I’ve loved New England since I was seventeen years old. I’d never been but I saw it through the lens of Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott, Hawthorne – and glimpsed the architecture and landscape in films. Whenever I met a New Englander (their temperaments are often drawn to Old England), I felt an affinity.
Fast forward a few years and, with my first proper pay cheque, I persuaded my brother to spend two weeks with me going around Vermont. My love deepened. The red barns, the white clapboard houses, the mountains and lakes, the poetry of the natural world.
As the years went by, I visited New England several times. On writing retreats and then with my husband – we had our honeymoon here. One of the things I grew to love most were the distinct seasons. The warm summers, the glorious, golden autumns, the thick snow of winter…You’ll notice I missed a season out. ‘Avoid stick season,’ the locals told me – as did the travel agent (remember the time of actual, flesh and blood travel agents?), who helped me plan my first trip with my brother.
And, following their advice, I did avoid that season. But then, in that funny way life has, I ended up moving to New Hampshire in 2016. This is where I had two of my babies, where I wrote four of my novels – the last two set in my adopted country. This is where I bought my first house – a clapboard one that we painted light blue with white trim. And, this is where I came to love the magic of a season I was told to avoid: stick season.
Sure, there aren’t many flowers around. The trees are achingly bare. The snow is icy and dirty and piled up in big mounds on the side of the road. The grass that comes through has been burnt yellow by the cold. And there’s mud. Having a mud room is, I’ve learned, a prerequisite if you own a home in New Hampshire: a place to strip yourself and your children of all those soggy, muddy layers of outdoor clothes before coming into the warmth of the house.
You might know that I walk. That I find it essential to my soul. That walking is when I think best and reconnect with my body. Well, walking in stick season has it’s challenges: it requires a bit of concentration and effort to avoid those icy patches and those muddy swamps and those sharp branches. But you know what? I see this season as part of the process of coming back to life. It’s a season that’s preparing itself for the beauty of the short spring and the gorgeous summer. Everything is thawing, streams are finding their movement again, the soil is softening, the sticks, themselves, are reaching towards the light, preparing their secrets buds to flower, in a few short months.
There are times in our lives that feel like stick season. They’re the hard ones. Getting through the day is tough. Believing that colour and light and warmth will come back is a real act of faith. But if we can just trust in the truth that the body and mind are preparing us for summer, just as nature is at this time of year, then perhaps we can come to love the mud and the sticks as much as the blossom.
Anyway, that was my small moment of hope today – my small magic. I hope it inspires you and helps you see this season a little differently.
Lots of love,