Monday, 1 February 2016

Don't hate Winter - it's stunning!

When I told my Galwegian friends in 1994 that I was leaving Salthill to live in Connemara, in a little house between Ballyconneely and Slyne Head, they collectively shook their heads and rumbled worries.

“The Winter wind will drive you crazy.” they warned. “People go bananas, living alone out there, mate.”

While I knew they were only being kind, they were underestimating my own madness, the built-in bonkers brain I carry that loves people but finds them hard to be around. Connemara couldn’t drive me crazy because I was already there.

After washing up on Ireland’s shores a couple of years before, I was lucky to find myself befriended by an excellent crew local lads, now life-time friends.

Our nights out ran from an Tobar to Taylor’s to Vagabonds, and I enjoyed every one, but the lifestyle was causing my body to crumble, my spirit to wane. 

After countless exploratory hitching trips I’d fallen desperately in love with Connemara, and was raving with excitement at the prospect of living there, in rural solitude.

I longed to turn off my bedside light at 11 and awake at 7, so that I could lie there snug for another hour, feeling smug and grateful that I was neither on a crammed tube train, nor freezing cold waiting at a bus stop.

I loved my first Winter alone in that bleak moonscape. With the ocean not more than a mile to the north and west and only three to the east, I’d rise after my hour of smugness and walk to a beach before breakfast.

No distractions, no demands; simply walk and sit and write all day.
At 4 I’d walk the 1.8 miles (I told you I was crazy and yes, I need to know distances like that) to Keogh’s pub where I’d make myself perfectly squiggly before walking home for dinner.

Many days I’d speak to nobody, save for the bigots on Marianne Finucane’s Afternoon Call - yes, Ireland had ritualised daily moaning before Joe Duffy - yet never did I feel lonely.

After ten days of this healthy productive living I’d climb into my transit van and race along the N59 for two days of guiltless hedonistic consumption in Galway City. 

Three mornings later, I’d load the van with shopping at Quinnsworth, and drive slowly and carefully back along the N59, my aching head and trembly body desperate for recovery and solitude once again. 

Being an awful contrary beast, it wasn’t the wind that drove me crazy, but the lack of it. One night I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep. There was nothing of consequence running around my mind, yet something was spooking me.

Opening my bedroom curtains I thought the sheen on the land meant it had snowed, but no: it was simply a full moon. Born in light-polluted London, I’d no idea of the power lunar light had on the natural landscape. 

Deeply moved, I stepped outside and saw those stone-walled famine fields bathed in the silvery wash of a freezing Winter’s night. Ponies were grazing as if it were midday, while the shrieks of vixens and cry of their prey shattered the ethereal silence. Arching across the heavens over my house, the Milky Way shone as a luminous reminder of my own insignificance.

Then I realised why I hadn’t been able to sleep. 
There was no wind.

Although I’d lived there for six months, I’d not yet had the chance to experience the utter stillness of motionless air. Holding my breath I stood still, listening carefully. Brooks that I hadn’t known were nearby babbled and spluttered. I could hear the grass being ripped from the ground by horses’ teeth.

Ever since that moment of ecstasy I have loved Winter. The following November hurricane force winds bent in the glass of all my windows, but I felt no fear, as there was no shed door, no roof tile nearby that might smash into my house.

Such a brutal and majestic power fuelled that storm, that the following day we villagers bounced around with a spring in our steps, thrilled to have survived to see another blue sky morning.

So many of you claim to hate the Winter, but that to me is something of a crime. Why choose to write off 25% of the year? I love the burgeoning power and promise of Spring as much as I enjoy the reflective scents and prolific harvests of Autumn. 

Summer is the only season I have problems with here in the West of Ireland, and that’s because it only arrives once every 7 or 8 years. 

Yet Winter is reliable, in both of its forms.

There will be a succession of brutal Atlantic storms, dumping floods of rain upon the land carried by tree-felling gusts, and then we’ll have the cold stillness of high pressure, when blue skies emerge slowly from deeply frosty misty mornings.

Winter is the only season in which each day you can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset. Out on the bog walking Lady dog, we pause to watch as the crimson sun rises above the horizon, bleeding onto the stark silhouettes of distant hills. Eye-dazzling low sunshine cascades into the coal black clouds, creating a harsh cocktail of vivid beauty.

 We stand in silence; absorbing the colours; soaking up the tranquility of winter.

Above us, the palest of blue skies carries a solitary grey cloud. Eager to drop a freezing cargo, its cascading fringes touch the ground a mere mile away.

Unsure whether it’ll be dumping sleet or hailstones. I decide to experience neither, and click my teeth.

“Come on girl, let’s head home for breakfast, before that hits us.”

Much as I adore heat and sunshine on my bones, I love Winter for its stark dramatic light; long cosy evenings by the fire; exceptional periods of silence; those mornings when I wake to find the land glazed by a wicked frost, the air chilled to perfection.

©Charlie Adley

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