Gaudy autumn leaves, sharp, frosty mornings, jewel-like spider webs – these things I can appreciate. At the moment the leaves haven’t all turned where I live, many are still green, and the colour, and loss of colour looks like it will be a slow affair. Somewhere beyond waits the prospect of grey. We will turn from colour towards the season of mist and mud, washed out hues and overcast gloom. The days get shorter and colder; rising in the darkness, struggling to dry laundry and trying to avoid chilblains will soon be on the agenda. I don’t find winter easy.
Many people are affected by the lack of sun over the winter months, and are more vulnerable to depression as a consequence. As I walk for transport, I get more light than average, and spend my working day sat at a window, getting what natural light there is. No doubt, this all helps. It took me years to figure out that what I suffer most over, is the loss of colour.
The winter we were renting the flat, and obliged to live with relentlessly white walls and a beige carpet, really brought home to me how much I need colour. Since we bought the flat, increasing the colour has been a major priority for me. Yellow living room walls, a purple kitchen, the hall is blue, there are rugs, and art has gone up on the walls. Lampshades, textiles… I protect myself from the dark months ahead with amounts of colour that my mediaeval ancestors would no doubt approve of.
This is in interesting contrast to how I dress myself. I prefer dark colours, lots of black, simple patterns if any, simple shapes. I like to dress quietly, but live in environments rich with colour and detail. I am more interested in what I can look at, than in being looked at.
Sun in winter makes a huge difference to me, because it changes the world outside so dramatically. Last winter, we walked over the hills to my mother’s house, on a day of incredible light. The fields, hills, and the River Severn had extraordinary colours, and the sharp winter light brought an almost uncanny kind of clarity to otherwise familiar scenes. I find the cold easier to bear if there is light, and the short days easier to tolerate when there are standout moments full of colour.
In the last hundred years or so, western humans have done a lot to insulate themselves from the winter. We have far more light, heat, insulation and comfort than our ancestors. We import foods from around the world, so that winter doesn’t have to be a bland food time full of dried things soaked and boiled alongside a narrow selection of root vegetables. But we do this at a cost to the wellbeing of the planet as a whole.
Living more lightly than is normal, I feel the winter keenly. I feel it when I’m walking for transport, and when the drying of laundry has to be a daily consideration. I don’t buy much in the way of fresh exotica, and the root stews will dominate my winter months, and I will miss the fresh greens and the soft ripe fruits, but I believe in walking my talk, so I can’t ward off winter in these ways. Colour on the walls though, and cheerful textiles I can have, and the latter mostly comes from cunning acts of upcycling otherwise unusable things. Working with fabrics through the winter also creates a feeling that I am working to protect myself from the cold, and means the colourful things are in my hands and getting my direct attention.
I will never love this time of year, I will never welcome it. I recognise it, and respect it, and intend to work with it as best I can. With a bit of luck, I can find ways to ward off the worst of it, without having to get involved in unsustainable things.