the bleak midwinter

Mostly people said when we moved 400 miles North in late 2021, “It’ll be cold’ or variations there on: my sister (from when the family lived here), the owners of our holiday rental in Argyll, our new neighbours even…  The cold seemed to come early, a quick slip from vibrant Autumn to November snow and muted Winter.


As I sat and watched a programme about the origins of our favourite Christmas carols, a theme came to mind. At junior school (CofE) we sang a lot of carols and my favourite was ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. Now I know why: music by Holst, words by Rosetti.



I thought winter here would be shades of grey. Icy. ‘Frosty wind made moan.’ Mild days were scarce. But with the New Year the air stilled for January and the sun has often been out to ease the chill. It’s been uplifting; good for the spirits.


Colour is back.



Is this winter a tale of two halves? A third act will surely follow and I expect the rest of February and March to chide us for thinking winter so modest.



Above all the northern light, reflected from a big sky, has been majestic. I feel at times as if I’m in a Dutch landskap painting. Even watching the multi-stemmed elder over the fence is magical as the last of the light, after the sun has dropped over the hills, is reflected back to earth. I can’t remember seeing such luminosity.


Walking out recently, it occurred to me that while I didn’t feel I had reached the terminus with my images of water, I had in a sense been given a lift back to the station.


I am now setting out on a different bus. I haven’t looked to see what it says on the front; I have no destination in mind. I don’t want a timetable. I’d rather see where it goes and stop off on the way when the mood takes me.


I’m developing new palettes. Lichen green and grey. Reflected blues from the sky. The golds of reeds, rush and grass. Grey clouds, pine green, purple birch, white snow. I can however see parallels between the sun's script on the water and nature's mark-making in growth.



And always that luminous light reflected by the big northern sky that defies description: blue-grey, magnificent. I already know that I will miss winter when it ends.



I’m perhaps beginning to string together a few first phrases in my new tongue: fractal patterns of branch and (lichen) moss, ink lines on water, the sharp mixed with the soft, building layers. How it feels is as important as how it looks.


Evoke rather than describe.



Today was another beautiful morning, the sort that makes you dawdle and transforms what was intended to be a walk into something longer, slower and with frequent stops. I can’t think of a winter that has been less bleak (thus far). When I conceived of this as a theme, I expected my images would major on frost, ice and snow. I didn’t expect such colour, or such light. Outages aside, we have been truly blessed.


And with that we’re into more named storms and there is talk on the radio of possible power cuts… Despite appearances, this situation isn’t usual and people I’ve spoken to cannot remember anything similar in the last 30+ years. Arwen cut a swathe in from the north, and now the woods and strips entertain the winds from the west in ways that did not previously occur.


On Friday winter came back, and Eunice brought us eight inches of snow. It wasn't easy to make images in!



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