November ushers us into the ante-room of Winter with quiet, grey days when growing things slow down and gently slide into sleep; and as the month progresses many of us wish we could also sleep and not wake until the sun rouses the spring flowers from the ground, and returns us to a sense of life and hope.
Sadly, hibernation is not for us, and though we may not be thrilled by the approach of Winter, we should resist the temptation to always yearn towards the season we have not yet reached, but look with new eyes at the present – the only time we have in our hands – and learn to live more fully in this most despised time of year.
So we pass beyond the ante-room, and journey on into Winter as the days shrink down to their shortest and cold takes hold of the world around us.
For the more fortunate there may be the pleasure of evenings round a living fire, but even without them there will be time to become absorbed in other worlds through the joy of books, or enthralling dramas on radio or television. Perhaps there’ll be time to finish that piece of embroidery, write more of our latest story, or play board games with like-minded friends. Winter nights have their compensations if we look for them and don’t act like sulky hedgehogs!
With the archetypical perverseness of human nature we spend most of December wishing for a White Christmas, and then as soon as snow-flakes fill the skies and the ground has its coverlet of white we want it to be gone!
‘All things in moderation,’ the ancient Greeks used to say – though their Winters mightn’t have been quite like ours – and it seems that for most of us what we want is two or three days of being able to enjoy the beauty outside our windows (house or car), and then. ‘That’s enough, thank you! You may go now,’ and the snow is dismissed like a good servant who has accomplished his given task.
Of course slush and dirty ice are hardly beautiful, and all the inconveniences of moving about in snowy weather quickly wear away at the delight we had in the original beauty of it. But we can hold in our memories those magical moments of brilliant light and singing silence which the newly fallen snow has given us, and be grateful for them.
The delicacy of hoarfrost on grass, leaf and tree is a miracle to make us gasp. On a day of cold mist, or on a bright sunny morning it’s equally marvellous and puts to shame our clumsy efforts to duplicate it in our winter decorations. And frost has the benefit of not being such a hindrance to our daily lives as snow, though seldom lasting as long as we might wish.
The unearthly beauty of frost patterns on glass are hardly seen any more in these days of central heating and double glazing. A good thing in many ways, although a shame that one of Winter’s very particular beauties is now such a rarity. I remember so many patterns on the windows at Lorton – layered leaves, frozen fernlike fronds, and swirling whirlpools or tornado spirals – but I was rarely warm enough to want to spend any length of time appreciating them properly. Last week I saw hoarfrost patterns on the side of a bus shelter – making a surprising beauty of the graffitti left there, and it brought back many memories.
Icicles too are rare these days – and mention of them reminds me of one I broke off the overhanging bank of a beck with my damp mittens, while out on a winter walk, I sucked it like an ice lolly, and it made my teeth ache!
So the Winter progresses, and freeze becomes thaw and everything is bogged down in mud, and though the days get longer they aren’t long enough, and bitter winds cut through us to the bone.
Every year we hope and wish for the coming of Spring long before it’s reasonable. But even when we’re still quite clearly in the grasp and grip of Winter, signs of new life are there to see if we will but look; as Winter-flowering shrubs breathe out a sweet scent, the spears of snowdrops appear at the feet of the still sleeping trees, and birdsong rings out on a sunny January day, announcing territories claimed and nests prepared.
It may be our least favourite season, and we may mutter, grumble, and even curse it each year. But Winter is a necessity of life, and without it neither we nor our world would survive.
Just as human beings cannot survive sane and healthy if deprived of sleep, so our world needs its time of rest before it rises into a new cycle of growth and blossom and harvest. For us it’s a time of cold and darkness; for other climes, a time of heat and drought. Both perforce times of stillness and waiting, hoarding resources until rain or sun returns.
“To sleep, to dream, Aye there’s the rub!”
Does our world dream in its Winter sleep?
We need our dreams; insanity comes when dreams are forbidden – whether they be the dreams of sleep, or the hopes of waking hearts which have been stamped on by some totalitarian regime.
But that’s another question. . .and perhaps one of these cold Winter days or nights we can imagine what dreams might fill the world’s sleep, as it waits for the warmth of the strengthening sun to wake it into Spring.