The first time I went to Cornwall, what I noticed was the light. 2020 had been a year of lockdowns and in between, in a brief lull when things opened tentatively, we came to one of the Southernmost points in England and stayed in a small village. The sun was already setting after our six- hour drive from the city that day and it should have been dark already, only it wasn’t. The light pink and blue over the Atlantic hung like a gossamer cobweb over the landscape of houses and cliffs and the ocean became one with the sky in the horizon. Darkness was coming, I could see that, but in that brief moment between day and dusk I saw what had been missing for me in London. I saw how darkness was not just the absence of light. Dark contained spaces of light unhindered by the shadows of buildings and human endeavor and commercial gains. Where had this dark been my whole life? Here the darkness is not man- made. It feels like the nights of our origin.
For the first time since our arrival to England a year ago, I felt something other than the despair of lockdowns and the anxieties of homeschooling and the logistics of grocery shopping. That “something” is difficult to put into words but it is not hope that I am trying to describe, it is a darkness deeper than light.
In the last year, since our first visit, we have gone again and again. My husband and I sold our home in Seattle, borrowed money from his father and bought a home on auction in a village close to the South West Coast Path. The house is uninhabitable, uninsulated, broken windows, asbestos but the wild space around it holds apples and plums and pears and a promise that if we tilled the earth, we could grow more and perhaps we could wild ourselves.
It is now the end of 2021. We are here again in Cornwall. We leave the city whenever we can. Last week, at about the half way point on our drive over from London, the light changed. I felt it in my body as the buildings of the city fell away one by one, playthings built like lego blocks and the earth opened into the distance. It was the landscape reclaiming itself from us.
The glasshouse on our land is a collection of glass on a steel frame, the narrow entrance difficult to pass through, blocked by the overgrown bushes of grapes and blackberries and bramble. I can see inside a cactus dying in a corner and plants whose names I don’t yet know. I clear the entrance and I pull the weeds. Around us on the land and within the house lie asbestos that we only find later had not been cleared as promised by the contractor. My husband throws away his jacket and jeans and shoes after we realize that he had been cleaning out debris mixed in how much asbestos, we don’t know. But the realization of the harm we have done to the natural world is not a theoretical idea.
Dreaming of a home in nature was an idyllic creation of our imagination spurred by the pandemic that had blocked us in the concrete walls of a rented house in the city. The reality of owning one now is not just about cleaning bramble and getting asbestos properly disposed of. Our contractor has fled with the money he was given. Perhaps the darkness was too much for him. On our own, with the last of our resources gone, we have very little idea or knowledge about how to create that home in the wild. I imagine the green taking over the house, ivy in the gutter, coming out of the rusted taps, windows blown out by storms, wind in the hallways. The edifice crumbling to the forces of nature. Perhaps that is how it should be.
We are back now in London. At nights I wake to the calls of foxes that roam this city at night. I lie awake in bed listening to them until I can’t hear them anymore.