When winter ventures in everything looks sad, laments Tracey Blight in her poem The End of Winter. During our winter walks we have noted how the drought-stricken grass has turned to golden straw and, in places even disappeared. Some trees have been stripped of their leaves; and the regular winds still have a chilly edge to them. The end of winter is a sombre time – this year the edge of the sombreness has been honed to a keening for the social isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Cheerful gatherings to ward off the dullness of the cold forbidden; even travelling to feast our eyes on distant places has been restricted; the greatest loss has been the pandemic-imposed distance between family and friends that has prevailed for so long.
In a way these steps in our street epitomise that loss:
There was a time when these old stone steps led up to a gate in a low wall that opened into a garden of happiness. I remember how the old man who lived there when we arrived in the neighbourhood used to bring a basket around after the rain to pick the large white mushrooms that popped up all over our lawn. We learned so much from chatting to him as he went about this task and I was warmed by him saying more than once “it is wonderful to hear the sound of young children in the neighbourhood once more.” Both the man and the mushrooms have gone.
I remember a time when these steps led up to a gate that opened and shut several times a day as children came and went: such happy days when friendship meant entrance without question. I recall bicycles being humped up and down those steps to be ridden around the streets accompanied by laughter and shouting. That family left; the children of the time have grown up – some already have children of their own; most have sought their happiness in other towns or even abroad.
It was with a deep sense of horror that I noted the workmen outside one day. The gate had been tossed aside and brick by brick the gap in the wall was filled. The plaster was roughly applied, leaving the outline of that hole still visible to the casual eye. The happy entrance has been permanently replaced by a dull, cement-covered wall – leaving only the drive-way as an entrance to a garden one can no longer peep into as one walks past. A fortress of a wall shouts keep out!
Yet, the rough stone steps remain – worn in places from foot traffic from decades past; a reminder of happier times, freer times and, alas, safer times when people mixed more freely and neighbours knew each other better.
Winter is not all drab and dull: we have enjoyed the aloes that brighten the landscape and now, as the season turns away from us, the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina trees brighten the mood and point us to spring peeping from the wings, still too timid to take full stage. Looking down too at the debris of leaves and seeds shaken by the winds that have roared and tugged and made us shiver, we can see beauty in the end of winter:
This collection of leaves in a gutter represent what has gone and should be forgotten, the sadness that will heal with time, as well as the hope we need to nurture as we face our uncertain future. We move to Alert Level 1 of the lockdown on Monday … along with brighter prospects, a new season, and hope – lots of it!