I have found February a hard month this year, have you? In a covid-free year, February is always the most difficult month for me on Bryher, and with the added black cloud of Covid hanging unrelentingly above our heads, it has been harder than ever.
January, although still in the depths of winter, has that post Christmas cosiness which allows hibernation. February arrives, light begins to stretch out, seeds begin to shoot and the greenhouse fills with new life and summer yumminess. I feel impatient to be out in the fields planting and doing outside jobs that in the past couple of months I have been content to leave for better weather. And then the storms hit. Gales sweep across the island. Bitterly cold from the east, wet and wild from the west. Low lying fields that are almost below sea level become swampy lakes, a temporary home for geese, ducks and gulls. Every track and gateway becomes a quagmire of boot-sucking mud.
Every year is pretty much the same, and so we normally give ourselves a break from the farm. A last family getaway before the season starts. Friends and family from the mainland arrive and we decamp to Tresco. This may sound crazy, Tresco is barely half a mile from home, an island much like Bryher, but we luxuriate in cosy cottages, the sauna and the pub. Instead, this year, like everyone else, our little week of escapism has been abandoned and happy times spent with others put on hold.
So what to do to lift the mood of dull monotony and storm-swept drudge?
For me those activities which keep my mind and body active, allow me to escape and explore other worlds, and trying to connect with others are what helps me to tease my mind into a more positive state.
Later today I have signed up to join a zoom workshop called Writing Wild. Discovering poetry through wild swimming...right up my street! This will entail me sitting in front of my screen, fairly stationary and avoiding the howling gale that rattles the sash windows. Part of me, a very tiny part, would be quite content to sit inside by the fire all day. However, the greater part of me needs the fresh air, even if it is blasted into my face and down into my lungs with brute cold force. I need to feel the rain ping off my skin like a thousand tiny ball baring. I need to feel the cold of the sea and the power of the swell to settle that frustrated energy and allow me to enjoy the comfort of then becoming cocooned within warmth and safety.
The wind blows hard from the south, bring with it torrential rain and white-tipped waves that steam up the channel between Bryher and Tresco. We feed the animals, all of whom I'm sure are as fed up with the weather as I am, they stand rumps to the wind, ears back, nostrils pinched in grimace. Unlike them, I escape for an hour to sit and paint, have a cup of earl grey and watch the rain against the window distort the outside world into blurred colours.
The lamplight brings a cosiness despite the water seeping in through the old wooden window. I try to capture the colours of the seascape. Its hard. Although the sky is thick with cloud and the sea swells with dark energy, it retains a translucency and beautiful blue that I find elusive in the oil paint.
I feel myself becoming irritated at myself so I head out for a swim. Peering out the bedroom window, even I think maybe I am a little mad.
In flip flops, my swimming costume and not much else (what's the point, it will only get wet) I trundle down the muddy track towards Green Bay. It could be called an addiction, a compulsion that I must feed, but as soon as I am outside, with the weather upon me, I instantly smile and lighten. It's not so bad, a little rain, a little breeze, nothing as awful as we imagine when inside looking out.
I reach the beach and the noise of quick waves crashing onto the stones is all encompassing. The wind is harsh here and rain pelts me, stinging every little piece of bare flesh it can find.
What am I doing?
This thought is momentary, quickly becoming an excitement to get into the waves and bounce around in the swell. So in I stumble, slipping on the seaweed-covered rocks. I almost jump into the white froth for I know it is going to be easier once my feet are off the ground and I can float. Pretty greeny-grey waves rise above me, breaking into bubbling fury, splattering my face with cold salty water. Not a swim, barely a few strokes to get me free of the shore, but so much fun. I even whoop and laugh out loud. Total, exuberant fun.
Once out, standing wet in the wind and rain, I am a slightly different soul to the one that entered the water only ten minutes before. My mood is better, my outlook more positive, my energy restored. It is magic, this sea swimming lark. Pure magic.