I do love contrasts - winter and summer, light and dark, busy and idle, even sad and happy on the age old premise that you need one to recognise the other.
This week began with the coming to stay of adult children: first my elder daughter and her husband, arriving on Sunday and taking possession of the cottage. The two younger ones still have rooms in the house that we describe as theirs, even though they have long left home. The two older ones who have been away even longer tend to stay in the cottage when they come and I think like the sense of a place to themselves as well the company and the buzz of the full house. Outside it was cold as ice and stone, the wind cutting through your clothes in the few yards from house to cottage, and Emma came looking for a fleece to borrow. "I always forget you need an inside and an outside fleece to wear here." We smiled at each other. We don't get much time together these days and it is precious.
A couple of days later younger son, his wife and six month old Labrador arrived. They have not been married long and the shine of early married life is lovely to see. They are so easy to have about, slotting in with minimum fuss, even Flora the puppy, very well behaved and glossy black and all of a wiggle with excitement. Now there are six of us, a full table and a sense of something going on all the time, people to talk to, someone always on hand to help in the kitchen.
And the following day younger daughter comes with her best friend whose husband is away in the RAF, both bouncing around full of life and talk and laughter. The place is full, but not to bursting. There are walks to go on and hens to feed and yet more cooking and some really splendid meals as Emma and Maddy and Hannah take over this meal or that, relegating me to the pleasingly mindless role of skivvy and potato peeler. They will now all be here for New Year with additional very welcome visits from Ian's father and elder son for an even fuller table. I love it, I love time around the big table with good food and talk and someone coming round the garden with me and the dog walking and the playing of Trivial Pursuit, starting reluctantly but quickly plunging into wild competitiveness and taking the mick.
We have a bonfire on New Year's Eve and the night is so clear and cold that the stars are hard and bright in a black sky. You can see Orion the Hunter and the Great Bear and my son in law shows me Sirius, the Dog Star.
And then they go, pretty much in the order they came so that by Saturday night we are on our own again. And you know what? That is lovely too. I love it when they come and I love the house full and glorious bustle of it all, and I love it when they go too. Peace descends. Ian and I talk to each other and share a bottle of bubbly by the fire. The cat resumes her rightful place on the sofa, no longer a source of fascinated delight to the dog. It is good to have the place back to ourselves.
And today I am on my own. Ian has gone to pick up his sister and will stay away overnight. This afternoon it was snowing very slightly, just pinpricks of snow in the wind as I went to start clearing the cottage. It was very, very quiet: outside the scratching and clucking of hens in the leaf litter under the trees, inside only the hum and whirr of the washing machine on the first of the many loads of putting-the-house-straight washing. Under those noises the silence lay deeply across the valley. The hills and the sky were shades of grey and white, merging together at the sky line. A tiny wren followed me through the kitchen garden as I went to give the hens more water, skittering in and out of the hedge, like a tiny feathered ball. The hens' water was frozen and the ice had to be knocked out onto the grass and the butts frozen and unresponsive when I went for more.
And it is good. It was great to have them all around and to share myself about: now a walk up the hill with younger son, now a chat with older son, missing his little boy away in Canada, now a companionable hour in the kitchen with the girls, now a walk out to the field to see what Ian was doing. But it is also overwhelmingly peaceful to be by myself, family antennae quietened, just me and the cat, just until tomorrow. Contrasts. Lovely.