EssaysCallum Saunders

Unlocking the Commuter’s Cage

EssaysCallum Saunders
Unlocking the Commuter’s Cage

The pure physicality of cold, biting air upon the skin; the crisp lines and textures of bare branches and skeletal leaves folded in upon themselves; the build up of condensation upon the moustache hairs of one’s beard; the quiet, haunting beauty of a natural world, dormant, and yet silently alive underground and behind the scenes... 

There’s no doubting that winter is a season of breathtaking beauty; one that offers solace, silence and respite to those who venture out of doors to brave something raw and truly elemental; to those who seek its truth and conversation.  But for the commuting classes of countryside aficionados, winter can also be a season that curtails, that cages.

Winter is the harbinger of darkness - of short days and long nights - a time in which I feel removed from the natural world; a time in which I struggle to fulfil my deeply-engrained passion for it. 

A time of pure longing for the light that lengthens the days and frees me to embrace the outdoors and experience it in its fullness once more.

A period of dark mornings walking to the station, where waiting trains ferry a silent mass of humans, invisible in the stillness of the dark, to sprawling concrete jungles, only to participate in the noise and cacophony of human endeavour, before returning silently back to waiting houses that shroud, hide and envelop.

For the commuter, winter is a cruel cage.

And this also, is why February is seized upon with such open-hearted embrace.  The slow, ebbing of darkness is pounced upon; the darkness becomes slowly less black, before a further transition of velvety hues takes place.  And slowly, stoically, the mornings suddenly embrace a small crack of light breaking over the tops of the hills, stood silent and proud in the distance.  Shapes take on new, refreshed meaning and purpose; vigour and vitality enter not only the landscape, but the eyes of the morning commuter, to whom the natural world is suddenly opening up once again, like petals unfurling upon a new flower.

And, all of a sudden, the morning walk of the commuter becomes alive once again.  I embrace the visual feast before me; the very simplicity of seeing the birds in the branches once again; connecting the incessant cheeps of the proud blackbird to the singer performing it.

And all of a sudden, just like that, I pass a clump of snowdrops next to an old tree stump.

The thin, delicate stems are painted from the most vivid hues of green, delicately poised with hanging opal drops of purest white, their beauty exacerbated by the clinging droplets of morning dew, offset with the crisp, silent flakes of frost upon the surrounding blades of grass.

I stand for a few seconds and drink the scene in, my hungry, commuter-starved eyes consuming the sight vociferously and with real relish.  Here, right outside my house, is a sight that signals not only the onset of spring, but a symbol of vision and connection with the natural world once again.  While my weekdays may still be spent commuting and working in a city, the mornings and evenings are slowly presenting themselves to me once again, and the humble snowdrops herald the arrival of lighter days and seasons that can be embraced out of hours.

The pale white snowdrops are the key that unlock the cage of winter.

Callum is a nature writer, poet and photographer who lives in the Peak District, when not back home in Sussex tramping his beloved South Downs.  His day job as a strategic planner in a marketing agency fuels the passion for the simplicity of life outdoors with his young family at the weekend.  Callum’s work explores the connections between the landscape of the earth, as well as of the soul. Find him on Twitter.