The winter solstice happened just under an hour ago as I write this. Henceforth (until June) it all gets better, the days get longer.
This beautiful photo, taken by my cousin Alison, conjures up for me the thrill of light emerging from the dark and seems just right for this moment of the year.
It’s a wild and windy night outside, with nothing about it of summer days to come. But as I raced back from a North Manchester park on darkening streets with my granddaughter, I suddenly remembered that the solstice was about to happen and was so excited. I don’t know why it takes me this way, like a child about Christmas, but it does. I am tired and feel I have a cold coming on, but am nevertheless absurdly happy just in this moment. I think for me the lengthening days and returning light are a promise that life goes on, a reminder of all that it means to me: all that light and warmth and love.
So the Spiced Salt Beef (Sugar, spice, memory) made its appearance yesterday, along with other dishes not as long in the making. It was our first party here in Heckington and, unlike at my London party in March, the guests were (almost all) people we have only met very recently. It was very nice to have the house full of people and we enjoyed ourselves.
This sort of cooking takes me back to parties in times gone by. I think of the first party we gave in Manchester, in a terrace house which seemed huge compared to partner’s flat we had just moved out of. Like yesterday it was in dead of winter and we didn’t know anyone very well. It was also rather quiet, which yesterday wasn’t.
Yesterday we ate a chicken and celery salad which reminded me of the coronation chicken I made a lot in the late 70s and early 80s. We also had Tourteau Fromage (see photo below) which is a bit like a cheesecake and a bit like a custard tart. It comes from Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking, her first book, published in 1951, nine years before my birth, and a seminal influence on my life even when I was too young to know it. Tourteau Fromage is the sort of pastry I always hope to find when peering through the bakery window in some small French town.
I went out in the dark to the shops this afternoon, with a sense of winter gloom. But I counted less than four weeks to the solstice, felt the triumph of the light to come, felt excited like a child, as though I could see the sun shine again and the trumpets sounding. There is a miracle in the inexorable rhythm of the seasons, the certainty of change.
And what better way to cheer ourselves in winter than by having parties? We can’t see to tend the land but we can see our friends.
Soon we will have been in Lincolnshire a year. Autumn is moving into winter and the landscape is beginning to look bright and spare and empty as it did on my very first walks here.
I found the phrase ‘all sky and geometry,’ describing the fenland landscape, quoted from the poet John Clare on the Woodlands Farm website. Now I have found Clare’s collected works among my partner’s books and am reading his nature poetry for the first time. I love ‘all sky and geometry;’ it exactly describes the abstract art that I find around me, especially at this time of year (see this old post).
Today was cold but beautiful and I walked on Great Hale Fen, with low, slanting afternoon sun gilding the ploughed fields; I walked along Car Dyke, the drainage ditch dug by the Romans and then past the windmill and the station on my way home to Heckington.
The photos here, with their straight lines and angles, are ones which make me think of geometry, as well as art. Many of the lines are man-made: the railway, electricity cables, drainage ditches and field boundaries. But always, all around there is that flat-line of a horizon, earth meeting sky, outside us and beyond our reach.
The folk group, LAU play a piece called Horizontigo, a response to the fenland landscape by musician Kris Drever, who comes from Orkney. Here they are playing it. I love the title: and wonder if Horizontigo is what a friend was suffering from when she said all my blog photos of flat landscapes were making her dizzy (see Flat vs bumpy post).
More of the photos from my walk are on the Facebook page. Do pay it a visit and ‘Like’ it if you haven’t already.
Autumn has a sadness to it as days grow short and cold and vegetation dies all around us. Yet it has its own energy and pace; the dying plants are reproducing, new life lying in wait for the spring. Fruits and seeds feed us, feed other animals; more life arising out of death.
I have felt a childlike, secretive excitement this year, anticipating the colours and change of autumn, the season Lincolnshire has yet to show me. And as the days shorten, I feel the world racing towards the solstice, into that darkness from which we emerge into the light once more.
‘Mellow fruitfulness,’ said Keats in his Ode to Autumn. Yes, my autumns are full of fruit. But mellow? My autumns are a busy time, when I dream of jars and preserving pans.
Our new garden has just one apple tree, but the hedgerows are dripping with blackberries, elderberries, rowanberries, rosehips. And house after house has a table outside selling excess apples or plums for next to nothing.
Last autumn, sweating over chutneys in our Manchester kitchen, waiting for the house to sell, allotment produce heaped around me, I imagined this next one would be slower, quieter, with a pace like Keat’s lovely poem.
I hadn’t reckoned with the bounty of the English countryside. Once again I have been sweating, chopping, stirring: stuffing summer into bottles while partner makes wine out of everything.
Back home in the flatlands and out for an evening bike ride on Star Fen: I love this place for its pretty name and for being so quiet and remote, so close to our village.
The photos can’t do justice to the quality of the light at this time of day; nor to the cute and curious alpacas who live on the fen. The bike is my ‘second-best’ one, old but lovely, recently come here to live from my mum’s house and out for her first spin on the fen roads.
A day later I walked with Boston Ramblers on the last of their summertime evening walks. In July we walked until 9pm, but yesterday the light was fading fast when we finished at 8.15. We walked briskly by road and river at South Kyme (see South Kyme by Ferry Lane). I drove home into a dusky sky streaked with pink, watching the lights of combine harvesters on the dark road ahead.
Late summer is deceptive, a time of contrasts; in the still, slow heat plants are racing to reproduce and while some of us laze on bank holiday beaches farmers are working into the night to bring the harvest in.
If you’ve been following for a while, you may remember No longer the dog field about the arrival of sheep in the field at the end of our road, making it a no-go area for our bloodthirsty lurchers.
Yesterday the sheep and their now quite well grown lambs were suddenly gone, leaving only close-cropped sward and the odd hank of fleece behind them. Bob, the very elderly three-legged lurcher, is no longer going for proper walks, but Naughty Doris scampered happily round the field this morning. We went back later on my return from a walk with the Boston Ramblers (a pleasant tramp in lovely evening light at Swineshead, a few miles down the A17).
It was at Swineshead Abbey that King John was supposedly poisoned by a monk in 1216; the village sign depicts the event (click here to see it).
In no time at all the dog field will be out of bounds again when the famous Heckington Show is on. Meanwhile, the view above is what I see when heading back into the village after our walk. For a prettier, though less seasonal picture, see View from the dog field.
This was taken from our bedroom window at about 9.30 pm. We have just moved from the back of the house to the front, seeing if early morning traffic noise (yes, there is some) disturbs us less than the noisy dawn chorus. The front of the house faces almost north, just a little west, so at this point in the year the sun goes down behind the houses across the road. Earlier in the year it was setting in the west, behind the church (see Moonrise and This too shall pass).
Picture below was an attempt to catch the very last little bit of light, at coming up to 11 at night. Looking forward to the longest day/shortest night, though with it comes the sadness of the days slowly beginning to shorten again.