My birth name wasn’t Maddy Harland, it was Madeleine Wood, and wood has always played an important part in my life.
A deepening love of nature
Early memories are of camping with my parents in wild places. We would light fires with sticks on tiny islands on Loch Corrib in the wilds of Connemara. After a morning trout fishing from a traditional wooden boat, the family would land to brew tea in a battered kettle and eat sandwiches. The smell of wood smoke stayed with me long after we returned to London after the holidays, evoking memories of crystal clear water, beach combing on the shores, ancient ruined churches and deliciously moody Irish skies.
As a teenager I grasped any opportunity for ‘outdoor adventuring’ and later passed my love of cooking over camp fires and living outdoors to my children. They soon learned how free we are in nature, under a big sky, watching the stars, with a good campfire to keep us warm.
The therapeutic winter fire
As the summer turns to autumn, I feel the containment of my days inside growing and the chill of winter reaching out to me. I consequently turn my mind to the rhythm of winter fires. We try to heat our passive solar, eco house mainly with wood and so lighting a fire every day is both a necessity and a pleasure.
I have planned much of the wood for my wood burner at least two years beforehand. There are piles of split and green wood in various states of seasoning located around my house and they all have a logic and an order! There are also two large hazel stools on the edge of the garden in need of coppicing, a job we’ll leave until all the autumn gardening jobs are done.
After a day working in the office there is something deeply therapeutic about stacking the log store for winter and planning the next consignment of green wood that will be seasoned and then burnt in 2015-6. I’ll probably end up splitting it on a cold winter’s day when the vegetable garden has been put to bed and the ground is hard with frost.
Preparing for rather than dreading winter
Rather than dreading the winter months, preparing for them has become a companionable rhythm. I look forward to the autumn when I can plant bulbs, knowing that their early spring flowers will lift my heart, and I love wooding in mid winter in the company of our semi-tame robins in the garden.
We are a society entranced by one season: summer. We worship suntans, short haul flights to sunny places, and chic yet impractical clothing. We burn the last hours of ancient sunlight to prolong the illusion of warm weather instead of putting on more clothes. We lament the passing of the warmer months and dread the cold of winter.
I have decided to reframe that cultural norm. I want the rhythm of the seasons to bring me insights into their different pace. I look forward to my outdoor winter tasks like coppicing, planting and splitting wood and to walking high on the Downs on crisp clear days when we can see all the way across the Solent to the Isle of Wight. I want to live life to the full, month by month, and I have started investing in some really good quality, waterproof outdoor clothes.
Working with Glennie Kindred on her book, Letting in the Wild Edges, (available from Cygnus: 230711, £12.99) has inspired me to get out in all weathers and really savour them. We conceived the idea of a ‘day’ or ‘jaunting’ bag, a small backpack full of essentials like a flask of hot tea, a snack, waterproofs and a light scope or monocular. Warm and snug, we are prepared for any adventure!
Weather and seasons, like the tides, are deep meditations. They help us to connect more deeply with the natural world. I don’t want to feel enclosed by one part of the year and not celebrate its unique characteristics. I want to look forward to the first hard snap of frost that will bring the oyster mushroom tree deep in the woods into production. I want to celebrate wind and rain and scudding clouds. And after a day outside in all weathers, I want to look forward to sitting by the fire with Tim and the dogs, a good meal, and a gentle slowing down as the light drops quickly and the darkness enfolds us in our cottage.
Maddy Harland is a writer, editor and speaker. She co-founded Permaculture magazine – practical solutions for self-reliance, as well as the publishing company, Permanent Publications, and The Sustainability Centre, an educational charity in Hampshire. Find out more at permaculture.co.uk – a free online magazine updated daily with practical features, news, reviews and reader’s solutions.