Even as the days grew longer and the green things started returning to the land, I felt within me a lingering gloom. Two years of the pandemic, a long, dark winter and most recently a drawn-out bout of Covid-19 had left me feeling low, fatigued and uninspired.
I trudged through the daily obligations of life without much spring in my step. I had no energy for any of the things which usually lift my spirits: yoga, running, writing, gardening. Even reading felt like a chore. My children kept me afloat as children do, but a lot of the time I felt like I was sinking.
“You have to cut it back as soon as the new growth appears in spring,” my mother had said.
Instead, I left it alone and planted climbers at its base — purple flowering clematis, wild ‘travellers joy’ clematis and passionflower — which, three years on, have spread out over the outer layers of the hedge, providing beautiful blooms in the summertime.
I dug a border along the edge of the bush and planted spring bulbs, wildflowers and an apple tree. A budleia found its way in by chance. The hedge grew bobbly and uneven and more characterful, and in another sense it started to grow on me, too. I learned that insects come in the spring to pollinate the small, modest flowers, and that the hedge provides good cover for mice, hedgehogs and other species as well as birds.
During my slow recovery from Covid, I spent a lot of time looking out of the kitchen window which overlooks the back garden. It seemed to calm and steady me, watching the light as it changed and the birds visiting the feeding station, noticing what was growing.
At some point I observed a pair of robins hopping in and out of a hole in the box hedge. Before long it was apparent that they were building a nest. They would dive tirelessly in and out the hedge all day, their beaks stuffed with tiny twigs and mosses, my husband’s beard trimmings which we left out for nesting birds, and once, to my delight, a beakful of pinkish-white petals from the blossoming cherry tree.
It often appeared that one robin was doing all the work while the other kept watch, but it’s hard to tell. They would perch on the apple tree with its budding pink flowers, chattering to each other all day in an intricate, melodious and sophisticated language which I struggle to believe is simply about “marking out territory”.
Adjacent to the hedge is my children’s playhouse, which has inside it a little plastic kitchen unit. I cleaned and filled the sink with fresh water, and left the door open so the robins could use it as an en-suite bathroom. And they did! Flitting in and out, splashing their feathers and sipping the clean water, then darting back into the gnarled undergrowth.
Was he saying thank you? I doubt it. Still, it warms my heart to think that these birds instinctively trusted that my garden would be a safe enough home for their chicks. I like to think that they have everything they need during this demanding time in their lives, and that maybe their offspring will nest around here, too.
I’m grateful to these joyful little birds who have lifted me, at least a little way, out of a long, internal rainy day. These tiny songbirds, who endure the harshest of winters and symbolise hope, renewal and rebirth, perhaps even bring a sign of good things to come. They’ve brought some colour and song into my tired heart, and given me something to write about.
If like me, you have been feeling worn out, sad or lonely lately, please know that you are not alone. These are not easy times, and the oppressive, post-pandemic ‘back to normal’ narrative is not working for anyone. But we still have a beautiful world to share and care for, and we have each other, too. If we keep our eyes open and pay attention, we will find that there is abundant help on offer to keep our souls intact in a world so in need of healing.
Maybe the box hedge had something to teach me as well. My take? If we make space and send love to the parts of ourselves which we deem to be ugly, unloveable or unworthy, they might just surprise us.
This story was originally published here in Scribe.