A reflection from late autumn finally posted in the chill of early January. Call it late, call it a symptom of these new year days and pandemic years, when time seems to slip and slide and leave you grasping.
I’m not sure if this moment is full on autumn, or the first bite of winter. We left town for the hills one Sunday. Clocks claimed it was mid-afternoon but the oncoming dark made it hard to place, hard to shake the sense of enclosing night. Given the hour, I say ‘hills’ but really it was ‘hill’. One hill. Height enough to let go every sigh and find the corners of ourselves that the countryside seems to guard in our absence. Our feet found one hill, but maybe it really was ‘hills’. One folds into another, a ridge that you could follow on your way to the Cotswolds, or turn the other way to skirt the edge of London. We stay where we are. On one hill. Eyes resting on another, and finding the pocketed fields below.
We left. Left the warmth, encased ourselves in winter coats (should have been washed before this first wearing?), scarves, hats that didn’t quite keep out the gnaw of the wind on one side. An ear bore the brunt of this foray. Pass indifferent flocks, turn right at the trees and enjoy their shelter before heading up again. A slope that felt gentle but, on turning round, had opened up the sunset sky. Stop. Breathe. Exchange humble notes on this messy and beautiful world.
The hour was golden. The deer, dappled bambi types, stood unperturbed by the water. The swifts, closer than ever before, banqueting in the sky surrounding us. Not a single other human around.
Because, it turned out, the park had shut thirty minutes earlier.
We would learn this in ten minutes’ time, as we ambled between two lines of trees in the general direction of home. The park ranger was kind as he pulled up, said he’d meet us at the gate to set us – accidental rebels and interlopers – free.
I say for summer, but maybe they’re for anytime. It’s just now, when the long light evenings prefer books to screens, and the veg harvest is beginning to peak, that I’ve pulled them from the kitchen shelf again. And keep them by my side of the bed. Dreaming of burrata salad. Waking to the idea of freshly baked Maslen bread.
Why these three books? I love them equally. And read them for slightly different reasons.
And yet, I’m ok with it. Ok with the fact that one area of life required, enforced, benefited from almost full-time attention for a season. And we are learning to be kind to ourselves. Empty the diary and fill the fridge with tasty, easy food. It’s ok to stop baking bread, to get takeout one more time this month, to cancel or say ‘no’, to read all seven Harry Potter books once again (except the end of book five. He was my favourite character; it’s too much). Kindness comes in many forms.
As I write this, a storm of conkers just descended onto the roof of our neighbour’s car and it’s 23 degrees Celsius outside. This is our topsy turvy year of seasons encapsulated.
Summer 2018 was, in many ways, my dream season. Weeks of bright, bare-footed and loose-armed days. Dinner in the garden every night, finished off with a teapot of homegrown mint tea. Claustrophobic socks left in the drawer. And yet, it was also a mixed bag. A little too hot to function at times; resilience a little fractured once 30 degree days had turned into weeks. And a creeping concern that this is the shape of things to come, the climate change canary in the mine (something I wrote more about here).
And then, at the end of August, summer seemed to suddenly and subtly give way to autumn. Things turned. Fallen leaves. Warm evening air found a chill in its edge. Arms searching their way back into jumpers. And, despite a ridiculous long summer season, I wasn’t quite ready for the change.
This year I learned a new phrase that I found a particular resonance with: “I’m sorry for what I said when it was winter.” And if this past winter was a long, tough, frozen one, then spring has been its glorious antidote. So glorious that it feels like we tumbled into summer weeks ago. And I am grateful, feeling that my barefoot self is my best self.
There have been other highlights too, of this sun-loving season.
Oh Winter. I was done with you in January. So done. But you weren’t done with me. In fact you had more to come, hurling eastern winds at us and unifying the landscape under a fleece of snow in March. I enjoyed that first snowy week; heart-warmed by the way it drew people from their homes into a sense of awe and adventure. But for the rest of the time, I have been ready for Spring; eager to air my ankles, slip into lighter jackets and feel a jaunt in my step. I want to embrace the seasons, but Winter, you were a struggle to be close to this year.
This blog post arrives as a seasonal coincidence. This day, the Solstice, is apparently the true start of Winter. But in truth it’s felt pretty frosty for a while. We’ve been buried. Inside and under blankets, with a hot drink in hand. Outside and under woolly hats, with a hot drink in hand (in reusable cups picked up from Oxfam).
Despite my annual trepidation as summer fades, I’ve become better at finding joy in the nature of each season. I attribute much of this to gardening giving me a greater appreciation of the year’s rhythms. For the first year, we’ve made considered efforts to winterise the garden, rather than just letting it slide into neglect until Spring. We’ve planted winter jasmine and hellebore, and still taken our morning coffee on the bench – fortified for the cold with a blanket and an extra woolly jumper.
We’ve entered a season of conflict in our home. I wander around barefooted, eking out every last breath of summer’s warmth. My husband looks at the turning leaves with growing anticipation; autumn is best for him. September may have a foot in both camps, but there’s a distinct chill to the evenings that even I cannot wilfully ignore. It’s time to look forward to the leaf-paved season and gather reflections from the golden one that’s past.
This summer I’ve found myself struck but the thoughtfulness of others:
I wrote last year about how I prefer to set down ‘aspirations’ compared to ‘resolutions’ at the turn of the new year. In 2016, these aspirations were not a rod for my back (as resolutions can be) but a focal point to return to throughout the year. They focused the mind without disheartening it. By now most resolutions will have fallen by the wayside but, with life’s recent changes, I’m still dreaming for the year ahead.