Flying Solo

Today was my first solo expedition. Having spent Saturday feeling a bit glum and caged, this afternoon I headed off to uni. As I’ve finished my studies, university might seem like an odd choice. However, I’m still waiting for my piano to come back home (its third move in less than 12 months) so I wanted to take advantage of the departmental pianos. There’s a particularly nice Kawai upright that takes me back to my sixth form days, and the glossy black Kawai I learnt on. My teacher used to remark that I was the only student she had who could play it quietly! My preference for playing as piano as possible comes from not wanting people to hear me, although that wasn’t a particular concern today as the department was completely deserted. YUM!

I spent a happy hour with the piano, first playing exercises and then scales, before moving on to Bach, Satie, and finally, Brahms. The Bach Prelude gets me reading quickly, and the Satie fills me with tranquility and nostalgia in equal measure. His Gnossiennes – the third in particular – were a big part of my life while I was in sixth form and in the years that followed, providing me with an escape from the real world. When I play the third I am filled with an overwhelming sense of inner peace. Although other works affect me greatly, I have yet to find anything that evokes this particular kind of calm. It doesn’t matter how fluently I play it, although I am always amazed by the power of muscle memory. My hands know the shape of the chords before my mind has sorted the individual notes… I look down and my fingers are waiting patiently for my brain to catch up.

The last piece is a new mission. My newfound love of Brahms has brought me to his late piano works, and his Intermezzo No. 1 (Op. 117) in particular. When I lie and listen to this piece it makes me feel almost as relaxed and content as the aforementioned Satie. My first foray into playing it went well – I didn’t set myself any unachievable goals, I just decided to see what happened. Despite sounding relatively simple, the first few bars set the standard exceptionally high, with octave chords framing the inner melodic line. It was difficult and my hand was soon aching from lack of practice but it was deeply gratifying, and I keep thinking about playing it. I’m eager to continue my journey, which is really all that matters!

From the piano room I headed to the woods. I am fortunate to have attended a gorgeous campus university with an abundance of wildlife and countryside to explore. There are various trails and walks that I have taken, but today I wanted to venture further afield. Armed with suitable shoes, my camera and essential snack supplies, I went for a wander. Initially, it felt busy and crowded with couples enjoying the sun. However, the further I walked the fewer people I saw, until it was just me and the trees.

I love the woods. Some people like the beach and while I understand the fierce beauty of the sea, it doesn’t make me feel the same as when I’m standing small amidst great oaks. If I could live anywhere, I would live in a wood, in a rustic cabin, surrounded by bluebells and birds and buttercups. (See this blog post for more on this dream theme!) There’s something uniquely wonderful about the smell of a wood. The bittersweet sap, the dusty scent of dried leaves, or the heavy musk of damp moss. I love how the birds sing and chatter, how the squirrels appear seemingly out of nowhere and forage with rushed curiosity. The light, too, is magical. I adore how the leaves filter the sunlight, creating patterns that dance and shift continually. You can walk in relative shade and then suddenly find yourself in a patch of intense brightness, warming you to the core. And even in the winter there’s a hushed, expectant kind of wonder that trails behind you like a shy child.

I enjoy being with people, but today showed me that it’s also important to strike out on my own. I wasn’t lonely, worried, or anxious about anything. I often thought how lovely it would be to share the trail with friends, to be able to show them what I had found, but I didn’t pine for their company then and there. My friendship group is relatively small and I’m selective about who I want to spend time with. I grew up enjoying my solitude, being almost antisocial in my happiness to be alone at the weekends rather than passing time with friends. But for the last few years I’ve had someone to do things with, someone who I’d want to do everything with because he was my favourite person to be with. Now I need to re-learn how to be alone, to enjoy my own company as I once did. My friendships will invariably strengthen and I shall value their constancy anew in the midst of my changing world. I am grateful to each of them for what they bring to my life and enjoy being with them immensely.  But I also need to be able to fly solo and feel content in doing so. It was liberating today to not have to factor anyone else in. Not to have to catch up as I lagged behind taking photos. Not to have to check distance, time or pace with another person. I was my own boss, and it was nice.

I wonder where I’ll wander tomorrow?

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