Look, I know that you know I’ve not been your greatest fan. Ok, that’s an understatement, I’ve never liked you. Looking back I don’t think you’ve really ever done anything wrong. It’s not like I have some overriding memory logged in my childhood of a Winter catastrophe, but when I feel you approaching something in me shifts, and for years I’ve spent your season just looking forward to the clocks changing, bringing lighter evenings, sunshine and warmth.
It starts in Autumn. I love the colours of Autumn, but I’ve never trusted Autumn. It’s like the season approaches, looking all beautiful, leaves falling, still some late warmth in the sunshine, but I can see that it’s holding something hidden behind its back, its eyes looking elsewhere, never really catching mine directly.
“What have you got there Autumn?” I ask.
Autumn continues not to catch my eye. “….nothing…”
“Yes, you have. There. Behind your back.”
“Oh… you mean this?” Autumn replies, holding out before her a single snowflake and icicle.
And then I know that soon all of these colours will have gone. All of the leaves will have fallen leaving bare branches reaching up to silver-blue or dull-grey skies. The cold will come, and ice will cover windscreens, birds will be searching for food, and the fields will be earth brown.
No, I’ve never trusted Autumn.
I’ve recently been exploring the poetry and traditions of my Anglo-Saxon ancestors. It has to be said that they didn’t like you either. Poems from The Exeter Book describe you as a prison, a prison of ice and cold. Something to get through, to struggle and persevere, to dig deep and survive until the bliss of Spring. I think I have more in common with those ancestors than I realised.
At some of my shows, I’ve asked The Winter People to put up their hands and there are many. I have friends who love you and I’ve asked those friends what it is they love so much. Peace, calm, the chance to slow down, knowing that the Earth needs rest too, that all of life is still there, just resting and waiting. It’s always possible to put on more clothes when it’s cold, but you can only take so many clothes off when it’s too hot.
Slowly, with the help of those friends, I’ve learned to see those gifts too.
So I’m writing this letter to tell you that I now understand. That I haven’t been spending your time this year wishing you away. That I have felt your presence and know in my very soul that you are not only necessary but also bring with you your own unique gifts. They are not, and never have been, so obvious as the bluebell-carpeted woodland, or the joyous return of the Swift. Yours is a more delicate offering – at least between the Winter Storms, but I have also noticed that most of those big storms belong to your kin, late Autumn and early Spring.
Your gift is transformation and gestation. Your gift truly is peace and calm. Your gift is the clarity of your night sky, Orion clear and true. Your gift is frozen mud on a woodland walk, and sunlight-covered woodland floors with fingers of bare branches coaxing and welcoming in the light, before the woodland floor is darkened once more with the fresh green leaves of Spring. I have needed your peace more than ever this year. Particularly over the last month. I thank you for holding me gently in your light and darkness. I thank you for your stillness. I will never again take you for granted, nor wish you away – the sacred lessons you teach have taken all of my life to understand, but now they are with me.
As you begin to leave, and Spring arrives, know I am not wishing you away this year, and that I will welcome you with open arms when the Wheel has turned once more, and we call out the names of our beloved dead at Summer’s End.