It seems apt to spend the last day of the year retracing the steps that became so commonplace within it. This three and a half mile walk was not one that could have become any more familiar, but one that 2020 has undoubtedly made more intimate.
Today the path is cold in the truest sense of the word; strewn with snow and enveloped in freezing fog. The initial continued ascent keeps me warm and I pass a familiar bank that today is strewn with the dead fronds of brown and blackened ferns: unlike other plants, a death that seems to hang, to hold; to persist.
Back in spring and those initial days of lockdown proper, this bank housed a host of daffodils: a vision of gold, cream, yellow, orange. My overriding memory of that time is the vivid nature of these colours: flowers that strained forth in a defiance that was simultaneously beautiful and reassuring; a bold indifference to the woes of man that these walks tried so desperately to unravel.
My son, not yet a year old, slept in his pram on these walks, oblivious to the natural beauty that surrounded him; oblivious to the end of continuity that shook and disarmed every one of us. Tiny toes protruded from the blanket; tiny flowers ventured forth from the warming ground.
There were days when this countryside – this very walk – saved a small part of me. There were others when this expanse seemed to hem me in; my thoughts, my feelings, my very essence.
Today this countryside is cloaked in snow that is days-old and tired. Yet unlike snow that quickly fades and loses its pristine perfection, this landscape retains a rare charm. The fog envelops and enshrouds the landscape; engorges its features. And I tread this familiar path with muscle memory, thinking though my feet, yet drinking everything in through my eyes.
I have always ventured that the natural world reflects the true state of our souls. There have been days when this landscape has felt oppressive; a stark reminder of being locked down, cooped up, hemmed in. And then there have been evenings when the sunlight has cast gossamer threads of gold across the contours of my daughter’s face, and the expansive curves of gritstone, heather and fern have seemed to open the keys to eternity herself.
On this last day of 2020, the cold oppresses my skin, but invogrates my soul. This familiar world feels expansive, renewed and buoyed with a silent optimism. A hundred jackdaws caw noisily overhead, as hardy sheep chew nonchalantly all around me.
And I think about those daffodils sleeping, waiting to spring forth into life once again.