Sunday, 17 February 2013

Of dark skies and sadness

As I write, the hillside opposite is lit with early spring sunshine, birdsong calls across the valley and I can feel that in the last couple of spring-tinged days my spirit has lifted in ways I forget are possible in those last dark days of winter.

Since becoming a mother I have struggled with the dark days of winter. This is not unusual or novel I know; listening to Richard Mabey's essay on weather and 'The Black Dog', I found much comfort from hearing him talk of his own seasonal moodiness and recurring difficulties with 'the dinge' of dark weather. He wonders at how others escape this atmospherically induced heaviness as we are after all "a landscape of tissue at the total mercy of the elements" and goes on to list the many ways our bodies respond to sun, wind and cold. He muses that our inside our bodies are "labyrinths of gaseous cavities and bags of fluid" obviously sensitive to "dramatic weather fronts". Joints and respiratory conditions are aggravated by damp and cold whilst low light levels deprive our systems of feel-good hormones, the weather outside becoming the weather inside.

All this is reassuring in light of my recent low mood. I prefer to liken my occasional blues to a flock of mangy pigeons than a black dog, sitting awkwardly upon my head and shoulders for a time before flying away to roost more appropriately in the murky shade of a bridge's underside. They do not feel malignant, only unpleasant and cumbersome.

I do not remember particularly suffering these swoops of sadness before having children, but perhaps in those days it was easier to brush them off or otherwise ignore them. These days, as an 'at home' mother and home educator I am forced to face myself a little more than I was. I cannot just strike out across the hills on a whim, immerse myself in a project or head to the nearest drinking house - tempting as that sometimes is... I am forced to be present with the frustrations of my children and myself, obliged to constantly engage and be engaged, to referee, to comfort and entertain. At times, when the rain whips past the windows and the greyness seems eternal, these responsibilities weigh a little heavier and I succumb to sadness.

I would not change the choices I have made for our lives and nor perhaps would I seek to always avoid melancholia. There is always a flip side; no light without dark, no creation without destruction, no understanding without experience. Our world is full of fear as well as hope, and we do an injustice to one if we do not acknowledge the other. The lightness and relief I am taking from these earliest of spring days would surely not be as sweet had they not been preceded by a desperate longing for them.

I hope that I am beginning to understand that sadness is not my enemy, that I will learn to nurse my blues and give them permission to stay while they will. I will let good friends gently help me carry them and I will gently help carry theirs.

And I will treat them with trips to the garden centre to let them rest among growing things and dream of the warmer winds to come.    

Monday, 11 February 2013

In the land of snowy hills

Is there anything more likely to make us forget our adult condition than a good snowfall? In January, as I watched the snow first falling, then sticking, I was as giddy as my children and memories knocked of winters past.

My own dad has been always ready for adventure whatever the weather, but he particularly relished a good deep snowfall as a special opportunity for fun. We had a sledge that had been made by my granddad, solid and strong with room enough for two. Ox-like, my dad would drag us through the snow with no discernible effort; my brother and I hushed by the stillness of the muffled world we moved through. I have no recollections of feeling cold on these play days, only laughing faces bathed in pinkish ice-light. We'd always head to the same spot, a hole in the ground we called the quarry, with sides so steep only my dad would sledge them. Of the three of us it was my dad, I'm sure, who had the most fun.

Unfortunately for my boys I am not so sturdy; no tireless pulling of sledges up hills for them, poor things. But even so, we made the most of the wintry lands. Much sledging was done, with friends and by ourselves, on hills of all lengths and gradients. Each day we ventured out until our noses and fingers tingled and little boy's tears ran down frozen rosy cheeks. Returning home to mountains of steaming boots, socks and gloves sitting about radiators and  freely flowing hot chocolate was almost as pleasurable as the outings themselves.

There is a special magic, I think, in snowy days for us parents - the snow's transience encouraging us to put our adult anxieties on hold for a few days and unite with our children in pure joyful excitement. I'm fairly sure my dad understands this, he has always been an expert at embracing playful moments

The snow has come again, but this time only a thin and threadbare sheet lies upon the ground. February winds on, still wrapped in winter's colours. This month often tests the spirit, offering hopeful glimpses of shining days of sun then snatching them away to replace them with the very worst of the season's offerings. But I have heard the birds at the opening and closing of the days, limbering up their voices. I have seen the citrus green of opening hawthorn buds and I have sniffed the air and caught a freshness upon the wind. Winter's days are surely numbered; may their snowy gifts of fun and child-like wonder take us through these last weeks with hope and good humour.