ImageIn the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”—Albert Camus

  

Another freezing day in Britain. The country is wrapped in the depth of a stubborn winter, in late March. A winter that keeps inviting guests from faraway places, like Siberia, and the Arctic. After the treacherous snowfalls of the last few days, the news is full of stranded people, power cuts and most upsetting, cattle buried in snowdrifts, pictures showing piles of baby lambs killed by the cold.

I have been living in Britain for almost twenty years, but I have never grown so tired of winter. Weather can become an obsession, and I have been known to whinge endlessly about the lack of sunshine and how it affects my mood. Zen practice has helped, at times, and I have managed to find beauty even in the darkest of days. John Crook, my late teacher, told me once during an interview, that what I needed to do was to take two or three holidays in the sun a year. I thought what a good way to compliment my practice! But this has been a thirteen-month winter, and despite two holidays in the sun, I can’t stop shivering, and, worse, I can’t stop my body asking for winter fuel. Winter fuel in the form of chocolate, cake, high carb content meals. Somehow in the last few days it feels as if my invincible summer has been defeated.

 

This afternoon I had two choices, one was to stay in and bake a cake and do some preparation for next week’s retreat, or take a drive to the farm. A light veil of snow flurries danced around me as I ran some errands in town, and I noticed myself aiming to go back home, indoors, to the refuge of central heating and the warm Rayburn in my kitchen. I reflected on how I approach cold weather when I am in Wales cooking, and how I cope quite well when I am immersed in practice, how it stops mattering. So I drove to the farm instead. I certainly did not need any more cake. There was snow on top of the wolds, and a feeling of spring eager to sprout, yet the landscape remained barren, December-like. A brave farmer ploughed the small area of his field that was not sodden and a multitude of seagulls hovered around the tractor, feeding on the banquet offered by the disturbed soil. Image

Hugo was waiting for me with the loader packed with cardboard and wood, old crates, a pitchfork and a bag of scrap papers. “We are going to light a fire to keep you warm,” he said.  I drove the JCB through fields with him holding on to one side, towards an ancient hawthorn hedge by the roadside where a pile of branch cuttings from last year had accumulated and miraculously dried up.  

One should be able to light a bonfire with one match and one piece of paper, John, the old farm worker had told him, as a youngster. And he did, despite the wind howling behind us.

How beautiful. The fire rose in huge tongues of glowing reds and orange, the crackling noise in the chill of the afternoon made my body’s memory of summer wake up. We stood by the ferocious flames, which warmed our faces so much we kept stepping back, away from that we were seeking a few minutes before. I believe it is so important, being and relating to a living flame. Here and there we prodded the fire with the fork; twice we heard a curlew call. Like ancient sunshine stored in each branch, and turned into heat, the sun shone for us through a pile of burning wood and as it did I felt that the short-lived majestic pyre deserved a dance around it. But we didn’t. Maybe next time, I heard this cold is going to last.

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