The early days of January have a lovely sort of stillness: candle-lit breakfasts of bread swirled-through with thick lines of poppy seed and candied citrus fruit before work on dark mornings; star-gazing in empty back lanes on the walk home from a friend's house; grey mornings curled up in heavy woolen blankets; misty baths where the hottest boiled water meets cold air from an open window; the sky delicately painting a lilac afternoon sunset over the graves beside work. Everything seems calm and open, and as if any time now, with a bit of concentration, it might be possible to line up all the variables here into some sort of balanced equation.
Is that maybe just the way of things in January?
On the darkest days of the old year, in hurricane winds and lashing rains we took a little train trip, not far away. From the photos taken there, you'd hardly know we left the river's edge. We came back with a camera full of raindrop-blurred photos of ropes and rigging, boats and bridges.
The other night I was thinking back on a man who I met once, who for a few weeks was a neighbour of sorts, staying in a tent not far from where I had pitched my own tent. One night, by a fireside, he was ranting angrily about someone. Finally with great spite he uttered the last, worst condemnation he could think of: "she just wants to be comfortable". I think about those words from time to time, because it seems that more often they would be said in a softer, more excusing way, as an invitation to understanding even.
And of course, everything is a question of degree. What is being sacrificed for the sake of comfort? How great is the discomfort? But generally, when I consider the two sides of things, I think his position the better one.
It is not that I am after some sort of noble suffering, but that I am afraid of what comes from having too much of a good thing. I worry about life turning into a pleasant suffocation, about opportunities passed over in favour of sleeping late.
And so we wandered below the deck of the handsome ship that carried Scott and Shackleton to Antarctica, peeked into the tiny wooden cabins of officers, stood around in the lonesome cargo holds. We looked up at the crow's nest and thought of the man who lost his life by falling from it as his ship sailed away from New Zealand.
And then we rode home, past flooded towns, to dream of adventures. These calm, still days and long, clear nights have a way of nurturing a feeling of longing for travel and vagabonding.