Weaving together lyrical prose and poetry, William Henry Searle takes us on an intimate journey exploring the connections between people and places. Narrating some of his own closest and most tender relationships with family, friends and animals in places that range from his father's scrapyards to the jungles of Borneo, Searle shows the importance of the natural world for our well-being. Threads is a thoughtful, touching and emotionally rich book.
Below, Searle talks to us about how, after the tragic loss of their daughter Elowen, he and his wife coped during the period leading up to the birth of their son, and the solace he found in small moments of happiness and love of the natural world.
Last June, reclining in a black rubber ring, holding a beach parasol opened out aloft, I nudged off from the grassy bank, and set sail across Llyn Dinas. Stop-and-go jounces of a warm, easterly wind propelled me across the lake, towards the river. The mountains watched on. My escapade seemed to fill the entire valley with delight. Sunlight gleamed in stippled bands upon the dark surface. A heron passed silently overhead, a slow figure of benevolence. A few drops of water fell from his outstretched feet.
I laughed as the parasol snapped up beyond its limit, then crumpled baggy and defunct. I used it in the shallows as a punt to hoist myself into the flow of the river, ducking under the bridge, catching the current. After the passing of our infant daughter, Elowen, less than a year before, I had thought that the pleasure found in simple, makeshift adventures such as this, was long gone. I was convinced that the enthusiasm for such fun was drained dry by the energy invested into simply putting one foot in front of the other, of eating, sleeping, washing. After the trauma of the birth – holding my wife as she pushed out Elowen’s still and silent body, and, weeks later, the cremation of our girl – I had come to believe that the bliss discovered in innocence was a lie, that the worst was always going to happen.
Four months pregnant with our boy, Eli, Amy chased my river-bound bearing from the track that brought her, eventually, to the river bank. Through a screen of silver-birch and willow, our two Welsh Collies, Daisy and Dilly, frantically barked at my progress as I roiled around, getting wedged and unwedged between boulders, and Amy’s familiar laughter could be heard above the river’s song. Finally, I came to a scraping halt on a shallow bar of grey stones. I sat there a while, in my rubber ring, face to the sun, immersed in the river. For a moment, I felt only the presence of the sun and water, and the warm wind rushing, now and again, over me, and on ahead towards Moel Hebog, which towered over the valley like a good dream. The heavy pain of losing our daughter, and the intense, overwhelming worry over the fate of our boy – having entered a new pregnancy with only death in heart and mind – went quiet, subsided. I felt as empty and as bright as the June-blue Snowdonia sky. That night, back in our cottage, sunburnt and tired, we were sitting on our sofa when we felt Eli’s first kick. A thump around Amy’s belly button. My hand was on top of Amy’s.
The next day at Morfa Bychan, a long stretch of beach along the Glaslyn Estuary, we walked out as far as we could go at low tide. The Wicklow Mountains could be seen on the east coast of Ireland, a silhouette of knuckled land trembling through summer haze, as far south as Cardigan Bay, and out towards Bardsey Island. Knee-deep in shimmering clear sea, inland seemed miles away, and so did the grief and the anxiety, help and hospitals. We held each other’s hands, alone and far away from anyone. Purple, brown and yellow jellyfish bobbed by, bound for the shore on small waves that gathered speed and broke over the golden, corrugated sand.
We knew that Eli’s life, like his sister’s, could be snuffed out at any moment, that our own hopes as parents could be killed in an instant, and that our relationship could be hurled into another darkness. So we acknowledged Eli, yes, but reined in our parental love by denial, to protect ourselves. We did not want to fear life any more, even though our life was framed by it. We tried to carry on, as Amy and Will, filling our days with small adventures outdoors, spontaneity snatched from the uplifting atmosphere of our cherished surroundings. We swam in rivers, climbed hills, embraced the life that we had lost faith in. So, at Morfa Bychan, we walked further out still, until we could swim. I could no longer see the shoreline. And I held Amy, warm and happy, in our momentary ring of light.
In the following months of Amy’s pregnancy, even during the birth of Eli in October, I was convinced, every day, that he would die. I would turn over each morning and place my hand upon Amy’s belly. I waited in the dark to press my hand against stillness. Feeling his kicks sent shudders of fleeting relief through me. But I also thought, amidst the panic, of Amy and myself in June. Those days of sun in Snowdonia made me smile. I felt calm, if only for a breath’s moment.
William Henry Searle, PhD, is a poet and writer whose work draws on personal lived experience, seeking to interweave the natural world with the human. He holds a doctorate in creative writing and environmental philosophy, for which he was awarded a three-year studentship to study at the Royal Holloway University of London. His first book, Lungs of My Earth, was published in the USA in 2015 by Hiraeth Press. He divides his time between Snowdonia and the New Forest, exploring, writing and wood carving.