Breathing

In a winter that hasn’t much felt like one, we came close to a white Christmas. It was Christmas Eve, and we had almost reached my favourite part of the movie Meet Me In St. Louis, where Judy Garland, clad in sparkling headscarf, sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Just as she was about to begin, the flakes began to fall. They were thick and fat, but they melted as soon as they hit the pavement. I paused Judy and went to the door, to revel in the falling snow. Across the street, one of the neighbours sat in her window and filmed it on her mobile phone. For a while there was the silent magic of falling snow against a twilight sky. Soon, the fat flakes became tiny balls and the snowstorm was over. I listened to Judy sing about us all being together someday, and thought back to March, when, walking in the dene just before the first lockdown, I had heard Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again floating on the air.

Close to sunset on Christmas Day, when dinner was eaten and gifts opened, I walked with Winston into the town centre. The hush of Christmas Day is usually like no other here. Every business shuttered and no people around. Just a life size decorated Snowman gazing down the empty street and a silence that is profound. But this year the silence isn’t a rarity. This year there have been weeks of silence and empty streets. Some of the shops are now empty permanently. The first lockdown is like a dream: hard, shocking but with a good smattering of optimism and community spirit. I remember the shriek of kittiwakes nesting by the river. The red-haired woman who drove her pony and trap on empty roads each day. The bloom of birdsong that filled the two minutes silence on VE day. Back then there was fear, but there was also the possibility of what we could do with the ‘meanwhile space’ we had been given. Winston barks at the snowman and his bark echoes back at us. Gulls watch from sentry posts on the rooftops. A half moon is visible in the darkening sky. It was a short walk, but I am already numb with cold. As we turn for home it seems as if all the gulls have taken flight and are circling in a feathered tornado before settling to their roosts.

On New Year’s Eve, we moved into the highest tier of alert for Coronavirus in the country. It didn’t make much difference to us on our last walk of the year. Roofs were coated in ice and our breath shivered in the air before us. Trees were silhouetted against a pink and blue pastel-striped sky. The crows followed us around for peanuts. I heard the call of great tits and the woodpecker from above and gulls massing in the distance. Soon, there was a blaze of orange in the west. The year’s last sunset had a flamboyant palette. Later, I would be woken at midnight by the usual roar of fireworks, despite the restrictions, but the sunset was fireworks enough for me.

The new year rides in on storms and hope. We are battered by rain, hail, sleet and snow. The wind moans along empty lanes. We are promised cold and perhaps another Beast from the East. We are told that the virus is out of control and tougher restrictions still may be needed. On those grey days when the light hardly touches the landscape, the world seems stark and unforgiving. But in between the grey, the sun struggles through. What appeared stark becomes nuanced. This year has shown us in horrifying ways what it is to be without the most basic element of survival – the breath – and how quickly that can change everything. But it also gave us a taste of what it is to breathe freely, in unfettered time and in unpolluted air. We had no choice but to live in the moment, because we didn’t know what would come next.

A few days into the year and we are in lockdown once more. The messages are serious, the numbers who have the virus are the highest since the pandemic began. Fear is whipped up by the news and community spirit is fraying at the edges. We are encouraged to stay at home. A TV pundit suggests we keep our Christmas decorations up until Candlemas for some extra cheer. The weather still fluctuates between storm and sun. From my window as I work, I can see the clocktower of the town hall across the river. The shifts in landscape bring me joy. Sometimes it blurs into mist and rain; sometimes it is clear and burnished in sunlight; in the dark the tower is lit up in different colours. The snow that lies further north and south has passed us by. But our first trip of the year to hydrotherapy takes us into a landscape softened and made luminous by snow. Out here, I can breathe in the space and light and forget for a moment the oppressive news. Out here I can remember that I am starting this year in a much better place than I started the last. At heart I’m an optimist, still inhaling hope with each breath.

104 thoughts on “Breathing

  1. It sounds like you guys are having it very rough right now and my heart goes out to you. Our Midwestern US states have lower numbers than in November-December so we’re not feeling so oppressed. Your sentence “What appeared stark becomes nuanced” stands out. It seems that now is a time to pay attention to the nuances. At least that’s what I’m trying to do these days. Thanks Andrea.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I love the hope that you breathe throughout your post. Nature is our one constant in this year of ambiguity and change. Temperatures will fluctuate and flowers bloom earlier or later than normal but the sun, moon, stars, and tides still adhere to their scheduled appointments. People do not want to be inconvenienced; many feel that adhering to public health recommendations is an affront to their personal liberties-yet many of these same people want the government to do SOMETHING and make the virus go away. I fail to see how we can have it both ways. Happy New Year, Andrea. I hope it is a peaceful, hopeful one for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I’m delighted that you’re in a better place this year and feel hope Andrea. As always, I enjoy your musings on life, especially during these crazy times. The quiet and cleaner air have been two bright spots for sure. May 2021 bring more compassion and healing for our world.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lovely post, Andrea. We are not in lockdown although we should be. Yesterday we stopped at a local coffee shop for coffee and pastries, then drove to the nearby park to eat them. It was so needed and low risk. We are all beginning to struggle with the isolation and multiple threats.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Against the grim background you describe your lovely sky photos stand out. At least we always have the skies! I’m pleased to read your last two sentences. Keep warm, safe and keep breathing in that hope. Also, keep writing your thoughtful posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. At least you had one sniff of snow. We have not come close, just record rainfall, a feeling of damp, depressed atmosphere to deal with day in, day out, with more on the way, which matches the mood of this country right now.

    Better days ahead, eh? Let’s hope so!

    Loved your work, as always, my friend.

    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Andrea, this is a wonderful post, lovely in places, frightening in others! The skies in the photos are beautiful. You write clearly and with a light touch; there’s a softness there as well. 🤗😘

    Liked by 2 people

  8. What we have learned over the past year is to live in the moment, to appreciate what we have, to make the most of all opportunities, and to show compassion. Your nuanced description of the changing of the years is excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hello, Andrea, thank you for such a wonderful post. It’s nice that you and Winston are out and about.
    I always enjoy seeing any photos that you add to your posts, and the ones above are no exception, especially the Railway Tracks and the Gulls drifting across the Winter Sky.
    The Gulls aren’t drifting aimlessly, they’re going about their daily business of survival, and the Railway Lines lead to somewhere.
    The World turns, the show goes on, sit back and do nothing, the grass will still grow. Soon, the sound, movement, and sight of Spring will fill our canvas’. There’s a lot of wonderful things to come, Andrea, lets do our bit, and make sure we are there to see them.
    Give Winston a pat on the head for me, please. Take care.

    Mick.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Mick, yes the world is turning and I’ve already seen buds on the trees, though I’d happily have a bit more snow first! Still working from home and going out as little as possible other than that necessary exercise. You stay safe too Mick.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. We had a green Christmas this year, which is opposite of last year’s “Snowmageddon” as it was coined. No predicting seasonal weather anymore around here.
    Andrea, stay safe! I’m optimistic too, and live in hope the virus gets obliterated soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Sending you love and hugs, Andrea. I know it’s been hard this year and, yet, you manage to find a little hope . . . a little light, through our breath. I enjoyed your thoughts and feelings and feel your energy and connection even from the other side of the world.

    Here’s a tender little video from a gentle soul asking the question so many of us have been asking each other this year. “How Are You, Really?” Hope it warms your heart and makes you continue to feel that warm feeling of hope.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. We had a green Christmas, as well. And the little bit that fell after, did not stay. We finally had a certain almost decent snowfall (I prefer snow to rain in winter – it brightens things up). For the first time we here in Quebec are under curfew since Saturday. It is rather eerie to see the streets so empty and I was about to take Zeke for walk when I realised it was 8:15. Technically, I can but honestly? Why? Let us do this for one month and hope it makes a difference
    Keep your positive spirits up, Andrea!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your description of the snow fall, however light and short, was beautiful ~ a breath of fresh, cold, winter air that feeds the soul and optimism needed this time of year 🙂 Beautiful photos, they too bring a feeling of beauty and hope into the New Year. Wishing you well.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your words as evocative as ever, began to stir up old memories.

    Until the year ten, Christmas was the most important day in my life, a time of mysterious illusionism. As teenagers, when afflicted with cynicism and the loss of God, Christmas became all about money and opportunities.
    Married, with children brought back a modest revival of the lost magic, replaying the charade for our children’s sake all over again. After that Christmas became all about eating too much, drinking too much and listen to the same stories from each other all over again. Family time; a short period of comfort, foolishness and forgiveness! For a few days, we pretend to love each other and wallow in the good memories of times gone by.
    Once the children had grown up it was all about, somewhere else, but not home! We prefer skiing or roasting under the burning sun of the south. And again too much debauchery, moments of revived romanticism and many doubts about what life is all about.
    Now with the approach of old age, Christmas has revived itself again. Like an old friend, it has been with us through good and bad times, loved, despised and neglected. Despite its lost relevance and arbitrariness, it now is imbued with new meanings. A time to reflect, to remember and remind ourselves of the other’s existence. A period this if not already in place would have been in need of invention.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Andrea,
    Reading your post today…I could feel the ache in the ‘what have been…’ past and the ache of isolation and shocking changes and fear.
    Winter’s breath makes one, I believe anyway, very aware of how stark things can be.
    I send you some of my hope and energy today.
    B.B. and Happy New Year wishes.
    Be well,
    Nims

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for this post Andrea – such wonderful reflections and accompanied by those gorgeous pictures. There is – as you say – always something we can find to cheer and bless even in the midst of darkness – blessings Lois

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love the photo of the train tracks, there’s lots of metaphors in that, methinks. I think there are lots of reasons to have a good long reading session this year. Hibernate until the year after, and then see what happens!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you for your wonderful post, Andrea, and for all the walks. If there is little joy around, we have to look for it and find it in Nature. I remember that post about the kittiwakes. It is hard to believe it was almost a year ago. A dreary year. We are in lockdown too. 45 death yesterday, 63 today. Population 6.5 millions. It breaks my heart, already split between two continents, but then I read your post and I know – we will persevere. It is my mantra these days:)

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Things are similar here, Andrea, though not the weather. We are on an even more strict lockdown than we were previously, a self-imposed quarantine. In our county, people seem a little crazy and many do not wear masks. The numbers of cases are alarming. Yet, home is peaceful, joyful, and revitalizing. We exercise, clean, work on household and creative projects. Beautiful photos of the sky! Your weather sounds more inviting. It is that time of year when my least favorite weather here occurs: cold winds, sunny skies. I look forward to a rainstorm or even to an overcast day with strong breezes. So glad you are well and happy!

    Liked by 2 people

  20. It’s all a balance isn’t it. Between the dark and the light. Between what’s normal and what’s not normal. Between the busyness of life and learning to appreciate the silence of life. Between the fear of the virus and the peace of staying at home. As always your post makes me ruminate. Like you, I find solace in the sunbeams that shine through the clouds.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. I love that you think so deeply on your walks. I am so grateful to have Bailey’s company on mine–do you feel the same about Winston? Makes what could be a lonely landscape a bit more of a winter wonderland when you have a compadre.

    Liked by 2 people

    • There would never have been so many walks if it wasn’t for Winston, it’s always good to have him for a companion, except on the days we go ‘for a stand’ rather than a walk. Those are the days when he just wants to stand still at every opportunity and just watch the world go by 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Oh, I’m giggling. I get it. It’s Bailey that gets me out to walk, which is wonderful. But she is a sniffer. And when we go on sniffing meanders, sometimes it really feels like a walk. You’re not alone!

        Liked by 2 people

  22. Life twists and turns so quickly, doesn’t it? I, too, am an optimist, perhaps sometimes when I shouldn’t be. But how else can we get through times such as these if we don’t hold out that things will get better? I’ve been working a lot with my breath lately. I find I am holding my breath, gripping tight. I have to remember to breathe. I have to remember to let go; I can’t control it all. We had a spitting of snow Christmas Eve, too. I acted like a five-year-old. It was magical—for about 30 minutes. Your words, always beautiful, always resonate. Take good care, Andrea.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Your words capture the emotions of this meanwhile space that has gone on much longer than anyone expected. Sun and storm. Hope and despair. Even so, I’m also starting the new year in a much better place than last.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Without hope what do we have? I don’t even want to consider that.
    You took me with you on your walk. Beautiful writing once again. But the threat is so real. I’ve worried about the UK because we’ve heard horrible numbers, etc. Arizona has also been hit very hard, but our governor is a doofus and gives us no direction. Today I saw on either BBC or Japanese news that Pfizer is not going to have enough doses because they have some “issues.” I could have seen that coming. This is going to be one threat after another until we finally get it under control. But then it ought to be, right? Say yes :).

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course I’m going to say yes, because I’m an optimist 🙂 But seriously, I do feel that fear sometimes, particularly when we get new strains that have mutated from the first, but they do seem to be getting through a lot of vaccinations – we’ve now moved from the over 80s to the over 70s. It’ll take time, but we will get there.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. Such a gorgeous poetic piece, Andrea—both haunting and hopeful. Most of my blog writing has leaned more practical rather than poetic over the last year. Seems like I’ve needed to do that to ground myself.

    I love the way you described the push and pull of now, those newfound moments of stillness that we have cherished but also been frightened of. I find myself really having to latch onto my memories of the world we once lived in before COVID. I’m starting to forget what it used to be like, which is very unsettling. I wouldn’t mind experiencing some of those carefree times again.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. If we don’t have optimism, we have to wonder what’s the point, right? I’m pretty sure most of us are carrying little flags held high inside us, proclaiming our hope for better days, whether anyone can see them or not, whether we speak of them aloud or not. And all the things you mention – the snowflakes, a striped pastel sky, the crows hoping for peanuts – that’s what helps us have hope. Thanks for sharing yours. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Yes, thank goodness for the changing sky and delights of nature. For me, it has been the return of the starlings to our garden. Watching them come into roost and hearing their calls every evening brings such joy. I can forget the bleakness of the news for a while. Best wishes to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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