Lockdown at the lowest ebb

I haven’t resurrected my diary for this third, and hopefully last, in the series of COVID-19 lockdowns. Well, I didn’t for the short second lockdown either, but sometimes I do still feel the need to write something about the experiences.

I always find the post-Christmas period difficult, those dark, cold and bleak months of January and February when festivities are over and the bright days of spring seem a long way off. The dark  mornings and the early arrival of night-time each afternoon, alongside the often cloudy and drizzly weather does little for my sense of wellbeing and over the years, I’ve often been at my lowest at this time. Usually, this has felt like a period to tolerate and get through rather than welcome and embrace. The new year is something to celebrate but for me the positive feelings often evaporate very quickly once the decorations have come down and we all return to our normal weekday lives.

The first lockdown started just a couple of months later in the year than now but our forced isolation was helped by nature; the light was quickly returning to the days, the early spring flowers were out and the weather was exceptional. We were blessed by the bright, sunny and unseasonably warm weather that lasted for months and what felt like almost every day. The second lockdown was much more limited and while the autumn was upon us, the days growing shorter, it was in the run up to Christmas, and the novelty of the coziness of darker evenings was new and comforting. Now, though, those dark nights and poor weather, seem a drag on life and the days until those warmer and brighter days of early spring seem painfully far away.

Some years ago, I wrote a post about life at this time of year, mid-January towards early February, being at its lowest ebb, the coldest weeks of the year and with little sign of the life that nature will one day over the coming months bring back. During this third lockdown, life in general now seems to be at an even lower ebb than usual, making life much more difficult than during the first lockdown that started nearly ten months ago. 

It would be easy to descend into a very dark mood, and in some ways it’s very tempting to my personality to do so. However, with so many bad things happening right now, this would, of course, be the worst thing to allow. I have it relatively easy compared to many; I’m not on the NHS frontline, I’m not a key worker of any sort, I’m not in a high risk group and I don’t have to home school any children. All I have to do is sit tight, work from home, take some daily exercise and wait for this to pass. I also can be massively thankful that my situation changed in the year leading up to the first lockdown; going from living by myself to being in a couple and sharing lockdown together, means that I almost feel we benefited from the situation; life would have been incalculably harder if we had both spent the period alone.

Having said all that, it is still a struggle at times, compared to the other lockdowns and taking positive steps to both accept that and try to make it easier has been making a difference and maybe there’s more that I can do.

I’m missing the countryside more than I did during the other lockdowns, perhaps because it’s harder to see nature when I’m not working; it’s dark both when I start and finish work. However, I have a new desk, in a different position, now overlooking gardens behind my computer screen. This means I can see wildlife throughout the day. This often comes in the form of flocks of winter thrushes, fieldfares and redwings, which spend the day moving from one berry tree to another. There are also the urban foxes, which we see both at night and in the day time, and the ring-necked parakeets which often dominate the other natural sounds in the area.

The odd sunny day also makes a massive difference, at least for a few hours. Today has been lovely and not as cold as of late, so we went for a walk around our local patch – the Royal Botanic Garden is literally across the road. My list of birds is already growing reasonably just on the visits there and on walks along the Thames Path on the other side of the wall. We have also taken to walking at lunchtime, to get some air during daylight hours.

I have also, and perhaps most importantly, tried to change my outlook on this time of year, to embrace it rather than fight it. We have kept some lights up after Christmas, not a tree or a huge amount of decorations, but a few to bring more comfort and brightness into the evenings. I’m also trying to relax more, not over think things, not long too much for times that are yet to come. Whilst exercise is still very important, I’m also not going to push my running too much as part of my routine and perhaps put off some of my goals until we are released from these restrictions

Perhaps the biggest change I want to make, though, is to stop looking at my phone every time there’s a moment of silence – over stimulation at a time when my mind is already full of so many challenges is just adding to the stress and angst. I’ve found Twitter particularly bad for stopping me relax. I’ve sometimes gone from calm to internally raging in a matter of seconds after tapping on the app. The government’s shambolic handling of both Brexit and the pandemic are so often brought instantly into sharp and excruciating focus by those little but hugely impactful, messages of a few words. I’ve ‘muted’ so many words on Twitter to stop the endless battering of painful messages cascading through my phone but that isn’t enough. I’ve now decided to stop picking up my phone at every opportunity and leave it out of reach as much as possible. This should give me more time for more calming activities; reading, writing, looking out of the window and maybe just staring blankly at the wall from time to time. 

Being physically isolated from family, friends and colleagues has made me feel I need to be more digitally connected to the world but, actually, this has just led to more difficulty in coping with this situation we all face. Perhaps writing a blog post about this is slightly odd, but just sitting still, focusing on one thing for a while, and putting thoughts to digital paper, has really helped.

Looking forward to 2021

Reading my equivalent post for 2020, it is full of hope for many great things to come and I really don’t want to temper that hope too much at the beginning of this year. Whilst we no doubt have many months to come under the cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic and some very difficult news will undoubtedly come, I can’t start 2021 without talking about my positive hopes for the year. 

I have to say that being positive at the moment isn’t the easiest thing to do. I’m in a constant state of disillusionment at present where the country is concerned. I did start to write a few passages here about this but it just makes me angry and disappointed, and I don’t want to turn my blog into a space for unheard political rantings. Instead, I want 2021 to be a year where I refresh my blog and find my nature mojo again, building on my experiences of 2019 rather than 2020. How realistic this is, well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

If all goes well, January, or possibly early February, will see us moving to a new home in the Midlands. We’re buying a house in a village north of Northampton in a lovely area of rolling countryside. After living in South Cheshire for the past 40 years, I’m really looking forward to exploring somewhere new; all the roads, lanes and footpaths, all the best spots for wildlife and views. Being more central in the country, we’re going to be closer to areas which have been out of reach of day trips from Cheshire, so hopefully a few trips to the eastern side of the country and further south.

Depending on what happens with COVID-19, there are the plans for trips that were put on hold in 2020 to take in 2021; I could almost cut and paste this part of last year’s post into here. In June we’re planning to go up to the Outer Hebrides to stay on the Isle of Harris at Luskentyre. At that time of year we’re hoping that the machair will be blooming and we can take a trip out to one or two of the outlying islands, possibly St Kilda or the Shiants.

In July I’ve got my name down for a week back volunteering on RSPB Ramsey Island but whether the island will be open to visitors and volunteers at that time is anyone’s guess. The following month we might have a trip across to Sweden to visit family but also spend some time out in the countryside.

Our biggest plan for the year, and hopefully far enough away that COVID will not interfere with it, is a trip to Zambia for a camping safari in the South Luangwa National Park. After having limited opportunities for wildlife watching in 2020, a chance to go back to Africa for a safari would be very welcome.

Given we are moving to a new house and new area, many of my volunteering activities of recent few years are now, sadly, in the past. Many of the activities I’ve been doing since 2011 including local volunteering with Crewe & Nantwich Conservation Volunteers, bird surveys for Cheshire Wildlife Trust and British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and osprey nest protection shifts for the Glaslyn Wildlife. However, the move perhaps presents new opportunities to try different volunteering. I hope I can get a new BTO survey site in Northamptonshire and hopefully there may be a local group or two I could volunteer with but I’ll have to do some digging to find out what opportunities there are.

I’m not sure how much of the above is just wishful thinking, given what happened in 2020 and settling into a new home could easily take all of our time for quite a while. However, I’d rather be ambitious and optimistic with plans for 2021 at the start but not be too surprised if I need to change things as time moves on. Anyway, with most of the country in virtual lockdown for the coming weeks, there’s plenty of time to think it all through.