Monday, 3 February 2014


For the last month I’ve been feeling gloomy. I know it’s January - the typical time of year for moribund bodies and morose minds: post festive, pre-spring; cold and dull outside; short days and long nights… But it hasn’t been these usual, causal factors of SAD-ness (Seasonally Adjusted Disorder) – for me it’s more of a case of aseasonal disorder. It hasn’t felt like we’ve had a proper winter this year. No hoar frosts that turn the world into a glittering white overnight; no cold, crisp air that sears invigoratingly into the lungs; no flurry of delicate snowflakes that makes the heart flutter. Just wind and rain. (The wettest winter month since the beginning of time, apparently - at least weather-recording time). And every corner of the countryside is coloured by an insipid palette of green and grey, merging murkily, without seasonal definition or distinctiveness. Apart from the leafless trees it could be any season.

In the unseasonably mild temperatures the stirrings of spring have come early: snowdrops already nodding their white bonneted heads, primroses already baring their pale pretty faces, bird-song is already animando - whilst my own internal tune is defiantly dolente. To accept and appreciate the accelerating signs of spring, I need first to be hardened and revitalised by a seasonal spell of cold; like a limp lettuce leaf refreshed in the chiller compartment. Like other native species in this country, I need vernalization…

Vernalization - the subjection of seeds or seedlings to low temperature in order to hasten later development and flowering. The seeds and buds of many plants require cold in order to break dormancy.
That’s it: a cold snap to break my emotional dormancy. But this blunt and blustery winter just wasn’t cutting the mustard. Then, whilst hearing myself complain to a friend, it dawned on me that maybe it was my attitude that needed to change, rather than the weather. I should get out into the elements, to seek out the wintriness...

So last week I opened my front door and went for a winter’s walk. I walked slowly, and lengthily, through fields and woods, taking my time to tune in, keeping eyes and ears open. I meditated on the bleakness of bare branches silhouetted against the grey horizon. I listened to the plaintive call of a solitary crow, echoing in the mist. It wasn’t particularly cold, but as I stood still in the damp, clinging air, and staying outside for longer than usual, I was beginning to feel chilled. I watched a startled flock of redwings, winter migrants, scatter across the sky then reassemble in a tall lime tree, like thoughts alighting upon a good idea.

My own vernalization had begun, gently, but was about to be completed at high velocity. Later that same day I went for a late-night, dark-moon, high-speed bike-ride through Dorset holloways; on the back of a tandem. Although the atmosphere was perfectly still, with chimney smoke from roadside cottages rising unwaveringly vertical, the night air was soon flowing flat against my face, and rushing bracingly across my bare knuckles. A pint, and another, in a pleasant country pub in a remote hamlet, and then we were back in the saddle, with a star-studded sky above us and clear, crisp air around us. As we raced downhill I felt the sharp, brittle cold penetrate my bones, turning my skin red and raw. It felt good, enlivening, and wonderfully wintry. By the time I got home I was vernalized (par velo). Now I feel seasonally adjusted, and no longer gloomy, ready for the beginning of the beginning of spring…

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