Horatio Clare's new book, The Light in the Dark, is a personal journey through the winter months that will resonate with everyone for whom the season can feel unrelentingly bleak. Winter can be the toughest season for many people and Clare writes with honesty and eloquence about his own struggles with depression. The Light in the Dark shows how being in and working with the rhythms of nature can help find the magic of the season and the reassurance that spring will return.
Below, we have an extract from this thoughtful and moving book.
In high pressure the air itself seems to recede, as though the cold fires of the stars and the moon draw further away, leaving a vast, deep bowl of freezing, exhilarating, space. The early mornings with their slow dawns are beautiful. There was a brush of frost, then two days later a white freezing. At daybreak the meadow below the lane was frosted, leaving a handsome dark border, unfrozen, running under the trees where the field reaches the beck. I was beginning a long journey and the taxi driver was delighted by the cold: ‘It’s minus two!’ he said, in the way we might exclaim, ‘Twenty-eight degrees!’ in summer.
‘Look! Winter!’ he said, pointing at our neighbours scraping their whitened car windows.
As the train crossed the viaduct above the roofs of Todmorden the whole town was steaming, the vapour from boilers and showers curling in perfect focus into the frigid air. There was much goose business abroad, gaggles gathering on the Rochdale Canal, and small skeins of the birds, Canada geese, flying over Smithy Bridge. I wondered if the cold was bringing flocks from further north down to join the locals, or if the first snap energises them the way it does us.
Further along the canal, heading for Manchester, with the light widening and tautening as it does just before the sun makes his entrance, three horses picked up their feet as they trotted along the towpath by a lock. Everything about them was alive, their movements skittish, palpable energy in their quick steps, as if the ground was tingling under their hooves. In Manchester’s Victoria Station a slightly haggard Santa selling The Big Issue did not look incongruous in the cold. He gave his ‘Ho- ho-ho!’ to commuters with genuine amusement. When the sun did come, it threw a blinding gold glare across the plain between Manchester and Liverpool. Small ponds and plashings were frozen coins.
There have been ominous sunsets like spilled fire under brooding cloud, and in daylight the bare trees reveal the country and its creatures in a clarity the other seasons deny. Cold winters do away with claustrophobia, and they are a gift to birdwatchers. We watched a great spotted woodpecker at work on a branch which frosty moss had made emerald. He looked immaculate in black and white, red cap feathers and his scarlet undertail coverts like ashy boxer shorts. In Welsh lore the dragons still thrive – they have merely taken the form of green woodpeckers. The whole woodpecker family have something dragonish about them. They may not have arrow-head tails, but they do have extremely long tongues, for scooping bugs out of holes in tree trunks.
It does not do to romanticise drizzle, rain on motorways, months of strip-lighting, office windows black at four o’clock, concrete skies, sock-damp, rain-prickle, mould-steam, deadbeaten fields, sodden livestock and the chilly tug like foot-sucking mud that winter can exert upon the spirit. But the cold does offer great compensations, like the subtle colours, the days as bright as a magpie’s cackle, and those stretched tones that bruise the blue of a cold sky in its fading.
Horatio Clare lives in West Yorkshire. He is a critically acclaimed author and journalist. His first book, Running for the Hills: A Family Story, won the Somerset Maugham Award. His second book, Truant, is ‘a stunningly-written memoir’, according to the Irish Times. A Single Swallow: Following an Epic Journey from South Africa to South Wales, was shortlisted for the Dolman Travel Book of the Year; Down to the Sea in Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men won the Stanford-Dolman Travel Book of the Year 2015. Horatio’s first book for children, Aubrey and the Terrible Yoot, won the Branford Boase Award 2016 for best debut children's book.
Photo © James Bedford