The clocks have changed. We have well and truly tipped into a different time of year. Nature is slow to catch up with us this year, but it will, it will. The stretch in the day heralds a time for a change of schedule, more daylight allows us to rise out of our winter confinement, stow away the thick jumpers (ok, not yet, but soon) and enjoy pursuits that brighter evenings allow. The year’s rhythm has changed, the drum is beating a little faster. I wonder, these days, how much we allow ourselves to speed up then slow down, to ebb and to flow in tandem with the offerings of the seasons? Life is fast, instant, urgent and any small way in which we can introduce slow, gradual and relaxed moments is to be embraced. In a world where we can eat fresh strawberries year round, let’s start just eating them in summer. Where we’ve relinquished the pickling and preserving that our parents and grandparents did, and the only thing we pickle is ourselves (thoughts of last night’s espresso martinis haunt me), let’s try making jam this year. It’s exciting to eat food from all over the world, but it’s even better to sow a drill of potatoes – ‘first earlies’ – in early April and feel the thrill of digging your own spuds come July. The clocks have changed, time to change with them.
I have come across a poem that keeps pace with nature’s tempo; teaches us that, just as there is a life cycle, there is seasonal cycle, and we would do well to live by it. We can march to a different rhythm each month, we can reap what each new month has to offer, live according to its gifts. The poem is by a Celtic poet (O’Driscoll, Irish), celebrating the life of another Celtic poet (Mackay Brown, Orcadian Scot). Wouldn’t this be a lovely way to live? Enjoy the lengthening evenings. Enjoy shuffling off our winter confinement. We’ve made it.
‘Life Cycle’, by Dennis O’Driscoll
(in memory of George Mackay Brown 1921-1996)
January: Wind bellows. Stars hiss like smithy sparks.
The moon a snowball frozen in mid-flight.
George is rocking on his fireside chair.
February: The sea loud at the end of the street.
Ferries cancelled. Snowdrops seep through dampness.
George is sitting down to mutton broth.
March: Oystercatcher piping. Early tattie planting.
Gull-protected fishing boats wary of the equinoctial gales.
George is tired by now of his confinement.
April: Cloud boulders roll back from the Easter sun.
The tinker horse, a cuckoo, in the farmer’s field.
George is taking the spring air on Brinkie’s Brae.
May: Scissors-tailed swallows cut the tape, declare summer open.
A stray daddy-long-legs, unsteady on its feet as a new foal.
George is sampling home-brew from his vat.
June: Butterfly wings like ornamental shutters. Day scorches
down to diamonds, rubies before being lost at sea.
George is picnicking with friends on Rackwick beach.
July: Another wide-eyed sun. Its gold slick pours like oil
on the untroubled waves. Shoppers dab brows as they gossip.
George is drafting poems in a bottle-green shade.
August: The pudgy bee in romper suit suckles a flower.
Well water rationed. Trout gills barely splashed.
George is hiding from the tourists’ knock.
September: A brace of wrapped haddocks on the doorstep.
Mushrooms, snapped off under grass tufts, melt in the pan.
George is stocking up his shed with coal and peat.
October: Porridge and clapshot weather. Swan arrivals, divers.
Sun hangs, a smoking ham, suspended in the misty air.
George is ordering a hot dram at the pub.
November: Rain shaken out sideways like salt. Hail pebbles
flung against the window to announce winter’s return.
George is adding a wool layer to his clothes.
December: Three strangers, bearing gifts, enquire the way
to byre and bairn. A brightness absent from the map of stars.
George’s craft is grounded among kirkyard rocks.