This is the season of bones. The season of stark silhouettes against lowering skies. It is a season in which you can see the structure of the earth, the skeleton. The land is open. Views are revealed that would normally be hidden by foliage and flower. But all is not quite as transparent as it seems. For this is nature’s most secretive season. Life goes on, but it goes on in the dark places: beneath clotted soil, within thickened stems and in shaded burrows.
Wherever I go, I see bones. Ossuaries of branch and twig. Bleached bones of silver birch. Gnarled bones of cherries. Alders knobbly with catkins. Sweeping bones of ash. And I see the bones of the flowers that were. The spiky teasel heads, the skeletons of hemlock. The earth is at its most prickly. Its most unfriendly, perhaps – barbs to brush against, ice and mulched leaves to slip on, mud to trap unwary feet. As though it is telling us to stay away, stay indoors, there is nothing out here for you.
When I look at my local landscape, I see the bones of industry. My landscape is changing, as it does. Usually the transformation is in small, unnoticed steps. But I see a skyline dominated by enormous cranes and the skeleton of new apartments. The red lights of the cranes wink in the sky at night, disconnected dots. I see a horizon spiked with clusters of yellow skeletons, foundations for wind turbines awaiting their journeys to sea. Steel behemoths visible in the gaps between skeletons of wood. Bones upon bones.
I see bones in the paintings of Paul Nash, as I wander his exhibition in a gallery nearby. He is famous for scenes of World War One in which the skeletons and stumps of blasted trees scar the landscape. But there are rows of cherry tree skeletons in The Cherry Orchard; scatters of the bones of trees in We are making a new world and The Menin Road. The bones of scrapped war planes in Totes Meer. But Paul Nash is also known for a mystical attachment to landscape and the genius loci; for painting the earth stained by equinox and moon; and for pursuing the creative sweet spot between dreams and waking.
In this season of bones we do all we can to keep ours hidden. Layered under coats and scarves and hats, burrowed in our houses among blankets and fires. We turn from the bones and heed nature’s call to stay away, or if not, then we shield ourselves against her bitterness. But nature has a plan for us too. This is our time for moving inwards. As the trees dream within their armoured shells and the seeds dream beneath the darkened soil, so we dream too, whether we know it or not. We dream of what we will do, of what we will be, of what we will create. Sometimes the dreams will come easily, laid bare like nature’s skeleton. Sometimes, they will be secretive and struggle to be born. This is the season of bones, but already crocuses pierce the earth like golden spearheads and buds adorn the branches. The earth is already waking and telling us her dreams.