As I come to the end of the first week in the south, staying with the cousins I visit twice a year, there is the usual sense of bittersweet. It is enchanting here: a charming house, a happy family, delightful dogs, green fields to walk over, a rambling garden to explore. I have all possible love and comfort; there is good conversation and good jokes and good food and fine wines. There are even horses to divert me, since the cousin’s husband runs a polo yard. I go outside to see his summer stars, all dopey and furry and relaxed in their winter coats, enjoying their lazy months off.
Yet the sight of them makes me miss my own mare, and my own field, and my own equine routine, which has become such a defining part of my daily life. Getting out before breakfast to do the feeding and grooming and riding and groundwork has become the most meaningful part of my day. Writing, which is my job and my love, obviously gives its own definition, and I could not exist without it, but, oddly, it is the hard physical work, out in the mud and the air and the elements, which currently gives me the most joy. It’s not necessarily what I would have expected.
Slowly, slowly, for all the joy of being here, I feel the homesickness build. I am so dug into Scotland, I even find myself missing the mountains. There are no mountains in the south; I scan the horizon fruitlessly. I miss the glacial valleys and the dark Scottish woods and the blue hills and the weather coming in from the north-east. I did not grow up there; I had almost no knowledge of the place until I moved north, on a complete whim, fourteen years ago. Belonging is such a curious and nebulous concept, but the very landscape has stitched itself so deeply into my heart that leaving it, even for a short time, creates a slight gap in me, as if something is missing.
This does all sound a bit flaky. It’s just a horse and a few hills, after all. One must get out in the world; I have hermit-like tendencies which should not be indulged too much. But then I imagine the thing as if it were the other way round - if I did not miss home, if I had no sense of belonging, if I did not yearn for the mountains - and I think how awful and arid and sad that would be. It might make my social life rather more complicated, but I wonder perhaps it is not a great piece of luck and privilege, to find a place where I am so deeply rooted. They really are my hills, and I lift my eyes up to them, and find my strength.