A Winter Blog By Helen Hastings From Downpatrick

Helen Hastings ruminates about Winter

Helen Hastings ruminates about Winter

In one of my previous blog posts on Down News, I documented my love affair with the winter months. 

I’m sure it was probably met with some disbelief by the sun worshippers out there who are counting down the days until summer when they can all reach for the factor 50 and burn to a frazzle in their back gardens. I, however, spent the month of August watching out for the way the light dies a little earlier each night as the seasons become more and more autumnal. 

Helen Hastings, Down News blogger. (Photo: Jim Masson).

There is something magical to be found each winter in the death of things. While that may sound incredibly morbid to some, I mean it simply as an observation of how the seasons change the landscapes and our perspectives of nature. 

Sometimes it surprises us. I was walking through a forest the other day and I came across a badger set that I didn’t know was there previously. The summer months had disguised it well with thick coverings of ferns and ivy, the leaf-stocked branches of trees hanging low over the entrance to it. 

I knelt at a safe distance and stared into mysterious blackness beyond the entrance, hoping for the glimpse of a black and white face. Suddenly I felt ill at ease, like I was intruding on a private space and wasn’t wanted there, almost as if I was tuning into the vulnerability of wild animals whose territory had been violated. As I made my way home, the darkness closing in on the horizon, I thought about how the starkness of winter brings a sense of renewal but at the same time makes us face up to the vulnerable and helpless side of our natures.

During the pandemic I think it’s fair to say that our whole human programming has been challenged… and changed.  Everything has looked different and uncertain, and we have all felt the crushing weight of unwanted change in some form or other. 

Watching the slow turn of the seasons has been a glorious distraction for me and confirmation that nothing, not even a global pandemic can stop nature in her tracks. It goes on.

I recently got behind a mic again for the first time in almost two years.  As a poet, reading my work publicly and in the presence of other poets was (and still is) one of my greatest joys. However, on this occasion I felt at odds with my own voice. 

I listened as it trembled its way round the room, my whole body shaking. Everything felt familiar and alien at the same time and it was a very weird situation. I felt like I had been picked up by the scruff of my neck and plonked into a swimming pool of human experience 100 foot deep.  I felt like those badgers must have felt when I walked by their newly exposed set, vulnerable and suddenly afraid, like I had just been ‘found out’.

I think in a lot of ways we are all being ‘found out’. We are all presenting new and different sides of our personalities as we get older, and as the world and her seasons change so dramatically around us. We surprise ourselves and each other all the time with our changes, but is that such a bad thing? 

As we continue to navigate this pandemic, may we nurture our changes and find the beauty in the stark winter months.  And if like those badgers, you are finding the idea of going ‘above ground’ terrifying, I hope you all find the strength soon and may you only find the curious and good folks who will help you on the journey back to being yourself.  

You are not lost, you are here and I am so glad.