Walking through the lanes yesterday afternoon, I realised how utterly bleak it is around here. Everything dead and disfigured as though someone had gone nuts with a muckspreader loaded with creosote.
It’s that time of year. The deep dark crater of midwinter. When even the countryside looks like the gutted shell of a fire damaged building. Hedgerows frostbitten by the cold. Black and lifeless. Tall thistles and ferns dotted about the fields like miniature scarecrows. Dead, pale, putrefying corpses, their greenness drained from their bodies, leeched into the airless bog by the endless rain.
Trees, merely shadows painted onto the horizon, their branches creaking, praying for the spring. Holding on until the magnolia blossom relieves their agony. Sweet perfume, soft and laced with hope. The spring. The sun. Those first fragile rays of light on a winterworn face, pinpricking it into life. The first true colours of the new year.
When I got back home yesterday, I remembered the day I arrived here at the end of August, playing my guitar in the bone dry pond. Throwing myself about like a marionette on the baked earth, singing as merrily as the birds, the sun pounding my naked back. Topping up my mahogany tan that I’d acquired during my adventures in the Jura. Now, it’s almost gone and I crave it more than anything. A few rays of sun to colour my blood.
Last January I skied every weekend in the Haute Savoie. The high snow-capped Alps looking down on me while the blinding sun scorched my face like I was roasting it on a spit. The difference between then and now is startling. There are no mountains here. There is no sun. Just cloud and rain. And it’s so incredibly wet that I’ve started collecting more wood than normal. Not for a fire. That would be foolish. To build an Ark. Just in case.
If it wasn’t for the forested slopes of the Vienne valley that at least give the area some degree of hilliness, it would be like living in Holland. Or Norfolk. That would be bad enough, but what is most frustrating is the mud that has made it almost impossible for me to stroll to the water’s edge at La Roche. It’s my daily pilgrimage and last week the path down became a mudslide that nearly washed me into the Vienne and off to the mighty Loire at Chinion and onwards towards Nantes and the deep Atlantic Ocean.
But there’s not far to go now until the first shoots of spring appear. It’s a case of digging deep to stop the midwinter demons invading your soul and ripping it to shreds. The fields, the forests, the hedgerows will recover. Explode into a green mass of vividness and enchantment. We have to have this bleakness in order to survive. It’s a necessity you see. To run yourself down like a battery to the point where you’re about to expire. And then one fine spring morning you come back to life like the wild garlic outside your window. Breathe in and brace yourself for another year. A glorious summer beckons.