It is January, a very wet January. We have had floods, we still have rain; frost whitens the rooftops after nights clear and star-scattered. And yet I have roses in flower in my little garden. Not many, I grant you, not the big, showy summer specimens, with heavy, many-petalled heads. But even so… it is January. The tenacious little rosebush has not only a flower in bloom but a host of buds waiting in the wings. Its petals are sparse, blushing delicately pink with the rain; it is not at its best, marked by the weather, but the little Virgo rose is a stubborn nonconformist and has refused to curl up and sleep for the winter.
Yes, okay… there are those who may grin and draw the inevitable comparisons… the white rose is the symbol of Yorkshire, and I am a Virgo. Go ahead… help yourselves… You know who you are…
It isn’t just the roses though. Catkins shiver in the wind, pussy willow buds are starting, bulbs are spearing up through the sodden earth and yet last year’s leaves still cling to the buddleias, looking as healthy as ever, the bamboo is thriving and there are seedlings everywhere. Yet friends not too far away are coping with severe flooding, with fields and villages under water for weeks on end. Many areas are cut off, and while the aerial pictures may look beautiful, the reality of the hardship on the ground is a different matter altogether. Coasts have been battered by storms, landscapes irrevocably changed and there still seems little let up in the rain. I am lucky where I live, the flooding tends to be relatively minor and the Vale sees so little snow as a rule that a decent fall is a day for cameras and adventure.
The official start to spring is a mere eight weeks away, though we could just as easily be out in T-shirts as snowed under when we do alter the clocks and heave that sigh of relief. As soon as the daylight hours are lengthened warmth seems to wait around the corner and the glowing colours of a summer garden lift the heart. Of course, we have designated the beginning of spring to fall in line with the astronomical seasons and really, that’s not what it happening at all. The earth has a mind of her own and will dress in snow or flowers as and when she sees fit. We who live upon her surface have no choice but to accept her vagaries and whims for she, not we, is in charge here.
However the weather may affect our lives, we cannot avoid it. The effect on the landscape is part of the natural cycle; we feel it badly because we have superimposed our lives upon the surface of a world older and deeper than we. For all we confine fields within walls and hedgerows and lay our snaking roads across the land, our structures are as fragile and ephemeral as our lives when compared to the life of earth.
My little rose stands out in the garden at present, incongruous in the damp, grey light. In summer there are other, showier blooms to catch the eye and take all attention. Looking at images of the garden in brighter days is a beautiful reminder of the inevitability of summer… even one as unpredictable as those we see here in Britain; a temperate climate can fluctuate widely, even though we seldom reach the extremes of other countries.
The delicate petals seem to capture that cycle, more so as they are out of season, a gentle reminder that all things move to the steady rhythm of unfolding. Amid the summer blooms the little flower would pass unremarked; here in the grey morning it is a fragile beacon, reflecting the pale light, a promise of brighter days to come.
That is often the way. Small joys are overlooked when life is bright and full of colour, overshadowed by brighter, bigger things. It is only in the winter gloom, out of season, that we may truly see the little things, the simple things, appreciating their reassurance and their message that whatever the weather in our lives, the wheel will turn. Beneath the surface life moves inexorably and naturally forward and the glories of summer are born in winter darkness. Even in the depths of winter, there may be a fragile bloom, just waiting to be noticed.