It was one of those days where summer was kind to us. Most days it was warm enough to be comfortable wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Some days it was dark, overcast and wet. Some days it rained. Most days, though, most days there was some sun to enjoy and the temperature just right to work hard both indoors as out, and the greenhouse would faintly feel like a sauna.
We had done our usual chores in the morning, despite it being our day off. We never really had days off – we always did something or found something to do. We all liked to help out, so we did. The sun was out, we were in our jeans and t-shirts, and with the grass fields and the hills in our backyard, A suggested going for a walk. She had seen a beautiful dirt road where the trees arched over the path, creating a tunnel, and she wanted to show us and discover where it would lead to.
In the company of four, sometimes three, but always at least two, dogs, we set out climbing the hill directly at the back of the house and went through the knee-high, swift grass careful not to trip. The dogs were dashing about in front of us, looking like grasshoppers as they leaped and jumped to move forward quick enough. I can’t remember what we chatted about, but surely it was about the piece of nature that surrounded us. How it stretched out beyond our views. How it seemed to go on and on.
‘The tunnel’ was a typical English footpath – the soil was trodden on, most of the path clear with the exception of the occasional stone, dry stone walls on either side, strange and oddly shaped curves in the road and a gate at the abrupt end. For a while, we stood there, not sure of where to go. There were hills and cows on our left, a lazy slope directly ahead of us and on the right, behind another hill, we knew stood M’s house. We decided upon following a trail of tall, purple flowers we could see in the distance. Despite our chatter, it was quiet. It was always quiet in the hills of Derbyshire, I found, and with each lull between our animated talking I was reminded of that. But then one of us would say something and we’d engage in yet another topic, or laugh, or joke. We’d talk about our lives back home, allow the other sneak peaks into snip bits of regular, daily life – the life that was so far removed from me now. Either A or S, but usually A, would as an almost programmed response inform us of precisely how many days the German girls had left in England. I wouldn’t be surprised if she kept a tear-off countdown calendar above her bed, though A probably did all the calculations in her head anyway.
It’s been over a year and I can remember the fields of purple flowers vividly, yet I struggle to recall the words spoken between us. When I think of that day, I can see A and S standing among the endless rows of tall flowers like it was yesterday. They turn and look at me, always waiting while I was taking my pictures, and they say something to me but I can’t hear what they’re saying.
We picked our flowers as we tried to wade a way through the flower field. Some kind of tractor had previously cut its way through, but its tracks hadn’t quite levelled the plants it drove over. We carefully dodged the nettles, their stings and poison going right through the fabric of our jeans. We laugh and joke and then turn to find one of us missing. A head would bob up from the purple horizon, or stuck around a wall made of leaves and flower buds. We’d yelp loudly when getting stung, attempt to herd the dogs but they just went as they pleased and after we roamed around the flower forest, we realised there was only one way out – the way we came in. Behind a dry stone wall, crowned with barbwire, lay the path directly to the hill that would take us back to M’s. It was the easiest way back and by far the most adventurous. We hadn’t been there yet and we were keen on leaving as many new footprints as we could.
We had to lift the dogs over the wall and then helped each other climb it. It was exiting, being so adventurous, and I remember feeling full of energy. It’s one of those moments when you stop to carefully study the remnants of a sheep’s skull, left behind by nature when everything else had been eaten away, and you leave it on a stack of rocks as if saying ‘We were here’ – like we were the pirates of the grass fields.
Soon enough, we reached the top of the hill and despite the fact that I knew where we were going, I still stopped and looked around. Distance seemed so distorted here. We were so far removed from familiarity and it turned out to be just on the other side of the hill. We had walked for hours and were back at the house in thirty minutes. This is the thing that England does – that the hills of Derbyshire do. It puts everything you thought you knew into the washing machine and it comes out differently. Not better, not worse, just different. Full, satisfied and saturated, we returned to M’s house.
The flowers were offered to S and for about a week several vases spread around the house coloured the rooms purple. I didn’t want to tell S that they came from just over the hill. Distance was different here.