Island Blog 151 Winter and Spring

2014-01-27 14.08.00

“Winter is not a season, it’s an occupation.”   Sinclair Lewis

Now, as the cold sets in and the winds bite, we can turn towards home.  The lack of strong daylight draws us to the soft lighting, the fire glow, candles and a good torch for the Last Dog Walk at bedtime.  I find I read even more, if that is, indeed, possible.  My tastebuds changed their tune and thick soup replaces a rocket salad.  I remember Elisabeth Luard, the famous cookery writer saying to me, once, that she loved the winter.  All those bonkers unmatching hats and gloves, the fat woolly jumpers, thick socks, big boots and nobody watching her waistline, least of all, her. It was almost with a sigh she welcomed Spring, knowing full well that those pretty frocks might well resist joining at the zip.

Gone are those foraging walks, the fresh tang of autumn with skies full of redwings and the leaves turning into gold and red to finally fall to the ground, a crunchy carpet at first, then a soggy mulch beneath our boots.  Mud gathers below the verges, frost splits the tarmac and the potholes re-appear with a vengeance.  But, walking into winter can hold its own delights, after all, who doesn’t like jumping in puddles?  If you have gone beyond puddle jumping there is something wrong with you because it may be the best form of excercise you can take and there is never any harm in re-visiting the inner child.  So many of us lose our sense of play and it is a Zeus of a mistake. The finest people I know still play childish pranks at 80 with twinkly winkly eyes and a dare in them for you to even think of disapproving.

In Sweden, so I am told by my viking daughter-in-law, there is no rain/sleet or slush.  There is only snow.  Kissing the ground at first, this white out can grow to terrifying depths, disappearing whole houses overnight.  If it ever happens here, there is considerable panic as if we are all about to turn into snowmen.  Trains stop, buses stop, and nobody can get to work.  Well, I struggle to find the bad in that, unless, of course, you are an emergency service.  In Sweden this is all carefully thought through and those who need to get about grow wings. Although I don’t want to say this, I do wonder at the flapdoodle this country gets into about seasonal changes, and I do shake my head.  At Tapselteerie, if the track was impassable, we just didn’t pass it.  Sudden holidays, lack of food, the power off, no phone, all meant fun.  As long as the stock were fed, milked and checked, we were all quite happy to play.  I remember once being at the hairdresser in town and the local police (pronounced poh-liss) popping his head round the door of each shop to recommend that those of us who lived ‘over by’ meaning anywhere but the town, should head home as the hill road was fast being wiped out.  Being wiped out is exactly what happens.  The terrain is just one hilly blanket and there is no way to tell where the road lies within it.  I said to the poh-liss that I wisnae going hame with one side cropped and the other trailing over my right ear, and, by the time I did head overby, someone had already found the road and marked it out which was very thoughtful even if it did take two attempts to top the highest hilly bend with a neat short back and sides.

It seems to me that fear is the killer here.  What on earth is there to be afraid of?  It’s only snow and puddles after all, although not both together.  Ice is a bit different though with its chameleon ability to become the road.  When someone ahead of me scooted neatly off the single track road in the un-gritted glen, landing just under the nose of a startled horse munching hay, all of us stopped to help.  We hefted and bumped and, on finding all that hefting and bumping quite pointless, popped the inhabitants into our own cars and trundled them home, waving to the horse as we drew away.

And, of course, there is always the promise of Spring.  Crocuses are coming, snowdrops pushing into the cold light, birds looking for nest sites.  But we should honour winter.  There is a beauty in it, a bare stark beauty that should not be missed, like building snowmen, puddle jumping, making soup, wearing bonkers and unmatching hats and gloves.  Longing for something to end just lengthens it I find.  Our winters are unpredictable, unlike Sweden.

How versatile are you?  I personally want to be able to bounce like Tigger (or move like Jagger) whatever comes my way, even if it does require forward planning and something to hold on to. And, there is always a temporarily unbouncing somebody who needs my help.

 

Island Blog 18 – Words on a Feather

This morning I heard a woodpecker in the trees nearby.  I have seen his vibrant colours before now, his looping flight drawing semi-circles in the morning sky, but not until today have I heard the sound of him seeking grubs from the bark of a dead tree.  Poor bugs I thought at first, all cosy inside the winter bark.  A rude awakening for sure – that sudden battering against the walls of sleep like someone firing an Uzi in the bedroom.  But the woodpecker must feed and if you happen to be prey for a predator, then this is part of your life, and your death.

The garden birds are both hungry and thirsty within our frozen landscape and they need our help.  This weekend is the official Bird Count and I hope everyone will take part, for our garden birds are under threat.  It shocked me to discover that many of the ordinary visitors to the garden are now marked as amber or red on the RSPB web site, indicating their demise, and it may not be something that will get better, not without human interest and support.  Sparrows in huge and chattering groups make a thinner sound in our hedgerows.  Why is that?  Because we have taken the hedgerows down clearing land and clearing land again for new houses, offices, big settlements with concrete pathways and fat houses for the hungry home-dweller market.

Birds, like us, are creatures of habit.  Swallows, swifts and house martins, wintering in Africa, fly over thousands of miles to nest in the same place they nested the year before, in barns and empty buildings, that can be razed to the ground in a day, leaving them lost and wondering.  Owls have no place to rear their young, unless some wise man has fixed up a nest box in safe, quiet woodland.  Is there any safe quiet woodland left I wonder?  Thrushes are dwindling and even the blackbird and the robin, so very common in our thoughts, are less in number country wide.

But, this is not about doom and gloom, for we can all do our bit.  We can’t stop progress, nor should we, for this is the turning wheel of life and we must turn with it.  We have no choice.  But, we can do our own small bit to help.

In winter, birds need water, and not just to drink.  They must be able to wash and clean their feathers on a regular basis.  A shallow bird table, freshened through the week will not only bring more birds to our gardens for their own good, but for ours as well, for birds are enchanting to watch as they go about their normal lives.  Fat balls and good quality bird seed on a table will save them from wasting precious winter energy flying miles in search of something to eat.  Food scraps, and tired old fruit are a good food source too.  Check the RSPB web site for more information.

The ground is like iron just now, so the earthworms are safe for a while, but not the birds that depend of them for food.

Let us pay attention and not turn away from this because of our busy lifestyles.  We can all do something, and that is what excites me about this crazy life. We may think this doesn’t really matter to us, but without birds a lot of our wild flowers and trees would never seed in the first place.  I don’t go with those who say the world is on an inevitable downward spiral into the black hole of time,  but I do know that if we all do a little bit, form a new habit, we, you and me in our ordinary lives, in ordinary streets and houses, can really make an extraordinary difference.

Island blog 18

‘The Woodpecker has to go!’  

 www.funny.com

Island Blog 16 – Locomotion

I walked today in the snow along paths flattened into bob sleigh tracks. I just knew that if anyone was going to hit the deck, it would be me. The students, just leaving school traveled confidently in their wellies, talking on their mobiles or chattering happily in twos or threes, their heavy school bags banging against their hips. Confidently, I said, which is not what I was doing.  What is it with growing older that brings new fears?  I recall leaping over rocks and skittering over ice with laughter and the fizzing taste of danger on my tongue.  If falling over was to happen, well, I wasn’t going to fuss about that, or even consider it, for youth is a fearless time, when I was invincible and above all unpleasant things, such as breaking a bone or looking a right charlie in public with my shopping bags bursting open and tins of baked beans rolling under the wheels of a long line of passing cars.

I joined the crocodile of students in the hope that, in their midst, I would maintain an upright position, but soon they peeled off, to their own homes leaving me to face a long stretch of shining ice, alone.  I kept close to the trees, where the ice was mushier and less threatening, humming a little hum to myself, telling my legs to relax their tension and to trust the image in my head, of being attached, by a long thread, to a cloud. I made the mistake of looking up only to find there were no clouds, which threw me somewhat.  I passed dog walkers, my age, striding out as if the ground were as solid and clear as it is before and after snow, thinking…’what is wrong with me?’

And then I watched the dogs.  They trot.  Well, you can trot when you have four legs!  When I walk in the wild places on the island, down steep hillsides and so on, following the deer tracks, I think about this whole number of legs thing, and I realise how compromised we humans are to have only two.  A centipede flows.  All those legs make walking, as we know it, unnecessary, for who would walk if they could flow instead?  I would much rather flow to be honest, but I do appreciate that a human with multiple legs might struggle to fit into society. Just think of buying shoes!

It seems to me that this blog is more about giving in to fears, than it is about growing more legs.  What I need to do is get out more, step onto the ice and walk it until it loses its hold on me.

In other words…..keep walking over it until I know it so well, I can dance.

A life lesson perhaps?

 

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