Mindful midwinter

We often tend to think of winter - especially here in the Northern hemisphere - as a bit of an ordeal: months of grey, of damp and gloom and relentless rain with a bit of sleet thrown in. Once the sparkle of Christmas has faded it’s a case of getting your head down, gritting your teeth and just surviving January and February.

Here on Skye, the light levels are certainly low right now. We are, after all, pretty far north. Add the sometimes tempestuous winds blowing in from the Atlantic and the regular deluges, and the prospect of a Hebridean winter might put shivers down even the most robust spine. But…

We have days of dazzling winter sunshine too; days where there isn’t the slightest whisper of a breeze. At the weekend I took Joe to the beach and down on the sand, sheltered by the rocks, it actually felt warm. We each did our own thing. He explored the rockpools with his net and I went collecting. The sun was low in the sky so all the little pebbles and shells glittered, jewel-like, as they caught the light. And I thought to myself about how collecting shells is such an absorbing thing to do - the seeking (I was particularly interested in the little humbug-striped ones); the gathering; the noticing (spotting pearlescent Top shells gleaming from under the water) .

There’s much to be savoured at this time of year. I try and defy the temptation to hibernate; it’s important to go outside and take in what’s happening both in nature and with other people. Connection is vital. Living in a very small village it’s impossible to walk from one end to the other without stopping to talk, and that’s such a good thing. People need to see other people in the darker months (even if it’s just to talk about the weather or a leaky roof).

This morning I walked Joe to school. He was so excited; tiny flakes of snow were falling and the puddles were frozen, and as I walked back down the school drive under the pines I looked across to the mountains and water. A light sifting of snow had transformed everything. The two Highland cows and their babies were close to the fence, blowing out steam from their wet noses and observing me as I walked by. I’d deliberately left my hat at home (even the tiniest dose of vitamin D is welcome) but was warm in Jay’s coat and my woolly gloves.

Indoors, things are growing. The kitchen table hyacinths are now in full bloom, and the orchid at the foot of the stairs has flowered too.

The cat spends much of his time asleep and snoring by the radiator and is quite partial to a blanket being tucked into his basket. The rooms at the front of the house are west-facing so in the afternoons we often get dazzling light for a brief time. It’s good to sit in there and read. Right now I’m enjoying Ali Smith’s Winter (although that’s my bedtime book). I’m also dipping in and out of a library find: Cosy - the British Art of Comfort by Laura Weir, and am doing a bit of light magazine decluttering too. I have so many copies of old Country Living, and have taken out the pages I want to keep. It’s mainly interiors stuff with a smattering of gardening features and recipes, and interviews with fellow craftspeople and makers. I have a bit of a thing for seeing other people’s workspaces.

This midwinter I’m thinking about things in terms of what inspires, absorbs or comforts. Eating, reading, exploring, discovering, creating…

And watching. Because of course there’s room for TV during these cold months. Over Christmas I watched The Lady in the Van with Maggie Smith and absolutely loved it. I also enjoyed Agatha & the Truth of Murder, and at the moment I’m watching episodes of Cold Feet, Catastrophe, Mrs Wilson and True Detective. I like to think of it as ‘comfort viewing’ - once Joe’s up in bed we like to relax and switch off a little bit.

Of course, as well as enjoying the midwinter months by observing and savouring, there’s much to look forward to. This weekend we’re going to Inverness and staying overnight. In addition to the usual frenzied stocking up, driving from retail park to supermarket to other supermarket etc. and a bit of browsing in the shops (Hello, Waterstones), we wanted to have a day where we could do nice things too. We’ve booked a table in a restaurant for lunch; it’s child-friendly and their gluten free selection is very good. Joe wants to visit the Botanic gardens and to go up to the glass viewing tower in the castle. I’m very excited about a secondhand bookshop Jay found via Facebook, and am meeting a friend in there before going for coffee. I might squeeze in a visit to the Highland Print Studio and our B&B is a scenic walk along the river Ness from the city centre.

Next month the castle near home is opening for two Snowdrop Walks. Joe’s on half term for the second one and he’s eager to go along (it might have something to do with the home baking in the cafe rather than admiring the different species of Galanthus)…

I’ve also started getting up earlier in the mornings. I know it’s a standard recommendation of all wellbeing gurus, but it’s true: once you’ve fought that almost impossible urge to stay under the covers until daylight appears, it really is worth doing. A slower start to the day has really helped lower my stress levels. I can get dressed before Joe gets up and if I’m lucky I can maybe even read a few pages of something interesting whilst drinking a cup of nettle tea.* The whole day seems to run better without a hectic start. We do seem to end up with a window of time before heading out, but that’s far preferable to running around like headless chickens.

So to finish, a little list of mindful activities for this time of year:

  • Indoor gardening: planting, pruning, repotting

  • Eating a pomegranate (impossible to do in a hurried manner - and possibly the world’s most beautiful fruit)

  • Baking (current favourite, and hardly any effort: flapjacks)

  • Clearing out a drawer or a bag; nothing too taxing but enough to justify a feeling of accomplishment once done

  • An early night: hot bath, warm bed, good book

*Nettle tea really doesn’t taste very nice but is anti-inflammatory and I’m fine with feeling virtuous if a bit deprived of a morning.