Hello, how’s your winter going so far? Are you as fed up of the weather as I am?
Rain, snow and storms in a Scottish winter are not news. They are just a Scottish winter. But torrential rain, repeated flooding, and storm system after storm system…that is news. Indeed, the only fun in watching the otherwise depressing evening news on telly these days is the ‘weather porn’ feature, when we can watch the BBC getting over-excited about the latest bit of extreme weather. Usually led by some poor reporter standing in the dark, drenched with rain, their hair whipped about their face as they gesticulate at the waves or the swollen river behind them. (One daft thing which has me shouting at the telly: they never wear a hat.)
It’s supposed to be El Niño behind all this meteorological turmoil, isn’t it? We were warned in the autumn that a bad winter was on the way, but I at least hoped that meant days of crisp snowfall, not the endless wind and water. Anyway, enough grumbling. Other countries are faring much worse. We have had a few snowy days, and very pretty they have been too:
The many wet days have given me a reason to make my first ever batch of Seville orange marmalade. It looks like sunshine in a jar: a very satisfying thing to make in this dreich season.
Our first snowdrops are flowering, encouraged perhaps by the warm December we had, and unperturbed by wind, rain or snow.
At the moment, however, the wind is our main news. Storm Gertrude, which hit us on Friday, brought down an alarming number of heavy slates from the castle roof and half of one of my favourite beech trees. We have lost several lovely beeches in the past few years; trees two or three centuries old which, sadly, have reached the end of their lives on our watch. I hope that the saplings we have planted around the place will have the chance to bring as much pleasure to future generations as these fine old trees have brought to us.
Friday’s storm has also smashed one of the antique cast-iron urns which adorn the grounds, and brought down masonry from a chimney stack on the sixteenth-century tower of the castle, so there will be some repairs to be done once the wind has dropped.
Not yet, though. As I write, the wind is rising again and we have barred the shutters in preparation for a story night. Storm Henry is forecast to be a bad one, with winds reaching their peak in the wee hours of tomorrow morning. Westerly gales worm their way through every chink in the old walls and chimneys of the castle. Your feet get cold from the draft as you sit at the kitchen table, and our bedroom is Baltic as the wind moans and whistles through the sash windows. I’m off to bring in some firewood now for the evening. Stay warm!
My first ever ‘tree’ post was about beeches (not this fallen one, but its neighbour): The inaugural Tuesday Tree.
Other stormy adventures are to be found in Many of these trees were my friends.
What a relief: the snow which I was expecting in early December has finally reached us! I know that snow is seen by plenty of people as an inconvenience but honestly, after the last month, anything other than torrential, interminable, relentless rain is a pleasure. Particularly exhilarating was today’s crisp cold, feathery snow, and clear, cloudless sky.
We had almost forgotten what blue sky looked like. The rain has truly been phenomenal this winter. The river burst its banks here three, or was it four, times in three weeks. The access road to the fishing hut has been scoured away by the floods. Some fields (not ours) have been under flood water since the first week of December: wild geese and swans seem to have taken up semi-permanent residence. Part of a railway embankment near here was washed away, bringing the main north-south train route to a halt. Sheep have drowned. Floods and landslips have blocked roads. Homes have been inundated, some several times over: I can hardly imagine the misery for those poor people. And our little bit of the country has not even had the worst of the flooding.
So you can imagine the silly grins on our faces this morning when, in place of the usual murk, we woke to a cloudless sky and bright snow. At long last, a ‘proper’ winter’s day! The dogs and I were actually eager to get out for our morning walk. Even our elderly, stone-deaf Westie volunteered to come for once, cosy in his old gentleman’s Harris tweed jacket.
Just a smattering of snow had sifted down in the night, each snowflake settling featherlight against its neighbours, so that you could make out individual crystals in the puffs decorating each twig, each rosehip.
The white page of the ground was scribbled with hoof- and paw-prints, each line hinting at a nocturnal story. Here was a busy rabbit crossroads:
and here there seems, unmistakably, to have been an encounter between a rabbit and a roe deer, who each turned aside to sniff the other. How I’d love to have seen that!
Against the garden wall there are always one or two roses which struggle on through the winter. In the snow, this red bloom is a bittersweet tale in itself.
I couldn’t be melancholy in such weather, however. Through this landscape of marvels we sauntered homewards, filled with clean air and frosty sunshine. Apparently we are getting another few days of the same: winter at last!
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In the rush of Christmas preparations, a moment of stillness. If you click on the linked words below, you will have the chance to listen to the choir of King’s College, Cambridge singing Morten Lauridsen’s sublime setting of these words of a chant from the Matins of Christmas, ‘O magnum mysterium’.
Thank you for sticking with Dancing Beastie this year; and may I wish you and yours a truly merry Christmas!
O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.
*(translation from Wikipedia)
You might enjoy Christmas cheer.
A friend from the south of England was looking at some of my photos on social media a few days ago.
‘You do have a lot of weather!’ she commented.
Well, I know what she meant. At the end of November it snowed: enough to build a couple of snowmen. Two days later – the beginning of last week – several more inches of snow fell; perfect, fluffy flakes piling up rapidly to make a Christmas card of the landscape. We were outside that day with guests, all marvelling like children at the beauty of the transformation. We began to think half-hopefully of the intensely cold, white winter of six years ago, which also began with a heavy November snowfall.
Then it began to rain.
When we opened the shutters the next morning, there was hardly a trace of the white stuff to be seen. All had washed away in an overnight thaw and heavy rain. It continued to rain all that day and most of last week. On Saturday, it really began to rain. The Tay burst its banks and flooded across the fields, submerging the fishing huts and the access roads to them.
The burn became a swollen river, the lochan doubled in size, the river became a vast menace of rushing water. We saw huge round hay bales tossed along it like corks in a bath. The stretch of our woodland beside the river was now in the river, the young specimen trees in their wooden cages almost completely submerged. The water was full of little bubbles rising up, as if there were fish in the grass: actually, water bubbling up from the saturated soil.
We retreated to the house, thankful to be in a home well above flood level. Still, we were anxious for those in our wider neighbourhood whom we knew would be more affected. In the end it could have been a lot worse. While it seems that some farmers and gardeners have lost out – those hay bales in the river, for example, and allotments inundated – I don’t know of anyone whose house was flooded around here, thank heavens.
Of course, our neighbourhood was only a tiny part of the swathe of Britain affected by flooding this week. As anyone who has seen the UK news will know, the north-west of England and the Borders have had a far worse time. The flood waters really must have seemed apocalyptic to them at times, and our hearts go out to them. To anyone who loves the Lake District or who has never visited Carlisle Castle, for example, I’d say get planning your next trip to beautiful Cumbria! The county will need our support in 2016.
For most of us here in Perthshire it has not been nearly so bad, despite flooded roads and railway lines bringing travel disruption for a few days. Since the weekend the water levels have receded, risen after more rain and then dropped again. But what do you know, coming full circle, we now have snow forecast for this evening. At the moment it is heavy, sleety rain – which I am about to head out into with the dog – but snow is coming.
So I think it’s fair to say that yes, while we may have got off relatively lightly, we have had quite a lot of ‘weather’ recently!
As usual at around this season, I feel as if the year is suddenly rushing towards its close with the majority of the things I meant to accomplish still unachieved. Good Lord, it was Hallowe’en at the weekend and Bonfire Night only last night, but the media is full of Christmas adverts already, with the Big Day looming ahead like a brick wall at the end of a motorway. (Christmas absolutely shouldn’t feel like that, should it? There is always time to reflect on peace and love and acts of kindness at some – many, ideally – point in the Christmas season, but in November I bet most mums have the same growing feeling of mild panic about all the planning still to be done.)
However. Enough about the C-word. Busy though it’s been, this autumn has been a lovely one. September was warm; October was bright and golden. Now November has come in with lingering mists and dense fog, like a November from central casting. It is beautiful too in its melancholy way. We are in the middle of the Perthshire Amber festival, a feast of traditional music and community events organised by musician Dougie Maclean and his family. With visitors drawn to our part of the country from across Europe and North America, it is a pleasure to share something of our autumn with them.
The Danes have that wonderful word, hygge, which means something like a feeling of cosiness and good cheer. We don’t have an equivalent word that I can think of in either English or Scots; but we certainly have the feeling of hygge in this week of music and laughter, friendships old and new, morning walks in the glowing, dripping autumnal woods and afternoons and evenings filled with songs and stories shared over a pint or a warming mug of tea and a freshly-baked scone. Wrap up warm and come and join us next year!
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Amongst the remarkably thoughtful and generous comments on my last post, one little request caught my attention. I had mentioned ‘the scarlet leaves are already falling from the Virginia creeper which licks up the castle wall like tongues of heatless fire’. (Sorry, v. bad form to quote yourself, will try not to do it again.) And a reader from the United States simply asked, ‘Pictures?’
It’s easy to take our own flora and fauna a little for granted. I think we all do it. Yet it’s intriguing to discover what we share with other countries. The name tells me that of course this brilliantly coloured climber must have come from North America originally, but I’d still greet it with glad surprise if I were to spot it on a building in Virginia; like bumping into a local friend in an unexpected place. I always enjoy spotting familiar flowers and trees in photos on blogs from other countries, as well as discovering what is alien to me but completely unremarkable to a local. So for Philosopher Mouse and anyone else who is interested in these things, here is our (Scottish) Virginia creeper, glowing against the castle walls in its last flickering embers.
You might enjoy more photos of warming seasonal colour around the castle in Autumn glow.
Today is the autumn equinox, when it feels as if the Earth rests for a moment on its axis, perfectly in balance before it rolls onward into the long nights of winter. The day is still and sunlit. September is rusting the heavy green trees, and the scarlet leaves are already falling from the Virginia creeper which licks up the castle wall like tongues of heatless fire.
Unlike the day, I have been feeling very un-balanced recently. And it’s not just the flashes of vertigo caused by a wonky head! Our boys are both at boarding school during the week now, which is focussing my thoughts on what to do with increased free time.
I never find myself bored. On top of the normal household tasks, there is more that could be done as lady of a castle than I can ever manage: I could, had I the drive, be clearing rooms, restoring pictures, making jam, cataloguing the library, researching family manuscripts, making curtains, harvesting the garden… plus I need, as a means of maintaining sanity, to take myself off to my little studio room to paint and create on an almost daily basis.
And it is essential to make space to walk in the woods with the dogs, watching the red squirrels burying their cache of beech nuts and thrilling at the music of the migrating geese overhead. I don’t need the latest craze for classes in Mindfulness and Gratefulness. My lessons are all around me.
All the time, however, I am aware that most people are working harder than me. I’ve been very lucky that, in the past five years of health difficulties (with brain injury leading to M.E.), I have not been trying to hold down paid employment: it would have been impossible. Now, though, I’m beginning to peer over the parapet and wonder whether I dare to/ ought to take more on. One or two friends have been dropping brick-like hints that I should re-join this or that pet committee of theirs, and I’m reluctantly wondering if I should. Certainly I have been feeling better in the past two months than I did last year, thank heavens, although the pattern of effects of an auto-immune disorder like M.E. is unpredictable, making me wary of new commitments. Over-doing it one week (e.g. going out for two evenings in the week) can still lead to exhaustion the next.
But friends and acquaintances do not see the battles one fights with ‘invisible injuries’ like brain trauma or M.E./ CFS. They only see that I am not doing a job as such, and that I don’t entertain much, and that therefore I am not pulling my weight in society. And the thing is, I am beginning to wonder whether I agree with them.
This is good; it’s a sign that I’m feeling better than I have for a fair while. Thus I find myself approaching a crossroads. Notwithstanding the odd bit of voluntary work (and even committee membership – and oh, how I loathe committees, no matter how good the cause and pleasant the members), is it acceptable for an educated woman of my generation to make her home and family her whole focus? Can I justify using free time to work on my attempts at art and writing? Or would it be better for ‘society’, and indeed for my own self-esteem, if I tried to get back into the job market and earn my keep? Sorry, I’ve wrestled with this before on Dancing Beastie, I know, yet still find myself torn. Meanwhile – and more to the point – while I ponder that, do I have to take on more of those blessed committees?
Forgive me for airing these very first-world problems: I do know what a privilege it is to have a career crisis of this sort! I also know that any responses I receive from you are likely to be sensible, pithy and wise.
At the start of the year, a very wise woman told me that understanding what to do with one’s gifts and abilities is something not to be rushed. It is like a long labour, she said, taking its own time. It’s just that at my age I would really like to have figured it out by now – and while I search, or wait, or whatever I’m meant to be doing, I feel off-balance, thrown sideways by the expectations and insinuations of others.
Outside, meanwhile, as the sun sets behind the hills, the Earth on the cusp between summer and winter is perfectly balanced. It has been another beautiful day.
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