#WhitworthAdvent: Our Paths Through the Short Hours

Paul Nash (1889-1946), Winter Wood, Print. C.1922. Source: the Whitworth.

This week I cycled from East to West with only a t-shirt and a fleece on, cold air catching between the too thin layers as I sped down the loop in a rush for some appointment. That day the sun was everywhere, biting our roofs, the tops of trees; like it loved what existed so much it didn’t know how else to show it other than with its blue, bright teeth. But by the time I started pushing myself back the other way, it was climbing down, losing its brilliance. At home, the inside of my body shivered. I dialled the shower to a heat that reddened my shoulders, and cancelled on my friends. I tucked the duvet all the way under my back, trying to reverse the exposure.

They don’t last long, the winter days that surprise us. You have until mid-afternoon to reveal yourself, otherwise you move between shadows and orange-bulbed light, and­ both are prone to distortion. I have some paths that help me to bare myself in the few hours we have, every breath along them feeling like a scratch in Nash’s wood.

One of them: horseshoes, rabbit holes, the neighbour’s dog at the end of their garden. A ruckus of pheasants every time you snap a twig. Pulsing blood, branches like fingers. My mother’s hand.

The other: coffee cups, dog-walkers in hats, glistening water, signs of the city seeping in from either end. You in the morning in your long coat.

When you are framed by the trees in a Winter wood, revealed as they are to be so tired but willing, you remember that you have waited this out before. That you knew these paths on days when it looked like the sun would never set; when the hours were green and gold and thick and endless. But for now the sky has limits, and there’s the end of the track, and isn’t it enough for you to reach it – isn’t it enough to get home and lay your body down?


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