The river is resplendent in the colours of the season. Oak leaves turn biscuit brown, the Gelder Rose a dark lipstick pink, deepens to vermillion. Field Maples litter leaves the colour of sunshine, while Lime, leaves limp like hankies, drip to the floor. The Willow, luxuriating in a great unrobing, scatters its leaves across the floor like discarded clothes. With the passing of the pumpkin’s, the air shimmering with the crush of pine needles, autumn is here. It is still and lush and silent.
It’s a long farewell to the summer, a lover lingering, not wanting to let go and yet ready for sleep. And for me, all the more bittersweet. Summer has seen me zooming off, whizzing across the fields, the ground firm and dry, the path rough and bumpy but navigable. Here I get up close to the water, sitting in clearings to watch the river flow by. There are swans, heron and only once this year a kingfisher. In spring I watched water vole but later only the slinking black mink. In early mornings, the light glittering with dew, crow’s, dark and heavy hooded bobbed to the water’s edge to sip delicately, all eyes cautiously on me.
I am nourished after the long exile of the winter. Days are spent by the river with the dog, a book, some writing, a sneaky sausage roll. I come back to myself.
There is no path down by the river. There’s a black path that runs across the fields, but it stays away from the water. A cycle lane/footpath of shiny black tarmac that floods each winter. It skirts the edges of the fields as if scared to encroach across the meadows, into the wildness. Clinging instead to the slope that runs below the housing estate. And it’s here I am now trapped, as if on tracks, where I should be. In my wheelchair.
Accessing the world in a wheelchair is a constant negotiation. – even international politicians can find themselves locked out of talks because there is no access. Accessing the countryside even more so.
In a wheelchair we are meant to stick to the paths, stay in our lane, and by lane, I mean stay home. Despite laws about access, wheelchair users still struggle to get into shops, get on a bus or a train or enter public buildings, never mind the great outdoors. And I’m not arguing for tarmac paths across the moors. I want the wild as much as anyone else. And there’s the rub.
It feels like loss.
I see it coming. The dew a little heavier, the subtle shift in the light. I risk a ‘walk’ in grass too wet for wheels to grip. Just about getting away with it, just about making it through.
My heart aches.
Today I got stuck. Today the wheels spun in the mud leaving deep tyre-tread ruts as I twisted and slid, in the end reversing slowly away. It is tense and tight. Panic filled with grief and the shame of needing rescue.
With the fall of the leaves, I am lost. Trapped now to pavements and tarmac. Instead of molehills and meadows, I now negotiate cars parked on dropped curbs, recycling bins scattered to the winds.
I am undone.
No longer tethered by the trees.
The river calls to me, it is deep within me somewhere but for now, from the path, it is just out of reach.