The Approach of Winter
The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
where the salvias, hard carmine--
like no leaf that ever was--
edge the bare garden.
William Carlos Williams
The promise of a new season is a thrill. Watching, waiting for those first signs that change is afoot never gets old, perhaps because we're never quite sure when they will appear. Though December to me feels like winter, and though it is the month I've selected to release the winter issue of the magazine, it isn't cut and dry. Autumn's fragments are still evident in soggy piles of leaves by the side of the road, and the wrinkled conker shells up the footpath, and will remain, no doubt, for some time yet.
Winter is the quiet season. It is a time for reflection, contemplation, and a moment of stillness before life once again springs forth. It is an opportunity to spend dark evenings curled up with a blanket and cup of something hot, with a good book. I honestly can't remember the last time I read a book from cover to cover, but I know that of all the seasons, I love reading about winter the most.
These are the books on my bedside table this winter.
Dorothy Wordsworth's Christmas Birthday by Carol Ann Duffy.
Set on Christmas Eve in 1799, Duffy's poem takes us to the frozen landscape of the Lake District. With beautiful illustrations by Tom Duxbury, it's the perfect little book to get you in the festive spirit. I also love that it's short enough to read in one sitting, and lasts about as long as a hot chocolate.
Night Sky, or any guide to the stars
My husband loves astronomy, but I'm really more of a beginner. That's not to say I don't enjoy locating key constellations, and it's a brilliant excuse to get outdoors at this time of year. Even better is that it gets dark incredibly early, and unlike the summer months, a spot of stargazing can take place early evening. Take a torch out and use a guide to map the sky.
Snow by Marcus Sedgwick
Another short book, Sedgwick imitates the six sides of a snowflake through the six chapters, exploring art, literature and science of snow, as well as his own experiences and memories. He suggests that "snow is transformative. It changes the world around us... Overnight, it repaints the landscape in white, inevitably bringing to mind concepts like purity and clarity of thought. Over the course of eons, it can remake the earth itself."
Winter edited by Melissa Harrison
Part of the collection of anthologies for the changing seasons, this one is my favourite. Particular highlights include Satish Kumar's approach to wildness, and Kristian Evans' thousand words for snow.
Village Christmas by Laurie Lee
If any collection of stories is likely to awaken nostalgic feelings of early childhood, then it's this one. "Outside there is no surprise in the coldness of the morning. It lies on the valley like a frozen goose. The world is white and keen as a map of the Poles and as still as the paper it's printed on. Icicles hang from the gutters like glass silk stockings and drip hot drops in my hand as I breathe on them."
And of course, there's the winter issue of Creative Countryside if you're more in the mood for a magazine.
Winter is also the best time to linger in a hot bath. I think I've probably managed three or four baths since my son was born (he's almost nine months now) but I'm determined to make time for more over the festive season. The wonderful folk at Magic Organic Apothecary sent me their new Dreamy Mineral Soak to try, and it's truly the best bath product I've ever smelt. With a healing blend of lavender, pine, cardamom and Himalayan pink salt, it's perfect for soothing aching muscles and purifying the skin (ideal for winter).
Above all else, and as Edith Sitwell recommends, "winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."