Time rolls on a pace and we have too

Did you know that the tradition of knocking on wood is an ancient one, I say. Apparently, people believed that trees had souls and by knocking on the trunk you awoke the tree's soul and it came to your aid

The towpath in winter 2010 Picture by Cliff Donaldson

DAY in the life, we take a walk by the Lagan. “We could go down over the bridge and on down and hit St George’s market and have a coffee,” I say. Spot the caffeine junkie.

“Maybe not today,” he says. Spot the man of habit.

So it is the traditional route, down through the park where a toddler is taking his first turn on a bicycle. He wobbles, his dad hovers.

And we look at each other and we’re thinking: “Wasn’t that just yesterday?” as our big almost 20-year-old with the makings of a beard snoozes deep in his bed back home.

Wasn’t it yesterday that we three took Sunday walks in the park and threw a Frisbee just for the fun of it and wasn’t it yesterday that the grey squirrel was more of an exciting curiosity and less of a dirty rotten red squirrel murderer.

And wasn’t it yesterday that Santa was filling up his sack and we were doing our nuts. So that, when my big brother queued for hours to secure a certain red Tellytubby called Po for the stocking, we were forever, and remain, eternally grateful.

But that was yesterday.

Time rolls on a pace and we have too.

So we walk by the Lagan and fall in love all over again with the winter trees. Did you know, I say – I’m a great one for did you knowing. But a propos of the trees, I have a good one.

Did you know that the tradition of knocking on wood to summon good luck and ward off bad luck is an ancient one, I say. Apparently, people believed that trees had souls and by knocking on the trunk you awoke the tree’s soul and it came to your aid.

I’m a tree hugger, me. But truth is I have fallen in love with them over the seasons ... wise guardians of our Sunday walks. The stark black branches silhouette clear skies in winter and Spring is a fresh green whisper of leaves and a call to begin all over again.

Who could not love a tree?

It’s Christmas, I say on our winter Sunday walk. That’s called stating the bloody obvious. And the child in me longs for my childhood Christmases and the spiced smell of my mother’s Dundee cake baking in the oven. I want the flurry of six children breathlessly waiting for Christmas.

I want my aunt in her pillar-box red lipstick and pink fluffy dressing gown sipping tea from a China cup and my other aunt with her warm kind laugh and the sparkle in her eye and my uncle, lying under Christmas tree armed with a small screwdriver, twiddling at the toy car lift that Santa brought.

I want the bustle and the laughter and the presents, midnight Mass, my mother’s special recipe stuffing with the turkey that I shall never ever recreate.

Hell, I’d even go for a post-dinner stroll up through the graveyard. My father took us there sometimes; he took our hands and we went for a wander – it was quiet, holy place.

But longing does not bring back that past. And a child’s Christmas in Ireland was what it was – when wide-eyed in wonder we listened as my brother whispered about seeing Santa’s sleigh parked outside our door.

We have forged new traditions. Now bright-eyed children are the gift others receive. And who are we to complain for we have had our day? And unless the winds blow a gale and the croissants and the special morning coffee (did I say about the caffeine addiction?) and the Christmas crossword all prove too riveting, we shall set out on December 25 and trace the path of the river.

For this is our gift of a winter walk – we wrap up warm for this present and we dwell in this present too.

Winter sunlight sparkles on the wet black boughs. The rowers bend and lean and stretch and glide smoothly along the still Lagan waters. On the river banks, the skeletal stems of plants pierce the sky making the scene look just a little like Day of the Triffids

And perhaps, among all the trees there will be one in need of a gentle tap – with a soul that will swoop and dive and fly and soar – for the Christmas Day that is this one.


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