The wonders of winter
I think it might be true to say that you can only truly appreciate something either through its experience or lack. It is winter and between work, Christmas and illness, my outside time is limited. Now, when I am outside, I feel it fully; how much of it there is. How much better it makes me feel to be there.
In his pamphlet The Wood in Winter , John Lewis-Stempel says that we only experience winter as a synapse-sharpener in our centrally heated lives and I suppose this is true. Winter is not for us the survival test and harshness that it is for little creatures, the birds in the branches, or for those who work outside. For them, he says, ‘winter hurts.’
But out there, the simplest of things, the sound of birdsong, the feel of the wind down the back of my neck, the way my fingers numb with the cold, the sky streaked pink, the air scented with mud and winter jasmine, become reminders that I am alive, that I am part of something else, something bigger than myself. It is an instant relief and leveller.
It can feel as we move further towards the binary and blue lit, the strip lit and sanitised, the compartmentalised and quantified, that we are moving further away from the real and the elemental. It’s too easy to get caught up with artifice in the inside world, the digital world. Nature, art, song, poetry, culture, creativity – the not always pecuniarily rewarding but the most nourishing things – are what sustain us. At least, they’re what sustain me, and I don’t think I can be alone. Not everything can be put in a box and counted. Thank you Rishi, but learning maths until we’re 18 isn’t going to make life better or richer. We’re not robots. We’re elemental.
Experiencing the elemental
I watch a video online. It is of starlings murmuring – below them a shadow of sheep are mirroring their movement exactly – a kind of earthly and aerial call and respond. Their dance looks like cells under the lens of a microscope and I think how we are just that, bunches of cells jigging in response to our environment. I wonder if one day fire and water, earth and air will seem like alien, foreign relics of a bygone era. I feel more and more as though I belong to the before times – the 1970s and 80s, the watery technicolour of Crackerjack, disaster movies and flares, of kids under coats in seatbeltless cars, of drunk drivers and questionable personal politics. As if all this time I’ve been inhabiting the opening scenes of a horror film where everything feels reassuringly ‘normal’ before the horror descends.
During November’s cold snap, when it felt as though winter had started proper, I was coaxed, grumbling, into a friend’s hot tub. There was ice on the decking but I was persuaded from my clothes to run barefoot across it and climb into the warmth of the pool. We quickly began to sync with our surroundings; the cold air, the melancholic skyline, the rooks with their ‘ragged flight’ settling in to roost in the spectral oak, before the sub zero dusk.
A wren hopped from the fence to the feeder, his little feet making a scratchy sound on the fence top, as the rooks complained in a messy descant and we listened to the sound of children laughing in their warm house two doors down.
We watched the light change, the sun go down, scoring the sky for the rising moon. As the mist rose from the water our talk became looser, more playful and I thought of the nights spent in woods around fires in my twenties, seeing shapes in the trees, watching the fire dance, swimming with love for my friends and music and being alive. Of mornings watching the sun come up in a field, wide-eyed and grungy from a night of dancing, the catch of smoke in the back of our throats.
This morning I slipped under the fencing in our now lost field, feeling an ache to walk our familiar path again. Cooper was already ahead of me. I felt the echo of each time I’d walked it before, trailing Lizzie and chatting in the early morning sun, the wind, rain, ice, fog, the falling twilight; through mud and long sun-bleached grasses, on the bare stubble of the just harvested hay. I think again of John Lewis-Stempel saying that the land belongs only to itself and the creatures that inhabit it, and smile.
Changing focus as I reach a big birthday
I have a new job. It feels good to have one focus instead of tightroping myself between projects, never feeling that my steps are quite steady. But I’m sad to be letting go of my creative endeavours. I’m trying to own the decision, telling myself that I shall come back to it all in time. And I’m excited to be trying new things, stretching myself. I tell myself that I don’t have to know everything right away, that the finding out is the fun bit – about the job, the work, the people, myself. Instead of resolutions, I am claiming a word for 2023. It is ‘Discovery’.
My ‘discovery’ during the Christmas week was that I had reached a Grand Age. I keep catching the number 50, metallic and shining on birthday cards, out of the corner of my eye. It lands with a thump in my belly each time. Can I really be 50 years old? What have I done? What haven’t I? I spend so much time in my head that I still feel as though I am 6, 10, 12, 27, 35. Perhaps I’m all of those and together they equal 50? You see, maths never was my strong point. Point taken, Rishi.
But there were highlights to having a Big birthday, like being taken out for breakfast for the first time by my son, and being awarded a complimentary bottle of Prosecco by a sympathetic restaurant manager for my great achievement in ageing; Glen’s words of love to me over a homemade cake burning brightly with candles in a kitchen filled with friends. And all the wonderful women who have taken me to one side to reassure me that our 50s are fabulous, that this is the time in which we own our power, drawing on the wisdom of hard won experience and leaving aside self-recrimination and justification. This is the time, they tell me, not to worry about taking up space, to know that we are enough. I love women. And I love my women friends who have shown me the way ahead, who empower and support me all of the time, making me feel seen, valued and heard.
And so, as we drag the permacrisis and clusterfuckage of 2022 with us into the new year, I am reminded that creativity does matter. My writing does matter, even if only to me. I shall make time for it, even if it is only to reflect my love of the outside, the importance of the elemental, to keep the flame alive. I shan’t worry about who reads it or what they think. I’ll write because I love to do it, and need to.
Glen’s word for the new year is compost, I don’t think even he knows why, but whatever your word is, I am wishing you all good things for 2023 – and plenty of time outside.