Today Winter ended. Overhead the swallows tumbled and darted across the blue. The verdant fresh grass in the fields by my house swayed in long, lethargic waves in the warm wind. I sat bare-footed on my doorstep, watching the sparrows build their nests. At my feet, the garden was a profusion of green in a hundred different shades. A thousand new shoots glistened and nodded in the light breeze. Before me, the earth itself seemed to be releasing its secret fruits that had laid as if frozen and dead through the long grey winter. The artful geometry of strange and wonderful leaves from a vast range of plants astounded me with their delicacy and beauty; the course of their illuminated veins were like the passage of life itself. And so I sat and rejoiced in the exquisite and mysterious product of nature’s great majesty.
Winter had, of course, ended a few weeks ago, and we’ve even had sun and a bit of heat, here and there, since then. Two days ago I ate a mackerel in my underwear and the whole thing seemed quite natural and right. But it was only today, in the bones, that it truly felt summer’s delights had finally displaced the trials of the winter. In this small, remote town people seemed a little stunned, as if unsure to submit to enjoying the sun, or brace themselves ready for further cold, so used they have grown to it. A few young mothers were sitting outside Tesco in creased t-shirts, rocking their dozing children. Winter, here, hasn’t been – as it usually never is – the snowy wonderland of say Canada or Poland. And it has been much longer than normal, fairly dry, but incessantly steel grey, persistently cold, and devoid of the waves of wetter and slightly warmer winter days which usually offer a modicum of respite between crisp, cold days of frosty fields and achingly blue skies. No, this had been a protracted winter of discontent, seemingly unending, with hardly a snowman to kick to distract the weary mind.
Spring, as is now generally accepted, did not happen this year. Winter passed into Summer and we were all relieved.
Now my three fleeces, my three pairs of socks, my woolly hat, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of living in a British winter, all now seem a long time ago. Yet, only four weeks ago they were my safeguards – just – against cold, maybe hypothermia, perhaps madness. Once, in late March, when normally the cold of winter would be losing its grip, I cursed, as yet again I encased myself in these miserable garments. We do not, after all, live in Greenland or Alaska – so why had the permafrost of my nose become so extensive and prolonged that it had begun to spread to my top lip? Now I would like to burn my grotty fleeces in a ceremony of thanksgiving and good riddance. There will be song, prayers, ablutions, and locally-sourced traditional foods prepared by the hands of dignified frail old mothers. But I’ll probably just pop the fleeces and hat in the wardrobe ready for November. Lord, help me and all the poor children.
But how the human mind can recover, how it forgets, how it gathers its spirit and lives another day; the weakness becomes a form of strength.
Near Tesco, on a whim, I enter the church graveyard. I climb the hill and pass the church. Crows are high in the branches. Daffodils catch the sun’s rays with yellow flashes beneath the trees. It’s my Polish friend’s birthday today. I think of her. I think of Poland, which I visited last year. It had been summer. The whole place was forever bathed in a perfect light; the grass was thick underfoot, glorious, feeding on the light; cherries dotted the orchards, and the narrow fields curved over low, long hills, drawing the eye towards the darkness of the forest’s edge.
My uncle is buried in the graveyard, but, despite thinking I know the spot, I can’t find his grave. Norman Nicholson, the poet, I find. His headstone faces away from the vista of mountains he paid homage to all his life in this town. On this gently rising hill there is nothing to obstruct my view. Behind the headstone, and behind this town of Millom, bright and compact in the midday sun, Black Combe rises, heavy, brown, and further on lay the Coniston fells in a faint haze.
There are, I find, a considerable number of graves bearing Polish names. In nearby Haverigg, Polish soldiers were stationed during the Second World War. Some married local women and here they lie, side-by-side.
Here it’s impossible, of course, not to wonder, to question, if only in short, faint pulses; an awareness of knowing one thing, and not knowing the eternity against which that burning little thought lies; the moment slips by and you are walking on, wondering again, treading gently between the graves and across the narrow fields over the low, long hills…
And why stand here, waiting, when friends are afar.
Copyright © 2013 David Hansard / davidhansard.wordpress.com
All articles on davidhansard.wordpress.com are written by David Hansard unless otherwise stated.