Winter has tripped and fallen headlong, cold and sharp on the retreating wet heels of Autumn. There has been no respite between soft, mulch, wistful leaf release and throat rasping air. I for one am glad. For Winter is probably, most likely, my favourite of all the seasons. Not a human soul around in the wildness so that I can enjoy the greatness of Earth in peace. I say peace, but it is far from peaceful out there. This is the season of the birds: ravens caw, scattered and tumbling in the sky while tits and sparrows barge the blackbirds in the hedgerows for the last, juicy, gratifying frozen haw berries and sloes. The odd starling sits high in the naked tree, imagining a host to murmur with. Kestrel hunts rabbits and mice, now used to mine and dog’s presence. A whole collection of collard doves sit, plumped up and resigned on our empty apple trees.
Baby is growing reddened, northern cheeks, wind-raked and dry. The wind comes from elsewhere at this time of year. More than any other time, I can hear its call to me, of where it came from and where it is going. It rips past my skin, heedless of how noisy its message to me, careless of the calling. Telling me of frozen northern mountains, tempestuous seas and lonely bird call, it passes our safe little place by happenstance and I can not follow wherever it is going and it leaves me here to trudge home, wingless. Drawn ever onwards, to beat against the southern shores of another land, the wind is not of this place. More than anything, I feel its foreign presence and I want to find out where it came from.
I tilt my head upwards A sharp, fine rain falls on me, not nearly as strong as the biting wind, it even smells of the north. We say, it looks like snow, and we mean, this is northern air, come to remind us of our glacial past. This land is just having a short respite, between eras. Better be prepared for it. Whatever happens.
There is a small wood in a quarry, near my home. It sits on the bank of the river. The other day, small icebergs floated like frothy dress rehearsals downstream, to catch on the bank, or to dribble downwards, past the bigger places and towns, out to the icy sea. Barely capable of holding the weight of a wren, they were so vulnerable, soft forms of ice, that were simply gone the next day. Yet, the river had frozen, just a little. I wanted to head upstream, up north, to the source. Where the ice formed and the weight of the water sent them down to me, to learn of how they formed, why and how it got so cold that the river gave up running.
Snowfall in the night means that I can follow the deer tracks today. Four I spy, two very small prints of newer fawns and two who know the lie of the land. The rabbits that Kestrel hasn’t got yet. Cats’ paws on their midnight prowling. A fox or two. Mine, graceless, looking back I can see the slight limp from my nearly-healed leg as it draws a line in the snow. Dog, leaping, being happy, catching the ball and pissing against tufts of nothing he discerns must need his scent. He chews the hind leg of a very dead rabbit until I yell at him to stop.
We disturb a heron, a cormorant, another big bird going the other direction, but what it is I cannot glimpse through the bare canopy. Passerines raucously squabble all around. Winter is so alive, vibrant, noisy, dripping, treacherous, nothing is safe and warm here, everything is fighting. This is the place to be, to feel how powerful is the urge to survive. Earth Herself says if you don’t have the wish to live then I will kill you for your complacency, so you come out here and meet me on my terms. Or hide away in front of your warm fire, cosy with your whiskey and TV, while I run the world. I want to run to Her, to see the sun through the trees and feel the wildness on my skin, to run and not come home.
I am in love with Earth. All of it. The sensual, long summer evenings, sunsets over Mull, the dawn chorus, snowfall spitting sloshy wetness down the chimney, leaves falling, the way the chickens put themselves to bed, dippers who simply must dip (who told them to do that? What came first, the dipping or the dipper?) glaciers and ice melt, snow down my neck, foreign winds, mud-turned-ice-turned-mud-turned-grass, the elusive otter, the first buds of Spring. All of it, from here, from my little corner of the universe, I can feel it all. All, in the sharpest breeze that sings against my cheek, in the coldest snowball my eldest throws at me, in the softness of a primrose’s petal against my tongue, as it bursts its sugars in my mouth. Yet, although the blowsy delights of Spring and Summer cannot fail to entice, it is the season of darkness that holds the greatest light.
I think I am very lucky to have the eyes to see, the heart to burst, the soul to sing the song of the north wind, when it comes to me.