Whisking fresh strawberry gelato, the whirring beaters twirl, turning ice crystals to smoothness. Round and round, spiralling. The taste of perfumed sweetness in my mouth. These fruits of love have been with me a lifetime. Since toddling days, when I had a reputation as being more of a menace than the slugs and pigeons. Crouched down, chubby knees bare and brown with sun and mud, working my way with methodical delight down the rows of my grandfather’s prize strawberry patch, golden straw tickling my thighs as I crouched. The bowl beside me empty, mouth full, red juices dripping down the sides of my greedy mouth. As close to heaven as it is to be on earth, those golden days of safe delight, always sunny.
What does happiness feel like to you? My craniosacral therapist asked me last month, as I struggled to shift the shaking that had enveloped me. Strawberries and sunshine, I replied, without hesitation. The taste of strawberries, grown outside in the sun and the rain. Ripe and juicy. Succulent plumpness.
Having a summer birthday, birthday cakes were always homemade affairs, golden sponge, billowing clouds of softly whipped cream, the perfect bed for sliced strawberries.
What does happiness feel like? A slice of cake. Made with love. And strawberries. Always strawberries.
When planning my dream home, my attention would always return to the garden: forget-me-nots, fox gloves, primroses… and strawberries in abundance. The little pink house that I always knew I would live in became ours by fate and glory… situated opposite a farm which sells potatoes and carrots all winter, but come summer, strawberries by the heaving punnet. I buy them in bulk. Turning them into jams and gelatos, granitas and layering them between cakes. But mostly, straight from the punnet, heaven. One of the first things I planted in our new garden was strawberries. But for four years I have been no match for the ravenous slugs and pigeons. This summer is different. Our patch over flows with ripe red fruit. Every morning you will find me on hands and knees, eating as I pick.
This is the summer of fruiting it seems. As a new book, my first in almost two years, comes to fruition. I feel the spiral turning, a new path opening up.
It has been a hard year of initiation since my birthday last year, when I walked the sands, feeling in my heart that I was ready, ready to step into myself fully, into my power.
Bring it on. I yelled to the winds. Bring it on, I’m ready… I’m here. Checking furtively over my shoulder. I may be here. But I already have enough of a reputation on sight as the village crazy woman, without being heard yelling to the winds.
I drew a labyrinth on the sands, and walked its spirals, dedicating myself once again to this work.
And fittingly it all began with a strawberry. A gift from a friend, to celebrate my birthday. Alone it sat in a bowl on the picnic table for a few days after my birthday celebrations. As I hung the washing out one sunnny late June morning, I eyed it greedily. Deep red, the red of Snow White’s apple, I wondered what could possibly be wrong with an extra sundrenched fruit. I bit in, and almost screamed, the acid hitting the heart of my newly filled tooth, like hot nails being driven into my gum. Each time I ate over the next couple of days, the agony returned. I thought hard and went to the dentist. So began my descent. She prescribed strong antibiotics – ones I was told later that are used more usually for the womb. These kick-started a summer full of infections and illness, spiralling downwards – weight, mood, health plummeting down. And another red initiation as the sacred women’s circle the rather aptly named red tent, imploded with acid words and a firestorm.
A couple of months later as the shaking had subsided, I was on my way to the airport – having been given free tickets to a conference in London. There were so many times and chances I had to say no, to turn away. But instead I said yes. Yes to taking my dad’s red car. As I came over the brow of the hill, I was filled with awe and delight at the misty November morning, sun piercing the fog. Once again I said, Ok, I am ready again now. Bring it on.
Around the next corner the car in front of me had stopped dead. My wheels hit mud. The brakes were like butter. I swerved. I hit.
Many more months of shaking. Of unpeeling.
On the eve of my thirty-fifth birthday, the day before midsummer’s day, the longest day of the year. I was on my way back from our all women-s book club. Though it was well after eleven at night, there was still a streak of light on the horizon, though the moon was dark. The evening was balmy, so unusual for where we live on the south coast of Ireland, and so I went to lie on the grass and watch the last vestiges of light recede and the darkness to emerge. At first there were just two stars visible, plus the bright orbs of Venus and Jupiter, but slowly, slowly, as darkness spread fully, the full display of stars emerged. Three dimensional pinpoints of light, millions of years old, beaming in from across the galaxy. The silence was as deep as the darkness, I headed in to grab a blanket, wrapped my self in it, and watched the stars till I fell asleep.
I stayed out as long as I could before the noise in my head, the noise of my anxieties crowded out the beautiful silence of the velvet dark.
But it was enough.
The next morning felt different. The anxiety was gone. I was here. Celebrating another year with a cake of strawberries and cream, friends and family. Finished with a walk on the beach. The spiral had turned full circle.
One candle on my cake. I blow it out and wish with all my might. This single thought. Less brave, more knowing than the year before.
What comes is out of my hands. But I am here.