Showing posts with label spring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spring. Show all posts

New Shoots - The Winter Solstice



In the picture, you can see a couple of hyacinth bulbs in a pair of vintage bulb glasses that were a gift from a friend. I love them and use them every year. They're sitting on my office windowsill, alongside an oak block from some ancient shipwreck. It washed ashore at the south end of the Isle of Gigha, and lay there waiting for us to find it, one long gone summer. 

The other day, after a bitterly cold, misty spell of weather, the sun shone and I walked around the village, dropping off Christmas cards. It was quiet in the village with not so much as a dog barking, although one or two of them popped their heads up as I passed by. As I walked along the winding drive to the old manse of Gemilston, I was suddenly aware that the verges were already starred by bulbs, peeping through, little clumps of pale spikes, tiny teeth. I'm not sure whether they were snowdrops or crocuses - snowdrops possibly, because they come first. Before the end of January and well into February, they will be in bloom here in the west.

I don't much like winter, but if anything, I like autumn even less. I can admire the colours, enjoy the apple harvest, the brambles, the sloes. All that. But nothing lifts my heart like the first signs of spring. I'm a springtime person, and for me, spring comes early. As soon as the Christmas decorations are put away for another year, I like to bring springtime into the house, in the shape of snowdrops, catkins and early indoor hyacinths. 

Today, at 15.49, the time of the winter solstice, we were waiting with our bottle of fizz (Cava today!) and a couple of Victorian champagne glasses, and we raised a glass to the turning year and the return of the sun. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I find the way the light leaches out of the days in October and November profoundly depressing. (Especially at this miserable Covid time) - but almost as soon as the year turns I feel a small lifting of my spirits, a sensation that only grows as the weeks go by. 

I hope you do too. 

When the gorse is in bloom, kissing's in season.




 Drove past 'Trump Turnberry' today, as always noting its faint resemblance to the Overlook, on the way to and from one of our local farm shops for tatties and carrots, freshly dug this morning. The carrots smell like a completely different vegetable and I'm going to make some of them into a salad with the last apple from the garden and a few cashew nuts. Too good to cook. Actually, it's the last-but-one apple from the old Golden Noble apple tree at the bottom of the garden. It's so old that it's on a two year cycle, a rest year and a fruiting year. This year was a rest year and it managed about six apples. I was waiting for the last huge apple at the top of the tree to fall, but by the time I got to it, it was a hollowed out shell - the birds had got to it. I couldn't begrudge them it. They give me so much pleasure. 

The whins are in bloom. That's the Scots word for gorse. And as the old saying goes, when they're in bloom, kissing's in season. Because they're always in bloom. But in spring, they are so bright that they dazzle your eyes and the scent of coconut is overwhelming. Now, they're strangely and sporadically in autumnal bloom - one or two bushes covered with vivid golden flowers, among several others with no flowers. Throughout the winter, here in the warmish west, you'll see a few flowers lingering here and there and then slowly but surely, you won't be able to tell whether they're last year's clinging on, or the beginning of spring. 

Always a cheering thought, because I hate November, and I hate mid-covid November even more, because usually there's Christmas to look forward to, but it looks as though we might be cancelling Christmas in this house, anyway. 

All the same, who wouldn't be cheered by the gorse? And did you know that you can cook up the blossoms and use the resulting liquid to flavour cakes and things? I didn't, until I watched the wonderful Nora On Food. I haven't tried the cheesecake yet, but I might make a perilous gorse flower expedition and give it a try. 

Happy Saint Bride's Day - The Coming of Spring.

Today is Imbolc, St Bride or St Bridget's Day and an important day in the Celtic world, marking the beginning of spring. I was reminded of it this evening, sitting at my desk, brooding on Brexit, when I realised that not only had the day lengthened considerably, but the birds in the garden were singing and sounding distinctly spring-like. It was very cheering.

Coincidentally, I'd been rereading my own novel, the Posy Ring, and deciding that I was still very fond of these characters and really would like to revisit them and find out what happens to them next. I've been asked to chat to a local book group about this novel, among other work, so I thought I'd better refresh my memory.

I suddenly remembered that I had written about the young women of the Scottish island where the novel is set, celebrating the festival of Bride in 1588.

'In February there was a brief respite when the young women of Achadh nam Bl├áth and the nearby clachan celebrated St Bride’s day. They took a sheaf of oats from the previous year’s precious harvest, formed it into a rudimentary figure, dressed it in some scraps of wool and linen, and trimmed it with whatever decorative items they could find: a handful of glass beads from broken jewellery, small shells from the seashore, a garland of daisies, snowdrops, coltsfoot as well as hazel catkins, culled from sheltered parts of the island. The figure was supplied with a slender white wand formed from a piece of birchwood with the bark scraped off. Ishbel had made a bed of rushes covered by a baby blanket close to the house door. There, Bride was welcomed in and laid down comfortably for the night with a couple of candles burning to keep her company. 
               
‘She was the foster mother of Christ,’ explained Lilias. ‘And so we honour her in this way. But she brings the springtime with her as well. Soon, soon it will come.'

A little later on, Lilias tells the stranger about the cailleach who brings winter - no bad thing, unless she lingers too long. To everything there is a season.

‘I am always forgetting how very little you know. The cailleach is the wise old woman. She walks the fields, bringing winter in her wake. A good thing too. The land needs to sleep and we need to rest for a time, while she walks and renews, walks and renews. Only now, she’s growing weary. It’s her turn to lie down and sleep. Then the springtime will come. You can feel her clinging on. Soon, she’ll not be able to resist. She will lie down and take her rest, and the blessed Bride will come and bring the springtime with her all over again.'

If the snowdrops massed on the roadsides as I drive in and out of this village are anything to go by, Bride seems to be well on her way.




A little taste of spring, here in the Scottish countryside.


The days are very short here in Scotland at this time of year, but we comfort ourselves with the thought that in another couple of weeks they'll start to get longer. And by the end of January, they'll be noticeably longer!

Which is not to say that I want to skip Christmas, because I love everything about it. Always have. But all the same, it's cheering when the spring bulbs start to come through.

This is an old terracotta pot of white, scented narcissus bulbs I planted earlier this year, and hid away on a cool, dark shelf at the back of my office. Now, it's downstairs and they're growing and greening up on such light as is available. There's a pot of hyacinths as well, although they're a little way behind.

With a bit of luck, they'll be flowering not long after the Christmas decorations are put away for another year. I don't buy forced hyacinths at Christmas time, but I do buy them soon afterwards, if I haven't had the foresight to grow my own. I love to clean up and then bring springtime into the house in the shape of bulbs and - quite soon, here in the west - bunches of snowdrops and catkins.

I much prefer February to November. In November things are still sliding. In February and even earlier, you can feel the whole garden and the countryside beyond drawing breath, getting ready for spring. My favourite time of year.

It may be even earlier than usual, this year, since, after a cold spell that drove all the outdoor bulbs back underground, it has been incredibly warm for a few days. 'A pretty decent Scottish summer temperature' as my husband remarked! I gather it's due to get colder again pretty soon. Maybe in time for Christmas.