I stand at the window looking out into a cold and blustery winter afternoon. My mind is still. I wait, expectantly, but for what? I see the wind rifling through the dead leaves in the gutter, worrying at them, tossing them high into the air with abandon, as if by the hand of an exuberant child. The clouds zip by, their shape and colour constantly shifting. Now, as I see the light begin to fail, I wonder at how the days slip by so quickly; we are half way through January, and February is already on the horizon. As the forever changing seasons move inexorably on, I realise that spring is a mere heart-beat away. I marvel at how the sun comes up each morning, although at times it is obscured by cloud; and how the moon waxes and wanes, and the tides ebb and fall. I consider how rain waters the earth, and how the sun warms it and brings forth life. And I have questions about myself; how I can be here by sheer chance, and what is the purpose of my own existence? I weigh-up the possibilities. Is all this intricate detail some great cosmic mistake, a huge coincidence or confluence of separate events? But surely not! Surely there is a creative designer and all-powerful hand behind the astounding complexity I see around me, and in me.
Then, as I wait, I sense a voice in the deep recesses of my mind. “I am here my child. I created all the wonder you see around you, and I created you. I created your inmost being, and I knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are not a mistake, you are my beautiful child. There is a purpose in your existence. Wait and see what wonderful things I will accomplish through you.”
This morning the sky is an unrelenting grey, sombre and lifeless, sapping my very being. The trees are mere skeletons, each tiny twig hard and stark against the cold sky. Yesterday I felt full of energy and life, but it seems to have evaporated over night, leaving me low and dispirited.
Then up high there is a movement, and I see a single solitary seagull wheeling across the bleak expanse of cloud. Suddenly a squirrel catches my eye as it scampers along the top of the fence, and a small flock of starlings fly overhead. A couple of pigeons alight on the pergola, rather early in the year for their amorous courtship. I can hear a bird singing, a blackbird or robin, the sound reaches me even though my window is closed against the chill air. I see green ivy twisting and turning around the lower branches of the old oak tree. The world outside is not dead at all. I begin to come to life myself, and despite the grey skies my spirit lifts a little. To my mind’s eye, the steely grey sky becomes slightly softer, the twigs become more feathery and less harsh, and somehow full of future potential. When I look closely, even in the cold of winter there is life.
Today is the shortest day of the year for us in the Northern hemisphere. It is the winter solstice. The sun is low in the sky, and it is the first official day of winter. It is a day stuck between dark and light, on the knife-edge between the seasons. This month, this week, every afternoon has been cut short by an ever earlier dusk, sometimes with a flurry of sunset red and gold, but fading quickly into black night. Today maybe the shortest day, but the hope of longer days dawns tomorrow, albeit very slight at first. The see-saw has fallen, light has won again; for a time.
But still we hold our breath and wait, for an everlasting light. A few more days of twinkling Christmas lights will lessen the gloom, for soon we will welcome the Light of the World, who seeks to take away the darkness within us, forever.
This morning is very different from yesterday, yet it seems somehow the same. The weather is a little warmer, and the sky is no longer clear blue, but soft grey. There is no sparkling rime of frost, no crackle of ice underfoot; instead there is a chill dampness in the atmosphere, and the bushes and plants are bedewed with water droplets.
Like yesterday, the air is still. Smoke from the chimney drifts and drops, then lazily oozes down the sloping roof. It is quiet, and even the birds are silent. It is as if the world is waiting, holding it’s breath. As if something is about to happen.
This morning is cold. A thick frost lies heavily on the grass. Long thin contrails criss-cross the expanse of watery blue sky, while streaks of clouds meander way up high, like tattered curtains.
Everything is still, there is no breeze to stir the last remaining leaves clinging to the old oak tree. Through the frosty air comes the sound of birds chattering excitedly. Do they know that Christmas is coming? Do they feel a tremor of hope in the air?
I walked round Ifield Millpond yesterday. It was a beautiful, cold, crisp, winter morning. The sky was clear and blue, and the sun hung low, so that blinding sunlight bounced off the frozen surface of the millpond, making photography difficult. The grass and undergrowth were rimed with frost, and ice scrunched underfoot. A heron who habitually sits at the waters’ edge, was perched on the branch of a tree. The water birds, usually seen swimming happily, were today skidding and skating precariously on the ice. Three Canada geese one behind the other slowly and carefully plodded towards a patch of open water near the bridge. The first two held their footing reasonable well, but the last one slipped drunkenly on every step – two steps forward and one slip-step backwards. Seagulls coming to land, ran a few slippery steps, wings flapping wildly to keep their balance before coming to a standstill. A solitary duck padded across the ice, webbed feet flapping, but the rest of the ducks seemed to be crowded into a narrow stretch of water between the bank and the boardwalk.
The funniest of all had to be the coots. They looked rather like misshapen, feathered rugby-balls, with ungainly legs and long flat toes that are usually hidden under the water. No doubt the toes with flabby flaps of skin that act rather like webbed feet are ideal for paddling through water, but they are not really designed for walking on ice! The faster the coots tried to go, the more they slipped and slithered. But however much difficulty the birds had staying upright on the ice, I didn’t see any actually fall over; and thankfully neither did I!
I’m back again; not that I’ve truly been away, but ‘life’ has happened, as it so often does, and I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Now I’m back again, no doubt over the next few posts I’ll put into words some of the things that have happened over the last couple of months.
In the meantime, autumn has come and gone. Winter is here, and what a strange winter it has been so far. Over shadowing, depressing greyness, rain by the sky-full, very wet, very muddy, and unseasonably warm. Before Christmas I spotted an urban roundabout completely covered with confused daffodils that usually don’t flower until well into February; had anyone told them they were a full two months early? I’ve spotted snowdrops and hellebores – not quite so seasonally out of kilter. And I have a sprinkling of pale purple anemones splattered across the sunnier borders in my garden.
Last week we had hail, like ice marbles, clattering and bouncing on roofs and pathways, enough to almost bury the patio. Then we had a couple of mild frosts, that have taken us by surprise, and unaccustomed as we are to the cold this year, made us feel that we’d been dropped into the Arctic! Then finally this morning, we awoke to a world dusted with an inch or so of snow – the first snow of a very peculiar winter. It’s almost completely gone now, and who knows if there will be any more.
At this time of year I would usually be looking forward to spring, and eagerly watching out for signs of growth, but this year I really feel that we haven’t truly had any winter yet. So over the next few days I’m hoping for some cold, frosty mornings, with a crackle underfoot, a bite and a sparkle in the air, and with bright clear blue skies; then I can start looking forward to spring properly.