Springtime on the cliffs is sudden; one morning, the last of the snows are melting, and the next, a riot of color has burst from the dry brown bushes around the cottage. The cedar and spruce trees reemerge from the snow and birdsong rings from the trees for the first time since the snowfalls in October.
Rosaline is too young to remember much of anything yet, although she knows she loves the spring; she no longer has to wear her itchy wool coat to go play outside, and she can watch the birds returning to the holly bushes outside her bedroom. At the top of the stairs, she can see the sun begin to sparkle through the cracked purple stained glass earlier and earlier as spring arrives more fully, the light reflecting off the pictures in the hallway and catching on the dust motes in the air among her parents’ books.
On gardening days, she learns to find her mother outside by marking the progress of the sun; her mother prefers the shade, so in the morning when the sun is rising over the sea to east, her mother will be working in the shadowy western garden. As the spring and summer progress, the family’s meals will gradually become more and more plucked straight from the garden; they feed themselves on cucumbers and eggplants and lettuce and potatoes watered by the same water they drink, raised by the same sun that soaks their bones.
She begins to read early on, encouraged by parents who have a desperate love of words; in turn, she learns to respect and revere them herself. Her father reads to her dedicatedly, every evening before bedtime; they cover all manner of topics, from the creatures Alice meets in Wonderland, the Socratic paradox, and the archaeology of humankind.
It’s a simple life that many people long for from the depths of overwhelming youth. They sit at their desks and dream of “getting away,” of slowing down or “getting back to nature,” or some other such nonsense. It’s easy for him to look back and realize how much simpler the “simple life” could have been had he struck out for it while he was young. In hindsight, ceding precious time was the biggest mistake of his life.
Life on the cliffs is simple by the loosest definition; he is awoken daily by the beating of the waves on the rocks and the rustling, restless wind in the trees. The life is severely simple and he glories in that, in his self-imposed hermithood, and takes comfort in the knowledge that the world is spinning on just fine around him. In his mind, this peace is his just desserts; he served his time in society, and now he deserves rest until the end of his days. The sun is his timekeeper, the waves his rooster and his lullaby. Ocean breezes cool his morning tea, always before it has been drunk.
Upon the morning sounds and the creaking of his own aging joints, he rises and takes in the achy expanse of sea-sky-stone blue that he lives inside now. This involuntary sentimentality is always brief though; there are things to do, tea to be drunk, current events to be read about. Like everything else, his wardrobe is simple, a sun-bleached amalgam of fisherman-like sweaters, threadbare t-shirts from long-shuttered bars, and jeans worn white at the knees and hems.
The cliffs are starkly beautiful, in the same way a glacier is: cold, still beauty that demands either worship or forfeit. The highest point is a short walk from the cottage, where the heather spills over the edge in purple and gray-green bursts. His wife had always loved the heather; it seemed fitting to bury her among it. As he climbed the rise, he could just barely make out the shape of the smooth stone he used to mark her grave. It’s been long enough since she died that he doesn’t compare the texture of the stone to the texture of her skin, or the scent of the sea and grass to the scent of her hair; no, now he simply remembers how her fresh-baked cookies tasted, the way she bit her lip when she read something that scared her, the thousand-and-one pieces that make up a person and make one love them.
As Rosaline grows, she becomes more and more accustomed to rising with the sun. The edges of her world expand; she learns to swim farther and farther out into the ocean, and begins attending school with others her age, and a kind teacher with armloads of books and an earnest disposition. Her father surprises her with an encyclopedia, for her tenth birthday, bound in soft brown leather and an embossed spine.
In November, when Lucy is discovered, they can barely contain their excitement, and spend hours poring over newspaper clippings and photographs; Rosaline’s mother teases them gently while making dinner, and listens accommodatingly to their overeager theories about what this unprecedented discovery, this remarkable skeleton, this ancient woman could mean.
She begins to write, in cramped and careful lettering, in a large notebook filched from her father’s desk. The entries are small, largely limited to the activities of birds and her burgeoning understanding of how nature works, outside of humans; every morning the sun rises, and every evening it sets, and when the air turns cold, all the plants turn brown and crunchy. The evergreens never lose their needles, regardless of the cold and wind; this means something, but at the age of ten, Rosaline can’t quite quantify it yet.