Our Australian winters, depending on where we live, can be short and mild or long and lugubrious.
There can be days of milky sunshine, surprised snowdrops and the last tendrils of frost slipping off naked and shivering trees.
There can be tempest-tossed days of thunder and hail and spoilsport showers. Gutters gush and rivers rise and the weather plays havoc with public transport timetables.
And there are days when winter seems to be so mellow that the season seems to have redefined itself and no longer seeps soggily into our skin the way it did in the thrashing, lashing, churlish and chilblained winters of the past.
We build winter into our daily lives, recognising that it is a season with its own special consolations.
It has an interiority denied us in brighter and longer hours. Days shorten and dusk alights not long after school is out. It slows us down to hurry us home. This is a winter’s tale. But it is also a tale of resilience and regeneration, of battening down and buttoning up and Mother Earth resting between seasons.
Albert Camus wrote: ‘‘In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Perhaps we can usefully apply the metaphor of the seasons to our own lives. Some would say that winter harbours the end, that it is the last season of life, that there is no longer time for change or redemption. But so much is going on unseen, underground, away from the bright disclosures of summertime when the living is easy. In this fallow time a new chapter is being written. In the end is the beginning.’’
In Thomas Hardy’s poem, The Darkling Thrush, hope is alive in the thrush’s song.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
In winter we too can fling our souls upon the gloom. If we can live days full-hearted and joyous, nothing can stop the song being sung.
I love the stoicism of sparrows that, despite the gloaming, still peek and putter along the branches. Their winter hymn is one of cheerful solidarity, waiting out the weather together, side by side, soul to soul, singing in the rain.
They are little winter warmers, a reminder of the glorious immutability and certainty of Creation; flighty feathered friends who accompany me chirpily from one season to the next; from the wrinkled woes of winter to the small serendipities of spring.
Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer