2021 Grateful 33: Poppy Season

I’ve taken to getting up bang on 7am, throwing on some clothes, and leaving the house to do a lap of the village. Getting my 5km in first thing in the morning is quite an achievement for one who loves to wake up slowly.

The village is at its best at that time of the day. There is little by way of traffic on the roads and those going about their daily rituals are still inside.

In an episode of The Irregulars, Holmes reasons that if you drive on the right-hand side of the road, you tend to turn right rather than left if given an option when walking, and vice versa. I regularly drive on both so each morning that’s the first choice I have to make – left or right.

I’ve been overdosing on crime fiction lately and quite fancifully don’t like to adhere to a pattern. No point in making it easy for would-be kidnappers. Or murderers. Or spies. No point at all. Of course, this patternless decision-making is all pretty wasted on the fact that my routes are limited to

  • A lap of the main street – up one side and down the other.
  • A lap of our half of the village plus three times up and down to the big tree.
  • A lap of the other half of the village plus the square that is the main street, the post office, the cemetery lane, and the cemetery road.
  • Down to the big tree, across the field and down the post office road, plus the square.
  • A lap of our half of the village plus once up and down to the big tree and then to the shop and back.

Which way I go depends on the mood I’m in, how wet the fields are, and how cloudy the day is. Dogs bark more when the sun is shining.

Because of all the rain, walking this early in the morning takes care and attention. Instead of dodging the cracks on the pavement, I’m skipping over a carpet of slugs and snails. Starting my day as a mass murderer isn’t quite the inspiration I’m looking for. If I take my eye off the path and hear the crunch, yikes! So, I wear my earbuds and listen to some podcasts telling myself that no one could prove motive or premeditation. I do my best but sometimes my best isn’t good enough. I felt a crunch this morning.

The view from our end of the village is quite spectacular this time of year. If the sky is clear, I can see the line of trees standing sentry on the approach to the island. If it’s misty, they disappear. The poppies are out in all their glory. They’re my favourite flower. Hokusai’s painting is one of the first things I see when I wake. John McCrae’s poem brings me out in goosebumps.

   In Flanders Fields
In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Given my love of cemeteries and my fascination with war, McCrae brings it all together for me with his poppies. Some mornings, that’s what I dwell on. Life. Death. Resilience. Remembrance. And strangely enough, particularly if the sun is out.

But when it’s overcast and misty, Mary Oliver’s poppies come to mind.

Mary Oliver

The poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation

of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t

sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
the roughage

shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,

black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
of course
loss is the great lesson.

But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
to happiness,
and that happiness,

when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,

touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—

and what are you going to do—
what can you do
about it—
deep, blue night?


Happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive. Thank you, Mary Oliver. That describes my morning walks beautifully.


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