It's time to hunker down: we are wintering now – Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Our small birds have flown and the robin has gone from best mate to nodding acquaintance
Our small birds have flown and the robin has gone from best mate to nodding acquaintance Our small birds have flown and the robin has gone from best mate to nodding acquaintance

WE are wintering now.

The last wisps of autumn’s beauty linger on leafy avenues. The year is dying and the trees know it.

We have buttoned up our long coats, pulled up our collars, set our faces to the darkness ahead.

The garden is abandoned – an old watering can on its side; the end of a bag of half-open compost... a safe haven to overwinter for the snails and the slugs.

Out our back is a misty monochrome in the early morning. A sepia painting – a fitting backdrop for that old photograph of my grandparents, posed just so, solemn, unsmiling, a still life.

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We know that the Ice Queen is on her way. Our small birds have flown and the robin has gone from best mate to nodding acquaintance.

We’d like to leave food for him but a neighbour saw a rat running up a pole to get at the bird table. I couldn’t help but admire ratty’s skill. But we have sworn off feeding.

The mopheads on the hydrangea are withered to a tea stain brown... a single scarlet leaf clings desperately to the acer.

You could put Miss Havisham and her rotten wedding cake and the cobwebs and spiders out our back and shout “Shoot!” and “Cut!”. It’s a great movie set.

And I’m fickle. Winter is coming and I’ve fallen out of love with the garden, turned my back on it.

I know that in Spring, the yellow sunlight will work its magic and the wind will whisper and myself and throngs of Irishwomen across the world will look out and smile and put the sheets in at 60 degrees (sorry Greta, climate guardian) and praise God for a good drying day.

But Spring seems an eternity away.

Now, the sheets drip on the clothes stand, the windows tear up. And now we are wintering.

Downstairs, father and son are opening a bag of important tools. There’s a long iron torch like a cosh that would hit you a right clonk – perhaps we should keep it in the hall for intruders.

They are shining the light up the chimney and hoping not to find anything too ugly… who knows, there just might be a woman in the wall?

“You’ve watched too many crime dramas,” says my other half.

They are trying to locate the old chimney balloon.

Last Spring we forgot about it… abandoned it to flutter silver and useless up the chimney. Now, we need it inflated again… fickle as we are.

The men of the house are draught proofing and bleeding radiators and stoking fires. The woman in the house sulks and rages against this anaemic world.

“Shut the front door, remember mice!” warns my husband.

I left the door open and invited them in for a shindig last year.

We caught them in the humane traps, brought them outside, dropping them in the garden, only to find that they knew a good party when they found one and came back.

“You need to drive five miles away at least before you empty those traps,” said my friend.

We hardly had the energy.

The sadness comes down with the night – a melacholy that sends me to poetry and dark Gothic stories.

The windows are misted in the early morning. I stand barefoot in the kitchen, stirring porridge; mourning the sun.

And sometimes when the alarm goes and I go into our working kitchen, I stumble upon the ghost of my father, standing at the cooker in his old tartan dressing gown, stirring the porridge, just as I do now.

The slow glop of thick gruel in the pot; a lost world outside the window… it’s time to hunker down.

It’s time to build a fire and lose yourself in the leaping flames.

We are wintering now.