What is your favourite season? In a YouGov survey conducted in November 2016, summer was the most popular season for nearly half of those interviewed (44%). Spring managed to win almost a quarter of the votes (24%). Autumn and winter shared the remainder with 13% declaring autumn to be their favourite and a mere 7 out of 100 people loving winter. Poor old winter; it gets a lot of bad press thanks to long dark days, bad weather and a surfeit of health complaints such as colds and flu. But does it actually hold hidden treasure for us? I would argue that it does.
I took this photograph on a December afternoon as storm clouds raced across the sky. Despite the threat of rain it was an incredibly peaceful moment, and one in which the beauty of winter was captivating. I had ventured out with a group of writing friends to visit St Mary’s Church in Clophill. Lured by its somewhat dark history, we’d climbed the tower and stood together, gazing out over the landscape. All thoughts of ghosts and nefarious deeds faded from our minds as we drank in the panorama of English countryside – vibrant green fields that flowed like waves in one direction; horses grazing on fallow farmland in another. And then there was this tree: so strong and majestic, like a silent sentinel guarding the perimeter of the graveyard.
There is something magical about the silohuette of a leaf-barren tree against a winter sky. Stripped of foliage, it displays the intricate network of trunk, branches and twigs that form its skeleton. There is beauty in its nakedness, and there is deep wisdom in the solid way it embraces the winter – not with impatience or dislike – but with the timeless understanding that this is a season of rest.
As I breathed in the cold wintry air, and took the time to simply be in the moment, I found within myself a deep desire to embrace that wisdom. For I know, too often, I strive to fill each waking moment with activity, with action, with the pursuit of fruit. And I understand those who celebrate as the longest day of the year passes in December, and the promise of lighter evenings, warmer days and the green leaves of spring flowers grows ever closer. Spring, Summer and Autumn are all productive in their own ways and each season calls us to pay homage by filling our hours with action, with hustle and bustle, with occupation.
But how much wiser – how much healthier – would we be if we embraced winter, and allowed ourselves to take time to stand still and simply be? What strength might we build in a season where we cease striving to hit self-imposed targets and goals? Why do we push ourselves to constantly produce fruit at a time when the trees are whispering to us to conserve our energies? Let us look at the majesty of a winter-wrapped tree and join in with the simple pleasure of the season of rest; taking the time to be one with the Earth and the sky.
There will be time enough for fresh growth, for rich foliage and for fruit. But now, it is winter and it is time to rest.