This time cannot come soon enough. As winter has its own exclusive personality, a character unique to a few months, it is a personality I struggle with. Like a friend who I enjoy the occasional company of, we don’t socialise very often. Although beautiful, it can be harsh, unforgiving, dark and cold. I’d never judge anyone, certainly not by character alone, but I prefer my friends, and seasons, a touch more forgiving.
Winter is a dark time for me, not just in terms of short days either. I find the time between December and March difficult. I’m an outdoors person, I demand sunlight. Energised over the summer months, my batteries re-charge. By the time I come up for air in March those cells are dangerously flat, sometimes almost empty. It’s not a conscience decision, nor a path I deliberately take, I have no control, I feel how I feel.
Of course there are elements of the austere months where I come out of the dark for a while. A sunny day, the crisp, cold times where deep blue skies contrast with a crisp, white land. Trying, yearning to suck every last miniscule portion of pathetic warmth I can discover. Winter is beautiful in its own right, and the countryside shines a different light.
But, the closer to Spring I get, the further up from the depths I swim, reaching for the surface with outstretched arms until I break the barrier and heave in a delicious lungful of the new season.
This is my time and I drink it, I’ll take more than my fair share, devouring to way past full. Anticipation of the next few months, and it starts right now. Blink and you will miss what is happening out there. The seasons pause for no one. Each day I see the changes, the progress made. The wild garlic merely poking through musty soil, then a week later the broad leaves have matured, shining and signalling with a delicious aroma (we’re over here!). Primroses, absent but primed one day, then the following day sporting closed buds bursting with enthusiasm until a week later yellow splatters the woods. An artist’s palette yearning for contrast. Bluebells will oblige the harmony in a few weeks, perhaps my favourite sight of spring. A brazen carpet of such a unique colour that I never experience the same hue anywhere else.
Nettles, the new growth, vibrant green poking through last season’s old. Young leaves I miss, a taste that will now accompany my camp meals along with wild garlic, tossed in for just a minute to transform camp food.
The ground changes. Slowly the leaves will lift, part to one side and allow the virgin vegetation to change the floor of the woods from a crisp clutter of dead browns to a new, living and breathing visual delight.
Trees offer the finale. I can almost feel the impatience, waiting for leaves. Slowly, each species comes to life, each corner of the woods changing until a giant canopy has unfolded. The oak, beech, birch, ash and accomplices waiting their turn. Amazed at the birth of one, the subsequent cacophony of green always make me smile. The love of looking skyward, revelling in sunlight chinks and the illumination of broad leaves.
This is all happening now. Patience is not a trait of spring.
Gradually and gratefully I’ll acknowledge a few temperature teasers. The chill diminishes, the cold days recede, a losing battle with my new friend – warmth. Now I live in the change, an odd place between winter and spring. A place where winter struggles to let go, to admit defeat, and spring fights to regain control once more. A frosty night, a misty morning that slowly dissipates and surrenders to hazy sunshine. I pause on my walk and lift my grateful face upwards and suck it in.
Shadows lengthen and stay for longer. The dents, creases and ripples of my home on the South Downs take on a new personality, playing around with light and shade. Summer storm clouds, a day’s anger clashing with blue, sunlight streaking through breaks and racing across the landscape.
I’m just following the lead of the animals. A glimpse of an adder sliding away through the grass. Rabbits diving back to the hedgerow, a startled fox adamant she had the woods to herself. The call of the birds, more and more of them every day, new songs as we progress.
My pack drops a little later in the day and I wake earlier in the morning. My load lightens, my path dries and a jacket is discarded. My throat dries and I yearn for water, sunglasses at the ready.