Autumn treasure 6: Dark nights

13/11/18 My choice of subject – after two weeks’ procrastination, changing my mind several times about what subject to choose – might seem strange, especially as a little over six months ago I was writing about precisely the opposite. But perhaps this is the glory of the seasons: without the contrasts, we would start to take spring and summer for granted, and life would be much duller. I experienced this first hand when I spent a year in the tropics: much as I love the rainforest and the tropical climate, I struggled with the lack of variation in day length, and the lack of seasons.

I am appreciating dark nights for a variety of reasons. The first is simply because it provides an opportunity to slow down my pace a little: to eat supper earlier, have more time to relax in the evening (with my indoor animals), and go to bed earlier. I spend most of spring and summer in a flurry of activity, and while there’s daylight and sunshine – of which we have had a lot this year – I find it hard to go indoors or sit down for any length of time. As a consequence, I eat later and go to bed later, barely stopping long enough in the evening to wind down before flopping into bed. Autumn and winter seem to be the seasons of the year to build up one’s energy reserves for the next year.

Life has slowed down only a little since the summer, but coming indoors earlier in the evening makes a difference. I am very fortunate not to be confined to an office any more: having just spoken to a friend who is struggling, as many do, with the fact it is dark before he leaves work, I realise that my freedom to decide my own timetable and spend much of the day outside when the weather is good is a crucial component of my ability to appreciate the longer hours of darkness.

Another aspect of the dark nights is that it helps me get round to autumnal or indoor activities and jobs that I rarely find the desire to do in the lighter, warmer months. First, trying new recipes and enjoying cooking as an evening’s entertainment, with time on my side before I am too hungry to be bothered with the effort or a lengthy cooking process. For the first time in several years I have also felt the desire for woolly crafts, and starting a crochet project has taken on the feel of an evening’s reward for a productive day. In terms of ‘jobs’, there is cutting up and stewing apples for the freezer, making jam, getting through a large pile of B&B ironing that has been waiting in vain for rainy days, tidying and sorting, DIY and decorating. I have hardly made a dent in the list, but I know that I will have increasing opportunities to do so during the next few months.

Dexy fireOf course, it can take time to adjust to the sudden shift towards darkness when the clocks change at the end of October. I usually get caught out for a few weeks, realising I’ve missed my chance to go for a walk, that the chickens have already gone to bed by 4pm, or that there is no light left to fit in that last urgent garden task. But the last few years I have tried to anticipate and celebrate the darkness by creating an alternative bonfire night tradition: baking cinnamon rolls in the Aga and inviting friends to enjoy them round my first (indoor) open fire of the year. It definitely helps to get me in the mood. Company, cosiness and fires are certainly some of the best bits of the darker, colder months…