The acorn almost hits me on the head. I’m sure the squirrels are throwing them, the missiles seem to be moving too fast for a natural drop. I cross the path away from the oak tree’s target area.
It’s that time of year and as I watch the squirrels busy themselves creating caches all over the ancient woodland it suddenly dawns on me how much I do the same. I have small hordes all over the place. Of chocolate. Of cash. Of socks. Of pens. If it were gathered into one place I would realise, shamefacedly, that it is far more than I need. Of course some emergency cash is handy but not in so many little stashes. And why do I think I need a dozen bank accounts?
One childhood winter we got snowed in. Seriously snowed in. Only the car aerials gave away where the cars were on the main road that passed by half a mile from our family home. After half an hour negotiating drifts we reached it, expecting that the gritters and snow plough crews would have done their good work and the hardest part of the 2 mile walk would be done. But the sight of a double decker bus with only the top deck showing clarified the situation. The landscape was hushed in that way that only snow achieves. It’s perfect whiteness had obliterated the slag heaps of the open cast mining and the ugliness of the light industrial estate. Utility fences had become the identical twins of natural hedgerows. Shapes were softened and that blue-white snow glow was everywhere. The Master Declutterer at work. Mistress maybe, since snow feels like a feminine energy.
My father and I were on a mission. We didn’t have a freezer and after only a couple of days we had run out of food. So we climbed out of my bedroom window (the doors were a non-starter) and set off for bread. There was something approaching a boot-trodden path near the edge of the road and we trudged along it, heads down against the freshly falling snow and the sharp wind. About half way to the next village – the one with a shop – we came across a woman huddled into a ball and lodged against the snowdrift. She was alone and snow was beginning to cover her coat. “I’m alright,” she assured us when we managed to rouse her, “I’m just having a little sleep then I will walk the rest of the way.” We both knew this was a sign of hypothermia, quite apart from being a flaky plan, so we coaxed and cajoled her to her feet. Walk with us, we urged, and the three of continued on our way, me in front, the unknown woman safely buffered with my dad bringing up the rear.
There was no bread in the next village, but we got flour and oil and a couple of tins and walked home again safely. We had left the unknown woman with a friend of hers to await the thaw.
I’m remembering this now, in the woods, and wondering if I am still protecting myself from that eventuality? Stockpiling based on a blurred jumble of childhood recollections of nuclear war preparation leaflets, petrol crises and the devastating effect of the sugar shortage one year during the jam making season?
I decide to stop. I decide that from now on I have enough. Enough time, enough money, enough underwear. I can stop guarding against scarcity. I can enjoy abundance. I look to my right and see vast quantities of blackberries, ripe and ready and there for the picking. I squish some of the sharp sweetness against my teeth, the first of the season always taste the best. I look up and see the sunlight burst through the trees, the rainy overcast morning banished. My dogs run back from their explorations to snuffle enthusiastically around my feet, full of joy and love. My concerns melt away and I appreciate the glorious adventure of life.