On Winter

Trees in WinterWhy do we do it? Every year. There's this point at which suddenly you realize you've come too far. It was nice for awhile; the crisp air, fauvist leaves, log fires, mulled cider. Then one day you wake up and the leaves have all fallen and made a wet black paste on your garden path. The sun sets at 3:55 pm. Even the trees are shivering. Here you are again. Arrived on the doorstep of winter. Ahead of you the months stretch: a lonely highway of sub-zero temperatures, fickle snowfall, dark mornings, sore throats from dry central heating.

Why do we do it? We don't have to do it. Where I come from the mild cool of the season is refreshing, not heart-wrenching. Things blossom, turn green. The rainfall is unpredictable and comes in waves; one wet week, one dry. Things flood. The sea turns brown. The days are still warm enough to warrant a little sunbathing at midday, if you're so inclined. If people wear coats at all it's because a thousand photographs and films have told them that this is how people dress in December. Obviously I mis-remember it because I am not there. I glorify it and pretend that the storms don't wear on the soul, that the isolation of a flooded week is not enough to anyone crazy, that there aren't chilly days spent huddled by the heater with a mug of tea. But still.

Here we seek solace in distractions, easy fixes. Vitamins and vacations. We think if we stay under the lamplight for long enough we'll somehow also stay afloat. We look forward with impassioned tenderness to Spring, even though we know it will be an uncomfortable season of waiting and hoping and accidentally under-dressing. We mope and we drink too hard and we sniffle and cough and think no-one's ever gone through this before. Even though, obviously, hundreds of thousands of people have, and will, and are.

But then, there's something good, too. The first flecks of snow on a pale cheek. The cheer of Christmas, the warmth of a pub fireplace. A brisk walk. The need for a coat. Why do we do it? I guess because, after all, it's reassuring, it reassures us of the cyclical nature of things. It tells us, not everything is unpredictable. It's so unfailingly predictable, in fact, that it's comforting as a warm summer day, if you really think about it. For those of us who are afraid we might ever take things for granted, it says, don't take things for granted. We do it because otherwise we would be adrift. It's something to hold on to.