Into the darkness

I am slipping between seasons.

I can sense the afterglow of summer; flowers are blooming, the sun is still warm on my face. Then in another moment I am tumbling towards winter.

The darkness draws me forward.

There is still time after work to dodge the rain showers and squeeze in a walk to the estuary, yet by the time I have finished my evening meal there is blackness outside the window.

Winter guests are arriving along with the first frosts. The geese are back and countless small birds enliven the garden with their flittering flocks. I’m still waiting for a glimpse of redwing, or fieldfare. Tasty berries await their return.

Sometimes it’s still just about warm enough to take my cup of tea to the bench in the front garden, but I spend less time there now.

Of course, there is still work to do outside, weeding and pruning and such, which will build up body heat and make time spent outside feel good. But the mooching, the gazing, the simply being, the doing nothing, the outdoor tai chi practice; the season for all that is ebbing away.

And so the true owners of the garden come to the fore. The blackbirds, robins, wrens, dunnocks, tits, goldcrests, song thrushes, the mice and voles, the squirrels, the spiders and slugs, snails and countless invertebrates. All those beings who spend the entire of the day and the night outside, however cold or wet or grey it gets.

I watch a blackbird probing the lawn for insects and I suddenly realise that the garden belongs to all of them, not to me. They depend on it for survival, I just appear outside occasionally and they watch me with caution until I am gone.

The darkness approaches with relentless speed.

I fight it, just like every year. I wish it wasn’t happening. I dread the clocks changing, darkness before I even leave the office.

I’m not sure when this started. As a child winter and dark evenings just happened, that was just how life was. It didn’t bother me at all.

The winter started with our annual end of October half term Lake District family holiday, an old cottage with no central heating, roasting the chestnuts that we collected in the woods over the open fire, cold bedrooms, huddling under the sheets with hot water bottles. Probably my favourite holiday of the year. Back home, the house was usually warm, and the dark months were punctuated by brightness: Halloween, bonfire night, Christmas.

And I’ve been wondering when I learned to dislike the darkness that comes with winter, the short days, the endless grey and the damp cold.

A run of grey days can hang over me like a bad mood. Then, the sun comes out and everything is OK. Colours come to life. The world around me sparkles. This is perhaps not a good attitude to have developed given that I live in rainy, grey, beautiful north west England.

And yet. Every year there comes a point when I stop fighting the seasons, when I start to see the long dark evenings as something to treasure.

A space.

Often, there is not much to do. The working day is over. There are no little jobs to do in the garden, because it’s dark outside. I read. I binge watch tv programmes.

A little idea arrives in my head, about seasons and the approaching darkness. I go outside and reacquaint myself with the stars. Back inside it’s warm. I sit down and I start writing.

We are just at the beginning. There are months of this creative, enveloping darkness ahead. I could choose to welcome it.


What do dark evenings and approaching winter mean to you?


Walking through happiness

Camping in Eskdale in the Lake District. Life slows down.

Near our tent, two little girls play in a stream. They pick buttercups and place them on a narrow slab of blue slate, laid across to make a bridge.

Both of their fathers appear through the trees. The girls put their arms around each other, hopping with excitement.

Come and look! We’ve made you something for Father’s Day!

The dads approach the streamside.

Walk across the bridge and it will give you happiness!

One dad walks straight across, over the buttercups, the other looks a bit hesitant.

Come on dad, walk across and you will get happiness for Father’s Day!

He walks across, somewhat reluctantly. Perhaps he has enough happiness already. Consequently there is some leftover happiness on that bridge.

The girls are corralled into waiting cars, parents complaining about stream-wet clothes, holiday over.

After they leave, I walk slowly over the buttercup-festooned bridge, walking through happiness.

Home

I lived away,

for too long.

Leaving after a visit,

or passing by

on the train

or on the motorway,

I would press my nose

to the window

letting the silhouettes

of the mountains

fill me up,

cricking my neck

for that final glimpse

as I headed north.

There were hills there, too,

but they weren’t my hills.

Now I am back home

for good.