The older I get, the more sensitive I become to the turn of the year. These days, the dark winters cost me much more than they used to do, and from January onwards I adopt an almost religious approach to the lengthening days.
Come April, the light is well and truly back in this part of the world, daylight seeping in around four a.m and lingering until nine p.m. This is the season of twilight, of evenings that shift from sunset through deepening purple to night. To sit and watch the world sink into darkness is soothing, a moment of meditation in a life otherwise too hectic, too defined by other things than the steady rhythm of night and day.
In general, it seems to me modern man has become as fragmented as the information that bombards us. In a world where everyone seems to think time is always of the essence – at the expense of reflection – decisions have become knee-jerk rather than considered. In such an environment, it is more important to hear “all” news than to hear the “full” news – until, of course, someone makes a bad call without having studied the full picture…
I’m not so sure this is beneficial to us as a species. It is definitely playing havoc with our stress hormones, which in turn can cause heart attacks. And besides, aren’t we losing sight of the true beauty of life?
My mother is a former language teacher. (At times, this was a pain in the butt: she was quite merciless when it came to reviewing our work. On the other hand, I can to this day recite the rules for when subjunctive applies in Spanish. One never knows when that may come in handy…) She used to set her students essays by offering them an assortment of subjects to write about. One of her recurring themes was Simple Pleasures in a Humdrum Life. I can tell you this subject led to a number of pretty impressive essays, because when we stop to think about it, all of us have a list of the little things that make our everyday life bearable, whether it be the toothless grin of a six-year-old or the uncomplicated love offered by a dog.
For me, more and more, it is the returning light that is my main source of quiet joy. Don’t get me wrong, I love my adult children to bits, am more than impressed by the fact that somehow these robust, bright beings have been brought forth by me, but a source of peaceful pleasure they are not, being loud and demanding, as big in gestures as they are in heart. To be quite honest, I love when they swoop in to visit, but am just as happy when they leave, allowing hubby, youngest son and me to return to our more ordered life.
Back to light, to spring, to the eternal cycle of rebirth. Many years ago, I was a Weight Watcher (bear with me, okay?). Well, if we’re going to be correct, I’ve been watching my weight my entire adult life, and seriously, whatever for? In keeping with a good Lutheran’s approach to sin, I have guilted myself over each morsel of cake, each delicious piece of chocolate, and all this guilt and watching has been seriously non-productive. But, as I said, once I was a bona fide Weight Watcher, back in the good old days when everything was converted to points, and the good little trooper could save up points to binge over the weekend (which raises the question as to permanent eating habits and all that). Once a week, I dragged myself off to my rendezvous with the dreaded scale – and the weekly class.
I must say many of those classes were sadly uninspiring. In many cases, the question people asked were mostly about how to continue eating their favourite foods (ergo the “save up points” strategy). Now and then, the person holding the class really tried to be inspiring. Mostly this fell flat on its face. We, the class, did not want to be inspired. We wanted a short-cut to bodies that would look gorgeous in bikinis five weeks from now. (Whoever said we were realistic?)
Anyway, one week the person holding the class was a dapper man with a slicked-back hairdo and an oxford shirt he wore with his sleeves rolled up. This gentleman started by showing us his Before and After pics – very impressive – and then he went on to talk about the need for Other Sources of Pleasure. Rather seriously, he explained that life wasn’t about food. Well, at that point it itched in me to up and leave – I don’t like being patronized, and from the look on various faces around me, this was a common sentiment. But when the man went on to describe the sheer joy he felt whenever he stepped into a beech wood in spring, I couldn’t help but smile in recognition.
To walk through a beech forest in spring is to enter a natural cathedral, the greying stems the pillars, the newly sprung foliage the ceiling. Sun filters through to dance along the ground, the wind soughs through the boughs, whispering a gentle psalm, a promise of verdant tomorrows, of days of plenty. Beneath my feet, a carpet of dead leaves rustle, here and there dotted by islands of green in which anemones shine like earthbound stars.
Where I live, I can walk for hours under spreading boughs, caress the smooth bark of trees that have been around for much, much longer than me. Now and then, a choir of birds break into song, here and there, a tarn of pitch-black water reminds me that the woods has it fair share of darkness too – as does life in general. Important to remember, I believe, as without the contrast of the dark, the light would not seem quite as wonderful.
Up here in Sweden, spring has just begun. It’s as if nature has inhaled, a huge bellyful of air, as it prepares for the explosion of colour and sound that will come over the coming weeks. A month from now, my beech forests will be more about shade than sun, the canopies hindering the sun from reaching all the way to the ground. When the spring anemones wither, not much else takes their place, because flowers, like all of us, need light as much as warmth to grow and thrive.
But for now, my beeches sprout timid leaves, the anemones lie like swathes of white across the forest floor, and I am so grateful to be alive, to be here, to be me.
P.S. So, I hear some of you wondering, what happened with the Weight Watcher thing? Did the inspiring dude lead to any revolutionary changes in my life? Pah! Seriously, when the man suggested we replace the craving for chocolate with beech leaves, telling us that they actually tasted quite nice, I did get up and leave. I may have shared his love for beeches, but a woman is allowed some vices – and mine is chocolate!