Today marked a significant change in my church-visiting journeys around Suffolk; a change which had been taking place almost imperceptibly over recent months, and had finally reached a turning point. I found myself able to listen to music again, for the first time in years.
31/12/2017 I wondered if this should be the first item on my list – after all, according to the astrological calendar, it is the first day of the season. But it is not the first sign of winter; and this year, oblivious of our prescribed arrival and departure dates, winter appeared well before the solstice.
I have a particular connection to the winter solstice: it is the meaning of my name. Yalda, meaning ‘birth of the sun’, is a Persian festival celebrated on the longest night of the year with poetry and food – in particular pomegranate and watermelon, whose colours symbolise dawn and the glow of life. Interestingly, I have only just learnt that the origin of the name, literally meaning ‘birth’, was the Syriac Christian word used in a religious context to mean Christmas. There are obvious parallels with the idea that the date of Christmas may have been adopted from the Pagan festival of the winter solstice.
‘Ought not winter, in allegorical designs, the rather to be represented with such things that might suggest hope than such as convey a cold and grim despair? The withered leaf, the snowflake, the hedging bill that cuts and destroys, why these? Why not rather the dear larks for one? […] Put the lark then for winter, a sign of hope, a certainty of summer. Put, too, the sheathed bud […] Put, too, the sharp needles of the green corn […] Nothing despairs but man.’
Richard Jeffries, ‘Out of Doors in February’, in The Open Air (1885).
30/12/2017 When autumn approaches, I find myself thinking frequently about the season, and often in the context of oncoming winter. Sometimes these thoughts get as far as turning into writing. And yet I rarely write about winter itself. By the time winter arrives, my struggle with the changing seasons seems to have come to an end, and along with it, my imagination. Last year I bought Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons, and started it before autumn had even got underway, in an effort to embrace the coming season. I did the same with the winter anthology; and yet, less than a quarter of the way through the book, I stopped reading it and didn’t pick it up again before spring arrived. Though I may yet do so for different reasons, I felt no urge to buy the spring or summer anthologies: my emotional and imaginative engagement with those seasons hardly needs encouragement.
The following Monday I had arranged to meet a friend, Cristina, to visit the Alde Valley Spring Festival at Great Glemham before a rehearsal in Rendham church. I left home in high spirits: I had just heard the tit chicks cheeping in the kitchen ceiling for the first time– the nest entrance was a hole in a wall beam – and the first ox-eye daisies were coming into flower by the driveway.
Unfortunately the morning’s adventures did not start off so well, as neither of us had remembered that the festival was closed on Mondays. Annoyed with myself for not registering this important piece of information when I looked up the website the night before, we came up with an alternative plan to park at Snape Maltings and go for a walk on the marshes – it seemed a promising location to find somewhere to leave my cello for an hour or two.
I sometimes have the tendency to think that poetry and art – sometimes even music, although I grew up immersed in it – do not speak to me, that I do not have the ability to appreciate them. My father used to sigh deeply, in half-comic despair at having a philistine daughter, when he would quote poetry to me and I could not tell him who wrote it – nor feel it in the way he did. But then I happen across a work that does speak to me, and I realise I am wrong. Perhaps he would not despair of me after all. And in fact, of all art forms, poetry may be the one I would choose first to express my emotional response to the natural world.
7/4/2017 I put off going to my parents’ grave. I still rebel against the reminder that they are in the ground while spring is in the trees. And although I feel I should look after the flowers and shrubs on their tiny patch of ground with as much diligence and attentiveness as the larger version not two miles away, it is too painful and I cannot. A green slate headstone and small patch of ground honouring their deaths; a green slate worktop and large patch of ground honouring their lives.
7th February I have learned two things today. First, that never having had any historical personal bond with the sea or coast, they have become part of me. Second, that one can walk off pain, as one can walk off calories. Perhaps not in quite such a calculable fashion, but walk for a day and the burden of pain at the end of it is noticeably less than it was at the start. I can almost physically feel it lessen with every step that I take.
16/11/2016 After last year’s wondering about whether autumn was hopeful, this year I decided to anticipate my reluctance at the change of seasons and try to embrace the autumn spirit in advance of its arrival. Towards the end of August I bought a newly published book, Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons (edited by Melissa Harrison). Even admitting to myself before the end of summer that it would arrive was a big step forward for me, but I had been encouraged by a little surprise not long before: I had caught in myself a moment of rising excitement when I noticed just a hint of autumn on its way – I don’t remember whether it was a sight, smell, sound or feeling, but the reaction was instinctive and unexpected.
9/7/2016 The other evening while driving to a concert I was playing in, the gleeful thought appeared in my head, as it does on a regular basis still: ‘… and I get to live here ALL the time!’.
The memories from my childhood and later times spent in Suffolk are tinged with the wrench of having to go back to London after a few days or weeks. My father’s moods – steadily increasing depression at the prospect of having to leave his beloved house and garden as the end of the holiday approached – are also engraved on my memory. There were things that, as a child, I looked forward to in going back to the city – principally going back to school, which I enjoyed up to the age of 14, and seeing friends there – but these gradually became fewer as I got older.
Particularly in later years I felt the crucial necessity of catching at least a little part of each season in Suffolk, especially May and June, which have always been my favourite months. I had a keen sense of what I was missing out on when I wasn’t here. But it surprises me, having lived here full time now for nearly five years, that I am still struck by this ecstatic thought, if it could be called a thought. It is more like a revelation that strikes me at random moments.
5/4/2016 It is the perfect moment to be embarking on a new (ad)venture: spring has finally made a confident appearance, after an early start and delayed progress. The blue tits are checking out the nestbox opposite the kitchen window, the goats are shedding their winter wool, and I have found the first duck’s nest in the garden.