Newsletter Number Eleven

Wondering why I ever went travelling at all, a book about how to do nothing, and the things that the weather and the lengthening of days do to and for our minds.

Links to this week’s articles:

Travel Diaries #11 – WTF Am I Doing in Japan?

Book Club #4 – How to Be Idle

Click here for a full archive of all posts.

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Hi all,

Welcome if you’ve just got here, thanks for hanging around if you’re a regular.

This week has flown by – the whole month has actually – and yet there’s still a week left in it. I wouldn’t be the first to observe that January tends to drag along, and yet this year time is neither dragging nor rushing along, it simply feels like it’s lost all meaning altogether.

In this part of the world, we have the weather to distinguish the days from one another, and the passing of the months, as every day tends to be different to the last. Though I suppose, when you’re in those places where you can get all your seasons in one day – and sometimes in the west of Ireland, you’re treated to the meteorological party trick of getting them all at the exact same time – it can be equally discombobulating.

Instead, we fall back on the rather elastic amount of daylight we get, which is wonderfully consistent in its ebbs and flows over the year. What we lack in psychological (or physical) comfort in weather on a daily or seasonal basis, we gain in the gradual and predictable lengthening of days from Christmas to summer, and then back again. In the height of summer, days begin sometime shortly after 4am, and continue until almost 11 at night, and there is nothing quite like the experience of being in good company or out alone in the depths of nature, and knowing that the day still has so much more to offer.

Summer is a long way off, of course, though one mercy of winter, and January – is that seemingly out of nowhere – the days are indeed starting to get longer.

The Grand Stretch (for non-Irish readers, the phrase has been derived into a standalone meme-phrase by the common piece of colloquial small-talk: “There’s a grand stretch in the evenings, isn’t there?!”) begins just before Christmas, though it takes a while before we start to notice it. I did notice it this week, a couple of days where an extra 45 minutes of daylight seemed to appear out of nowhere, daylight not disappearing now until all of a quarter past five. It truly is the little things that you become grateful for in times like these.

I’m sitting looking out at a patchy blanket of melting snow and it seems to have energised the whole place under a blue sky. Yelps and laughs from kids rang out in the neighbourhood last night as I went out to take pictures, amazed at the simple wonder of how bright the whole place was under the reflection of glowing streetlights on pure white snow, the feeling of twilight lasting throughout the night. The little things.

We don’t see too much of it, and even a blanket of pure snow is a fleeting thing in these parts, like all the other weather patterns. I’ve spent a good bit of time in places that experience extended blankets of snow for months on end. The meaningless of time in the depths of winter is exacerbated by a landscape that becomes so pure it is featureless.

Although incredibly beautiful, (and depending on your interests and location, the enabler of all that is good in the world i.e. snowboarding), the monotony of the days in such a place is stark, something even weekly work routines struggle to break up. Days in these places go by in an instant, but months drag on for an eternity.

It’s quite disorienting, and something that, along with the extended darkness itself, does tend to affect the mind. It’s just about two years since I did last move to a snowy place (more about which next week hopefully), and this week’s story sees me arriving in Japan just a couple of days before that. Following on from last week’s tale of the process of the excavating the notes, photos and other online breadcrumb trails that have preserved my trip to Japan, this week I start to explore what I was actually doing there at all.

In another article I resume my book series, and if you’re wondering what to do with any free time you might have, or feeling guilty about not being productive enough, or simply wishing you could enjoy these glacial pace of life that seems to have descended on the world this month, then this could be book you’ve been looking for all this time, maybe even your whole life. I do implore you to get a copy of this book, and maybe even keep it beside your bed once your done reading it the first time.

So we’ll be grateful now for the Grand Stretch. It is not just a signifier of more daylight or warmer weather, the longer the days get the wider your mind and your horizons open as well. It is normal to relax more and effectively hibernate in winter, and it is normal to forget what the other seasons are like until they come around again. Soon enough it’ll be spring (today already feels like it) and you’ll have forgotten winter ever happened at all; come summer, the entire world will hopefully be ahead of us again, like it was never gone.

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