Saturday, 11 December 2010

In which I resort to homily

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I sometimes think about my ten godchildren, two nieces, two step great nieces, and one step great nephew, and how I should be giving them tremendous words of wisdom from my accumulated life experience. Sometimes, because I am quite competitive and I love a list, I test myself by saying: ten things you know about life, NOW. My mind at once goes blank as a botoxed forehead and I can think of nothing, except possibly that chicken soup really will cure almost anything, from a chest cold to heartache.

If I do sit in a darkened room and pound my brain until it comes up with something, it is usually of the bromide or Hallmark card variety. I like to think I specialise in deep thoughts, but my life lessons end up being shallow as a puddle. Be kind, I think, pathetically; a smile costs nothing. It's almost always not about you. A stitch in time does, literally and metaphorically, save nine. A shiny black dog will make you happier than almost anything else on earth. Love, love, and yet more love. The semi-colon is by far the most delightful punctuation mark. You will never change someone else's mind by shouting at them. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (said in manner of Yul Brynner in The King and I.)

You see? It's tragic.

The one tiny thing I do know, but often forget, is: things are usually not as bad as you imagine they will be. It's not exactly pithy, or timeless, or even particularly profound, but it is true and I like things which are true. I thought of it because I woke this morning to a demoralising thaw. The  snow had gone all dirty and slushy and determinedly ugly; the magical whiteness was replaced with mud and water. As I dragged myself out on my walk, I thought there was hardly any point taking the camera, because there would be nothing beautiful to look at. I was also in a state of trepidation, because I was convinced that every single poor plant in my garden would have been destroyed after being covered in snow for ten days, and suffering frosts of minus 17. How could anything survive that? I pictured a terrible battlefield of brown and dying greenery, leaves singed or drowned, everything drooping in silent reproach.

I thought of averting my eyes from the beds and doing the ostrich dance, but in the end I steeled myself and looked. And the miracle was that not only had almost everything survived, but some things appeared to be thriving, as if they had been sent off on a long sea voyage for their health. The box in particular, which I adore, was in vulgarly rude health. There were thrilling buds on the vibernum. The little heathers and tiny ferns, which I had planted in the woodland area to give the impression that they had just grown wild, were looking merry and bright.

Amazed, I lifted my eyes to the hills, and even though it was a gloomy old day, with no startling blue skies or glittering frosts, there were still glorious colours in the trees. I had envisioned devastation and ugliness, and instead I got verdant life and singing beauty. So: nothing like as bad as I had imagined. And it was not even not bad; it was marvellous.

That is my thought for the day. I know it's not exactly Aristotle, but it made me smile.

The trees, under a heavy sky, with a mournful sort of beauty:

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But then I looked up to the west, and there was this:

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And in the beech avenue, this:

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To the south, there was a strange misty light:

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Which shone on the ladyships, illuminating them in all their glory:

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Back in the garden, where I had barely dared to look, I discovered that there was, in fact, life:

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As if that were not enough miraculousness, the dear old sedum was still flowering:

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More thrilling still, at its base it had next year's buds, pushing up through the soil in defiance of the weather:

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The winter-flowering viburnum was getting ready for lift-off:

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The small fern was as fine as if someone had been polishing it:

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And the heather was heathery as all get out:

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The sun came out and fell upon the Portuguese laurel:

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And dazzled across my beloved Scots pine:

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(Looking at those two last pictures, one could almost be in the South of France, rather than frozen old Scotland.)

It was lovely to see my favourite old tree stump again:

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While the gateposts stood like stern sentinels:

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I was sad about two trees coming down along the beech avenue, but even they had a fallen beauty all their own:

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The canines, it turns out, can go from SNOW DOGS to MUD DOGS without missing a beat:

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One last look at the misty hill, and we went in for our lunch:

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Have a lovely weekend, whatever the weather.


  1. Aren't the best words of wisdom almost always the simplest. And even if they are old hat to us with old heads to wear therm on, they may be the newest shiniest pearls to the younger generations. One day, after the shrugs, the wry almost patronising grins, they may smile knowingly, and even repeat them down their own line one day.

    "There is no such thing as a bad day when there is a key on the inside of your your door."

    Ah, the snow blanket. A great insulator if, like ours, it comes before a big freeze. Dahn Sarf they had days of very heavy frost followed by snow. Here we had a glorious all enveloping fluffy dry blanket laid down before the deep freeze set in. I haven't managed UP my garden yet but hope for similar results.

    I once left a very old car under a snow blanket for 6 weeks - it started first time. Oh the joy!


  2. Leaving wisdom apart I think you have missed your vocation as a photographer. Those photos are so beautiful - the verdancy, the flowering after such a lot of snow catch at the heart and the mind.
    Love them, just love the photos. There's your bit of wisdom to impart - after the dark there is always a dawn!

  3. Indeed Mystica,

    I was thinking a lot about these wonderful images and Tania's real talent for finding beauty in simplicity and capturing it in so many ways. The contrasts of colours are often what amaze me most.

  4. Your pictures make me homesick for the country. And what a brilliant lesson in life. Thank you. xx

  5. Thank you, thank YOU for this! It has lifted my spirit in an otherwise dreary, weary, wet & muddy gray day.

    Pat (in Belgium)

  6. Ah, such kind and flattering comments. Thank you so much. Particularly glad that you like the photographs. Know almost nothing of photography but I think about the pictures quite a lot and try my best. Hugely aided by very, very good camera and the extraordinary Scottish light. (It really is different from the English version.)

  7. You really do live in a beautiful spot. Everything looks like it has been polished by the snow.

    Those words of wisdom come from a true place, I think. I overheard my daughter say "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all".

  8. And how telling that you have so many godchildren!

  9. Em - LOVE the sound of your wise daughter.


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