Polly Greeks: A winter’s tale

After a rubbish summer, Polly falls in love with winter all over again.

Words: Polly Greeks

It’s been a fairly smooth transition into winter. Some years, I resist its presence, pining for long, golden days as streams and mud rise and an air of moulding decay settles over the forest. My internal landscape has been known to dull in conformity with the sunless weather. But the good thing about a dud summer is there’s not much to mourn when it passes. Acclimatising to floods, slips, uprooted trees and potholes the size of bathtubs isn’t necessary when they never adjourned.

My sense of resilience is accompanied by parochial solidarity as I participate as fervently as any gumboot-clad, rumpty ruralite in conversations about the state of our roads and how we should send the bill for new car suspension to the district council or the forestry operators that churn our thoroughfares into quagmires and craters. It’s hard reprimanding my children on their cussing when f-bombs detonate in me every time our car thuds into another new chasm on the drive out to civilisation.

Winter brings shadow-framed days that pull the family inwards. A merry blaze crackling in the wood range becomes our house’s heart, pulsing out warmth, light and freshly baked bread. On wild nights, when moon-silvered clouds race over the valley and the rain-swollen creek roars below, I sometimes stand outside in the Antarctic-like darkness for the sheer pleasure of looking back at loved ones gathered cosily in a portrait of light.

Yes, winter brings us closer together; sometimes captively so when flooded streams make the track out impassable. Exhausting the pleasure of board games and puzzles, tiring of books and indoor projects and yearning to be very far away from quarrelsome kids and each other, James or I usually declare Cabin Fever like we’re announcing a Volatile Situation. When bundled out into a dripping, sodden world, tensions usually melt while enthusiasm recharges. We are, after all, living our dream.

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I was reminded of how precious this forest life is when I posted a view from our window in an online group a few months ago. Some 21,000 people responded to my brief explanation, with the dominant sentiment inferring that we’re living many other people’s dreams and our own. Whether it’s the undiluted starlight, the backdrop of silence, the uninhabited ranges or the independence of being off-grid, the hankering to get away from it all tugs a lot of hearts.

In a world gone increasingly mad, it makes sense to want to anchor to a prime reality. Far from glossy veneers, decaying structure and hectic pace lie a stillness and simplicity accompanied by unrushed space to breathe deeply. Being in the bush can offer the opportunity to slow down enough to land deeply inside yourself, reconnecting to your heart if you’ve left it and gaining a lucidity from being fully present.

“Sounds like bloody hard work,” some observed on my online posting. Sometimes it is, but there’s truth in the adage that what you put in, you get out. Along with homegrown food, repaired tracks, a homemade house and nutrient-rich humanure, immense satisfaction is a byproduct of doing stuff for yourselves.

I’d never swung an axe before we went bush and regarded wood-chopping as a tedious chore, but to my surprise and James’ luck, I love splitting logs. Flicking the switch on an electric heater is nothing to the pleasure of shaving match-stick-thin splinters of kindling from a nicely grained log before laying the fire.

Winter brings unwished-for tasks. Clearing the ford after a flood, dealing with seasonal rodent invasions, emptying the urine toilet when it’s pelting down and assessing how much power is left in the solar bank after four days of rain aren’t winter pleasures by anyone’s standards. But it’s possible to find a peculiar pleasure in the process when you appreciate the authenticity of what you’re dealing with.

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Rain, as much as shine, highlights an immediacy in the relationship between me and nature that can be very life-affirming indeed.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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