Yesterday, Mabh Savage wrote about how we encounter the dark half of the year. It’s well worth a read. I found myself agreeing with her a fair amount, and then being surprised by this, and then realising why. For many years I was one of the people she objects to – the kind of person to face the winter with dread, and sigh with relief as the solstice comes with the promise of light returning.
This year I’ve done pretty well. It has been warmer than usual, (which helps me hurt less) but also very grey (which can get to me). I’ve felt in tune with the length of the day, and have not been caught out by how early it gets dark. This winter has felt less like a desperate struggle, and that, I think, is the crux of the matter.
There can be an absolute joy in the dark part of the year, in snuggling inside, cosy with lights, food, friends and some rest after the busyness of summer. When winter is a nightmare, it’s a consequence of not having the resources to meet the demands. An unheated home, insufficient food, illness, exhaustion, fear about paying the bills… these things make for tough and miserable winters. If summer means not being cold all the time, then of course you shiver in the dark days and long for the return of the sun. Been there, done that.
It helps that I’ve invested the time in being ready for the winter. We painted the walls in the flat cheerful colours, so even on the grey days I don’t feel colour deprived. This has made a huge difference to my mood. Art, posters, plants and soft furnishings add to the cheer. We came off the boat a couple of years ago with little to furnish a home, and it takes money and time to sort that. We got new windows for the flat, and insulated the door, and I made a draft excluder, and we are warmer as a consequence. We aren’t working constantly, there’s time to rest, and the resources to enjoy life a bit more. A huge shift from boat days when we had to run the boat engine for an hour to have lights into the evening.
I own a set of fell runner’s crampons. These make it possible to walk safely on ice and on frosty ground. I’m not agile, or confident in slippery conditions. Owning spikes has made the winter a lot less frightening for me. I got them the year I lived in the Midlands and it really froze. To collect my small son from school I had to walk across a steep and entirely frozen road (I hadn’t taken him in). Any car coming down that hill would have no scope for breaking and stopping, and as other roads were clearer, people were mistakenly coming down. I set out to cross all too aware that I could fall, or be knocked down, and it was terrifying. When this is what winter looks like, it’s bloody difficult to embrace the season. Crampons allow me to walk up and down icy slopes without fear. That changes everything.
Of course if you have a tumble drier, winter laundry is no issue. It’s an ongoing struggle for me, but not as bad as it was on the boat. If you have a car, winter conditions can be less awful for travelling than if you walk. Frozen ground means a likelihood of chilblains for me. If you have central heating and aren’t obliged to keep a wood stove going, this is also a lot easier. I spent one winter in a cottage with single glazing and just the one stove for heat. That was memorably tough.
This year I can enjoy the snugly indoorsness of winter. I can rest in the darkness. I am not in a state of perpetual anxiety. I feel enormous gratitude for the relative wealth and abundance in my life that has changed my relationship with the season. I’m all too aware that for many people this year, poverty will mean the choice between eating and heating, with nothing to do but long for the spring. If you are blessed, then enjoy what this season has to offer. If you can spare some of that abundance for people who are struggling, I promise you, it makes a big difference.