and down through its locks. Now they provide more affordable housing for nomadic ‘boaters’.

In search of the beginning of the river, we travel to Leagrave village in Luton. The source is nested at the foot of several blocks of flats, which are in the midst of a post Grenfell Tower cladding refurbishment. Hedgerows and trees surround an adjacent field, where megalithic burial mound, ‘Waulud’s Bank’ reclines unobtrusively. Locals wander over it with dogs, or on their way to and from Macdonalds.

There is historical information on a sign above the outlet of the Lea. The source point is hidden behind bars, and drains for surface water rise here too, adding to the stream. This is the first of many waste-water in-flows. As the river moves through industrial sites, its toxicity increases. It is now one of many polluted British rivers. An Environment Agency report on the 17th September 2020 rated the River Lea as ‘Poor’.

Here, where the river is young, there is still a little magic, and a nesting egret near by. We clear cans and plastic bags, pull out the remains of a dumped metal security safe box. By the time we leave, this will be kicked back into the water, by someone with other intentions.

We offer flowers, find our own meaning and sense of the sacred under the shadow of the housing estate. In this time of uncertainty, where life has become tangled in complexity, I ask that we remember what we once knew was essential.

Winter is coming, and Squiffy is hungry for nuts. The cold wind, and clear nights amplify my awareness of the season turning. She has mastered the ‘how to carry two hazelnuts’ problem. The trick is to shell one to eat now, then there’s room to carry one to bury for later. Her urgency for food is a survival need at this time of year.

While I watch her endeavours to prepare for winter, I notice my own urge to hunker down, to fill my shelf of resources in order to last out what seems like the inevitable coming of another period of lockdown.

My own greed is more of a grasping for something elusive, to fill the hole left by my unmet childhood needs. The chase for the thing that will fill my own void can be enthusiastic, but usually falls on the right side of compulsive. I recognise the potential for addiction, but manage to avoid it.

However, I am regularly tempted by the clever marketing that wants to sell me the supplement, the course, the teacher, the workshop, the book, that will forever heal my sense of lack. My inbox is filled daily with the commodification of experiences that should be freely available in a healthy community, as part of daily life – contemplation, movement, nature, celebration, connection and healing.

My fear of scarcity makes me clutch for what I don’t have, instead of enjoying the bounty that is available. Emails present me with shiny options designed to give me FOMO (fear of missing out). I steel myself to ‘unsubscribe’, to sit tight, watch squirrels, and maybe nibble on an Ombar.