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The winter solstice and Christmas are behind us and the end of the year is rapidly approaching.
As the bells chime midnight at the turn of the year from 2020 to 2021 we will be saying goodbye to one of the strangest years many of us have ever lived through.
While last minute press conferences and newly introduced tiers and lockdowns mean none of us are making any sort of plans, we have much confidence in writing in ink on our calendars – I like so many others will be taking comfort in the natural world continuing to provide more or less what I expect.
Lots of us have reconnected with nature in many ways this year, whether getting outside for permitted exercise, trying out wild swimming, learning how to identify the birds visiting our garden, or getting our hands in the soil and growing fruit and vegetables.
Having lived off grid for seven years, where our light, heat and power all relied on natural resources that were at their most scarce in the mid winter, our family celebrated the winter solstice just as much as Christmas.
Just as we developed family traditions around selecting, chopping down and bringing home a Christmas tree and creating festive wreaths from gathered natural materials, we also marked the solstice with a bonfire outside, candlelit sharing of our gratitudes
to nature and watching the sun set and then rise on the shortest day and longest night of the year.
2020 marks our second winter living in a house connected up to electricity and central heating, but I still took my first mug of tea outside at first light and watched the sky brighten (too cloudy all day to actually see the sun itself) and we gathered outside around a bonfire with candles and sparklers to light up the longest night, while watching the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter as the clouds finally lifted and the sky cleared.
The days have grown shorter and now start to stretch a little each day, the weather has grown colder and we have had first frosts and snowfall. The bracken has died back and the grass has stopped growing, the trees lost their leaves and a carpet of acorns festooned the ground beneath the oak trees where we live.
Our chickens have stopped laying and several of them have gone through their annual moult, losing most of their feathers and looking very forlorn before growing back a whole new coat of glossy healthy feather and down to see them through the winter.
The sun hangs low in the sky, casting shadows on the ground and streaks in the
clouds that you only ever see at this time of year. Yet at the same time as the world seems to have gone to sleep, with the last of the migrating geese disappearing south across the skies in great noisy V-shaped formations, so comes the promise of things to come.
Good things, hopeful things, things worth waiting for. My spring bulbs are pushing through the earth already, tiny green spikes of leaves promising bright flowers in the weeks and months ahead. A seed catalogue arrived in the post this week prompting me to start thinking about what I want to sow and grow in the coming year.
In creating the photographic calendar for 2021 I spent a couple of hours looking through pictures of the year passed, a year I would have sworn had been filled with little other than cancelled plans, postponed hopes and facemask covered socially distanced events.
And I found all sorts of memories that made me smile. Small victories, tiny appreciations and minute blessings which just like the extra minute or two each day of daylight we are starting to see all offer hope for the year ahead.