We’re currently at the time of year when the weather throws almost everything it has at us, often in the space of a single day. It’s not unknown in these parts to have sudden snows followed by fast thaws in April (last year’s alarmingly submerged garden being a case in point). Days can start off bright and sunny, if stingingly cold, only to turn dark and stormy a few hours later. Suddenly, as the rain hammers against the windows, that planned afternoon walk doesn’t seem like such a good idea after all.
And yet… There are times and places when the bluster is to be embraced. I looked up the meaning of ‘Elements’online and the definition(s) were very interesting. These, in particular:
‘…strong winds, heavy rain, or other kinds of bad weather’
‘…a person's or animal's natural or preferred environment’.
The two can go together.
There’s something incredibly life-affirming about walking up on the moors on a dark, gusty day. Perhaps it’s those Bronte novel evocations: hurrying across the spongy moss and springy heather whilst rooks circle above and gnarled, stooped old hawthorns are bent further sideways by the wind. Or simply the wild, rugged landscape providing the perfect foil for leaden skies and howling gales.
An empty beach on a stormy afternoon can be a wonderful place. The waves crashing and the smell of ozone, the blackness of wet rock and the sheer desertedness can, in an odd way, be balm for the soul. Just as with homeopathy and its basic philosophy of curing like with like, time spent outdoors embracing the elements can actually help still a turbulent mind. You become aware of your place in the universe; you gain perspective and step out of any troubling thoughts. As the wind stings your face and your eyes water, as the whistling and crashing replaces any internal chatter, you become more aware of what’s surrounding you rather than what’s going on within.
Yes, a beach is beautiful on a still summer’s day. So is a meadow, or a clearing under the trees. If I get time alone during the temperate months I sometimes escape to a little secret spot of mine, high on some banking above the woods and river. I lie back in the long grass and listen to the hum of the insects. I feel the warmth from the sun and the ground beneath me, and watch the white clouds above.
But if we only went outdoor adventuring in ‘good’ weather – well, we’d spend an awful lot of our time indoors. Particularly in Britain.
So, what to do during those long weeks where all it seems to do is rain? Some of us may subscribe to the Scandinavian notion that ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’. We might pull on the waterproofs and wellies and get out there anyway. Others may just decide that we’d rather stay home and dry. What then?
Rather a long time ago, I wrote a blog post titled ‘Proximity’. It was all about my dreams of a veranda where I could sit on rainy or snowy days and observe the weather and the garden, perhaps from under a blanket. I’d still be dry and warm but I’d be able to breathe in the damp earth smell, listen to the birds, hear the rain falling on the roof above me. We can still protect ourselves from the elements without being sealed behind double glazing, cocooned by central heating, separated from the outdoors. Veranda or not – taking shelter in a greenhouse or a garden shed brings us that bit closer to nature.
When we first moved to this house (around 18 months ago) I hated our bedroom. The ceiling is vaulted to show off the heavy oak beams. The sound of passing tractors and quarry trucks seemed super-amplified without any attic space above us and I tried to convince my other half to put in a false ceiling, insulated to muffle any unwelcome sounds. I didn’t get my way and, admittedly, I’m glad. There’s nothing more comforting on a night when the rain’s coming down in stair rods than lying in bed with a book and listening to it hitting the slates.
As a child, I’d stand with my brother, the front door wide open, watching thunderstorms. The thrill of seeing the road transform into a river, the lightening crackling across the sky whilst we were safe, even if just inches away from it, was something not to be missed. It was on just the right side of daring. Not for me, hiding under the bed! It was doing something a little bit dangerous but without any real danger there, the meteorological equivalent of putting just the one toe onto the ice before jumping back again.
Have you experienced the outdoor places you love, the special ones, where you’re in your ‘element’, in all weathers? (Perhaps not the woods on a windy day, from a purely common sense point of view). I don’t know why, but some of mine always draw me there on wilder days. Just like some of them are, to me, very autumnal or wintry places, these spots call out to me when the weather turns.
Of course, as well as blowing away the cobwebs, there’s something rewarding about coming home again with red cheeks and smarting ears and tangled hair. You appreciate those home comforts all the more. Perhaps it’s all about contrasts, extremes even. You have to experience one in order to fully appreciate the other.