Seasonophilia? Can I call it that?

Some people have a favourite season. Not me. I love them all. Long hot summer days and cold dark winter nights. I could never understand some friends in Nunavut who put black-out blinds on their windows to shut out the almost endless summer sun. At Arviat’s latitude, the sun dips below the horizon for a little over four hours at the height of summer, casting the land into twilight, but never darkness. I loved the almost 24 hour daylight, because I knew it was short-lived and in a few months we would experience the opposite – short short bitterly cold days when leaving the house could take half an hour because of all the layers of clothes required and the possible shovelling of snow to get out the door.

In summer I closed my flimsy curtains before I went to bed, although they were useless against the sun that would soon appear above the horizon again. Children played on the swing outside my house at midnight. If I happened to be in bed at that time, it was only to catch a few hours sleep before a 3 or 4am start to catch low tide and check my fishing nets with my friend Crystal, or a 5am start to go early morning beluga whale hunting with my friend Frank.

Winter, on the other hand, was a time for wrapping up, drinking hot chocolate or tea after brisk walks in -20˚C temperatures, reading and long hot baths. It was a time for visiting, talking and playing board games.

In Ireland, the seasons are less extreme, but no less wonderful. Each season comes with its own unique smells, colours, bodily sensations; each with its own festivals and feasts. Each season requires a different set of clothing and footwear, and different ways of being, doing and living. Some seasons are easier than others – less hassle, less bad weather, less rain.

It’s the start of each season that I love best. You wake one morning to a subtle change in the air – a smell, a rise or fall in temperature, an almost imperceptible change in texture – and you know that the transition from winter to spring or summer to autumn is finally taking place.

It’s been a long hot summer here on the Rio Guadiana. The land is parched, the air is dusty, and it has been reported that October has been 5˚C warmer than average. I’ve been anticipating the arrival of autumn for some time. I’ve been longing to wear jeans and long-sleeved tops, tired at last of shorts, t-shirts and flimsy summer clothes. I’ve been looking forward to early evenings in, hot chocolate and buttery toast, soups and stews, a hot water bottle in the bed.

Autumn, at last, appears to be getting the upper hand. A little rain fell last week (although not anywhere near enough), there’s a chill in the air each morning and evening, and yesterday morning, as I rowed the girls over the river to school, the first wisps of inversion mist hung over the river. This morning the mist was stronger,  moisture in the air finding my face when I removed Carina’s weather boards and greeted the morning at 8am.

As autumn wears on I will expectantly anticipate the transition to winter and from there to spring. And on it goes. Each season with its own sensations, its own wonders, its own reminders of how lucky we are to be alive on this oddly tilted planet!


New autumn beginnings

With little warning, autumn arrives. Not like the other seasons, winter gradually giving way to spring, spring to summer. Autumn arrives unannounced. I wake up one morning and my feet are cold on the wooden floor, my bare arms goose-bumpy, and I need to increase the water temperature of the shower.

I take out the weather boards at 7.30am. It’s still dark and stars glitter in the sky. Carina’s cockpit and deck are moist with fat droplets of condensation and the dinghy is flaccid from the overnight drop in temperature. There’s a chill in the air, and a distinct smell of the changing seasons. I make a school snack for the girls and drink a cup of strong hot tea. At 8am I call the girls, woolly jumpers ready to slip on over their heads as soon as they sit up in bed, so they can eat their breakfast in the dark. For the first time in six months I dress them in leggings and long-sleeved tops, socks and trainers.

We have to cross the river to get to school this week. While the girls brush their teeth and get into their life jackets I put air in the dinghy and wipe away the condensation to keep our bums dry for the journey.

It’s light now, but the sun is hidden behind the hills on the far side of Sanlúcar. I row across the river, pockets of mist clinging to the river’s surface, the river looking deceptively calm, despite the speed of the flood current. All is utterly calm and still, only the bleating of a herd of sheep punctures the silence.

Autumn has arrived, there’s no doubt about it. It is a season for new beginnings and new projects. A season for putting into action all the dreams that were dreamed during the long lazy days of summer. Maybe going back to school is engraved on my subconscious, with its memories of covering new school books in wallpaper and the possibilities and promise of pristine copybooks.

The new season, having arrived so unexpectedly, carries me along on a wave of optimism. Gone are the energy-sapping days of summer. Now is the season for action, for projects, for list-making and busyness. Welcome Autumn, it’s good to have you back!

Autumn in the air

There is, without doubt, an autumnal feeling in the air. I took a walk yesterday afternoon and got soaked to the skin and chilled to the bone in a sudden and heavy rain shower. My hands were like blocks of ice by the time I returned home and I contemplated hot chocolate. But I convinced myself that it’s still summer and I passed on the hot chocolate. This afternoon the girls and I went to town to meet another family of home schoolers. Again, there was a chill in the air and that palpable change that comes with the turn of the seasons. Katie and I were cold. Lily, I think, is made of sturdier stuff than us.

When we flew back to the UK, in late May, summer was upon us and the contents of our luggage reflected the season. I brought clothes that I could layer – but they were summer layers. Those clothes all seem so flimsy now. Thankfully, I’ve found some winter clothes in a drawer at my father-in-law’s house that I forgot I still had, including a jumper, a dress and a few pairs of tights and a wool coat. The girls have mostly outgrown their summer clothes and their wardrobe has been evolving over the past few weeks, as too-small, worn at the knee clothes are replaced with bigger, warmer and decidedly less threadbare ones.

And at last, an end to our separation from Carina is in sight. My surgery is scheduled for October 1st. Now that we have a definite date we can start to think about booking flights on the other side of my six-week recovery period. Mid-November doesn’t seem so far away now that it’s a definite thing. We can make plans for twelve or so weeks more weeks we will be in the UK and we can start to make plans for what we will do once we are back home aboard Carina.

I never imagined we would still be here in autumn, but here we are.

Missing Carina

Winter has descended. Rainy days and the River Exe racing to the sea, staying within its grassy banks…for now. Dry days, like today, the air crisp and chilling. I spent Friday on the beach in Lyme Regis with my first year Geography undergrads, encouraging them to think about how people live with the sea, about the meaning of value and the meaning of cost, about conviviality and rising sea levels. Some of them looked at me strangely!

I find myself, at this time of year, looking back and looking forward. Because of my teaching commitments at Exeter we have moved off Carina for the winter and into a house on a hill. Carina, our beautiful Westerly, draws too much water for the shallow harbours and estuaries in south Devon, so we have left her in Plymouth for the winter. Almost daily Katie moans ‘I miss Carina’ and ‘When can we go to Carina?’ for which I am grateful, because if she didn’t miss Carina I would be sad. I miss Carina too. I miss the practicality of her, I miss how quiet she is.

Katie - master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

Katie – master of all she surveys (including the dirty dish cloths!)

We’re living in a rented new-build house. It’s a small house, and we don’t own many possessions. But having grown accustomed to Carina’s nooks and crannies and ingenious storage spaces, I struggle to know what to do with our stuff. On Carina, we can tidy everything away, ship shape, but in the house, there are no built in cupboards or hidden storage spaces. The rooms are echoey boxes devoid of character. In Carina, wood panelling and confined spaces mute our sounds, and Carina rocks gently in the dimness of evening, as we read by lamplight or hatch plans after the girls have gone to bed.

Our house is harshly lit and we are coccooned from the elements. A few weekends ago, when Julian was on board Carina, and the girls and I were alone in the house, a knock came to the door. It was 11pm and the girls were asleep. I tentatively opened the door to find a policewoman standing on my doorstep. A car had crashed into our garage, but the house is so sound-proofed I never heard the crash. And the weekend before last, southern Britain experienced what was reported to be ‘the worst storm in 26 years’. I never heard a thing on Sunday night, and as I walked to work on Monday morning was surprised to see leaves and branches on the streets, and to hear the stories of destruction.

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

Lily at the helm on a passage from Mevagissey to Plymouth

We are not meant to live so sheltered and coccooned and separate from the Earth. On Carina the sky is our ceiling, and our rhythms follow the movement of the sun across the sky. We wake early and retire early, sunlight dictating what we can do and when we can do it. We dress for the weather. We get sun burned and rained upon, we are comfortably warm, or hot or cold. Sometimes we are scared – a sudden storm, a torn sail, a broken engine. Then we only have each other and Carina to rely on, and we have to get on with the job of fixing, or persevering, or improvising. The rest of the time, whether we are far out to sea, out of sight of land, or tucked up in a busy marina, we get on with the pleasant job of living – playing with and teaching our children, cooking, cleaning, learning, exploring, reading, writing. We breathe in the fresh air and become so accustomed to the constant rocking of Carina that we are disorientated and dizzy when we step back on land.

I really do miss Carina. But spring will inevitably return, and we will once again move home. And, all going to plan, this time it will be for good. But for now, we have to resign ourselves to occasional weekend visits and sleepovers, to reassure her that she hasn’t been abandoned.