After a bit of a delay – a week later than I had planned – I’m back in Edinburgh. “You’ll see a big difference with the stretch in the days,” A. told me. “Sure the days have stretched where I was too,” I reminded her. “I know that,” she answered, “but you’ll still feel it all the more keenly as you’ve not been here for three weeks.” She’s right, of course, It’s quite a dramatic and positive change. In fact, travelling back yesterday, I felt that more of a New Year was dawning for me than it had on January 1st. I’m ready for the New Year now in a way in which I’m not sure I was six weeks ago. I have reacclimatised to what Fife poet, Kathleen Jamie, calls my ‘wintered eyes’; prepared them for days of longer and brighter light as the sun climbs higher. They are seasoned for the new season.
‘The Dash’, by Kathleen Jamie
those first days arrive
when the sun rises
higher than the Black
Hill at last. Brightness
and a crazy breeze
course from the same airt –
turned clods, gleam, the trees’
topmost branches bend
They chase, this lithe pair,
out of the far south
west, and though scalding
to our wintered eyes
look, we cry, it’s here”
It’s here. They are words of relief. It reminds me of how my mum will wait, each year, until the sun once more reaches the top of her next-door neighbour’s garage and flood her light starved dining room in later afternoon. She will utter those same words: it’s here. It is a restorative moment. As Kathleen Jamie says, though, we’re not necessarily through the worst of the winter – there will be ‘crazy breezes’, there could be snow, and gales and freezing temperatures ahead – but the worst of the darkness is behind us, the sun is daily dashing ever higher. Down in Cumbria A. has more of an agricultural marker. He says that from 14th February you can still be ploughing a field with a horse at 6 o’clock in the evening.
A hopeful time of year, this is, and it has been a long time coming. Pull on your best Ulster-Scots accent and see if you can get your tongue around ‘A Song For February’, Thomas Given’s take on the change that’s here, at last.
“Time lengthens the wab o’ the past;
Dame Nature steps in like a lamp tae the room,
Hir e’e tae the simmer o’ life geein’ bloom.
So winter slips by, wi’ its mirth an’ its gloom,
As spring is appearin’ at last.”