A few months on from my first article about Sandringham, I decided to revisit and reconsider the place now that it was blistering under the cold of winter. The greenery was limp yet it endured, continued and straggled onwards towards the warmth of spring’s re-emergence. The light today, beautified the decay amongst the soft mosses, whilst evergreens held the spotlight. The shade at times was heavy. This was the forest in a fitful sleep; in the middle of winter’s grip.
From October til December the trees say goodbye to their leaves. They do this not because they’ve had a spat, or because they’re bored of green (as appealing as those ideas are), but because for them winter equal drought. In a time when most water is a solid, hydration is a key concern. But water expands when it freezes, so how do the cells in the bark and branches cope? Well, the remaining cells pumps water out of their vacuoles and cytoplasm, draining from their internal spaces into the adjacent cell space. When this freezes and expands, it has less chance of bursting and killing the cells.
The trees in their dormancy wait. And I understand that feeling. Autumn through winter sees me moving ever more sluggishly. I get slower and slower. Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking through fudge. I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning (okay, that’s not exceptionally new); I can’t stay awake during the day, though; I have difficulty making plans about the future. I dream of hot beaches, but I know they are some way away.
Winter is the doldrums of life. Thank God the solstice prompted our ancestors to have debauch celebrations. From Saturnalia, Christmas, Dong Zhi in China, Shab-e Yalda in Iran, Toji in Japan, to Soyal of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona. They all celebrate the longest night of the year and the turning of the Earth towards the sun and longer days. It also marks the end of the harvest period – thus the feasting! Of course, over the millennia the day of celebrating the solstice has changed and sometimes the reason for the celebration itself has become vastly corrupted and altered and added to.
Knowing I have the big glitzy banquet of Christmas to attend though – a day of utmost indulgence, and quite frankly, an obscene about of day drinking – really gets you through the Autumn. January to Mid-March, however, just makes me want to cry.
Forests are magical at anytime of year. Most notably because we see them as areas of transition within our cultural. Through a forest the ancient Greeks reached Hades the underworld, and through a forest Dante reached the gates of Hell. These wooded areas of the imagination lead us to planes of existence outside of mortality and not always to pleasant locales. The Forbidden Forest in Rowling’s Harry Potter is a world unto itself, where magical creatures reign supreme and the trees seemingly stretch out into infinity; where the occupants of a particularly special wardrobe stumble into a wintery arboretum; where ghouls and goblins challenge epic adventurers; where spiders grow to the size of busses; where hobbits hide and witches build lairs. They are sanctuaries as well as the home of bears. These jungles are the hearts and souls of men. Appealing to our primordial desires to swing along canopies. But we also know, such places rend our senses from rationality.
I love the forest at any time of year, but soon I hope it will be spring again.