A northern light

winter field

There is so much light here. I think the brown, gold, green fields have drunk the light from the sky and hold it like water. On the greyest day they seem luminous to me.

A yoga class has started in Heckington – an excellent thing for the start of a new year. It is a long time since I went to one and beginning again after a gap takes me back to other classes in other places. The very first, in my twenties, was in a huge hall in Brixton, full of people, none of whom spoke at all. I never went back.

The relaxation at the end is supposed to be the nicest part, but only in my fifties am I beginning to enjoy it. Still I sometimes find myself tetchily wondering why the teacher is visualising for us a sun-kissed beach, somewhere far away I can’t imagine.

I liked the beach in today’s class, with dunes, wild flowers and a sunset. I imagined myself not on warm sand but on a beach like those I visited last winter at Saltfleetby or Skegness.

Years ago those yoga relaxations always brought tears, as I let go of the tension holding me together. Today I felt the lightness at my core rather than grief; today I was dancing by a northern sea under a light, bright, endless sky.

Hooray! The light returns.

Winter light - Alison

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.

This is what I wrote on this day last year, in more solemn mood.

And now I must go and cook some sausages and peel some potatoes. Life goes on…

People and places, revisited

Sunset in the winter garden

So I ponder this paradox: that I don’t love this city, find little beauty or joy in its many faces, and yet so many places in it remind me of love.

I wrote this a year ago today, two days before leaving Manchester.

These themes, of connection to place and connection to people have continued to preoccupy me in the past year while I have been writing this blog. Many people, I guess, though definitely not everyone will have a time in their life when they face this kind of split; when the people they love and the place where they feel at home are far apart.

As I have approached the anniversary of us moving here, I have been missing Manchester friends and family very much, both a wider group of people we had known over many years and a few, very close friends, and my daughter and grandchildren, whose company I miss every day.

And yet I wouldn’t go back. There has not been one minute, one time since arriving here when I wished myself living in Manchester again.

In Manchester I used to try to summon up a sense of homecoming as I approached my house, my street after being away; but my pleasure at coming home to my loved ones, my familiar surroundings, was always tinged with nelancholy. How odd to have lived in a place for so long and never loved it. Is it something wrong with me or just that we didn’t fit?

If I left here and came back, I imagine myself falling on my knees, digging my hands in the earth like an exile coming home.

In fact sometimes I want to do just that, even now: the earth looks so luscious in the bare, ploughed winter fields.

‘All sky and geometry’

Field and gate

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.

And for more on John Clare and his poetry, see these recent pieces by George Monbiot and Andrew Motion:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/09/john-clare-poetry
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/18/featuresreviews.guardianreview5?guni=Article:in%20body%20link

Line to Boston

Fruits of my labour

So much work, such little jars!

It is gloomy-grey and pouring with rain outside. The conservatory is the only place in the house where there’s enough light to photograph all these jars. It’s a day for conjuring up the sun, in thought if not in fact, as I said in my rose petal post in June:

That’s the magic we make with preserves, we bottle summer, make ourselves a memory and a promise it will come again, for when we are lost in depths of winter.

This is my last preserving post for the time being, just as the rosehip syrup of Monday’s post was the last outing for bottles, jars and jelly bags – until February and marmalade-time come around again. I thought you might like to know what I have been making this year.

Jams: rose & rhubarb, redcurrant & gooseberry, black & redcurrant, plum with cumin, blackberry & plum and fig & plum.

Chutneys (made by self or partner): courgette & apricot, green tomato, damson & apple and spicy mixed vegetable.

Also: cucumber pickle, hawthorn ketchup, rowan jelly, black hedgerow jelly and plum & apple mincemeat for Christmas.

Then there was the membrillo or quince cheese, which kept me up, watching and stirring, until 3 o’clock in the morning. And jars and jars of fruit compotes and sauces, mostly apple, with blackberry, quince or plum. Our one apple tree was laden and we couldn’t bear to throw away such good food, even onto the compost heap.

I love this laying down the bounty of summer and autumn against winter’s scarcity, even though it’s no longer necessary. It connects me to the changing seasons, the turning year, and to centuries of people doing this before me. It gives me a comforting sense of prudence and providing; and feeds my sense of history.

I must remember all this next time I am swearing and sweating in the kitchen over a pan of fruit. Next year perhaps I will remember to invite friends to share the work and bounty both – though not to stay up until the early hours!

Tap the photo for a bigger version if you want to read all those little labels.

A holiday feeling

Coffee

We’ve had a few days away, taking Doris the dog and the campervan off to visit cousins in Suffolk and friends in Essex. In Colchester one morning I found myself in last-days-of-summer, holiday mood, seeing colours, shapes and interest in the most ordinary of corners.

I wonder what brings on these hard-to-pin-down states. This was a sunny day, with winter forecast to arrive the following morning and so there was a definite sense of carpe diem; and our friends are especially easy and relaxing to be with. But still, what was there about a small coffee bar and a medium-interesting art exhibition (Xerography at Colchester’s new art gallery) that felt like being in some little town in Picardy on the last day of a French camping holiday?

Part of me says, don’t analyse, just be open to the surprise and the fun, accept this grace with grace. Another part of me says why save all our analysis for the miserable days? So here I am marking a happy morning, giving it a little attention and thanks.

A few more photos are on the new Facebook page.

Church door, Colchester

Summer is icumen in – at last…

Delicious roses

Well, I’m sorry about the spring we didn’t have, but glad that it’s summer now. Everything feels late and little – given that we are only starting out in this garden, but there are some things to get excited about.

There are delicious strawberries and rhubarb left by our kind predecessors; potatoes thriving on what was more or less a patch of rubble; lettuce improbably large for the tiny seed they come from; swiss chard coming along nicely; beetroot and turnips needing urgent weeding; squash plants romping over the lawn and two tiny courgettes not quite big enough to leave their mother…

And there are the most fragrant, beautiful, sweet roses, piles of which are about to turn into rhubarb and rose petal jam. Already I’m imagining it as dessert on some dreary cold day. That’s the magic we make with preserves, we bottle summer, make ourselves a memory and a promise it will come again, for when we are lost in depths of winter.

The sun was shining when I began to write and now I look out of the window and it is raining – hooray, the garden needs it!

Postscript: if I believed in heaven, it would smell like this jam…

Rose jam

Waiting for spring

The sun has been shining for the past couple of days, but it is still very cold. The equinox has been and gone and British Summer Time is with us. We have the light but not the warmth; this spring is too long coming.

Daughter and grandbabies have been here for a few days. Pictures here are from a walk after seeing them off on the train yesterday. I tried a new route out of the village, via a footpath which implausibly crosses the busy A17 and then over to Star Fen. The winter colouring is still beautiful – bare black branches against a duck-egg-blue sky – but we need more green, more life, more seeds sown and food growing.

Heading back to Heckington down Littleworth Drove, I passed the field where I saw some particularly fetching sheep in winter stubble on my last walk up here (see A walk on Star Fen). I felt sad, as I do listening to the lambs bleating from the dog field, reminded of all the sheep and lambs dead in snowdrifts on hill-farms around the country.

There has been some good coverage of the crisis facing British farmers (see this recent Observer article), but I can’t help feeling that farming stories in the mainstream papers often read like those on disasters happening to other people in a far off place. Yesterday the snowstorms and the dead lambs were front page news, being hailed as the worst disaster to hit hill farmers in 60 years; I have a slight sense of shock when I cannot find a single paragraph on them in this morning’s paper.

But in the meantime, the sun is out and along with farmers and gardeners all over the country I am crossing my fingers that it stays out. Spring: bring it on, please.

Moonrise

Some of my best thinking has been done on trains in the past. Just now travel seems instead to interrupt thought and thus writing. I had another quick trip away last week, to London this time, for a mediation course. And as before, I came back with a jumbled mind and nothing to say.

For years I have felt that I needed travel to give me inspiration, ideas or stories; and have felt frustrated, angry, prevented from writing. Now ideas come at home; nothing earth-shattering perhaps, just the bits and pieces which end up on here, but so welcome. It’s such a relief to feel that openness and expansion from which thoughts bubble up, unforced, unanxious, surprising, like the best of good friends.

So perhaps, I think, it was space and light I was after, all these past years; space, light and this so-English landscape of field and hedgerow and water.

When the dogs and I came to the field yesterday afternoon, I mistook a smear of yellow light for the last of the sunset – even though, as we know, the sun sets behind the church, in the west and not the east. Then, a lovely thing, the moon appeared, a pale vast gold sphere, striped with cloud, hanging low over the fields. Found myself wondering if one can call the moon gold when traditionally she is silver; thought of Romeo and ‘yonder blessed moon… that tips with silver all these fruit tree tops.’

Today at twilight I was on my way to Grantham station. Driving due west, my way ahead was all black trees against a yellow sky fading to white; mile after mile into the dying of the light.

Collected partner off the train from happy jaunt to see Man United beat Fulham at Old Trafford. Home again in the dark, but all the way we had that moon again, huge and low and orange as a harvest moon; symbol of plenty in the depths of winter.

Monochrome

Last night when I went to bed the garden was white, under a blanket of snow as unreal as cake icing. I heard rain in the early hours and this morning, no more snow, just an ordinary garden, green again.

Some pictures I took on a walk with partner the other day have come out looking as if taken in black and white; reminders of that beautiful, bleak monochrome world that has disappeared.

If you tap or click on an image, they should come up as a gallery of larger pictures you can scroll through.