January Review: Slow, Sleepy, Sleepless

I always look forward to January.  It seems like it has so much potential.  But somehow it never quite goes to plan.

I like the idea of January being a clean slate.  A fresh, cold start.  There seems to be so much to like about January.  Bright, chilly mornings; good intentions; trees silhouetted against beautiful sunsets.  And it is my birthday month which means I don’t have to pretend to be doing ‘clean living’ until much later in the month.  But January always seems to misfire slightly for me.  This is my review of January 2022.

Piglet is at a wonderful age for exploring with.  He is 2 and two thirds now.  He’s an absolute trooper on a walk, interested in everything, full of (often bizarre) observations. By the 2nd of January we had already seen lots of wildlife.  We saw tiny buds of snowdrops pushing through the woodland floor down by Otter Bay.  We looked at fungi colonising the fallen down trees in the woodland. We looked at all the colours of the lichen on the bare branches.  Down at the River Tweed, we saw tree creepers flit between trunks, goosanders on the water, and a cormorant flying up the river.  We sat on a bench and ate the last of the Christmas cake while listening to bullfinches in the trees above us.  We were off to a good start.

And then Piglet was struck down by a nasty bug.  We isolated, he had a PCR, we were free again.  The cold, crisp, clear mornings brought thick ice so, as soon as we were free, we headed out to break some ice (the ultimate toddler joy!).  The ice was inches thick on the puddles. We broke pieces off, sharp as glass, and I would smash it on the ground for him.  It shattered into a billion beautiful shards, each one reflecting the low winter sun.  The fever and cough seemed like maybe they were just a blip.  But days went by and the poor wee guy was still quite poorly.  Then I caught it too.  I think I would have normally shaken it off but I’m now in the third trimester of my pregnancy and it absolutely wiped me out.  I could barely climb the stairs.  It coincided with a bad spell of pregnancy insomnia and restless legs.  I’d be awake until 2am (most often I’d give up on sleep, get up, and draw) and then awake the rest of the night holding Piglet upright so his coughing didn’t make him sick.  We struggled through to my birthday on the 13th (with a lot of help from grandparents).  Things have improved lots since then – so much so that we managed a long weekend by the sea – but Piglet is still coughing a lot at night.  Growing a human while caring for a little human is full on.  January has been, quite frankly, exhausting.

Nothing is ever just one thing or another, though.  January has also been fantastically joyful.  Eight long tailed tits on one bird feeder; turning 35; a giant black forest gateau; the determined progression of the snowdrops; reflections in puddles; a field full of feasting curlews; and one totally perfect day on holiday in North Berwick which made me feel light and free.  And, of course, the endless pinch-me fascination of having a little baby growing inside me, jiggling about.  We’ve begun baby prep, I’ve written to-do lists as long as my arm (and we’re having work done to the house because it wouldn’t be the third trimester without some major house upheaval).  As Andy Beer says, Spring begins in January. And this Spring we will (all being well) be welcoming a new arrival.

I’ve also been reminded how much I love driving around the Borders in winter.  The landscape reveals itself in layers.  The light is magical, picking out individual elements you don’t notice at other times of year.  I take Piglet over to his Granny’s in Kelso on a Thursday morning.  It is one of the highlights of my week.  We always see something good.  One morning we saw five or more fluffed-up buzzards perched in bare-branched trees.  Huddled against the cold grey sky, like chainsaw carved sculptures, unmoving and miserable-looking as little flurries of snow swirled round the car.  Another morning, the buzzards had taken to the sky, soaring in the blue.

One unfortunate January development has been a ‘rat problem’ in the garden.  I use that phrase cautiously as I don’t really believe that wildlife is ever a problem.  We first noticed some mounds of earth and burrows underneath the bird feeders.  Then, a week or so later, I saw an absolutely gimungus rat chasing a grey squirrel around the garden.  I’d forgotten how big rats are.  They are so much bigger than mice! It is a problem we’ve created by putting food out for the birds.  And it seems absolutely awful that just because it isn’t the wildlife we wanted to attract we should try to get rid of the rat.  It’s one of those things where child-me thinks “let the rats be! They are just living their lives!” but the part of me that has been trained to be a responsible adult – homeowner and neighbour – knows that you can’t have rats colonising your garden less than 10 metres from your back door.  So alas, the ‘rat problem’ (or ‘human problem’, really) needs solved.  Sometimes being a human is so deeply depressing.  And in the meantime, Pig & I have had to stop putting food out for the birds.

We end January with two more storms, and a cough that won’t go away, but happy hearts and a woodland full of snowdrops.  Maybe the beauty of January is that it always forces you to slow down and have a wee seat.  Every season can’t be go-go-go. Maybe January is for staying cosy, watching the world begin to stretch out its arms toward the light part of the year.

Buzzards sketchbook page Hannah Longmuir
Seacliff Beach sketchbook page Hannah Longmuir
Curlew sketch Hannah Longmuir
January sketchbook page Hannah Longmuir

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