Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Darkest Days

And so we have come to the darkest days. It happens every year and yet it always amazes me - all that uncompromising and dependable cyclic nature of the seasons (that is of course ignoring the impending prospect of ongoing climate change, but no doom and gloom in this post!). It's a harsh beauty - all that distancing from the sun leading to a dark and cold time, counter balanced by Christmas lights and beautiful frosty mornings...but all to be reversed come Saturday and the winter solstice (yay). 

'tis the season to be Holly
And why so harsh? Harsh because there is a stark absence of green and yellow and orange and red - the palette of the autumn that we love to watch in the easy days of October and November. Now there is only brown, grey, green and a tinge of blue - brown on the ground, grey on the trunks, some green in the trailing ivy (deceptively widespread in the woods and welcome shelter for blackbird and smaller woodland bird species) and blue in the sky, but blue only ever for precious minutes when the sun peeps over the horizon and the sky is refreshingly clear of grey clouds.  The storms of the last few weeks have completely stripped the oaks and the beech of the Charleville woods and the leaves are rapidly disintegrating back into the earth - the very fabric of the stuff that will bring forth next year's pale green recruits. Fresh faced leaves that will be ready for a season of turning light and carbon dioxide gas into food for the colossal stems that support them - the giant wooden towers of beech and the king oaks. I know - amazing really. Those small and unassuming power houses of green energy that turn light into sweet sugar. And all because of chloroplasts....but, I digress into the minutia...

It's also harsh because we have to wrap up in warm clothes and blanket-like scarves to shut out the cold and the damp. Sandals no longer work and wellies are de rigeur. Holly doesn't bother with either of course - she is an all-weather and all-functional kind of girl. And Alannah is amazingly immune to the cold - she is wrapped up of course but these days she stays awake on our winter walks, staring up into the broken canopy. What is she thinking? She is obviously stunned into silence because at all other times she is cooing and gurgling and 'talking' in her own sweet way. I try to talk to her about the trees and the birds, and the red squirrel that we've met three times now - always scarpering up the same tree - but she is blissfully immune to my breaking the silence. And all the while she just stares with those beautiful blue eyes - her, silent. It's all waiting for her to discover. 

And what about the beauty? Well, apart from Alannah and the bold Holly, the beauty is in feeling the biting cold breeze as we walk through the open fields, the warmth of the blinding winter sun when the clouds break and the feeling that spring is beckoning already - it's there in the knowing song of the blackbird - waiting beyond these darker, damper days. 

And what else do we do these days apart from get into the thick of it in the wintery woods? Very little I'm afraid. Bringing up baby is very basic - feeding, changing, bathing, coaxing to sleep, entertaining, distracting and then a bit of writing and emailing for me when I get a chance - laptop balanced on a cushion and writing with one hand over a sleeping baby. Some highlights of the past few weeks - the walking in the woods and the hinterlands of provincial Irish towns of course (over 100miles of the 1000 target), a successful heart saving exercise for Alannah's granny (my mother), various jaunts into town to catch up with friends for pre-Christmas coffees, the launch of Paddy Woodworth's great book Our Once and Future Planet (more of that again), and meeting up with work mates at the annual Biodiversity Action meeting. 

Holly is such a kidder...
I guess the greatest highlight of all is being a passive onlooker to the wonder that is a child's pace of growing. She is standing, rolling, watching, giving orders and basically, increasingly, ruling the roost. However, I'm reminded by the experts in the field of mothering that this status quo must change in order for peace and balance to reign. And so once Christmas is over, we must all - Holly and No. 1 Dad included - develop the elusive and all important baby routine....we shall have wait and see. In the meantime we'll stick with the policy of going with the flow, however chaotic that is. It always seemed to be so much more fun to me...

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