When the Skylark Sings
I was wrong. I've been wrong before, on many occasions, but never quite so much as this time. Everything I thought I knew has turned out to be nonsense. The inhibited beliefs in which I wrapped myself for comfort and security have turned out to be nothing more than a blanket of holes, woven from fear and nervousness.
For as long as I can remember, I have only ever lived for half of the year. Hiding myself away from the world and withdrawing into my own comforting burrow during the spring and summer, only to tentatively lift my head above the surface once autumn has safely arrived. I am Mole in reverse; retreating inside my home to whitewash my walls once the sun has started to warm the days through.
Last year a wrote a blog called 'A Contented Month', in which I extolled the virtues of autumn. I waxed lyrical about woolly socks, fruit crumbles, walks on a vibrant carpet of crisp leaves; composing a picture of autumn so perfectly, you'd think it had been painted by Gustav Klimt himself. But something has changed, something feels different than before. I am restless and in need of something bigger than myself.
Like wild animals I tend to hibernate during the darker months. I retreat back indoors and live like a hermit, only ever venturing out for a quiet walk or a pint of milk. I find comfort in my solitary, quiet existence. The cold, damp days give me the only excuse I need to stay inside with my book and hide away from the world. This may sound very strange to you but believe me when I say it's perfectly normal. Autumn and winter have always provided me with the opportunity to live within my own shadow, to blend in inconspicuously with everyone else. I do not need to shine in bright technicolour. I can fade in to the background with my endless layers of protective clothing obscuring my physical outline.
This past winter has been the longest I have ever known. At first the snow bought with it the promise of excitement as I pictured afternoons of sheer abandonment and evenings curled up by the fire. It felt as though time had descended around us, sympathetically cradling us in it's hands and soothing any annoyances we may have felt with it's gentle rocking, drawing the day out with endless possibilities. But instead the days quickly became tiresome. The sheer exhaustion of inactivity and purposelessness took its toll and as I willed away the hours I heard the words of W. H. Auden in my head, 'O let not time deceive you, you cannot conquer time.' The world from my window was monochrome and motionless. The hills no longer loomed majestically over us, enveloping us with their security and strength. Instead they appeared like monsters, lying low under the camouflage of white, ready to rear up and roar at us at any fanciful time.
Every day was the same. A mixing bowl of boredom, frustration and self-loathing. After the excesses of Christmas I desperately needed to be outside, walking in the bracing winter air. I don't mind the cold. I find it invigorating and inspiring. I will ramble for hours on a frosty day, wrapped in my scarf and gloves. But snow and rain are another matter. They wash away any pleasure to be had as I walk head down, shoulders set, trying desperately not to slip or stumble. Needless to say then that I rarely walk in these weather conditions. I was fine when the snow first came. It stayed for five days, we watched a box set or two, we baked some cakes and waited. Then the snow cleared and we were free. The farmer cleared the road and we enjoyed the renewed sense of freedom that had been returned to us. I started walking again and relished the satisfaction of feeling productive and active. But it was short-lived. Only a few days later the rain returned followed by endless days of snow and more rain for good measure. I could feel nature falling behind and the weeks slowing to an inaudible halt. My life seemed sedentary and pallid. I was wearisome and I felt washed out, even the daffodils that I had bought for the house didn't cheer me up, instead it seemed as though they were mocking me, cheating me of something I was owed. For the first time in my life, I craved signs of spring.
Spring was my late mother's favourite time of year. She seemed to come alive along with the primroses and snowdrops. Unlike me, the new season would give her a surge of optimism and fervour. The ceremonial dusting off of the outdoor cushions and umbrella bought her so much joy, even if only moments later we were gathering them up in a frenzy as an unexpected rain cloud suddenly burst above our heads. Many an afternoon she would stand at the bottom of her garden with a cup of tea in her hand, overlooking the rolling fields of Suffolk telling me all about the changes that were taking place in the countryside around us, after which she would ask me whether or not it was time to turn the Rayburn off for the summer. I could never share her enthusiasm. For me, the herald of spring meant only one thing, the expectation to be outside and to be seen.
But this year my demons stayed behind in the sombre days of winter as every day I waited for signs of spring, desperately searching for colour and movement in the soil. And it came. It always does. Within a matter of days my narcissus seemed to burst into life, closely followed by my tulips. After weeks of watching them intently, they bloomed the minute my back was turned, as though we were playing our own game of 'What's the Time Mr Wolf?'
So I did the one thing I'd never done before. I packed a small bag and for days on end I went in search of spring. I needed to see it so badly. I was prepared to walk over hills, along coastlines and through fields to find it. I didn't care about being hot, in fact I relished the prospect as I slowly ambled through dappled woodland and meadows.
As my heart filled with the sights and sounds of the world awakening around me, I drove further. I ventured out to the north of Perthshire, following old bridle paths and nature trails. I took off my navy jumper, tied it around my shoulders, exposing the skin of my arms and the gentle folds of my stomach through my colourful breton top. I was happy. I was fulfilled. I felt as though I was seeing the world for the first time with the eyes of someone who had lived as a silhouette for far too long. As I climbed over gates and searched for paths, I felt the weight of my worries lift from me. It was springtime and I was overwhelmingly pleased to see it and there and then I realised something, that spring doesn't care what I look like, it doesn't judge, it just wants me to be a part of it.
Like my mother and grandmother before me I've always filled jugs with spring flowers and dotted them around the house as a way of welcoming the arrival of spring. But for them this was only a small part of marking the season. They would go for drives in the country, walks down leafy lanes and visit historic houses and gardens. They had a knack for finding the prettiest spot in a pub garden, under a willow tree or next to a whispering stream. Watching them it seemed as though the very essence of spring was seeping into their bones, filling their hearts with contentment and their faces with beauty. They met spring on it's own doorstep unlike me who hid from it behind closed curtains. And now I know that carrying fragments of spring into my home in jugs is not enough anymore. It's a half-hearted appreciation, it's simply me embracing spring in my own closed-off, distanced way. To fully appreciate it, I need to be out in it, drinking it in. I'll always gather flowers for around the house; arranging little jam jars of pickings but they are no longer a compromise, they are a reminder of the world waiting for me outside.
Sometimes early in the morning or when the evening has fallen there can be heard a peculiar little sound echoing and carrying through the air. It is a very rare sound but when you hear it, it's so distinctive, you have to stop in your tracks to listen to it. It is the song of the skylark and it's the most exquisite melody, This small, brown, streaky little bird may not be much to look at but it sings so heartily, from high notes to low notes, from one smooth, unbroken song to an almost frantic, rolling whistle, pulsing and pealing across the sky. But there is something else quite remarkable about this rare little bird. Unlike other singing birds, it doesn't sing from within the safety and obscurity of the trees. The skylark delivers it's song when in flight, out in the open, as it soars vertically up in the air, orchestrating a magnificent show of confidence and bravery, drawing attention to itself as it brazenly glides above.
And that is how I am going to live from now on. I will sing when people are listening, I will dance when people are watching because like the skylark I've come to realise one thing. What I look like is completely irrelevant and a life lived quietly and unnoticed in a waiting room is no life at all. So grab your baskets, roll up your jeans, slip a jumper over your shoulder and say hello to spring.
If you'd like to hear the song of the Skylark use this link for the RSPB website. Trust me, it's so beautiful.