May is such a magical month. Forgive me for being terribly British and talking about the weather, but indulge me for a minute.
Glorious blue sky, bright sunshine that calls you outside, seeming almost to reach in with warm soft fingers, take your hand and draw you through the door before you realise it. Trees are beginning to wear a halo of green, though some still stand almost bare after a cold, wet start to spring. Birds are calling, even the boy is noticing the different kinds hopping in the hedgerows, and somehow the screech of two cats yowling at each other is softened and sounds like part of the liveliness of the day.
Perhaps we appreciate it more after a week of grey skies, hail and winter vests. (A week which followed months of actual winter, as opposed to a spring which couldn’t make up its mind.) Perhaps if you live where the sun always shines bright and the sky is always blue, you long for a soft, grey, even rainy, day. But here, today, nothing could be more perfect than the festival of spring that’s unfolding in my back garden.
When a child sees snow after two years of hoping, there is magic in the air.
It may be only a sprinking, but it’s definitely fairy dust to us.
Here’s a picture of a common spindle tree with its fabulous and very oddly-shaped pink berries. They seem to be everywhere in the hedgerows I stomp along when I’m escaping from my desk. (You’ll find some much better pictures than the one I snapped with my phone here.) It’s a really beautiful plant and makes a fantastic contrast with the blue sky which made a brief appearance between rainstorms recently.
Spindle is a lovely character in Duncton Quest by William Horwood, one of my favourite books, and I’m slightly ashamed to admit that until I read the book I had no idea that spindle was a tree. I knew it was a thing for spinning wool, and since I learnt of the existence of the bush (tree? shrub?) I’ve vaguely wondered if it was used to make spindles. Well, half a minute with Wikipedia tells me that, yes, it was. And this rather fascinating site says it also makes very good charcoal and can get rid of headlice and ticks! But it’s also poisonous to people, so don’t try this at home.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if I’d been gazing at my feet as I stomped along I would have missed this beauty and thought only of the muddy path beneath me. I wouldn’t have come home and gleaned new facts to squirrel away for future use or interest. I’d have spent my life believing that all berries are round. (Spindle berries are multi-faceted and strangely pointed in several directions.) I wouldn’t have been reminded of a book I read and loved years ago and I wouldn’t have started wondering whether a spindle branch laden with berries would make a good locally-sourced Christmas decoration instead of holly.
Looking up and noticing what’s around lets the brain make all kinds of connections, and opens our eyes to beauty – beauty that’s always there and beauty that’s seasonal.
Suffolk is apparently one of the driest counties in the UK. Ha, not this week. In our village, walking the half mile from home to school these days involves super-human feats of leaping across (or wading through) ankle-deep mud-puddles that cover the whole pavement. Then there are the high-speed dashes to safety to avoid the car-induced tidal waves that threaten to engulf you.
It’s a glamorous life. Waterproof coats and even waterproof trousers are essential. Wellies too, of couse, otherwise you may have to choose between wet and muddy feet or an undignified piggy-back over the lakes that are spreading everywhere.
But it’s real. Heavy grey skies and cold, driving rain may not be everyone’s (or, indeed, anyone’s) weather of choice, but it’s part of the seasonal cycle and I’m privileged to be able to get outside in the fresh open air to experience (if not always enjoy) nature doing its thing.
I spent most of yesterday – when I wasn’t paddling through the village in my wellies dodging the waves and sliding in the mud – on dry, over-heated trains and in draughty concrete and steel station buildings, and I felt grubby and stuffy and not-quite-real. Give me a bit of good honest mud and sheeting rain any day. Just promise me dry clothes and a hot cup of tea afterwards!
I’m taking a week to enjoy autumn – now it’s finally beginning to arrive.
It’s just dawned on me that school holidays offer that possibility. There’s the summer break – that’s obvious. But then there’s October half term (autumn); Christmas and February half term (two opportunities to experience two faces of winter!) and then Easter and spring.
It’s so easy to barrel through life, head down and not looking to right and left. I’m going to take a week to look up, and to left and right, to play in the leaves and let the wind tangle my hair. See you in November.
Some years I’m inspired by the glowing red globes of the tomato mountain spilling out of the greenhouse and into the kitchen, and I happily cook up pots of delicious tomato chilli jam. (Fantastic with sausages, cheese – pretty much anything, in fact.)
This year, despite the glowering and the threats from the tomatoes every time I walk into the kitchen, the cupboard remains bare of any tomato-related preserves, and I’m refusing to feel guilty. Everything is seasonal, and I’m sure my kitchen goddess persona (ha ha) will return another day, another season. For now, she’s frolicking in other pastures. Or something.
A friend told me recently that she’d been inspired by my blog. Delighted as I was, I laughed out loud when she said she’d been inspired to not work at home! She’d had her season of doing that and now she needed to go out to work and leave the domestic stuff behind. And I completely understand that. While I’ll not be leaving my haven of domesticity, I’ll let the preserve-making slide and enjoy the late sunshine instead. This season won’t last forever.