A Very English Winter: Sandringham

A few months on from my first article about Sandringham,  I decided to revisit and reconsider a forest that was blistering under the cold of winter. It was dark and gloomy even in the early afternoon. The drive was peaceful.

Around me, 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 as though someone had pulled the blinds on a forest in a fitful sleep. My breath escaped in bursts of cloud like a mechanised dragon.

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 winter equals drought. In a time when most water is a solid, hydration is a key concern for deciduous trees. 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 water from their internal spaces into the adjacent cell space. When this freezes and expands, it has less chance of bursting and killing the cells. Thus, the trees are thirsty and in their dormancy they 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. I can’t stay awake during the day. I have difficulty making plans about the future. I dream of hot beaches, but it is just that dreams.

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 and lost. Knowing I have the big glitzy banquet of Christmas to attend (a day of utmost indulgence and, quite frankly, an obscene about of day drinking) really gets me through the Autumn.

Forests, however, are magical anytime of year. Most notably because we see them as areas of transition. Through a forest the ancient Greeks reached Hades (the underworld) and 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. The occupants of a particularly special wardrobe stumble into a wintery arboretum of magical delights. It’s in forests that ghouls and goblins challenge epic adventurers; where spiders grow to the size of busses; where hobbits hide, and witches build lairs.

These jungles are the hearts and souls of humanity. Appealing, perhaps, to our primordial desires to swing along canopies where they also rend our senses from rationality.

I love the forest at any time of year, but soon I hope it will be spring again.


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