A true winter at last
The day was cold and uninviting. The slate-grey sky appeared to hang not far above Jane’s head as she wandered along the road, slopping through puddles in her boots rather than jumping over them. Ancient dry-stone walls alternated with dense green hedges to line the way, and in the distance the fells were shrouded in thick mist.
A light pattering of rain which had gradually served to soak through Jane’s anorak soon turned to sleet which stung her face and made her teeth chatter. And yet none of this perturbed the tall, thin girl with the long, dark hair which was being whipped into long, damp tendrils by the wind. In fact she closed her eyes, smiled into the wind and hummed a familiar tune to herself.
The nearby fields, visible beyond the greenery and through the occasional gate, consisted of hardy grasses, furze bushes and bedraggled looking sheep huddled against the wind. Ancient bridle ways and pack-horse routes meandered away toward the horizon on either side, and icy streams created by the recent rains coursed away from the clay road to form deep cold lakes elsewhere.
Though the trees overhanging the road began to bend and flail against the force of the wind as it gradually built in strength, Jane felt lighter with each step. For this was where she felt real, where she felt whole, and built up again. This was home.
* * *
Right from the first moment she set foot on her new homeland, Australia had never really felt like home. Her very first experience involved a cricket lodging itself in her hair as she walked across the tarmac towards the airport terminal after alighting from her plane. Recalling how she squealed with fright and batted frantically at her hair, Jane remembered having felt as though even the wildlife were conspiring to highlight her foreignness. (And besides, what sort of country made you walk across the tarmac in scorching summer’s heat??)
Though it didn’t take long to make good friends amongst the warm, open people, it was often the little things that were hard to deal with: favourite items and products had totally different names, distances to be traveled were so vast, and the local sense of humour was so dry and subtle that one could never be quite sure when to laugh or take offense.
And the weather! The humid summer seemed to be interminable, and included massive thunder storms as well as a smoke-infused bushfire season. And the welcome respite of those first Autumn winds soon led to an insipid and unsatisfying winter, too cold for swimming but without the crisp chill of snow.
But it was Christmas which was the hardest to take. What a strange conglomeration of traditions and cultures the Australian Christmas seemed to be! People had barbecues, got sunburnt and went swimming at the beach, and yet sang Carols about snow and reindeer, and would eat hot turkey and plum pudding. Most Christmas trees were made of plastic, and some people even sprayed their windows with fake snow from a can!!
No, Christmas without winter just wasn’t Christmas at all for Jane. She longed for her own familiar traditions, including the usual family walk after the five course Christmas dinner, followed by mulled wine to take away the chill.
Jane lasted at her job for most of the following year, but at the first sound of Christmas carols and decorations being put up in the shops, she knew it was time to move home…
Clambering atop a wooden stile, Jane breathed deeply and surveyed the surrounding countryside. Tiny hamlets spread sparsely throughout the valley glowed with warm lights. It was all so familiar and so inviting, and yet there was a tinge of doubt in her mind. Was it wrong to have moved home? Surely God led me there by opening up so many doors, providing so many amazing opportunities.
Words attributed to Solomon flashed through Jane’s mind just as the wind rushed through her hair: “A time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away…”*
Jane leapt down off the stile, and jogged along the laneway towards her family who, replete from their Christmas dinner, were walking in the rain.
Just as the autumn soon gives way to the winter, God guides us through the seasons of our life.
* New International Version. Ecclesiastes 3:2 & 6
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