Greg popped round today, 4pm sharp as usual, for a cup of tea and a scone. I’d seen him coming across the field, a lone figure gradually growing more solid as he cut his way through the dim light. A few minutes later and he was leaning on the doorframe as he stripped his gloves off, chapped fingers fumbling. I noticed a thready, green gossamer hole in the thumb, and wool wearing thin in other places, too, as thin as the ear of a field mouse, belying hours spent clearing away the thorny thickets and bramble patches.
Today it was as gloomy as usual, life. His boiler was packing up, he said. Couldn’t rely on the heating any more and it probably will stop working entirely any time soon! You can’t trust anyone or anything these days. As if that wasn’t enough, he can’t find out where the dripping noise is coming from, either – it’s driving him mad and is getting more insistent by the day. But that sound is nothing compared to the howling terrors that are forecast: there’s stormy weather coming. Huge gales. Thundering in from the sea…
He sighed and looked up dolefully towards the low ceiling as he clutched the flowery mug in his lap, the quaint china roses a puff of colour against his chunky, earthy jumper. Those sleeves are going to go soon, too, I thought. It’s a real shame he never lets me help with anything… This twice-weekly meeting is the only admission he makes on that front. So, lacking any other ideas, I offered him another scone and invited him to come for a walk with me. The rocks are lovely at the moment, I said, so wild and craggy. I like looking at the sea through them. Well, he refused, anyway, and after a while I waved him off down the lane, trudging with the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Silly man, I thought.
Me, I love the winter. It is a season of challenges, of contrasts and emotions. Up here, up where you can truly taste the sea and the fields and the trees in every breath you take, up here the winter is a thing of marvel. I dream of the storms in all their rage, tossing and turning the sea and the gnarled branches of the oak tree like untouchable, unstoppable spirits. My little house keeps me secure, and the sound of a driving rush of stinging sleet against the bedroom window will forever keep me young.
Speaking of youth, though, Jenny is always telling me never to go out on my own, especially in the winter. She says I’m not as fit as I once was, not as alert or able to take care of myself. She doesn’t want me to get lost, or to have an accident. I always smile down the telephone, to amuse her, but inside, really, I am fed up with these sentiments. I haven’t changed since I was younger – I am still the same person, am I not? Yes, I am. And I still love this area as I always have – that’s why I returned all those years ago. And that’s also why I take a long walk every morning and sometimes more than once a day.
I go down to those rocks, usually. They stand as sentinels at the very edge of the earth, where the land meets the water and the swell of seaweed below floats darkly and alluringly, a rich, watery blanket. Recently, the mornings have been frosty and golden, and the rocks are transformed, glimmering, sharp and bright with the ice of the dying night. Sometimes I place my hand against the rock and let the cold seep beneath my skin. It thrills me.
At other times I might choose to walk among the reeds by the little stream. Winter coats every stem with crystal, and stiffens every stalk. Now, the reeds make different sounds. They are almost silent, but when a strong breeze brushes them they tinkle, like a thousand fairies’ footsteps, as my own footsteps crackle on the hoary ground.
‘Jenny’, I will say, one day, ‘you have never seen the ice-lacquered leaves, the stream frozen in its last motion of autumn, the distant slate-grey horizon brooding and passionate. You have never heard the winter pheasant, calling out in the brushwood, or the owl at night. Come up here to visit, and you will understand.’
Winter is my favourite season.