I claim to be a winter child. I was born into a hard winter. Because of that or for unrelated reasons, I love this darkest of seasons. I look forward to the dark nights and the cold. I especially look forward to the frost and the snow. I love the jollity of the festive season: all glitter and lights and fun and frivolity.
But that is only the beginning of winter. We speak of the solstice, the turning of the year, as if it were mid-winter. Maybe once upon a time it was. No longer. If anything, it now marks the end of Autumn and the beginning of winter. In this country we're more likely to have snow on Easter Day than Christmas Day.
Wherever the beginning and end of winter get marked on the calendar…and whatever oddities our changed world climate brings us in terms of weather…for certain is that January is a winter month.
For all the optimism of new year and new resolution, January is known to be a depressive month. A month of dark days and dark thoughts.
Perhaps that's just because we're over-optimistic on the resolution front and find ourselves failing before the month is even out. Perhaps it's because we were paid early before Christmas and have a long time to the next pay-day, a long time living on left-overs and credit cards. Perhaps it is because we've taken down the tree and the glitter and the room looks oddly bare without its sparkle. The garden is a wreck and we haven't enough energy or enough daylight to go out and fix it.
Perhaps it's because we return to work to find that nothing has really changed. The problems haven't miraculously disappeared into Santa's sack to be whisked away to the frozen north. The energy-sappers still lurk in the corridors and the meeting rooms. Tinkerbell's wand had limited effect and most of the work still needs to be done.
Perhaps it's because we're expecting a shiney new year, and what we get is the old one re-booted.
For too many folk, rather than the clean-slate new-start go-for-it hype of the first few days of the month, January overall is a let-down. The days might be longer, but who can tell when we still go to work in the dark and come home in the dark? Therein lays the problem. We think the days are dark, because the darkness is all we see of them. Because the days seem to be dark, we think we must succumb to dullness.
It needn't be so, not if we look for the light.
I've been rootling back through photos of previous Januarys and find enough bright sunlit days, snow-whitened days, diadems of spiders webs strung in the hedgerows, frosted tweazles and frozen puddles to lay the ghost of dark January. We simply need to brave the weather and go outside. Look for the light.
In my part of the world, this year has been born into mostly grey days…but even so….
New Year's Day was dry and weakly-sunlit enough for walking home through the city, looking for quirky things I hadn't spotted before, street art and dressed trees and permission to break the rules.
The next night cleared for the magic of the Wolf Moon spotlighting the dancing clouds to have us out at midnight looking skywards.
Dull skies didn't prevent reflections in the river. And the birds still sang.
Of course, not everything goes according to plan. One walk was pretty-much abandoned within fifteen minutes as the not-really-rain soaked through all the same and the wind chilled…and all I could think was the quickest way home that would still make it worth having come out into this. What really made it worth it was the hot shower, and the warmth of my reading chair, an old-world book and a guiltless Southern Comfort. Sometimes, going out is all about the coming home.
Mostly though going out is about getting outside – yes, even in January. Dark skies always look darker through the window. They're often lighter once there is nothing between you and them. You don't need to make an expedition of it, just pull on the winter gear and walk your local park, your nearest patch of woodland, or riverbank. Or walk through town and look up – see what the sky is really doing – or look down for traces of history – or just look around and gift a smile or too to a stranger. It'll brighten your day and may change theirs.
I'm lucky to have river and marsh and woods and broads and heath and parks and overgrown cemeteries and cathedrals and mediaeval streets and markets all within walking distance of my city home – but even you don't have this richness, there is bound to be something within striking distance, something worth pausing to take a look at – something beautiful or quirky – something to make you smile and be glad you wrapped up warm and went out into the cold.
Go on – I dare you – seek out the outside of January, you'll find it brighter than you thought.
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